COURTESY OF PATRICK DEBROSSE
When the typical Fordham student comes to mind, what do you see? A suit-clad Gabelli major? A theater student hurrying from one studio to another? For most students, medieval studies is as distant as the Middle Ages. The Met Cloisters might be cool once in a while, but rarely is it a hot topic discussed among students in the same way that the latest TikTok videos might be.
We largely fail to notice the little ways that the medieval period affects our daily lives. Patrick DeBrosse, a Ph.D. student who teaches undergraduate classes on medieval studies, points out that we can still find the medieval period in our lexicon today — people commonly use phrases like “knight in shining armor,” “crusader” or “queen” in everyday conversations.
DeBrosse started out in his undergrad at Temple University in Philadelphia. After studying a variety of historical subjects, among them the British Empire, Latin America and the U.S. Civil War, he discovered his fascination for medieval studies while learning from Kathleen Biddick, Ph.D., a revered medieval historian. He said, “In my other history classes, I had felt a sense of accomplishment … but my papers for Dr. Biddick brought … a sense that I had the potential to figure out new and important things by asking the types of questions she taught me to ask. At the end of my classes with her, I decided to apply for graduate school in medieval history.”
As both a teacher of medieval studies and a graduate student in the same department, DeBrosse experiences both sides of Fordham. On the experience, he said that “it’s a double-edged sword, since we still have to make time for fairly rigorous comprehensive exams and dissertation exams as Ph.D. students … but we get a lot of experience here at Fordham while we are still surrounded by our mentors and peers.”
DeBrosse asserts that we still live in a “profoundly medieval world.” In teaching this, he finds the most rewarding experiences in the little things: a student looking at a text in a new way, utilizing distinctly different subjects to examine a reading, or choosing to major or minor in medieval history.
Learning about medieval studies is just as rewarding for the students, according to DeBrosse. Fordham’s plethora of diverse scholars within the history department provide an ideal learning environment. Rather than just learning about the history of a certain period, DeBrosse encouraged his students to expand their knowledge beyond what they can find in his class by taking a class in the English department on the literature of the medieval period or a class with the art history department on that period’s art.
When asked what he would say to encourage students to take a medieval studies class, he answered the following: “The study of medieval history will help you understand your world and it will help you understand yourself.
“You get to hear the most interesting stories that we humans have collected for each other — about cruel kings, riotous townsmen and drunken, lecherous monks. If all that doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what will.”