Medieval studies minor undergoing revitalization

The medieval studies minor has been in flux since the departure of Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Emeritus Bill Cook after the spring 2012 semester. In Cook’s absence, lecturer in English and creative writing Jess Fenn became the new program coordinator.

Cook taught several history-intensive classes while he was a professor. When he left, many of the courses he taught were discontinued, effectively transforming the minor into a series in medieval literature. Almost three years later, however, Fenn explained that the minor now has a wide range of course offerings.

“There’s a revitalization of the minor going on right now,” Fenn said. “One of the amazing things about Geneseo is that there is a lot going on here in terms of medieval studies. I haven’t found a paucity; I found a kind of richness that needs to be brought together.”

Interdisciplinary majors and minors—including medieval studies, American studies and museum studies amongst others—require students to take classes across several different sections. For medieval studies students, that means English, history, political science and others.

One thing that Fenn has implemented to revitalize the minor is the addition of extracurricular activities. The events are hosted with funding coming from the English department, the department of languages and literature, the history department, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the President.

“This semester there was a medieval literary reading that was really well attended,” Fenn said. “I’m organizing a medieval feast for the end of term that’s kind of a community-building thing for faculty who teach on the minor and medieval-interested students.” The feast will be hosted at the Big Tree Inn and will have early medieval music and drama performed by students. The minor has had trouble enrolling students, but Fenn expressed her confidence about the future of the program.

“Enrollment in the minor is something that we’re working on,” Fenn said. “I’m hoping that with this revitalization and the new visibility of the medieval studies minor that we will be recruiting more students. A lot of students don’t know that it exists, so it’s a question of how to get the word out there.”

Next semester, there will be a women’s studies course introduced that will count for the minor: Gender and Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible. As Fenn put it, Geneseo has an abundance of course offerings for medieval studies students.

“The offerings are there, it’s just a matter of getting them all in one place and coordinating between the different departments,” she said. “The curriculum is really important.”

The curriculum and the program as a whole still face an uphill battle because there is no tenured faculty member who specializes in medieval studies. That post has been vacant since Cook’s departure.

“Obviously, lacking a tenured faculty member in the history department is a challenge,” Fenn said. “Ideally, a full-time faculty member would increase the range of offerings that we can make.”