Three Graduate Students Receive Schallek Awards for 2002-2003 Academic Year

This year, the American Branch received eight applications for the William B. and Maryloo Schallek Memorial Graduate Fellowship Awards. One was from an English citizen; her very worthy project was referred to the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust’s program for consideration.

The remaining seven applications were reviewed by the selection committee, and three students received a total of $3,500 in funding for this year:

Lisa H. Cooper, Columbia University. “‘Unto oure craft apertenying:’ Representing the artisan in late medieval England.” (Grant renewal)

“In an era of sometimes arcane cultural and literary theory,” wrote one of her advisers in his letter of recommendation, “Lisa Cooper’s scholarship is admirably grounded in the stuff of medieval life and art: pots and pans, fabric, and needles, clay and wood and metal, and the women who worked with all these things. …

“This is not exclusively a ‘nuts and bolts’ study of the craft world of the high and later Middle Ages, though. Rather, Lisa Cooper is interested not only in the making of craft objects, but how these objects and their makers themselves are deployed as powerful images in medieval literature, and the visual arts that are a part of so many medieval books. This is a keenly ambitious project….Ms. Cooper studies word lists — school texts in Latin, French and English that themselves become explorations of the teacher’s home place and the city as his home. She works on guild texts and ordinances occupying an unstable position between statute, pedagogy, and literature (at least one exists both in prose and verse); these too imply a kind of domestic space for the guild and its members. Cooper’s dissertation goes on to consider the carpenter’s home and its invaders in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale; and then the role of the home and the female body in several more popular tales about craftspeople. A final, and ambitious chapter, thinks about the craft-making of literary spectacle like the York cycle plays, and the emergence of the poet as a public maker of craft-work, the literary book. This edgy interplay of high and low, private space and public, is crucial as we try to understand how urban culture came into being at the close of the Middle Ages.”

John Thomas Sebastian, Cornell University. Lay religious practices in fifteenth century English Anglia as evidenced through early English drama and vernacular mystical and visionary writings.

“For my thesis, I propose to explore the process of finding a religion of their own for the English laity of the late fourteenth through early sixteenth centuries. More specifically, I will examine how this process evolved in East Anglia by examining two genres of late Middle English writing, drama and visionary/mystical literature. Both forms are the products of an intermingling of laity and learned cleargy…

“Furthermore, my preliminary analysis of representative works of both genres and the work of scholars such as Gail McMurray Gibson suggest a more than casual connection between the two genres. Texts like the so called N-Town Play, the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, and The Book of Margery Kempe, share several common denominators… But the most significant commonality among these writings is their place of origin, east Anglia broadly speaking, and my research lies in discovering what about Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire communities resulted in a new program of lay religious practice….

“While my work is admittedly not overtly Ricardian, it nevertheless attempts to reclaim for scholarship important segments of fifteenth century literature, religion, and culture, including the voices of neglected populations, such as middle class laywomen….

“Ultimately I hope to teach medieval literature in an American college or university English department. The work I do in the next two years will undoubtedly influence the direction of my career. I have already given some serious thought to the kinds of courses I will be able to teach undergraduate and graduate students in the future, and among those offerings I see room for courses on medieval drama, English visionary and mystical literature, lay religion in the Late Middle Ages, and a general survey of fifteenth century genres for medievalists and early modernists. In short, I want to reinvigorate interest in a body of fascinating writings which reveal many of the shifts in intellectual, social, and cultural developments that resulted in … the birth of modernity.”

Tara N. Williams, Rutgers University, “Womanhood in the Chaucerian Tradition.”

Williams’ dissertation uncovers the idea of “womanhood,” which is invented by Chaucer at the end of the fourteenth century. She examines how the word accumulates meanings throughout the fifteenth century in the works of Lydgate, Henryson, and Margery Kempe, and how the literary representations of womanhood are interacting with changing ideas about women in late medieval society.

“My dissertation considers the use of the word ‘womanhood’ in literary texts as a register of changing concepts about what it means to be a woman in late medieval culture. From a linguistic point of view, the fifteenth century was a period of general stabilization: Middle English was becoming Modern English, regional dialects were disappearing, and spelling was becoming regularized. The vernacular was established as the language of the law, the court, and the literature of England. But in the case of one word, the fifteenth century was a time when meanings were opening up rather than settling down.

“‘Womanhood’ was invented by Chaucer at the end of the fourteenth century. It has no equivalent in other languages at the time; womanhood seems to be not only a new English word but also to some extent a new concept… Images of women were based on contradictory religious models and irreconcilable social categories. According to the medieval church, there were the chaste, imitating the Virgin Mary, and the sinful, following Eve. In both the religious and royal courts, women’s opportunities and constraints differed according to their status as maidens, wives, or widows…

“I trace the concept of womanhood from its point of linguistic origin as it takes shape through usage in fifteenth-century medieval texts. As womanhood is accommodated to language, assumptions about what it means to be a woman and how representations of women can be reconciled with real women are examined. My work explores the interaction between literary representations and historical ideas: how does each help to form (and reform) the other?”

For the spring semester 2002, Williams was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Medieval Studies, auditing an interdisciplinary course on medieval women and religion, meeting with the faculty, and working on her dissertation project. The Centre’s provost, Felicity Riddy, has agreed to be the outside member of Williams’ dissertation committee.