Skip to Content

Research Spotlight

In Santa Cruz, Seville's Jewish quarter in medieval times.


Project: "Exploring Spain's Past"

Shai Zamir (History) attended an intensive Spanish language course at the University of Granada in May to improve his skills in reading, listening, speaking and writing while living in a Spanish-speaking environment, surrounded by the rich history of Granada. Being enrolled at level 6 (out of 9) he could practice his Spanish on topics of his own choice, so for instance, he delivered a short talk to his colleagues about the history of the Judeo-Spanish.

As part of the program he took Spanish-guided educational trips to historical sites such as the Alhambra palace, the Granada cathedral, a former Morisco house, Baroque monasteries, and many other places central to the history of Muslims, Christians and Jews in medieval and early modern Spain.

On weekends, he traveled -- to Cordova, the Alpujarras, and Sevilla (where he visited the General Archive of the Indies) to become more familiar with Andalusia's history and pursue other intellectual interests. In Seville, other than visiting the Alcazar and the Jewish quarter, he also had a chance to examine closely Jusepe de Ribera's painting La mujer barbuda, the subject of his final essay in Kenneth Mills' seminar "Conversion and Christianities," as well as other Baroque paintings at the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Hospital de la Caridad.

He writes: "On this first visit to Spain, MEMS has given me the opportunity not only to improve my Spanish, but also to gain a basic familiarity with Spanish history, geography, and culture, which will be significant for my training as an early modernist working on Sephardic history in Spain and the Mediterranean."

CUNY's Latin/Greek Institute


Project: "Intensive Latin... in NYC?!"

Tonhi Lee (English) applied for the MEMS Summer Awards to partially fund the tuition for an intensive Latin program at CUNY’s Latin/Greek Institute. The course consisted of approximately 6 semesters worth of Latin, which covered all the essential skills necessary to read, write, and translate from a wide range of periods. For the first 5 weeks, the course focused on achieving “active mastery” of Latin syntax and learning essential vocabulary. The subsequent 5 weeks were devoted to reading as many real Latin texts as possible, both in prose and poetry. Among the authors that we read are Caesar, Cicero, Sallust, Tacitus, Catullus, Horace, Ovid, Plautus, Seneca, Augustine, Dante, Erasmus, and Milton, to name a few.

The program also offered lectures on the history of Latin, lexicography, and textual criticism, which helped him better understand the disciplinary tools and traditions that inform our knowledge of Latin texts, as well as the radical uncertainties involved in scholarly efforts at interpretation and translation. This kind of training provided the knowledge and skills he can now apply to his own studies in the early modern period.


Project: "German, Metallurgy, and Early Science"

This summer Rheagan Martin (Hsitory of Art) traveled to Berlin to take a six-week intensive German language course. This greatly enhanced his research skills, comprehension in museums, and ability to communicate on the ground. While in Berlin, he visited many major museums including the Kunstgewerbemuseum and the Naturkundemuseum (Decorative Arts Museum and the Natural History Museum). Seeing these collections helped him define the scope and content of the dissertation. Having previously focused on the work of goldsmiths, now he is incorporating early scientific instruments and the visual history of science into the work. 


Project: “Roots in Stone and Slavery: Rootedness, Mobility, and Empire in 17th Century Cartagena de Indias”

The second Diane Owen Hughes Scholar, Ana María Silva (History), spent the past month of June conducting research at the Archivo General de Indias (AGI) in Seville and the Archivo Histórico Nacional (AHN) in Madrid, Spain. In Seville, she read and transcribed manuscript lawsuits, correspondence, administrative reports, and petitions sent from the Caribbean port city of Cartagena de Indias to the King of Spain and the Council of the Indies during the seventeenth century. She focused on archival records related to local conflicts about the urban organization of this Spanish colonial city, especially with respect to the location of nuisance industries, such as tanneries, and the people who lived near them.

At the Archivo Histórico Nacional, she continued to study the formation of Cartagena’s urban and social geographies, this time by looking at the financial archives of a tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition located in that city. Specifically, she examined the Inquisition’s records about property that the tribunal confiscated from supposed heretics, especially real estate. Based on this data, she will analyze the impact that the Inquisition’s confiscation practices had on specific neighborhoods and communities in Cartagena, especially among women of African descent.

Both in Seville and in Madrid, she visited museums and libraries, including the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Museum at the Archivo General de Indias, and the Museo de Historia de Madrid, where she explored collections that she might use in future projects.

Facade of San Matteo, Genoa.


Project: "Intensive Latin Propels Research"

Archival work in Italy, and specifically in Genoa, is critical to Brenna Larson's (History of Art) dissertation work and requires at least intermediate reading ability in Latin. Genoa maintained the use of Latin longer than most Italian cities; as a port town, Latin served as an important lingua franca for a diverse population. With the help of published references, Brenna was able to locate items of interest and bring images of those items home. Her time in the  State Archive in Genoa during the first half of the summer only reinforced her need for Latin.  

This summer, with the support of a MEMS Summer Award, Brenna completed the intensive Latin course at the Summer Language Institute at the University of Michigan. The course covered the grammar and vocabulary of the first two semesters of Latin and provided a great deal translation practice; the class worked through many texts typically introduced in second year Latin. With her new skill set in place, she is now able to fully explore the documents she'd obtained earlier in Italy.

HM 143 with paratext.


Project: "Paleography in Play: Manuscript Work in Middle English"

This past summer, Annika Pattenaude (English) writes, she spent a week at the Huntington Library in Pasadena researching late medieval manuscripts. Her purpose was to expand and develop her paleography skills.  Focusing on five manuscripts: HM 114, HM 143, HM 744, HM 503, and HM 111, which contain popular medieval works like Troilus and Criseyde, Piers Plowman, Mandeville's Travels, a Wycliffite sermon in Middle English, and some of Hoccleve's shorter poems, she focused on transcribing Anglicana and Secretary hands. Using the guidebook Opening-up Middle English Manuscripts and other online guides as working aids, she learned to be attentive to subtle differences in individual letters, for instance, the double compartment "a" or the distinct "r" that looks like a "v" in Anglicana script. I also learned to recognize certain abbreviations, like the p for "per," þ with a superscript "t" for "that." The work was tedious but productive. Having some knowledge of paleography from previous graduate courses, this research trip was an excellent opportunity to put what she had learned into practice. 

In addition, this experience highlighted the difference between reading a medieval text in manuscript form and in a modern edition. She focused not only on what the manuscript said but also how its manuscript medium affected her reading and interpretation of the text. The creative decorations in HM 143 (shown here), a series of detached faces floating out of illuminated initials in Piers Plowman, influences how we perceive the text as a clouded network of voices. That is, the floating faces elaborate on the text's formal and narrative structure, which might be understood as a pattern of various speeches on good living. Other paratext or irregularities raised similar issues: How does the marginal glossing in different versions of Piers Plowman and Troilus and Criseyde guide our reading experience?  

2016 Research Awards


Project: "Intensive Latin and Other Basic Skills for Premodern Research"

While getting a jump-start with intensive Latin here at Michigan, Taylor Sims (History) also spent the summer working as a research assistant and a mentor in the Academic Success Program. Taylor’s research interests deal broadly with women, gender identity, and religion in medieval and early modern England. Thanks to the eight weeks of work on morphology, syntax, and vocabulary, and translating classical and medieval poetry and prose, she can now work with a broader base of sources. Over the summer Taylor also looked at the Husting Court wills on microfilm. The wills date from the mid-fourteenth through the sixteenth century and are entirely in Latin, so in combination with the intensive class, this work advanced the development of her paleographic skills. This year Taylor has taken on co-coordinating the Forum on Research in Medieval Studies.


Project: “Plotting a Course: A Preliminary Field Survey of the Kamo River”

Last June Esther Ladkau (History) set off to explore the city of Kyoto, Japan, on foot. She visited museums, archives, temples and shrines, and hiked the mountains to get her bearings in the city and its environs. Using GIS software, she was able to track her expeditions and map landmarks and trails. The point of this was to trace the course of the river and physically experience the places and spaces of her subject: people’s experiences around the Kamo River, in particular disasters that occurred there in the medieval period. Personally visiting the area gave her a sense of place otherwise hard to imagine from the documents alone.

In addition to learning the area, Essie reconnected with local researchers, spent time in archives and research centers, and networked with established scholars in the field. Local scholars offered suggestions and resources she would not have found otherwise on this short visit. (Funded in part by a MEMS Summer Award.)


Project: “Mediterranean Studies Skills: Reading Aljamiado

Hayley Bowman (History) visited the University of Colorado to undertake an intensive seminar on a mode of writing used by Spanish Moriscos (Muslims who converted to Christianity after the Reconquista) and mudejares (Muslims who remained in the Iberian peninsula but did not convert) from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. The script is written in Castilian using Arabic characters. But this seminar was more than a simple language-learning experience: Beyond the analysis of the words, letters, and paleography of the sources, students were encouraged to consider the manuscripts as objects and were provided the opportunity to work with materials otherwise unavailable.

Hayley especially appreciated the range of source materials: she worked on a manual on magic, a fortune-telling book, and a prayer for a newborn, all interesting avenues into the lives of marginalized groups in the late medieval and early modern Spanish world. All this has led her toward larger interests in the complex religious climate of the Spanish world, as well as offering opportunities to expand her language skills and do valuable networking. (Funded by a MEMS summer award.)

King's College London.


Project: “Archives, Conference, and a Workshop: Into the Weeds of English Literary History”

Megan Behrend spent July 2016 in England running between the Cambridge University Library, the British Library, and the New Chaucer Society’s 20th Biennial Congress at King's College, which included a two-day paleography and manuscript studies workshop.

Megan was able to conduct manuscript research on two of three extant versions of her topic poems, the trilingual De Amico ad amicam and Responcio. Of particular interest was their appearance in both an early canonizing collection of Chaucer texts (since they are not attributed to Chaucer) and a mid-late fifteenth-century “scrappy student notebook.” She studied their placement in these manuscripts and compared them with the form and treatment of pieces around them, and concluded that these macaronic (multilingual) poems were in fact not marginal in the literary cultures from which their manuscripts derive, as has been suggested elsewhere. She is thinking through interesting new questions about the relationship between these texts and their history.

Using Latin, French, and English, the poems also stand out from the mostly Latin academic genres such as riddles, proverbs, and grammatical treatises gathered in the second manuscript. This version of the poems is quite close to that in the Chaucer collection, but their presentation parallels that of the Latin riddles, with their bracketed tail rhymes recalling the bracketing of the riddle solutions. This points to a closer relationship between academic exercises and poetic play across languages than previously assumed. (Funded by a MEMS Summer Award.)

Medieval living space for the religious recluse.


Project: “Manuscripts and Remnants of the Religious Culture of Medieval England”

Thanks to a MEMS summer grant, together with other funding, Rebecca Huffman (English) visited archives in England and France, as well as undertaking a religious visual culture survey in Norwich and East Anglia. She examined nearly a dozen manuscripts related to her dissertation at the British Library, including copies of The Canterbury Tales, Julian of Norwich's Short and Long Texts, and Nicholas Love's Mirror as well as several anonymous works. At Longleat House's archives outside Salisbury, she studied vernacular religious manuscripts--in particular a unique copy of Chaucer's Parson's Tale that was separated from the rest of The Canterbury Tales and compiled together with religious verse and prose (she plans to center her Parson chapter on this manuscript).

She discovered over a few weeks in East Anglia a really engaged population of medieval readers and writers. She collected site-specific information for her Julian chapter and gained a much better context for regional medieval religious culture. Pictured here is the rare surviving anchorhold at All Saints Church in King's Lynn.

Sight reading the score at Notation Bootcamp.


Project: Precursory to “Theories of Rhythm in Thirteenth-Century France”

This past summer William van Geest (Music Theory) undertook Latin training at the Centre for Medieval Studies (University of Toronto) and attended a Historical Notation Bootcamp hosted by Yale University. The former, running six weeks, had students preparing their own translations that they then read in class as well as sight reading other texts from a variety of genres – poetry, legal records, historical narrative, hagiography, sermons and epistles – and from different provenances and time periods in the Middle Ages.

The Notation Bootcamp provided a three-day introduction to musical notations employed from earliest times in the Western tradition (c. eighth century) to the advent of musical printing (c. 1500). This program is meant to supplement current curricular gaps, in particular music paleography, in today’s musicological training. Familiarity with historical notations is essential for scholars of medieval music and the Yale program not only taught the participants to read various notations, but also introduced issues surrounding notation that William thinks are central to the emergence of rhythm theorizing at that time. (Funded by a MEMS Summer Award.)

At Tazlau Monastery, Moldavia, Romania.


Project: “The Painted Fortified Monastic Churches of Moldavia: Bastions of Orthodoxy in a Post-Byzantine World”

Alice Isabella Sullivan (History of Art), the first Diane Owen Hughes Scholar, spent four weeks in Europe this past May for research and study, first visiting Vienna to examine fifteenth and sixteenth-century Moldavian manuscripts housed in the Austrian National Library, and then visiting medieval monasteries in Romania (at Pătrăuţi, Putna, Moldoviţa, Probota, Voroneţ, and Suceviţa). She also examined many icons, embroideries, metalwork and other manuscripts from the monastic collections at Putna, Moldoviţa, and Suceviţa.

At Putna, she studied key liturgical books and tetraevangelia from the reign of Stephen III (Stephen the Great, 1457-1504) and worked with monks and priests there, making useful contacts for future engagement with the Stephen the Great Research and Documentation Center, which organizes a yearly conference on medieval and early modern Moldavian history and culture. She also met and discussed her work with Romanian historians from the University of Alexandru Ioan Cuza in Iaşi.

At the moment, she is finishing up the last two chapters of her dissertation on developments in monastic church architecture in Moldavia, as well as on the iconographic programs of select churches that took on a new visual rhetoric in the decades following the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

Nejime grave site, Kagoshima.


Project: “Ties that Bind: Land, Inheritance, and Kinship in Medieval Japan”

Kevin Gouge (History) spent the summer working through early documents in several University of Tokyo archives with local scholars. The archival work brought him closer to completing his case study of the Nejime family, whose different branches identified by their courtly name, Takebe, but were also known by names drawn from the villages or large farms in the physically scattered lands they controlled.

Kevin's project compares the loose network of the expansionist Nejime with the relatively isolated and concentrated Ichikawa family, following their stories through the Kamakura and Nanbokucho periods (1185-1392). His tracking of both families will allow a close comparison and analysis of broad political and social trends, as well as the relationship between social structure and the environment. (Funded by a MEMS Summer Award.)

Egerton Ms, page from Amis and Amiloun.


Project: "Desiring Discord: Political Conflict in Medieval Romance"

Maia Farrar (English) has been working on issues of reader reception and reading practices around early English romances and ballads. This past summer she compared the romance Amis and Amiloun in the fourteenth-century Egerton Manuscript, with the popular Bevis of Hamtoun and Florence and Blanchfloure for signs of reader engagement.

Questions in her final dissertation chapter include, How did readers interpret scenes of political conflict? Did they prioritize amorous over political moments, and how did they react to the prevalence of conflict? In Amis, tension is highlighted when the knights Amis and Amiloun choose their oath of brotherhood over the "truth" of the larger political and social fabric.

Though the Egerton ms has water damage and signs of heavy use, the Amis and Amiloun section is intact and shows signs of reader engagement -- pen tests, rubrication (marking in red) and marginalia – which suggest both active and distracted readership. A later reader of Amis added red illumination to identify and highlight the text's rhyming couplets and capital letters, a time-consuming and engaged practice. However, these marks end barely halfway through the romance on a leaf that bears a marginal doodle partially obscuring a line in a key scene wherein Amis breaks with the larger community by killing a steward's horse and then the steward in defense of his brother knight.

Compared to other popular romances that show no such mark-up, indicating passive reading, Amis stands out as a clear instance of reader engagement and a space where we can extrapolate from the romances outward to the reading community. (Funded by a MEMS Summer Award.)

Learning the ropes, with Cerberus doodle.


Project: "Vernaculars of Print in the 17th c. Netherlands"

Jun Nakamura (History of Art) is a historian of early modern visual culture who often finds Latin inscriptions on works he studies. This past summer, with MEMS support, he enrolled in a ten-week Latin bootcamp at CUNY, equivalent to four to six semesters of college Latin. By weeks seven and eight the class was reading Vergil’s Aeneid, and Augustine’s Confessions in weeks nine and ten. Livy, Tacitus, Lucretius, Petronius, and others made appearances along the way.

Embarking on research travel immediately after completing the course, he examined drawings at the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett and later, 16-17th century medical books at the Sächsisch Landesbibliothek, Staats- und Universitatsbibliotheck in Dresden. All these works carried Latin inscriptions, but the books were especially interesting. Both were published in Latin and contained hand annotations, also in Latin. From a long flyleaf inscription he determined that one had been given as a present to a medical student upon completion of his dissertation in 1739. Another was inscribed by two separate hands, one apparently 17th century and the other 18th. These and other marginalia shed light onto the uses of the books in the centuries following their publication, providing first-hand accounts of their provenance. (Funded by a MEMS Summer Award.)