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Synopsis Are butts the most medieval of body parts? From the Wild Man to Chaucer to good old Michelangelo, let’s pontificate about the posterior. Do you need more of a pitch than that? Notes 0/ Preorder Em’s book: a little obscene, only a few butts. 1/ Warning for…talking about butts, I guess. 2/ The Wild Man: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_man…
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Summary A long time ago, people were pure at heart. Of course, sex happened occasionally, but no one took off their clothes for it–that would be gauche. Then James Joyce wrote a book called Ulysses and things started to go downhill. In 1933, a judge named John M. Woolsey ruled in a case called United States v. One Book Called Ulysses that Ulysses w…
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1/ EB White was a rather nice, shy guy who wrote for the New Yorker and hid from his admirers. TH White was a weirdo who lived on the edge of the woods in the UK. EB White is the White of Strunk & White. https://xkcd.com/923/ 2/ it would be more accurate to say Em “hangs around” the book space. There’s no working going on. But this is true: 50% of …
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Summary Early on, a friend of the podcast asked if we were going to cover chivalry. Because really, when you think of the Middle Ages, this is it, right? Knights in very shiny armor on beautiful horses charging into battle, swords drawn! Knights getting scarves from their ladies! Knights holding vigils and praying in front of the holy grail. Today,…
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Summary The other day, I asked a friend, “Hey, what do normal people put on their walls?” The answer…is tapestries. Cold, stony castle? Tapestries. Small, plain cathedral? Tapestries. A house of some sort? Probably also tapestries. In this episode, Em and Dr. Jesse talk over how tapestries are made, famous tapestries from around the world, and the …
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Summary It’s wintertime in the Northern hemisphere! Snow is, of course, eternal, but did you ever wonder how far back the tradition of making snowpeople goes? Jesse did. Join us as we trace the history of snowpeople in Europe/the UK as far back as we can. Notes 1/ Marginal illustration in a Book of Hours from c1380 (Ms KA36, fol. 78 verso, Brussels…
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Synopsis Once upon a time there was a guy named Gawain, and someone made a movie about him! And he got to be played by Dev Patel, which is pretty great when you get down to it. And then we covered it! In which Em reveals that she watches way too much historical costuming YouTube, Jesse gives a coherent literary critique, and then we talk about cine…
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Synopsis Famous eels: 1/ “Those are the shrieking eels. You don’t believe me? Just wait. They always grow louder when they’re about to feed on human flesh.” (Name that movie.) 2/ Mark Oliver Everett 3/ Medieval eel rents! The medieval church, famously, had a lot of restrictions on what people could eat and when—during Lent, on Fridays, and other fa…
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Summary A lot of stuff about Richards II and III for a podcast that’s supposed to be about queens. Also Mathildas, Boudica, and why Black Panther is more historically accurate than Wonder Woman. Notes 1/ Richard III’s body was eventually found under a car park. I swear we talked about this at some point. “Was ever woman in this humor woo’d?” Richar…
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Synopsis As a memorial to Elizabeth II, Em and Jesse discuss famous queens throughout history and mostly in the UK, including drag queens, the borough of Queens, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne, Victoria, and Elizabeth II. Also Sophie of Hanover, Wills and Kate, Prince Harry and Meghan, and I think Charlie III a little bit. Annot…
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Synopsis Bro! You knew it was coming! Grab your replica Sutton Hoo helmet and get ready, it’s Beowulf o’clock. Annotations 1/ Spoiler alert: it wasn’t published as episode 50. [But that’s ok! 🙂 –Jesse] 2/ We talked about Cotton in episode 39 note 8. Here is more info on the Cotton collection: https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/cotton-manuscripts h…
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Summary Summertime, and the living is Medieval. But really, what was summer like in the Middle Ages? We talk about the Medieval Climate Anomaly, the (not at all Medieval) Little Ice Age, the volcano on Santorini, Medieval vacation tendencies, the Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry, and the Olympics. Also, Firesign Theatre references! … Continue…
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Synopsis Part two of the run up to the arrival of Queen Matilda and that other guy…what was his name…William the Conqueror. Yeah. Him. Includes Danelaw, Danegeld, surprising connections to Hamlet, an explanation of whether Aethelred the Unready was really unready, and of course a discussion of Eric the Viking! Annotations 1/ We have obviously linke…
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Synopsis As good students of history, you already know that all-important date in British history: 1066, aka the Norman Invasion. But what happened in England before then? From the Romans through to Alfred the Great, join Em and Jesse as they talk about a whole bunch of kings, kingdoms, Vikings, and Monty Python. Annotations 1/ … Continue reading "…
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Synopsis What do you get when you combine Monty Python, Mel Brooks, and the Passion of Christ? I don’t know, but it’s been going on for 390 years at this point. In this episode, Em and Jesse discuss what Jesse did on her summer vacation (or part of it): a trip to see the passion … Continue reading "Episode 52: Heut’ kommt die Jesse zu Oberammergau"…
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Summary Ever see an Indiana Jones movie? For more on relic theft, see Patrick J. Geary’s Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages. Annotations and Corrections 1/ The episode where we talked about St. Nicholas was episode 23 (a Christmas episode). The oil is kind of said to be myrrh, but it’s … Continue reading "Episode 51: The Relic…
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Synopsis The last of the major proto-protestant heresies we’re going to examine is the Hussites, who were led by Jan Hus. And then we’re going to quick talk about the man, the myth, the machine, Martin Luther. The first rule of Medieval Studies is “Don’t talk about Luther.” [Also the second and third rules.–Jesse] But … Continue reading "Episode 50…
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Synopsis Let’s talk about the Waldensians, the Lollards, and some revolting peasants. Wait. Oh well–Anyway, we talk a lot about how the Pope gave all the Franciscans’ stuff back to them and forced them to own stuff, some Shakespeare, and a lot of heresies. Notes 1/ RI Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority … Continue reading "Epis…
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Synopsis So, say you like what Christianity has to offer generally. That Jesus kid seems like he has a good head on his shoulders. But theologically, you have a problem. Maybe you’re a Gnostic and think they’re wrong about the spiritual vs physical world. Maybe you think more women should be allowed to participate in … Continue reading "Episode #48…
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Synopsis Manichaeism: The number one major world religion you’ve never heard of. In order to understand it and its prophet, Mani, we need to understand Gnosticism, a complex and subtle philosophy regarded as a heresy by the Christians. The short version is, “[i]n the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of … Continue reading "Epi…
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Synopsis After an unexpected late-season hiatus, we’re back with an episode on musical forms! We’ve got the earliest hymns, the maddest madrigals, tuning and temperament, at least three different types of chant, and a song so recursive it will summon Douglas Hofstadter if you play it into a mirror in a dark room. Annotations 1/ … Continue reading "…
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Summary More on the Feast of Fools and the Kalends, with some digressions about Roman Emperor Claudius and labyrinths. Annotations For most of the Feast of Fools and Herod info from this episode, see Max Harris, Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Folly-History-Feast-Fools/dp/0801479495 1/ The Kalends (or…
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Summary Christmas, a season for overeating, arguing with your parents about politics, and…wearing masks? Join Em and Jesse as they talk about topsy turvy Medieval holidays like the Feast of Fools! Also we talk a little about the Purge film/TV franchise, Rabelais, and Foucault. Sorry to the two people who follow us who are not … Continue reading "Ep…
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Summary More on music! (Shoutout to episode 40/music part 1, which came out a while ago now.) We talk about dulcimers and gitterns, viols and tabors, Jew’s harps and gamelans, and Jesse’s favorite–the bagpipe. Also tuning, temperament, aaaand a little Monty Python. Annotations 1/ The Early Instrument Database at Case Western Reserve University, Ros…
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Summary Do you want some candy, little girl? Of course you do, it’s delicious. But what was candy a thousand years ago? Turns out at least some of it was kind of similar to what we get today. Annotations Some book recommendations: Steven Epstein, An Economic and Social History of Later Medieval Europe, 1000–1500. Sidney … Continue reading "Episode …
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Summary It’s spooky season! Witches have been around–and feared–since the Middle Ages. We discuss their history, unexpected ties to Judaism, and their little (or large and wolfy) dogs, too. Annotations 1/ See also: Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett. Book 1 of the collected Sandman (I think they get summoned in issue 2) by Neil Gaiman. … Continue rea…
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Summary You may have heard someone say that music is in their bones, but is it really? Answer: Yes! (If you are a Neanderthal, anyway.) In fact, the earliest instrument we have found, dating from 50-60,000 years ago, is a flute made from the bone of a cave bear. In this episode, we’ll discuss instruments … Continue reading "Episode 40: To Be Played…
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Summary What was the one weird habit of the Ptolemys that librarians hated? What trick did early indexers use for organizing collections? And what major library lost some really important documents–and tried to keep it a secret? From Alexandria to the Medieval monastery, let’s talk about the evolution of libraries over the course of a … Continue re…
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Summary “When I was in library school, we never discussed outright conquest as a method of collection development.” In which we discuss books (and other recordkeeping methods), the growth of reading in conjunction with the consolidation of manuscripts, and also Em is a nerd about classification systems. Sources Paul Saenger “Silent Reading: Its Imp…
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Summary The 1560 painting “Children’s Games,” painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Question: What did kids do before Gameboy? Answer: Everything. Annotations Important works: Nicholas Orme’s Medieval Children. Barbara Hanawalt’s The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Children’s Games. 1/ Bringing Up Be…
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Summary So you lived through birth…now what? Despite the popular image of the Middle Ages putting children to work the instant they were capable of holding a tool, Medieval childhood was actually pretty similar to modern childhood. No iPads, but people bought cute clothes for their kids, lots of different types of toys, sent them … Continue reading…
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Summary Join Em and Dr. Jesse as we play a little game we like to call, “How Early in History Could Em Have Had Children and Survive?” The answer may surprise you! We also cover Mary’s girdle, (some of) the life and times of Dr. James Barry and Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, childbirth-related saints, the masculinization … Continue reading "Episode 35: The …
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Synopsis We’ve just spent the month of June watching innumerable students progress across the stage in their long gowns. Where does the tradition of wearing black robes, mortarboards, and stoles/hoods as academic regalia come from? Hint: it’s the Middle Ages! Join Em and Jesse as we discuss the origins of universities (and some of the … Continue re…
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Summary Part two of women as artisans. Join Em and Jesse as they discuss more about the work women did in the Middle Ages, including quite a lot about guilds and textiles, including spinning, embroidery, quilting, and silkworking. Find out which guilds accepted women, how were they treated, to what extent were they involved in … Continue reading "E…
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Summary Em and Jesse reminisce about libraries they have known, discuss scriptoria and book-making before the printing press, and talk about women who worked in various Medieval professional guilds, how they got there, and what they did with their money. Annotations and Corrections Recommended text for this episode: Reassessing the Roles of Women a…
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Summary From Groundhog Day to Hocktide to May Day to Midsummer to Mother’s Day, there are a ton of spring holidays! Join Em and Jesse as we discuss St. George and Medieval dragons, Saint Walpurga and Walpurgisnacht, Pagan syncretism, and a whole lot more. With some digressions about brunch. Annotations and Corrections 1/ Groundhog Day … Continue re…
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Summary Cats are tiny lions that live in your home. But how long have they lived with humans? Have they always had the position of respect they enjoy now? Also, what’s up with racoons? Em and Jesse discuss cats in the Middle Ages (and also other animals kept as pets, including squirrels, monkeys, and birds). … Continue reading "Episode 30: Felis Ca…
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Synopsis Dogs have long been reputed to be man’s best friend. But how long is “long”? The answer is close to 10,000 years (at least). Join Em and Jesse as they look back at the intertwined history of humanity and canine-ity, from Odysseus’s dog Argos to Hachiko, who waited ten years for his owner to … Continue reading "Episode 29: D’You Like Dags?"…
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Summary Hungry? Grab a snack and join Em and Jesse for a discussion of food in the Middle Ages–what did a well-equipped kitchen contain? What kind of dishes were cooked, with what ingredients? And who did the cooking and baking? With some digressions on international variations of hand pies and sandwiches, Wisconsin fish fries, and … Continue readi…
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Summary Welcome to season 2! Grab your favorite potation and join Em and Jesse for a tour of the history of alcohol, from monkeys getting drunk on fermented apples, to the earliest written recipe for beer, to rules surrounding the making and serving of drinks in the Middle Ages. With some fun digressions on the … Continue reading "Episode 27: Drink…
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Summary “Wuv… twue wuv…will follow you fowever…” Interested in a brief history of Valentine’s Day? You’re in luck. From the question of who was the historical saint to when the day became associated with romance, Em and Jesse start with ancient Roman fertility festivals like Lupercalia and trace the rituals forward through to references in … Contin…
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Synopsis Jews in space? No, Jews on stage. What was the world like for Jewish actors during the Middle Ages? Well, it was a bit of a mixed bag, honestly. Yes, there were times and places where Jewish life was severely proscribed, but there were also places where Jewish actors and playwrights were celebrated for … Continue reading "Episode 25: Jews …
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Synopsis Em and Jesse discuss physical performance spaces, from Greek amphitheaters to pageant carts to prosceniums, and the changes theaters have seen over time. There’s a lot of Renaissance stuff in here, including an interesting discussion of the various theaters Shakespeare would have premiered plays–the Globe and the Rose–with some interesting…
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Synopsis Let’s talk about possible pagan origins for everyone’s favorite late-December excuse to eat a lot of pie. In addition, Em and Jesse discuss the surprisingly capitalist early traditions associated with St. Nicholas and the various strange beings who accompany Santa in different countries, from Pere Fouettard (who whips bad children in Franc…
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Summary Em and Jesse discuss the life and plays of Hrotsvit, the strong voice of Gandersheim and the first named playwright in western Europe. Small content warning, we do discuss rape in this episode, but not explicitly. Annotations and Corrections 1/ For those too young to remember Benny Hill, this is what Em is talking … Continue reading "Episod…
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Summary If you’ve ever pondered how “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana,” then this episode is for you. Join Jesse and Em as they discuss physical comedy and the origins of the commedia dell’arte, its French cousin the comedie francaise, and the Japanese comedic Kyogen style. With a lot of digressions … Continue reading "Episode 21…
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Summary We got all your vampire subtypes: sparkling, British, and thirsty for the blood of the living. We got a couple of different types of ghosts, including hungry ghosts and dybbuks. And we got discussions of ghost stories that appear in both Noh drama and Chinese opera. All that, and we also talk about Buffy … Continue reading "Episode 20: Vamp…
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Synopsis From Bisclavret to Remus Lupin, werewolves have been portrayed in fiction for centuries–and portrayed both positively and negatively, by Jews and Christians alike. Join Em and Jessie as they discuss Medieval legends about these amazing beasts. And also a little bit about golems, kappas, and zombies/revenants, plus other creepy facts. Annot…
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Summary Halloween! A time of candy, Pagan ritual, sexy bus driver costumes, and syncretism. How much of this holiday has been handed down to us from the middle ages, and how much is modern? Join Em and Jesse for an exciting discussion of the medieval version of All Hallows’ Eve, with some fun digressions on … Continue reading "Episode 18: Halloween…
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Synopsis Dance dramas are theatrical presentations that use dance (and sometimes words, but mostly dance) to tell a story. Em and Jesse look at dance dramas from around the world, from Mesoamerica before and after the Spanish invasion to Japan. With a number of digressions involving Prince, Irish step dancing, Alvin Ailey, and the movie … Continue …
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