Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World

Despite inequalities, women were still influential in medieval society, a recent book by an Norhtern Illinois University professor claims.

Valerie Garver, assistant professor of history, wrote the book “Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World,” published earlier this month by Cornell University Press. The book, as the title implies, focuses on aristocratic women’s roles during the eighth and ninth century.

In the book, Garver illustrates that women played integral roles in Carolingian society despite legal and social restrictions. The Carolingian dynasty was one of the largest empires in medieval European history. Occupying much of western Europe, the dynasty served as an influence on many other empires of the era, bringing cultural renaissance to the area.

Many widely known medieval kings, such as Charlemagne, ruled during the Carolingian period. Most people believe that women played a small role in medieval times, which Garver said is a misconception. The scarcity of sources regarding that era contributes to this, she said.

“If you looked at just a few sources you would get that impression,” Garver said. “I looked at a much wider variety of sources. The information is very scattered.”

Garver said that, initially, she began research with the intention of writing about medieval masculinity.

This necessitated looking into gender roles of the period, which led Garver to investigate women’s roles, which she said fascinated her more.

“It’s an opportunity to say something new,” Garver said. “It’s much more exciting.”

For her research, Garver was able to utilize the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program, which allows faculty to collaborate with undergraduate students in their research.

“That was really cool, getting to work with the undergraduates,” Garver said.

Through URAP, Garver was able to utilize the assistance of two students. Jennifer Ruff was one of the two students.

Ruff has since graduated, but at the time that she was assisting Garver in her research, she was a senior history major.

“She’s a great source,” Ruff said. “I love picking her brain. It’s so fascinating.”

During her semester working with Garver, Ruff primarily researched textile work during that time period, which makes up a chapter in Garver’s book.

“It was a wonderful opportunity,” Ruff said. “It was an endless learning experience for me. To work with someone so dedicated to her work really was a thrill.”

Garver hopes to expand her research regarding textiles into its own book, she said.