Scholars Revel in Discussions of Romantic Ideals and Earthly Realities

April 12th, 2006 by Adam

Love and hate, fascination and revulsion, romantic ideals and earthly realities coexisted easily in the medieval and Renaissance world, where lives could be hard or luxurious, and wars could be ended by bloodshed or marriage between enemies.

In keeping with Plymouth State University’s mission to provide meaningful learning opportunities both inside and outside the University walls, scholars from across the U.S., Canada, Scotland and Spain will debate questions such as “Where do the boundaries lie between friendship, enmity and desire?” at the 27th annual Medieval and Renaissance Forum, April 28 and 29 at Plymouth State University.

The forum features a series of lectures, discussions, workshops, readings, symposia, performances and exhibitions, culminating in the annual medieval feast on Saturday night.

Onsite registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Rounds Hall on Summer Street. The Forum’s traditional opening ceremonies begin at 9:30 a.m. in front of Rounds Hall, and include a reading from Chaucer’s General Prologue by Dr. A. Robin Bowers (English department), and the singing of Gaudeamus Igitur. Dr. Naomi Kline, director, will welcome guests and Associate Director Matthew Rolph will officially open the festivities. In the case of inclement weather, the opening will be held in the Rounds Hall foyer.

Papers are presented in concurrent session blocks Friday from 10:10 – 11:45 a.m., 2:20 – 3:50 p.m. and 4 – 5 p.m.; and Saturday from 9:30 – 11 a.m., 1:15 – 2:45 p.m. and 3 – 4:30 p.m. The full schedule is online at

Dr. Higgs StricklandFriday’s luncheon (noon – 2 p.m., Hartman Union Building multipurpose room on High Street) will feature a keynote address, Exotics in the Middle Ages: Friends or Foes? by Dr. Debra Higgs Strickland from the University of Glasgow Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

By exploring the ambivalence present in contemporary written descriptions and pictorial images devoted to the mostly imaginary inhabitants of the exotic East—Monstrous Races, “Ethiopians,” and “Tartars”—Dr. Higgs Strickland highlights the complex and overlapping identities of these groups, regarded with both dread and desire, and clarifies their functions in later medieval Christian thought.

In addition to her affiliation with the University of Glasgow, Dr. Higgs Strickland is an honorary fellow in history of art at the University of Edinburgh. She has also served on the faculty at the University of Oregon, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Toronto, and as a visiting fellow at Princeton University.

Her art historical research is driven by an interest in social rejection and the ways in which medieval art actively shaped medieval Christians’ perceptions of themselves and others. Her publications include Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton University Press, 2003) and (under the name Debra Hassig) Medieval Bestiaries: Text, Image, Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 1995). She is also the editor ofMark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature (New York: Garland Publishing, 1999). Originally from New York, Dr. Higgs Strickland spent her early youth in Nashville, Tenn. where she pursued musical training. She has made her home in Scotland for the past nine years.

Also on Friday, Arthur Ketchen will present a workshop on “The Human Figure in Celtic Art” from 4 – 6 p.m. in Rounds Hall.

Friday evening programming includes an honors dinner from 7 – 8:15 p.m. to recognize people who have been important during the forum’s 27-year history. The “Knight of the Forum” will be presented a statuette created by Plymouth artist and Professor of Art Emeritus, Robert Morton. Limited public seating may be available for the awards portion of this event.

Friday programming will conclude with a free concert by Celtic musician Jodee James from 8:30 – 10 p.m. Singing ancient tales and ageless themes of love, loyalty, longing and mystery, with a voice that is touching and intimate, Jodee conjures the very essence of tradition, whether of this century or many centuries before us. Nobles, shepherds, lovers and dreamers, birds as messengers and inspiring heroes all come to life in Jodee’s music.

A highlight of programming on Saturday will be an illustrated reading on “The Mirror in Her Hands: Medieval Women and the Roman de la Rose” by Dr. Meradith McMunn of Rhode Island College, during the luncheon. Limited public seating may be available for the reading. Also on Saturday, the students of the PSU Medieval Society will present a workshop on chain mail at the Hartman Union Building.

Forum festivities conclude Saturday evening with a traditional Medieval Feast beginning at 5 p.m. Participants will gather for dinner and entertainment by Seven Times Salt, an early music chamber ensemble from Cambridge, Mass. Their specialty is the English consort repertoire of the 16th and 17th centuries.

To register for Forum events, go to or call Matt Rolph, associate director of the Forum at (603) 535-3253.