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November 20, 2008

Vivian Ramalingam writes us about her current research on “Liege Homage, Legitimacy, and Inheritance in Medieval Jewish Commentary�?

I am presently exploring medieval Jewish versions of scripture and associated rabbinical commentaries as a background for political thought, as expressed in certain polyphonic motets of the first half of the fourteenth century. This approach casts a different light on the influence of Jewish sacred literature in the intellectual milieu of the French court at that time, suggesting that it was more significant than had been supposed. I am concentrating on the evidence of the texts and music of selected ars nova, French polytextual motets with Latin liturgical tenors.

The polyphonic motets I have chosen are constructed over patterned repetitions of a fragment of Gregorian chant. The upper voices simultaneously sing two different melodic lines with two different texts, which may be in French or in Latin. The polytextual aspect makes the French motet an ideal vehicle for sensitive, complex political argument because it can make polemical assertions without providing amplification or justification, as would be necessary in normal discourse, especially political speech.

Close study of the Jewish readings that contribute to the substrates of these motet texts, and also number-symbolic clues in the music, reveal that this group of motets are essentially "position papers" on some of the fundamental issues leading to the outbreak of the Hundred Years War: legitimacy, inheritance, and liege homage. For example, the Jewish commentary explains the nature of the rights given by Isaac to Jacob, but the Christian commentary does not. The motet masks the fact that the poet makes use of one, and not the other.

Professor Susan Noakes, Department of French and Italian

The Center for Medieval Studies would like to wish a fond farewell to Susan Noakes, Professor in the Department of French and Italian, who stepped down as CMS Director this summer. Professor Noakes took the CMS helm in 2002 and successfully steered us through some big changes including moving offices and administrative units; starting a Medieval Outreach program in local schools; and co-editing the journal Medieval Encounters with Professors Kathryn Ryerson and Barbara Weissberger. Continue Reading.

More recently, Professor Noakes collaborated with Professors Geraldine Heng at the University of Texas Austin and David Theo Goldberg at the University of California Humanities Research Institute to launch the Global Middle Ages Project. GMAP’s ambitious aim is to show that the medieval world (between roughly 500-1500 CE) was an interconnected network, rather than, as we tend to study them, a set of entirely disparate cultures. Their digital presence, MAPPAMUNDI, attempts to collect a number of online projects and resources for use by teachers, students, and scholars, and will (in the words of their website), “gather, coordinate, and showcase in one location and database the best of these scattered online digital projects within a framework that depicts how human relations and cultures form a global web within a long timeline. We can weave together many networks of human stories, and follow the lives of cities and civilizations—using videos, music, maps, movies, and a dynamic interplay of voices that continually change as students and teachers cycle on and off our online conversations.?

This summer, Professor Noakes also gave a lecture on the Scholarly Community for the Globalization of the ‘Middle Ages.’ The new Scholarly Community in formation seeks to reconceive the field of Medieval Studies not in terms of Europe alone but also in relation to Africa, the Middle East, Eurasia, and Asia. The project is founded on the premise that in some cases intra-university collaboration in the humanities creates a more satisfactory outcome than research conducted on one campus alone; it seeks to utilize to the maximum degree currently feasible digital media and networking capabilities to create and maintain such collaboration. The Community is building an international advisory board, working on logos and content for its website, and looking forward to a public launch at The 44th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan this May, where the Community will have three panels as well as a reception for those wanting to learn more or participate. Interested scholars might also want to look at this, which describes the other projects associated with SCGMA.

Thanks for all of your hard work as Director of CMS for the last 6 years, Professor Noakes!

UMN History PhD candidate Jeff Hartman

We would like to congratulate UMN History PhD candidate Jeff Hartman for receiving an award for best conference paper by a historian at the 98th Annual Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies (SASS) in Fairbanks, Alaska this past spring. His paper, “Deforestation and Driftwood: Icelandic timber imports in light of the archaeology of dwelling construction,? won the graduate student paper prize given by the Society for Historians of Scandinavia, and he received a cash award as well as a free lunch at the next conference. Jeff’s paper is also in the running for the Aurora Borealis Prize for best conference paper overall. Wish him good luck!