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Works in Progress

The following is a listing of current works-in-progress, including my dissertation, which demonstrates the practical application of the principles outlined in my Research Statement.

Each listing has a synopsis of the project.  To read further, click the inverted caret (  ) to expand the section.

Dissertation Project

Quick Eels and Captured Spaces:  Changing Geographies of Spatial Negotiation in 17th-Century London

Synopsis:  This project seeks to write a history of the Dutch eel ships in London during the seventeenth century, with a particular focus on how the ships, their history, and their representation in mapping, art and literature suggest broader developments in urban spatial practices.  A study of the ships’ place in the city, and of the role of eels more broadly in English cultural life, offer a lens through which to investigate changes in urban geographic representations during the pivotal 17th century.     

As an untold and mistold story, the history of the Dutch eel ships is important in its own right.  However, because of the insight into the production of London space that they afford, the ships’ history and representation on the Thames between 1600 and 1699 warrant particular attention.  That 100-year window, when the eel ships make their appearance in images and accounts of London as a novel part of the cityscape, saw drastic changes in both the spatial practices of Londoners and in the representations of the city as a conceptual spatial unit by mapmakers, artists and writers.

Some of these changes find obvious sources: population growth, plague, fire, civil war, and shifts in religious ritual practice all clearly left imprints on the cityscape.  However, the story of the eel ships’ contested century brings to light other important, and generally overlooked, factors.  The Dutch presence on the Thames suggests that issues such as cultures of eating, changing definitions of English territory beyond London, conceptions of law, and the dynamic relationship between national and international commerce all acted as important components of the city’s negotiated spatial identity.  Further, the ships’ changing place in the cartography of the city argues for an ongoing discussion about the virtues and value of mapping vernacular spaces, and about the slipperiness of representing impermanent and fugitive elements.

I believe these discussions, made visible with the eel ships, were emblematic of larger trends in mapping and spatial definition that moved, quietly but distinctly, over the century away from representing the vernacular and the illusive in favor of the elite and the monumental.  In this, the disappearance of the Dutch from the reproduced cityscape by the end of the century is telling.  Their space did not disappear from the phenomenology of daily life; the eel ships stayed on the Thames and became an important and integrated part of the city.  But they slipped from the edges and pages of representation.  The way that projections of London employed – or did not employ – the Dutch eel ships gives first voice to a discussion about the inflection of class and power on spatial practice, and the means by which those practices found reification in a cartography that renegotiated perceptions of the city.

The Dutch ships, then, offer a useful case study for understanding the development of English conceptions and perceptions of 17th century London space more broadly.  By detailing the history of the eel ships – how they came to be in the Thames and on the maps, the specifics and mechanics of the trade, and their status in the city over the course of the tumultuous century – and connecting that history to these questions of spatial production, this project will accomplish two tasks.  First, it will shed light on a consistently misunderstood historical phenomenon; and second, it will demonstrate the importance of a range of factors and practices that spun together to help constitute London as a lived space and as a conceptual cityscape.

In November, 2017, I presented part of these ideas at Tübingen University’s Winter School for Global Frontiers as a funded participant.  I argued that the Dutch presence on the Thames needs to be understood in terms of tensions between external and internal frontier spaces.  The Dutch became visible in the cityscape in part because of English efforts to expand the country by draining the Fens, and the century of contestation over their position was essentially a process of boundary-fixing.  It was only through the later development of a convoluted spatial myth that the issue was eventually resolved.

A poster summarizing my argument for the establishment of Dutch frontiers on the Thames may be found here.

Other Works and Projects in Progress

Insider Information:  The Worlds of Medieval Memory    

Synopsis:  A book-length project with Anna Waymack investigating the ways that medieval people used maps, spatial knowledge, and geographic ideation to help shape both their memories and their self-identities.     

This project expands on a forthcoming stand-alone article in the Fall, 2018 issue of The Medieval Globe, “Thinking Globally:  Mandeville, Memory and Mappaemundi.”  That article argues that literary texts which aimed to map global spaces enabled readers to index their memories onto, identify with and own the world. By verbally charting the earth, Mandeville’s Travels served as a mental template wherein users could more easily store information. This challenges the assumptions behind foundational medieval memory work, which reads exclusively elite texts that prohibit prefabricated mnemonic devices. This argument has ramifications for European identity and selfhood in the Global Middle Ages, transhumanist and ecocritical medieval work, and the manner in which colonialist figures were primed by Mandeville to own, appropriate, and utilize other peoples.

We project that the Mandeville article should form one chapter of the book.  Our broader project expands on the themes of that chapter, looking at texts beyond Mandeville.  We move from Augustine and Orosius to Bede’s histories, later medieval chronicle writers, and the first two books of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon.  In doing so, we explore textual mappaemundi, the metaphor of reading-as-travel, and the underpinnings of location-based (and hence mnemonic) knowledge in chronicles. We then read the Harley Lyrics’ “Erþe toc of erþe,” the medieval morality play “The Castle of Perseverace,” John Gower, and the Ebstorf mappamundi to alter our understanding of medieval man’s self-positioning as microcosm, determining what it means to mnemonically consume (with metaphors of memory-as-eating), self-conceptualize as, and think through the world.

We expect to pitch this project to Brill in June, 2018, to be considered for their new edited series, Maps, Spaces, Cultures.  

“Estrildis’s Lament:  Trading Spaces for Sorrow in an Exeter Book / H.R.B. Mashup”

Synopsis:  Taking the enigmatic Old English poem “The Wife’s Lament” and considering it through the lens of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regnum Britaniae, this essay seeks to ground “The Wife’s Lament” in an understandable and possible landscape.     

Examining basic narrative similarities between the poem and a vignette in Geoffrey’s work, I try to use the known geographic space and and situations of the HRB to help uncover possible internal spaces of the eponymous Wife.  Approaching the texts in this way widens the emotional register available to the Wife, and provides a means of understanding the poems ending that relies on accepting, rather than reconciling, the poet’s apparent contradictions.  This essay is in the final stages of edits before I submit it to a journal for peer review.

Matthew Paris’s Politically Ambitious Mapmaking

Synopsis:  A project examining the mapmaking practices of the 13th century English monk, Matthew Paris, with a particular focus on the his most famous depiction of England, the Claudius map.     

This work springs from my master’s thesis, which offered a close reading of the Claudius map, and argued that through it Paris posed a series of cartographic claims to the whole of Britain that mirrored and reinforced the political ambitions of Henry III.  I have presented a small part of the project’s argument at the 2017 BRIDGE Conference, and that paper is scheduled to be published in an edited collection.  I am currently preparing the chapter on the map’s treatment of Wales for submission as an article, and the project in its entirety is well positioned for expansion into a shorter monograph. 

Producing Islands and Managing Space in The Dog of Montargis

Synopsis:  A study of the changing role of islands as containers for violence and authority in the evolving history of  story that came to be known as The Dog of Montargis.     

The story, which tells of a hound who successfully challenges its master’s killer to a juridical duel, owns a long history during which its elements and actors have changed substantially.  From its origins as a tale of a mob-managed judicial contest between the dog and a commoner in a field outside of Antioch, subsequent medieval iterations gradually shifted the narrative to an expression of royally-controlled violence on Paris’ Île de la Cité in which the antagonist came from noble stock.  In this, the space of the island changed from metaphorical to real, and the popular community, so important to the rituals and processes of saga duels, took up the receptive role of witnesses to the actions of the elites.  In fine, medieval writers used the story of the dog and his duel to reassess the spatial requirements of lawful violence.  The evolving continental model came to argue for a social structure in which popular judicial authority rested with a centralized power, and in which right to combat lay solely with the seigneurial classes.  That social distance found spatial articulation in the far stage space of the island, so that by the time Malory had begun the Mort d’Arthur in the early part of the fifteenth century European authors had come to regard physical islands as the proper containers for legitimated, elite violence.

Theatrical Spaces in the Regularis Concordia

Synopsis:  A close examination of the dramatic spaces present in the 10th-century Regluaris Concordia, pointing to a more nuanced reading of the both the text and its role in the foundation of European theatrical history.       

The Regularis Concordia, a monastic rule which sought to reform Benedectine practice in England, includes what has broadly been considered one of the first instances of liturgical drama in the medieval period.  The text’s Quem Quaeritis section instructs the monks on how to reenact the scene from the Bible of the three women approaching Christ’s tomb and meeting the angel, and has been singled out as the starting point of medieval theatrical ritual.  However, I argue that the Quem Quaeritis part of the text is only the most obvious of a large number of set piece dramas in the Regularis Concordia.  The book carves out multiple stages-spaces with defined and scripted patterns of behavior and dialogue that reinforce monastic ritual.  Paying attention to these dramatic spaces suggests that the traditional understanding of the origins of drama in the medieval period need to be reassessed.