Largest Group of Students to Date Attend Medieval History Conference

Seven St. John’s students attended the Medieval History Conference over winter break, which is the largest group to attend since the university has been participating. The Fifth Undergraduate Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Moravian College was held on Dec. 4.

The seven students that attended ranged from freshmen to juniors and presented papers on various topics that concerned Medieval History in England. The participating students were required to research and write papers for the History of England I course (HIS-3511),taught by Assistant Professor Tracy-Anne Cooper.  Tanya Desdunes, Michelle Herrera, Stephanie Koos ‘Michael O’Connell, Christopher Van Wickler Elizabeth Walsh, and Julia Winters presented at the conference in Pennsylvania.

Moravian College, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, holds one of the few conferences for undergraduates on Medieval History. This year was St. John’s fourth consecutive trip to the conference in the five years that it has been held. According to Cooper, this was the largest number of students she has had attend and present at the conference.   

The conference also featured a performance “of early music by Cambiata,” demonstrations and exhibits, and a reception, according to the conference’s website.

Cooper explained that her students were given the option to select a topic, research it, and prepare a paper that they could present, early on in the semester. Cooper said the students chose their own topics in the beginning of the semester and she worked with them regularly to help develop their arguments.

All seven students were given deadlines for various steps of the project and then gave a test run of their papers a week before attending to get a final chance for feedback and tie up any loose ends.

On the achievements of the seven students as a whole, Cooper said, “Each paper explored an original facet of the history and provided a unique take on the subject furthering scholarly discourse. All of the students read widely in both primary and secondary source material, but their papers were firmly rooted in a fresh analysis of contemporary documents.”

One student, Christopher Van Wickler, presented an argument on Medieval Armor. His paper, “Changes in Medieval Armor in the High Middle Ages” described armor during the time when it was developing for both fashion needs and as a protection against new weaponry. Van Wickler’s presentation included examples of armor that he had created himself.

Van Wickler’s argumentation gained a small crowd of attention at the conference, according to the other participants. He allowed colleagues to try on some of the pieces of armor and was mentioned in The Morning Call, a paper local to the Moravian College area.

Tanya Desdunes’s presented a paper entitled “African Presence in Medieval England.” Cooper described Desdune’s unique subject as a “fascinating analysis,” which she conducted by using several types of sources. Desdune began her examination as Africans in England first being an “exotic” people to having a changing role and presence once the slave trade became prominent, according to her professor.