Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Steven F. Kruger (Professor of English, Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center)
The Rossell Hope Robbins Memorial Lecture 
"Conversion on the Ground: Christians, Jews, and Conversos in the Crown of Aragon, 1412-1416"
April 4th
7:30pm
English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (Room 4406)

A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentation and question time

The Tortosa Disputation of 1413-14 was a public confrontation between Christians and Jews staged by Pope Benedict XIII, the “antipope” who had been expelled from Avignon, but who still claimed the papacy and the loyalty of the Christians of Iberia and of Scotland. Tortosa has been consistently considered a crucial turning point in Christian-Jewish relations, a moment at which the pressure for Jews to abandon their Jewishness was greatly intensified. Certainly, it was a moment in which much Jewish conversion occurred. And yet, much remains murky about the actual dynamics between and among Christians, Jews, and conversos at this crucial juncture. “Conversion on the Ground” attempts a closer, thicker description of this moment by reflecting on the rich materials that document the interreligious interactions at and around Tortosa: a Latin and a partial Hebrew transcript of the disputation itself; the Hebrew and Latin writings of Geronimo de Santa Fe, the main Christian disputant at Tortosa and himself a Jewish convert to Christianity; the later philosophical work of one of the Jewish disputants at Tortosa, Joseph Albo; documents from the Archive of the Crown of Aragon that give us snapshots of the interactions between conversos, Jews, and Christians at just this moment, including some of the players at the Disputation of Tortosa itself. 
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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Maggie M. Williams (Associate Professor of Art History, William Paterson University)
On the Matter of Irish Crosses
March 7, 2014
7:30pm
English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (room 4406)

A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentation and question time.

Several hundred carved stone crosses remain standing throughout Ireland. The sculptures date to between the 7th and 12th centuries of the Common Era, and they have been the focus of scholarly attention for more than a century. Archaeologists and art historians have debated their chronology, style, and iconography, but few studies have considered the materials from which they were made—and subsequently re-made. From their origins in wooden and metalwork precursors to their current lithic state, the medieval crosses have a meaningful relationship to the prehistoric sandstone that lies under the Irish turf. In the 19th and 20th centuries, several crosses were meticulously replicated in plaster and other materials like bog oak. And, now, in the 21st century, digital technologies are allowing scholars to render those same sculptures using lasers and 3D scanning. This paper will explore the matter of Irish crosses—from wood to stone to plaster and pixels—investigating the effects that different materials might have on our understanding of the crosses’ meaning and value.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Jennifer N. Brown (Associate Professor of English and World Literature, Marymount Manhattan College)
An English Spirituality in an Italian Mystic: William Flete and Catherine of Siena
February 7, 2014
7:30pm
English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (room 4406)

A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentation and question time.

William Flete, the English Augustinian Friar who left English shores for a more austere life style in Siena, is mostly remembered for his Remedies Against Temptation, a text that was frequently misattributed to Richard Rolle or Walter Hilton by his contemporaries. The text appears to have been written before he left England, and does not find its way into continental sources, surviving only in English manuscripts both in Latin and in translation. However, Flete becomes an important follower of and influence on Catherine of Siena whom he meets in Italy. Part confessor, part famiglia, Flete's influence on Catherine can be read both explicitly in and implicitly between the lines of her major mystical text, The Dialogue and the excerpt from Flete's own transcription of one of Catherine's visions entitled "The Cleanness of Sowle." This paper will look at Flete's influence on Catherine's writing to show how Flete's brand of English spirituality gets absorbed by Catherine and then come back to England when her own texts get translated into Middle English

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Anne Stone (Associate Professor of Music, CUNY Graduate Center)
Medieval Song in New York City

December 6, 2013
7.30 p.m.

English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (room 4406)
A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentation and question time.

This paper will serve both as a pre-concert talk for the Anonymous 4 concert “A Virgin Unspotted: Medieval and Traditional Christmas Songs for Mary,” and also as a broader meditation on the history and cultural significance of the decades-long tradition of performing medieval music in New York City. In recent years it has become a commonplace of early music scholarship to exclaim over how little we know about what medieval music sounded like; the history of the early music revival is thus a history of modern fantasies about medieval sound. New York has been a particularly active hotbed of the “invention of medieval music” (to quote the musicologist Daniel Leech-Wilkinson), since the founding of The New York Pro Musica in 1952 by Noah Greenberg, and the Waverly Consort in 1964 by Michael Jaffee. In the course of my talk I’ll play recorded examples of each group and discuss how their different approaches reflect our changing expectations for medieval music. I will focus on two issues in this discussion: programming, that is, the choice of pieces that are arranged to make up the concert; and something I will call sound manufacture: the choices of timbre, texture, vocal quality, and instrumentation that together create the sound-world cultivated by the ensemble.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Myra Seaman (College of Charleston)
“Animal Control: Cultivating Virtue in the "Children's Corner" of a Middle English Household Book”

Friday November 1, 2013
7.30 p.m.

English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (room 4406)
A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentation and question time.

My talk offers an object-oriented reading of a late 15th-century Middle English household book that includes 41 verse texts, collected and extensively adapted by a single scribe who marks the anthology heavily with his name (in half of the colophons) and with a recurring fish-and-flower motif that draws attention to the nonhuman inhabitants of the texts that fill its pages. My approach considers fictional representations to be real phenomena with effects in space and time and finds, in this manuscript, fictional organic and inorganic agents of instruction (operating as Latourian mediators) in the affective ecology of an anthology whose primary orientation is toward modeling patterns of forgiveness. My reading combines manuscript study, book history, and close reading with insights offered by affect theory, object-oriented studies, and the history of emotion, seeking texts’ historically situated affective impacts rather than meanings. This hermeneutic assembly reveals how the collection’s texts encourage (human) audiences to understand their own agentive potential as just one element in a conglomeration of inhuman and human affective agentive potency. The “Children’s Corner” is the modern name for the first eight items in the manuscript, among them a romance (Sir Isumbras), a saint’s life (St. Eustace), and six conduct texts (two of them by Lydgate), which may have been aimed at a particular subset of the household. Focusing on this portion of the manuscript shows that one’s social virtue depends on acknowledging and cooperating with human and nonhuman associates in the household ecology. Within the “Children’s Corner,” the imaginative narratives instruct through animals and other nonhuman figures, while the direct-address conduct texts (spoken by a father, a mother, and “Dame Curtasy”) teach pragmatically—and yet an object-oriented reading of the collection and of the “Corner” in particular reveals a de-centering of the human, and a social inclusion of objects, that encourages us to read even conduct texts obliquely rather than in direct accord with their overt performative instructions. My talk will demonstrate the important effects of premodern conceptualizations of the physical world on reading, on interpretation then and now, and on our understanding of and engagement with the Middle Ages.