Saturday, April 04, 2009

How Medieval Nuns Invented the Postcard

SUNY Cortland issued the following news release:

Using flowery calligraphy and gorgeous illustrations, medieval women copied countless words of wisdom into manuscripts, a topic medieval scholar Kathryn Rudy will discuss on Wednesday, March 25, at SUNY Cortland.

Rudy, curator of illuminated manuscripts with the National Library of The Netherlands, will give an illustrated lecture on "How Medieval Nuns Invented the Postcard," starting at 5 p.m. in Sperry Center, Room 104.

The presentation is part of the College's celebration of Women's History Month, with a series of films, speakers, workshops and art exhibitions through March 30. Presented by the College's Women's Studies Committee, the events are free and open to the public.

Rudy asserts that Hollywood versions of the Middle Ages often omit women, who were important players in the construction of medieval libraries.

"Imagine the following scene from 'The Name of the Rose': a gaunt monk in a dank monastery bends over a desk, where he is copying a volume of the Consolations of Philosophy, which will become part of a labyrinthine monastic library," she said.

Yet in the centuries before the printing press, nuns as well as monks made books by hand, she said.

"Especially in Northern Europe, women living in monastic communities probably made even more manuscripts than their male counterparts," Rudy said. "Women copied books and, despite having limited access to artistic training, made illuminations."

Rudy's illustrated lecture will show what kinds of images nuns and religious women made in the 15th century and how they used those images in new ways.

Rudy, who lives in London and The Netherlands, has held her current position with the National Library of The Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) since 2006.

She graduated from Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in history of art. She earned masters and doctoral degrees from Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Rudy received a Licentiate in Mediaeval Studies Summa cum laude, ars sacra, from University of Toronto's Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, St. Michael's College in Toronto.

She also completed residential fellowships as the Samuel H. Kress Professor at The Warburg Institute in London; a post-doctoral fellow in the Departments of Dutch Literature and Art History, Utrecht University; and as the Andrew Mellon Fellow of the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, University of Toronto. Rudy has another underway with the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek.

She has lectured and taught around the world.

Rudy has a book forthcoming this year, Nuns' Virtual Pilgrimages in the Late Middle Ages (Turnhout: Brepols) and is the editor of several texts and the author of numerous articles.

Her lecture is sponsored by the SUNY Cortland Art and Art History Department, the Campus Artist and Lecture Series, the Cortland College Foundation, Women's Studies, and the Center for Gender and Intercultural Studies.

For more information about the presentation, contact Barbara Wisch, professor of art and art history, at (607) 753-4316 or

For more information about Women's History Month, contact Mechthild Nagel, director of the College's Center for Gender and Intercultural Studies and interim Women's Studies coordinator, at (607) 753-2013 or