English professor receives U.S. fellowship
A unique interpretation of the civic religious drama of late medieval England has garnered Queen’s professor Margaret Aziza Pappano and her U.S. research partner Nicole Rice a prestigious American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) collaborative research fellowship.
“In the humanities, it is relatively rare for scholars to collaborate. The material, however, lends itself to collaboration because it is so complex and spans at least two centuries. By working together, Nicole and I have been able to piece together an effective reading,” says Dr. Pappano, an associate professor in the English Department.
Dr. Pappano and Dr. Rice, an associate professor of English at St. John’s University in New York, are examining the civic cycle plays that were performed in the towns of York and Chester in the 15th and 16th centuries. The plays were large and lavish productions that depicted Christian history from creation to doomsday.
Artisans, at that time a mostly illiterate group, acted and produced the pageants that composed the cycle plays. From examining the civic documents of the period, the researchers believe that the artisans were not simply passive participants forced by the merchant class to participate in the plays.
“The artisans used the plays to articulate their place in a highly competitive and hierarchical society. They had a stake in their town’s civic identity and used the plays to express their own interests,” Dr. Pappano says.
The two researchers bring complimentary backgrounds to the project. Dr. Pappano’s strength is social and economic history while Dr. Rice’s expertise is English devotional and Reformation culture. Together they have challenged existing scholarship on this dramatic tradition.
“The cycle plays are the closest that we get to popular literature in the Middle Ages. We can hear the voices of artisans, a group that did not read or write, as early as the 15th century,” she says.
The fellowship allows the professors to take a leave from their teaching responsibilities for a year beginning in September. It will also cover the research expenses incurred by further archival work in England. They will publish a book on their research in 2012.