Two University of Houston graduate students won two of the Medieval Academy of America’s seven fellowships earlier this year, beatng out hundreds of other graduate students from across North America.
“We are the only school that had two students win,” history professor Sally Vaughn said. “We were up against all these students from Ivy League schools.”
History graduate students Courtney DeMayo and her husband Ben Pugno won $2,000 each. DeMayo used her money to support herself while conducting historical research. Pugno used his to study medieval manuscripts in the British Museum of London.
“We did it mostly for the prestige,” DeMayo said. “Two thousand doesn’t last long.”
Pugno won the Helen Maud Cam Grant for his dissertation, Physicians of the Soul:
Healing and Conversion in Anglo-Saxon England.
With a pre-med background, Pugno focused on how Christians converted pagans to Christianity by fusing medical knowledge with the supernatural. Vaughn said no one has previously connected medicine with the conversion of the pagans to Christianity.
“That’s Ben’s great discovery,” Vaughn said. “He’s going beyond that to look at the development of medicine in England.”
DeMayo earned the Etienne Gilson Dissertation Grant for her piece, The School at Reims and the Early Capetian State. This dissertation focuses on Pope Sylvester II.
“Nobody’s even thought of that before,” said Vaughn. “Her idea was very original.”
The couple began working on their dissertations in Spring 2008, but finished in a timely manner because they maintained a strong work ethic.
“The hardest thing is pushing yourself to do the dissertation,” Pugno said. “A lot of people have to drop out because they can’t do it.”
“The biggest struggle has been the time commitment”, said DeMayo, who started graduate school in 2003.
DeMayo completed most of her work when she taught in Germany during Fall 2007. During the trip, she found unique manuscripts for her research at five libraries in three countries.
Pugno and DeMayo came to University of Houston to study with Vaughn, who they said has an excellent reputation among medievalists. The couple needed four years of language training to conduct research.
DeMayo learned French, German and Latin, while Pugno learned Latin and Old English.
When they aren’t researching, the couple works as teaching assistants to support their research.
“The History Department has been great about funding us,” DeMayo said. “It’s a small salary, but you can live on it.”