CMRS Faculty Colloquia 2010-2011

28 January, “B-mail: On the Pragmatics of Birchbark Communication in Medieval Novgorod”

Dan Collins, Dept. of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures
Since 1951, archaeological excavations in Novgorod and other cities of northwestern Russia have unearthed over 1000 documents written on birch bark, a material plentiful in the region. These letters provide an immense, fascinating corpus of information for economic, social, and cultural historians — comparable to the Latin Vindolanda documents, the Norse Bergen rune-sticks, the Mycenaean Linear B tablets, and the Greek Oxyrhynchus papyri — that reveal in minute detail a lively network of everyday communications.

15 April, “Astonishing Tales and Arabian Nights: A Problem in Arabic Literary History”

Bruce Fudge, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
In so far as scholars have paid attention to medieval “popular” narrative in the Arab world, they have focused almost exclusively, if understandably, on the collection known as the Arabian Nights or the 1001 Nights. I will consider the place of other less well-known collections, which have been largely excluded from literary histories despite being arguably more important than the Nights. I focus on a collection of stories found in an Istanbul library in the early twentieth century, which goes by the generic title of “Astonishing Tales and Strange Accounts.” Dated to the 14th century, it is older than the oldest known MS of the Nights. Several of the “Astonishing Stories” appear in differing versions in the Nights, and others are not known to exist elsewhere. The textual history of the 1001 Nights itself is murky enough, but about the vast corpus of stories that were also in circulation very little is known. I will present the state of current knowledge regarding this body of literature and then explain a number of remaining problems. Among these are, is this literature truly “popular”, or does it require a different adjective? What is its relation to the more classical, canonical works, with which it shares some features? Can we suggest why some stories have survived to be included in the Nights and elsewhere, while others, sometimes of remarkable literary quality, seem to have disappeared?

29 April, “‘They wanted to make us into real soldiers’: Non-combatants fighting the Thirty Years War”

Tryntje Helfferich, Dept. of History, Lima Campus
As they swept back and forth across Central Europe, the armies of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) had a devastating effect on civilian populations. Yet the distinction between civilian and soldier was less well-defined than in the modern age, and it is intriguing to consider how, and how often, those we might ordinarily consider non-combatants were thrust into the middle of the fighting.