An Open Access Review Journal Encouraging Critical Engagement with the Continuing Process of Inventing the Middle Ages

November 13, 2016

The Medieval Magazine (Anniversary Issue)

The Medieval Magazine, Vol. 2 No. 25 (September 20, 2016) Anniversary Issue: 8 Years of

Reviewed by: Richard Utz

Those of us interested in lowering the drawbridge between our own ivory tower scholarship and the broader public interest in medieval culture have been following the path taken by the website Most recently, The Medieval Magazine, a digital publication that has been enhancing the website for more than a year, celebrated the eighth anniversary of

For this anniversary issue, the founders and editors, Sandra Alvarez and Peter Konieczny, selected six pieces originally published at for republication. These six pieces are representative of the approaches both the website and the magazine have taken to attract an impressive international audience: “Ten Things You May Not Have Noticed About the Bayeux Tapestry” is a typical “10 things list,” this one providing details, in image and concise descriptions, about the tapestry, for example, of Turold the Dwarf or of King Harold’s men taking of their hoses and tucking in their tunics as they wade through water. A second, more discursive article, “The Norman Conquest of England: The Alternative Histories,” discusses Wace’s Roman de Rou and the Vita Haroldi. A third article tackles the common misconception that people in the Middle Ages did not drink water. A forth article summarizes Emily Selove’s 2012 translation of Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi’s 11th-century Art of Party Crashing. A fifth piece, “Thanks for the Coffee: A Five Minute Look Back at,” offers Danièle Cybulskie an opportunity to share her role as staff writer for the magazine and site (she recently published a “best of” version of her short articles in The Five Minute Medievalist, which KellyAnn Fitzpatrick reviewed for Medievally Speaking). And a sixth piece condenses Maya Bijvoet Williamson’s 1998 English translation of the memoirs of Helene Kottaner, servant and confidante to the widowed Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1409-1442).

These six pieces, selected by the editors as representative of the articles published by, demonstrate the editors’ and staff writers’ goals. They know that their readers will not want to plough through entire scholarly monographs-cum-paratexts, but nevertheless love to learn about serious and reliable academic research in concise and informative summaries. All the staff involved in the magazine and website hold undergraduate and/or master’s degrees in medieval studies, and so they are well prepared to appreciate both the academic methodologies informing these studies as well as the necessity to parse them to those who delight in learning about medieval culture as so-called dilettantes or amateurs. Danièle Cybulskie sums up how she and her colleagues understand their own task and role at this specific moment in time:

We are at an amazing point right now. The scholarship coming out of our universities is top-notch and the sharing of that research from place to place has become a thing of beauty. Archaeologists and experimental archaeologists are coming up with new insights as to how things worked in the Middle Ages every day. Digitized manuscripts and new finds are now accessible to millions, so people all over the world can all but touch the relics of the past that were once locked away behind closed doors. News about the medieval world makes the headlines in the mainstream media on a regular basis. Popular histories are flying off the shelves, and a new generation of hip historians is gracing our screens. Historical fiction is no longer a guilty pleasure, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the English-speaking world who hasn’t heard of [Vikings] or [A Game of Thrones]. It’s a great time to indulge in a love of all things medieval. How lucky we are to be a part of it. (p. 53)

I understand Cybulskie’s enthusiastic diagnosis as an invitation to professional medievalists that they, too, should every now and then jump at the chance of sharing the fruits of their scholarly labors with the general public, at, the The Medieval Magazine, Paul Sturtevant’s The Public Medievalist, or any and all of the various mainstream digital and print publications accepting of public humanities essays. They might even consider, horribile dictu, to follow the successful example of the late Norman Cantor, many of whose book-length academic studies are characterized by a clarity of style and absence of jargon that rendered even highly complex matters accessible to larger audiences (including Michael Crichton, who lists Cantor’s 1991 Inventing the Middle Ages among his main inspirations for his 1999 novel, Timeline). And Peter Konieczny’s deceptively simple “[w]e get to learn about the past, and enjoy it too” (p. 64) is in fact a powerful programmatic statement that supports what Aranye Fradenburg, Kathleen Biddick, and Carolyn Dinshaw have recommended to academic medievalists based psychoanalytic and feminist theory.

Earlier this year, I had asked Peter Konieczny about the audience he and his colleagues are reaching with their publications. He responded, in an e-mail of April 17, 2016, that the magazine, which was only about a year old at that time, had roughly 350 subscribers, increasing at about a rate of five new subscribers per week. As for, it has a much larger audience, peaking in January of 2016 at 385,000 monthly users, and at 1,068,000 page views. Overall, has had over 9 million unique visitors and 25 million page views since its inauguration in 2008, a truly impressive record. It is clear that and The Medieval Magazine have been enriching what millions of readers know about medieval culture. And for those among us who still disdain all extra-academic medievalia, let me put things in perspective: How do’s user numbers compare to the impact of the average peer-reviewed essay? According to Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr (“Citations are not enough,” The Impact Blog, 2016), in the humanities, 82 percent of peer-reviewed articles are never cited; in the social and natural sciences fewer than one third of such articles are cited, and only about one-fifth of these cited papers were actually read. Overall, an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely at most by no more than ten people. So it goes. occupies a central public space in which academic and non-academic lovers of the Middle Ages can congregate and collaborate. I congratulate Sandra, Peter, and their colleagues on persevering on a path that cannot always have been easy (they clearly experienced many of the kinds of "othering" also waged against Leslie J. Workman, Kathleen Verduin, and Studies in Medievalism), and I look forward to seeing my own interest in medieval culture enriched by the project's future efforts.

Richard Utz

Georgia Institute of Technology

1) Two additional sister sites were recently added to, and


October 15, 2016

Cybulskie: The Five-Minute Medievalist

Danièle Cybulskie, The Five-Minute Medievalist. Printed by author, 2016.

Reviewed by KellyAnn Fitzpatrick (

In The Five-Minute Medievalist, Danièle Cybulskie offers us fifteen witty and informative short essays that aim to inspire readers to “keep learning more about the spectacular world of the Middle Ages” (ii). These fifteen essays have been curated from articles Cybulskie wrote from 2008-2016 (initially for her personal blog and later for under the moniker “The Five-Minute Medievalist.”

Having earned her MA in English with a focus on medieval literature from the University of Toronto, Cybulskie has the credentials to back up the “medievalist” part of her pen name. However, as her stated professional mission is to “share [her] love for the Middle Ages with modern people by making history fun and accessible, five minutes at a time” (75), it is clear that Cybulskie’s target readership is a non-specialist audience rather than a field of academic medievalists. Cybulskie therefore does not dedicate space to defining “medieval” or “Middle Ages,” nor does she posit her book as an exercise in medievalism. Yet, the medievalism inherent in a medievalist translating medieval studies for the bar trivia/Twitter generation is captured most succinctly by the book’s cover art wherein a medieval lady dons requisite period attire and headdress while holding a modern coffee mug and reading a mobile phone. Overall this translation itself succeeds and proves a fun and informative read.

The first essay, “Ironing Out the Myth of the Flat Earth,” serves as one of the book’s two “myth-busting” pieces. Addressing the modern misconception that the general European populace thought the earth was flat prior to Christopher Columbus “discovering” North America, Cybulskie does an excellent job citing medieval examples that acknowledge the earth as spherical. Furthermore, she locates the strongest contributor to the flat earth myth in Washington Irving’s 1828 The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. While a later essay on “Medieval Myth-Busting at the Movies” similarly both debunks and provides origins for fallacies about medieval culture in film, the flat earth myth stands out in that it highlights how misconceptions about the Middle Ages can make their way into the elementary school classroom (where most readers likely first encountered said myth) just as easily as they make their way into the movie theater.

The premise of “myth-busting,” however, presumes a certain accessibility of a “real” Middle Ages that medievalists can use to counter such myths. In this respect, the straightforward reporting of the medieval “as it really was” seems too authoritarian for a post-post-structuralist landscape. In practice, though, the impulse to question received notions of the Middle Ages—the “myth-busting” part of the essays—comes across more strongly than does any insistence on a singular alternative truth, and Cybulskie does well in documenting her sources so that an inquisitive reader (academic or otherwise) can follow her chains of evidence and make informed decisions on their validity.

Cybulskie’s stated goal to “share her love of the Middle Ages” comes through most clearly in four essays that reconstruct the components of everyday experience from a medieval perspective. Essays on “Medieval Parenting Advice” and “Medieval Sex Lives: Five Frisky Facts” use examples from medieval texts to locate common human experiences within a medieval context. “How to Tell if Your 12th-Century Lover is Just Not That into You” wittily recasts The Art of Courtly Love as a dating advice column in the mode of a modern-day Cosmopolitan article. The essay on “The Tasty Medieval Pasty,” however, provides the clearest pathway for adapting medieval practices to the modern day, as Cybulskie walks the reader through the process of following a medieval recipe that has been modified both for contemporary culinary tools (measuring cups, temperature-controlled ovens) and for 21st-century dietary restrictions (a pasty crust that is dairy-free).

The formal academic training in Cybulskie’s background is most evident in three essays  concerned with medieval literary sources. “The Medieval Sleeping Beauty” traces the well-known and oft-adapted fairy tale to the 14th-century Perceforest, an Arthurian romance that spins the tale in darker terms more akin to Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone than to anything from Walt Disney or the Brothers Grimm. “Meet the Real Ulrich von Liechtenstien” cleverly pieces together the life of a 13th-century historical figure best known to 21st-century readers through his fictionalized portrayal (alongside that of Geoffrey Chaucer) in the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale. Cybulskie even treats the reader to a taste of philology, as she demonstrates how changes in the English language over the centuries resulted not only in vowel shifts and letter changes, but also in “The Quirky Transformation of Five Everyday Words.” The choice of words examined here, including “minion” and “gossip,” make a strong case for even the most non-academic reader to start perusing the Oxford English Dictionary for interesting English etymologies.

Of the remaining six essays, both “Five Fun Facts About Medieval Archery” and “Five Surprising Rules for Medieval Monks” provide uncommonly known (even to a medievalist) details about concepts popularly associated with the Middle Ages. For the former this includes the observation that “An increase in archery meant an increase in archery-related crime;” for the latter, Cybulskie crystalizes selections from The Rule of Saint Benedict into pithy assertions such as “Monastic crafts were great for bargain hunters.” Also included are essay-lists of well-known historical figures (“Five Great Ladies Who Refused to Be Quiet,” “Five (In)Famous Break-Ups,” and “Why We’re Still Fascinated by the Templars”), as well as a meditation on the qualities that are likely to turn one into a future well-known historical figure (“Five Ways to Get Noticed by Historians”). The last of these briefly touches on how and why the information that we use to access the medieval has managed to find its way to us across the centuries, perceptively summarizing that present-day readers have a far better chance of being remembered in part due to the “large digital footprints” we leave.

In keeping with the idea of digital footprints, it is worth noting that as of October 2016 Cybulskie has authored over 120 articles as “The Five-Minute Medievelist” at In book form, then, The Five-Minute Medievalist contains less than ten percent of Cybulskie’s short essays. Fortunately, the fifteen essays curated here are a solid and varied representation of Cybulskie’s larger body work, although the order in which they are presented—which is not the order in which I review them above—does not follow any discernable thematic, historical, or publication-based order. Otherwise the transition to book form is well done, with footnotes in the print version of the book replacing hyperlinks in the original articles. (The hyperlinks are maintained in the electronic edition of the book.) Pointedly, the choice to publish in book form has undoubtedly widened Cybulskie’s readership and publication profile, as books tend to be reviewed more often than online articles. In book form Cybulskie’s writing also makes a more portable gift for a history buff or trivia fanatic, and a more easily distributed tool for recruiting the medievalists of the future.

KellyAnn Fitzpatrick
The Georgia Institute of Technology

September 26, 2016

Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage

Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage. Book & lyrics by Jason Craig; music by Dave Malloy; directed by Curt Columbus. Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, RI. September 8 - October 9, 2016.

Reviewed by Kevin J. Harty (

Medievalism and a fascinating example of Brecht’s epic theatre are on full display at Providence’s Trinity Rep. Originally presented in 2008 by Berkeley’s Shogun Players, Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage stages the Anglo-Saxon poem as a rock opera that opens with three academics, armed with transparencies and an overhead projector no less, seated at a table about to deliver their conference papers on Beowulf—think of the worst possible sessions at the annual medieval congresses in Leeds or in Kalamazoo. At stake in the academic babble are weighty matters such as the proper pronunciation of Geat and Heorot, and whether the underwater lair of Grendel’s Mother is a feminist response to the oppressive patriarchy of the male/hero-centered world of the poem. But, before we can doze off—again think of Leeds or of Kalamazoo—one of the panelists is transformed into Grendel in all his fury as he rips the head off of one of Hrothgar’s thanes—substituted for by what appears to be a Ken or GI Joe doll.  Eventually the other two panelists will be transformed into the poem’s other two monsters—Grendel’s Mother and the dragon from Beowulf’s fatal final battle.

For the production, the folks at Trinity have basically cleared out their main theatre space and filled it with scaffolding, risers and planks, leaving behind odd bits of stage props perhaps from other production, perhaps not—a ship’s wheel, a cannon, a clown’s head, a table from an Italian restaurant—later used by Grendel when he dines on bread stick bones and pasta with thane-meat sauce Bolognese. 

Costumes are a pastiche from a grab bag of styles. Hrothgar wears a silver lamé evening jacket. Beowulf—who is more brawn than brains (or, as we academic might have it, he is a bit heavier on fortitudo than on sapientia)—sports a pleather kilt and black football shoulder pads, to which at first an American flag is attached.  In his battle with the dragon at the end of the play, he will don a winged helmet and a maroon cloak. The academics are appropriately dowdy in their attire when they play academics, but easily transformed into marvelous giant puppets thanks to the addition of all kinds of props.  Grendel’s Mother—at first a frumpy feminist academic of a certain age and type—is further transformed into her monstrous shape with the aid of turquoise swimming flippers and a matching snorkeling mask. The musicians too sport a variety of outfits including deer heads and antlers, and their music reflects a mix of styles from Klezmer to heavy rock to country to the balladic. As I indicated early, the production is nothing if not Brechtian.

The production also takes aim at contemporary issues. Hrothgar is cast against type—the actor playing him is young and African American—and four of his five thanes are gender-bending shield maidens.  Grendel and his Mother are clearly foreigners—terrorists even—of which to be wary.  The heroic idea that it is better to get vengeance than to mourn has some uncomfortable echoes today. Hrothgar and his court make the mistake of letting their guard down after Grendel is dispatched. Nonetheless, act one ends on a high note, though a banner drops from the ceiling to proclaim “Mission Accomplished”—pace George W. Bush’s 2003 speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.  Both Grendel and Beowulf, we are told, are mentally challenged—Beowulf admits to being dyslexic.  Grendel’s Mother even lectures Beowulf about his attack on Grendel as if the eponymous hero were a playground bully. 

The acting and singing are uniformly excellent.  The humor is genuine—the battle between Grendel’s Mother and Beowulf is staged using an overhead projector and transparencies in a style that echoes Javanese shadow puppetry (another nod to epic theatre)—and includes an excursus on the magic of some swords including Excalibur (another nod to—against?—the academy, in this case with a dig at the scholarly obsession to compare and contrast almost anything—when we were in graduate school, my classmates and I thought about founding a journal called Non-influence Studies).

The lobby bar had Grendel’s Grog and Battle Axe Malbec on offer, and the house staff distributed free cups of Grendel’s blood—cranberry juice—during the interval. One could have wished for some mead, and definitely for some tee shirts.  At the end of the interval, audience members got to play volley ball with the cast using a balloon that was supposedly Grendel’s head. The highlight of the production was the singing in Old English of the passage in the poem describing the battle between the agéd Beowulf and the dragon—the song was truly moving. 

Part of the premise of the production is that Beowulf is a boring fossil that generations of high school and college students have been forced to study. But the production itself belies that premise as it demonstrates that the poem is far from boring or fossilized.  It continues to speak to us—I had just finished discussing Beowulf with a class of first-years and the members of my senior seminar before attending the Trinity production.  Certainly both groups of students found much to admire and to discuss in the poem. 

Beowulf, which continues to have an amazing afterlife, more properly has a continuing legacy, not a thousand years of baggage—despite the efforts of some academics at conferences.  That legacy includes any number of novels, multiple graphic novels (a least one, Kid Beowulf, an eight-part series), other musical works, several operas, a spate of recent films, an on-going television series on the Esquire Channel (that is admittedly a hybrid of a Western and Game of Thrones), individual episodes and story arcs in several unrelated television series (Xena: Warrior Princess and Star Trek: Voyager), board and video games, and comics.

In 2010, Trinity staged a wonderful production of Camelot set in a London Underground station during the Blitz. Trinity’s production of Beowulf is, likewise, an example of stage medievalism at its best—but I really do wish that there had been tee shirts for sale with the wonderful poster—see above—for the production on them—life may in part be a series of missed marketing opportunities!

Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage, book and lyrics by Jason Craig, music by Dave Malloy, direction by Curt Columbus, musical direction by Michael Rice, choreography by Jude Sandy, set by Michael McGarty, costumes by Olivera Gajic, lighting by Dan Scully, sound by Peter Sasha Hurowitz, puppets by Soshanna Utchenik, production stage managed by Kelly Hardy.  With Charlie Thurston (Beowulf), Stephen Berenson (Academic One/Grendel), Anne Scurria (Academic Two/Grendel’s Mother), Janice Duclos (Academic Three/Dragon), Joe Wilson, Jr. (Hrothgar),  Rachel Warren (Warrior One), Rebecca Gibel (Warrior Two), Rachel Clausen (Warrior Three), Laura Lyman Payne (Warrior Four), and Brad Wilson (Warrior Five), also with Michael Rice on keyboard, Karen Orsi on guitar, and Mike Sartini on percussion.  A production of Trinity Repertory Company, the State Theatre of Rhode Island, at the Lederer Theater Center in Providence; Curt Columbus, Artistic Director, and Tom Parrish, Executive Director.

Kevin J. Hary
La Salle University