Yvonne Seale

Making Women Matter, One Medieval Manuscript at a Time

Category: Publications

Publication Roundup V

Header image: Detail of the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, ca. 1477. Austrian National Library, Cod. 1857.


George Washington: Descendant of Odin“, in The Public Domain Review.

…on a bizarre and fanciful piece of genealogical scholarship and what it tells us about identity in late 19th-century America.

“Well-Behaved Women? Agnès of Baudement and Agnès of Braine as Mediators and Patrons of the Premonstratensian Order”, in The Haskins Society Journal, Vol. 28 (2016), 101-117.

Focusing on the careers of Agnès the elder and Agnès the younger illustrates two key points. First, that women were central to the functioning of aristocratic families and affinity groups in the Middle Ages. The Agnèses—as was the case for many medieval aristocratic women—were able to leverage both their natal and their marital connections across large distances for social and political ends. Second, examining the ways in which the two Agnèses worked to secure the prosperity of their families shows how strategies required to do so could shift over the course of a few generations.

“The Multi-Cultural Middle Ages: An Annotated Bibliography for Teachers”, in The Once and Future Classroom, Vol. 13:2 (Fall 2017).

A collection of primary and secondary sources, both print and digital, gathered with an eye towards use in the K-12 classroom.

Book Reviews

Review of Lindy Grant, Blanche of Castile, Queen of France: power, religion and culture in the thirteenth century. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2016, in French History. [10.1093/fh/crx010]

Bits and Bobs

I was interviewed by Marlen Komar at Bustle for “What Not To Wear: The Strange & Scary History of Women’s Dress Codes” and for “7 Absurd Medieval Fashion Rules That You Won’t Believe Women Actually Had To Follow.” Click on through if you want to learn why women in fifteenth-century Italy were told they needed to dress modestly because of their “barbarous and irrepressible bestiality”!

Publication Roundup IV

[Header image: detail of Robert Campin, “Madonna and Child with Saints in the Enclosed Garden“, ca. 1440-60. National Gallery of Art, Washington]

Journal Article

“Imagining Medieval Europe in the College Classroom,” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching, Vol. 23:1 (Spring 2016), 95-105.

In this essay, I will describe three techniques that I use to make my students more comfortable with the idea of history as an endeavor of which they are part. As Peter Seixas has pointed out, good history teaching “exposes the process of constructing warranted historical accounts so that students can arrive at their own understandings of the past through the process of critical inquiry” while “conveying ‘knowing’ as an active process.” My approach combines a close focus on primary sources and their contexts and implications, with group and paired assignments which require students to constantly reassess the perspectives and assumptions which they bring to the study of medieval history.

Book Reviews

Review of Maeve Brigid Callan, The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish: Vengeance and Heresy in Medieval Ireland. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015, in Eolas: The Journal for the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies 9:1 (2016).

Review of Judith Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, in Past Imperfect: the History and Classics Graduate Student Journal of the University of Alberta, 19:1 (2016), 129-34. [Read online]

I was also interviewed by Sarah Bond for an article she wrote for Forbes, “What Not to Wear: A Short History of Regulating Female Dress From Ancient Sparta to the Burkini.” I talked with Professor Bond about the history of regulating dress for female monastics in the Middle Ages, and the parallels that has with current controversies about the clothing worn by some Muslim women.

Publication Roundup III

[Header image: Detail of Rogier van der Weyden’s The Magdalen Reading, bef. 1438. National Gallery, London, NG654.]

De Monasterio Desolato: Politics and Patronage in an Irish Frontier Convent,” in The Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies, Vol. 4 (2015), 21-45.

The nuns of Ballymore, Ireland, vanish from the historical record in the later fifteenth century. Previous scholarship on the house has adhered to an older view of medieval Cistercian women, suggesting that Ballymore’s failure was due to enclosure and an inability on the nuns’ part to manage their landholdings effectively. This article argues that both the foundation of the convent and its eventual disappearance owe more to political circumstances than to economic mismanagement: Ballymore was located on the border between Anglo-Irish and Gaelic-Irish areas, and the town was the caput of the de Lacys’ Westmeath manor. As the Gaelic Irish lords experienced a resurgence in power, the fortunes of the de Lacys — and therefore the nuns of Ballymore whom they patronized — went into decline.

“The First Female Anglo-Saxonist,” in “History Matters” column, History Today. [Read online]

In May 1756, an elderly governess died in the household of the Duke and Duchess of Portland, and was quickly and quietly buried in the churchyard of St Margaret’s, Westminster. Elizabeth Elstob left behind no family and few mourners, just some rooms full of ‘books and dirtiness‘, as one visitor described them. Yet Elizabeth was a pioneer of medieval studies in England; in her youth, she became the first person to publish a grammar of Old English written in modern English, and would have accomplished much more if not for the restrictions which eighteenth-century society placed on women’s scholarship.

Publication Roundup II

[Header image: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Fr. 1728]

Two things to link to briefly:

  • “On Empathy in Editing”, Guest Column, Hortulus: the Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies, June 6, 2015. [Read online] This column was partly inspired by my experience as a guest editor with Hortulus.


Publication Roundup I

Two book reviews which I’ve written have recently been published in the journals Hortulus and Retrospectives:

  • Review of Tanya Stabler Miller, The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, in Retrospectives: A Post-Graduate History Journal, 4:1 (2015). [Read online]
  • Review of Celia Chazelle, Simon Doubleday, Felice Lifshitz and Amy G. Remensnyder, eds., Why the Middle Ages Matter: Medieval Light on Modern Injustice. New York: Routledge, 2012, in Hortulus: the Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies, 11:1 (Fall 2014). [Read online]

A précis of the conference paper for which I won the 2014 American Society of Irish Medieval Studies Barry Prize has also been published in the society’s journal:

  • “Précis of the 2014 Barry Prize Winner: Loughsewdy alias Plary: a Cistercian Nunnery Reconsidered”, in Eolas: The Journal for the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies 8:1 (2015), 135-41.

It was a really nice feeling to be able to pick up a hard copy of the journal this year at the IMC in Kalamazoo!

Family and Finances in Fifteenth-Century Dublin

I first came across the marvellously named Register of Wills and Inventories of the Diocese of Dublin in the Time of Archbishops Tregury and Walton, 1457-1483, when taking a course on the history of medieval Dublin as an undergrad. The Register is one of our best sources of information for the material life of Dubliners towards the end of the fifteenth century. Read the right way, it becomes more than just a dry collection of legal documents: it provides us intriguing glimpses of how these people decorated their houses, forged friendships and engaged in economic activity not just in the city’s hinterland, but as far afield as Italy.

Using wills as a source of social history is not, of course, a new one for historians, but my teenage self was fascinated by the Register. There were far more women than I’d expected, and some of them were doing things that, since we’ve lost the broader context, came across as delightfully weird: why did Joan White of Leixlip leave her three-legged pan and a trough with two trundles “for the use of her neighbours” in 1473? We can’t know anymore, but your imagination can conjure up whole worlds of interactions from that one little act.

Similarly, the 1474 will of northsider Nicholas Barrett:

I the aforesaid Nicholas, though weak in body yet (God granting it) sound in mind, do make my testament in this manner: first, I bequeath my soul to God, St. Mary and all his Saints, my body to be buried in St. Mary’s chapel in the church of St. Michan near Dublin. Item, I leave to the works of the aforesaid chapel 40d. Item, to the altar of St. Sithe 6s 8d. Item, to the high altar of the church of St. Michan 20d. Item, to the works of the church of the Holy Trinity Dublin 6s 8d. Item, to the works of the House of the Blessed Virgin Mary near Dublin 40d. Item, to the priests and clerks on the day of my burial 4s. Item, for spices and wine 40d. Item, I leave to each order of Friars Dublin 20d. Item, for bread and ale 40d. Item, for wax 6s 8d. Item, for a Trental 10s 5d. Item, I leave to the works of the chancel in the church of Glasnevin 12d. Item, to John Barret a small pot with a broken leg. The residue of my goods not bequeathed I leave to my executors, to discharge faithfully to my creditors my just debts not recorded. I ordain, make, and constitute Isabella Proutfote, my wife, and Joan Barret, my daughter, executors, and John Broun overseer of this my testament.

Be it remembered that on the day and year aforesaid, this agreement was made between Nicholas Barret and his sons John and Thomas, as well concerning houses, lands, tenements as concerning goods, before these witnesses, Sir Nicholas Barrey, then chaplain of the parish, Thomas Archebold, clerk of the parish, Thomas Bround, and Richard Boll. In the first place they have agreed that his wife Isabella shall have the house in which she now dwells during her life, and after her death, the aforesaid Nicholas wills that his daughter Joan Barret have the sum of 10 pounds, to be made up from the rent of the aforesaid house, unless it please John that she receive it out of the rent of the old hall of Sir Edward Howet in his wife’s life-time. Item, that Thomas Barret have the tenements of Finglas with their appurtenances to him and his heirs for ever. And if it happen (which may it not!) that my daughter Joan die before she be married, I will that the aforesaid sum of 10 pounds be expended in the best possible way for the health of my soul.

—pp. 70-72

Now, what John Barret had done that he ended up with only a small pot with a broken leg while his siblings were given property and cash is anyone’s guess, but those guesses are fun to contemplate. There are of course problems with using wills as sources: they’re mostly made by men, and by men who had enough property to make drawing up a will worthwhile; the executors might not have carried out the dying person’s wishes; they record the bequests and donations made at the moment of death, not throughout a person’s life, and so on. And yet they are some of the best written evidence we have for how middle-class Dubliners went about their daily lives towards the end of the medieval period.

My article about the Register, “Family and Finances in Fifteenth-Century Dublin,” will appear in the new May/June 2014 issue of History Ireland.

Further Reading:

This is a brief selection of primary and secondary sources which show the kinds of histories you can do using wills as a source—everything from economic history, to labour history, to the history of material culture.

  • British History Online, “Wills and Inventories.” [Link]
  • Lester, Anne E. “Crafting a charitable landscape: urban topographies in charters and testaments from medieval Champagne.” in Caroline Goodson, Anne E. Lester, and Carol Symes (eds.), Cities, Texts and Social Networks 400-1500: Experiences and Perceptions of Medieval Urban Space (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010), 125-148.
  • Lowe, Nicola A. “Women’s devotional bequests of textiles in the late medieval English parish church, c. 1350-1550” in Gender and History, 22:2 (2010) 407-429.
  • Sheehan, Michael McMahon. The Will in Medieval England: From the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to the End of the Thirteenth Century. PIMS: Toronto, 1963.
  • Whittle, Jane. “Housewives and servants in rural England, 1440-1650: evidence of women’s work from probate documents” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Series 6, Vol. 15 (2005), 51-74.
  • Wray, Shona Kelly and Roisin Cossar, “The Medieval Will,” in Joel Rosenthal, ed., Understanding Medieval Primary Sources: Using Historical Sources To Discover Medieval Europe. Routledge, 2011.

The Classroom Rewired

Crossposted from my HASTAC blog; you can find my original post here at the HASTAC site.

On February 23, the University of Iowa was host to Rewiring the Classroom, a symposium which focused on critical applications of digital technologies in undergraduate classrooms. My fellow University of Iowa HASTAC scholars (Audrey Altman and Craig Carey) and I were so excited about the enthusiastic response we received (and a little scared, it’s true: nothing like having to close registration early because we had no room to put more people!) from both people who wished to attend and from departments and centres across campus. We owe particular thanks to the Obermann Center and to the Digital Studio for Public Humanities, who provided some invaluable logistical support and advice.

Our presenters (who all braved the bitter Iowan February weather—troopers all) offered practical, hands-on workshops about new technologies,
paired with critical discussions about the pedagogical values of these technologies. As you can see from the programme, they covered an astonishingly wide array of topics in just one day: WordPress, Wikipedia, badge systems, Omeka, recorded sound, public engagement, OS Grid, geographical information systems, and bringing research and archives into the classroom.

The one real downside of being a conference organiser is, of course, that you don’t have the time to experience all the wonderful discussions that people are having because you’re too busy making sure that there’s still enough coffee and everything is running on time. I can’t sit down to write and reflect about the sessions because I experienced them only in bits and pieces, refracted through the conversation of our participants in the
hallways and at lunchtime.


Luckily, our conference attendees have stepped in to bridge the gap, and to both provide commentary about Rewiring the Classroom as it happened, and to discuss it afterwards! Several people live tweeted throughout the day, and you can follow along with them at #uirewire. One of our speakers, Prof. Bridget Draxler of Monmouth College (and a former University of Iowa HASTAC fellow), has written a fantastic post about Rewiring the Classroom. Check it out for her discussion of the sessions in which she participated: on Omeka and Google Sites, on engaging a diverse public through the digital classroom, and on public writing and social media. Sadly, one of our microphones decided that Saturday was a good day to give up the ghost, but we did manage to get recordings of two of our roundtable discussions, which you can check out embedded below.

And of course, if you were an attendee and have links to other reactions/reflections about the day, please drop me a comment or an email! We’d love to hear from you.


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