Middlebury

MiddLab

Stories & Sagas

“In an incomplete world, we depend on closure for our very survival,” writes Scott McCloud. What does it mean to continue on after the world has already ended? In post-apocalyptic fiction, survivors attempt to find meaning in a husk of a world which has suffered an unspeakable catastrophe. This project explains how the post-apocalyptic narrative structure confronts fears of trauma and loss. I will first outline how various postmodern theorists have approached the topic, before explaining how different narratives across media have played the premise out in fiction. From the mushroom cloud of Fallout Games to the zombie of Dawn of the Dead, representations of post-apocalypse posit a frighteningly unresolvable world and tap into the important question of how we tell stories.

People

Michael Suen
Researcher

Alison Byerly
Sponsor, Provost & Executive Vice President; Professor of English & American Literatures

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For thousands of years, the written word contained only streams of capital letters, with unseparated words and sentences. Punctuation appeared in only rudimentary forms in the early centuries A.D., and was invented specifically to prevent those who read aloud in church from misreading on misinterpreting a passage of the scriptures. Spaces between words did not appear until the 700s A.D., after the development of the Carolingian Miniscule and the establishment of Benedictine rule, and it was not until the 1100s that they became common place. Suddenly, readers no longer needed to mumble through passages to discern their meanings, and began to read as we do most commonly today: in silence. The new written form inspired the first alphabetized glossaries, made books more compact and personal, and made literacy a more widespread goal. But it also triggered a sense of independence and empowerment as yet unknown in medieval society, causing a rise of critical thinkers and skeptics, and, in turn, inciting fear of heresy in the church. Indeed, without punctuation and the space between words, would we have the same capacity for questioning that we do today?

People

Melissa Hirsch
Researcher

Louisa Burnham
Sponsor & Associate Professor of History

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Beginning in the thirteenth-century, artists in Cologne created reliquary busts to contain the physical remains of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. These reliquaries are visually unique because they are strikingly life-like and coney obvious feminine qualities. It is odd that the reliquaries’ approachable femininity is celebrated because women were often damned as the instigators of the original sin. With this central Christian idea in mind, it is therefore all the more surprising that Christians venerated Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, a group of female martyrs, whose reliquaries and legend have highly gendered characteristics. In my presentation, I explicated the significance of these reliquaries through examining the symbolism of the Passion of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, the formation of the cult of their relics, and the meaning of these reliquary busts in late medieval society.

People

Elizabeth Hirsch
Researcher

Eliza Garrison
Sponsor and Assistant Professor of History of Art & Architecture

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Although early literature of Maryland and Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay reflected the first settlers’ unbridled consumption of resources, as the twentieth centuries due to habitat loss, overfishing, and pollution, literature, specifically an emergent genre of children’s and young adult literature, demonstrated a shift from entitlement towards stewardship of the Bay’s resources. Authors of children’s and young adult literature increasingly encouraged youth, either didactically or through metaphor, to value the Bay’s resources, protect the health of the Bay, and persuade others to become stewards of a healthy Chesapeake for future generations. This presentation will examine the transformation of Chesapeake Bay literature, and explore how these children’s and young adult works color the growing environmental education movement in the Bay region.

People

Laura Williams
Researcher

Daniel Brayton
Sponsor & Assistant Professor of English & American Literature

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A MiddLab Project

Oath-Sworn: The Concept of Oath-taking in Northwestern Medieval Europe

Learn more about History and Undergraduate Research at Middlebury College.

Oaths play an important role in our modern society from swearing-in procedures to Middlebury’s own Honor Code. A thousand years ago, oaths had a much larger role in early medieval society. Oaths were used to create artificial bonds between people. These bonds were the glue that kept the often violent early medieval society from falling apart. My study focuses on the social history of the oaths in northwestern Viking Age Europe through a close examination of Norse Sagas and French and English epics.

People

Christopher Rogers
Researcher

Louisa Burnham
Associate Professor of History & Advisor

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