Professor, Department of Political Science, Public Administration, and History, and Interim Director of the Office of Scholarly Innovation and Student Scholarship, Florida Gulf Coast University

Melodie’s principal research interests lie in legal history and the history of the medieval church. She is currently finishing a monograph entitled Law in a Culture of Theology: The Use of Canon Law by Theologians at the University of Paris in the Twelfth Century. It argues that, as the schools of Notre Dame, St. Victor, and Ste. Geneviève evolved into the University of Paris, there existed a common intellectual culture which valued porous disciplinary boundaries between theology and Roman-canonical law. Twelfth-century masters known for their work in theology—Hugh of St. Victor, Peter Lombard, Peter the Chanter, Robert of Courçon, Robert of Flamborough, and Thomas of Chobham—serve as the lens through which to view this scholastic environment that fostered such versatility. Her extensive publications also include Law as Profession and Practice in Medieval Europe: Essays Dedicated to James Brundage, co-edited with Kenneth Pennington (Farnham: Ashgate/Routledge, 2011); The Use of Canon Law in Ecclesiastical Administration, 1000–1250, co-edited with Danica Summerlin (Leiden: Brill, 2018);  A Cultural History of Genocide, Vol. 2: The Middle Ages (London: Bloomsbury, 2021); and Medieval Canon Law, 2nd edition. expanded and revised version of the first edition by James A. Brundage (London: Routledge, 2022).

As it has for other alumni, the physical location of Catholic University’s Department of History two decades and more ago looms large in Melodie’s memory of our graduate program. She recalls: “As a medievalist I appreciated… in a twisted way… the department being in the basement of Gibbons Hall. It was like being in the dungeon of a castle next to a basilica. I also appreciated the washer and dryers of the dorm (also in the basement) in the event of a coffee spill. More than anything, I was always thankful that the faculty let me take over an empty office and use it.”

But her deeper recollections are more focused upon faculty: “My memories of the department were of the faculty moving in the same direction with regards to an overall mission and pedagogical framework. There was a sense of cohesion among the faculty and a singularity in purpose. It spoiled me, and I later realized that many departments are not this way. If my memory over-romanticizes what was the reality, I still give a tremendous amount of credit to the faculty: their differences never spilled over to the point that the graduate students could see it. Again – this is not the case in many places.”

“As for the medievalists, I continue to miss them to this day. Dr. Uta-Renata Blumenthal was always concerned for her tired graduate students at the end of the semester so she would bring Turkish coffee to class. By the end of class everyone had jitters. I continue to think about Dr. Katherine L. Jansen’s advice to appreciate graduate school because it would be the last time you will have time to read the breadth of scholarly literature. (She was right.) I am indebted to Dr. L.R. Poos’s blunt honesty that was rooted in his deep concern for your progress as a student. From my dissertation advisor, Ken Pennington (an historian affiliated with, but not in, the History Department), I learned to share everything with everyone and to answer student emails immediately. (As a student I appreciated it and I know my students appreciate it.)”

Another aspect of the medieval graduate program that Melodie singles out is, as she describes it, the sheer breadth and depth of the medieval program at Catholic University. “It has been instrumental to me as a scholar. Because of my training, I have been able to conduct research in the early, high, and later Middle Ages in the areas of ecclesiastical, legal, and gender history. This training has prepared me to view the intersections between them. Take advantage of what the department offers: be intellectually curious and do not pigeonhole yourself into one narrow area and topic. Pay attention to how the faculty teach. They modeled for me what it meant to be a good teacher: get to know your students and care about your students.”

“The History Department had their finger on the pulse of hiring trends. So many of the jobs are at regional comprehensives where you may be the only medievalist, or, worse yet, the only faculty who teaches pre-1800. The two major fields and two minor fields allowed me to market myself as having the breadth and depth to teach a wide range of courses both chronologically and thematically. This training has allowed me to develop a 4-year teaching rotation in which a student who may enter my courses as a freshman will not repeat any course with me during their time as a history major. That has allowed me to attract students year after year.”

She has particular advice for students currently in graduate programs in history as they contemplate transitioning to roles as younger faculty: “I wish I would have learned more about the professional aspect of being a faculty member, that is, third element of faculty life besides teaching and research…committee work. Some departments will protect you as a junior faculty member…other departments will not. You may be bombarded with service opportunities as more senior faculty are wanting to unload duties, and your desire to get engaged may take over. How do you gauge where to get involved and balance that work against your teaching and your scholarship? How do you know when to engage in meetings? Too often junior faculty will insert their opinion when they have no idea about the history and culture of the university and the department. Take the first year to stay quiet; have coffee with everyone to ask questions and learn: learn why things are the way they are; learn what has been done before, what worked and what did not. And never…ever…say ‘At Catholic U, they did this.’ Nobody cares how it was done elsewhere.”

At a time when humanities subjects and liberal arts education generally are under pressure, Melodie reflects upon the principles guiding her as she teaches medieval history: “As a legal historian, so many of the frameworks, foundations, and principles we hold go back to the Middle Ages. I am constantly making connections between then and now in my classes. If the ‘why do I care’ is not addressed head-on, students will not see the value of studying the Middle Ages. That means always be prepared with the ‘why do I care’ (it’s actually my take-away for each class day), which requires a lot of thought. Your students need to understand how one class connects to the next and how this subject connects to the here and now.”

“Working in the state of Florida, U.S. historians are definitely in a pickle. That does not mean, however, medievalists have avoided the fray. Courses such as crusades, inquisition, and witchcraft can be prone to having a particular type of student enroll in it. And while it may seem easy to shy away from these controversies, to spare yourself any issues that may come with it, it is even more important to be on the front lines and engage it. History cannot be used as a weapon. It needs to be studied, understood, and squeezed for all of the lessons it can teach us. Without question this adds more stress onto you as the faculty member, forcing to you think about and plan for navigating what you know is going to be a potential target, but you have to do it. When we stop talking about the past, when we stop learning from it, we slide into a dark age.”