History jumps disciplinary walls at conference

by Barbara Black


When art historian Anne Dunlop got talking to historians Robert Tittler and Shannon McSheffrey, she realized that they had a lot in common. Their shared love of the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance turned into a study day held January 15 on research being done by no fewer than 10 scholars at Concordia in half a dozen disciplines.

Dunlop arrived at Concordia fairly recently from the United Kingdom, where she did her PhD at the University of Warwick, and taught there and at Birkbeck College.

She didn't expect to know all the faculty members who participated at the informal conference on late medieval and early modern research, but she was somewhat taken aback to find that even Dr. Tittler, who has taught at Concordia for many years, was meeting some people for the first time.

"The greatest pleasure for me was the range of things going on, and the very high quality of the work," Dunlop said. Given the opportunity, "people are interested in going beyond their own disciplines."

Early-music expert Christopher Jackson, who toured in Europe last year with a production of Monteverdi's Orfeo, talked about how that composer broke new ground in his use of the Greek modes. The opera was also discussed by Music Professor Liselyn Adams in the context of using Greek myth in an original way.

Virginia Nixon, an art historian who teaches at Concordia's Liberal Arts College, described elements of her doctoral thesis on St. Anne, who became Germany's favourite saint by being an exemplary mother and grandmother.

Rosemary Drage Hale, a scholar in religious studies, told the participants how she has rethought her early training that textual analysis was paramount. Her years of teaching have given her new respect for the place of images and objects in providing context for historical research.

Philosophy Professor Christopher Gray discussed the role of selection and translation in the work of St. Bonaventure, who wrote the official biography of St. Francis of Assisi. Études franćaises Professor Marie-France Wagner described her research on the royal procession, which was raised to an art form in mid-17th-century provincial France.

Dr. Tittler, a specialist in the history of municipal England, talked about portraits of civic leaders of the period, which were often painted long after the men themselves had died, probably as a kind of public relations exercise to establish an image of the town's identity and pride.

Dr. McSheffrey described her work on trial records of marital disputes in 15th-century England. Unlike those of today, which are usually about efforts to split up, these were often about whether the litigants were legally married or not.

Claire Le Brun-Gouanvic, also from Études franćaises, talked about her work on non-fiction in Middle Ages. As an art historian, Dunlop found it particularly intriguing to learn about the shifting definition of "non-fiction" in this context. Such perspectives from other fields "open up your own thinking," she said.

Her own presentation dealt with her work on secular fresco cycles in Early-Renaissance Italy. These frescoes are wall paintings found in residences, and are often quite lively in their subject matter.

Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.