Professor, Department of History, University of California Berkeley
Maureen’s research interests have spanned Italian cities, religious and reform movements, and material culture in the central middle ages. Her extensive and award-winning publications include The Formation of a Medieval Church: Ecclesiastical Change in Verona, 950-1150 (Cornell University Press, 1993); The Bishop's Palace: Architecture and Authority in Medieval Italy (Cornell University Press, 2000); and Clothing the Clergy: Virtue and Power in Medieval Europe, c. 800-1200 (Cornell University Press, 2014). She is presently working on two books. One is a brief history of the bishop's palace at Città di Castello, a city in which the commune seized part of the episcopal residence amidst Guelf-Ghibelline violence. The other is a monograph on the so-called “documentary revolution” in Italy or the transition from notarial redaction of acts on individual piece of parchments to the predominance of registers for both the notarial “minutes” of acts as well as collections of fair copies.
Maureen’s acquaintance with Catholic University – its faculty, medieval studies, and library – began when she was still in college at American University, and her story is so rich (and so revealing of what made, and still makes, medieval studies here distinctive) that it demands to be quoted at length:
“I became acquainted with Catholic University through the Washington D.C. Consortium when I was still an undergraduate. After I ditched my initial ‘sensible’ major (journalism) for the study of history, I took a course with Fr. William Wallace O.P. on the history of medieval universities, and began using the Greek & Latin/Medieval Studies room in Mullen Library regularly. This experience prompted me to apply to M.A. programs in History and Medieval Studies at Catholic University as I was completing my BA in 1981: I recognized that I needed to work on languages seriously in order to study the Middle Ages. Indeed, I didn’t yet have enough Latin to enroll in Professor Uta Renate Blumenthal's graduate research seminar in my first semester at Catholic (which I really regret since I so admire her scholarship!). It took Professors Frank Mantello and Dan Sheeran several semesters to whip me into shape on this front, but I was able to refine my historical interests through Fr. John E. Lynch's two-semester sequence in ‘Medieval Civilization.’
“The two most important and formative experiences I had within the Department of History were Professor Nelson H. Minnich's research seminar on conciliarism and a required historiography and methodology seminar. To my great embarrassment, I cannot recall the name of the U.S. historian who taught the latter, but he required that we choose one chapter from a book read over the term, follow out its footnotes, and write an essay on our results. My favorite volume on that syllabus had been Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic, but checking the footnotes of the opening chapter on the ‘medieval church’ radically changed my appraisal while developing my critical skills. Too many of Thomas's citations for his overview of the late medieval church and its challenges led me to anti-Catholic Protestant pamphlets held by the Folger Library! Ever since this highly instructive exercise, I have been not only devoted (editors would say overly so) to generous annotation but also to leveraging the references of others in my own research.
“It was Prof. Minnich's seminar, however, which gave me the experience of research that propelled me to doctoral study. I’ll admit that I was not, at first, enamored of the topic. But early on in the course I forced myself to work on my German by reading Walter Brandmüller's Das Konzil von Pavia-Siena and reporting back to the seminar on its findings. With Prof. Minnich’s encouragement and guidance, I began a prosopographical study of this papally-thwarted council’s participants. The source problems were significant, but intriguing, and once I started finding names and even fragmentary details on individual backgrounds, I was hooked. The riches of Mullen Library accelerated my scavenger hunt and the more I found, the more I wanted to know. The seminar paper wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, but Professor Minnich encouraged me to revise it for publication and kept mentoring my efforts. That continuing experience of research while I taught fulltime for a year at Immaculata College Preparatory School energized my applications to doctoral programs. The resultant article’s acceptance and publication in Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 22 (1984), as well as Dr. Minnich’s letter of recommendation to my future mentor at Harvard, gave me the opportunity to have a life in academe. It’s something for which I’m grateful every day, and his generous model of mentorship is one I have tried to live up to in my own teaching.”
Maureen also credits two other experiences in her methodology seminar in our program for lasting influences in her subsequent historical work. “One was when Monsignor Robert Trisco (1929-2023) made a guest appearance to give an introduction to church history in the seminar. Explaining why there was a separate and distinct Church History Department at Catholic University, he asserted that the history of the church should not be subjected to all the methods of secular history—a statement that outraged my younger self. Now I'm immensely grateful for his provocation: I've had a long and happy career subjecting the history of the medieval church to any historical method that offered the prospect of illuminating the experience of non-elite believers. The other experience was that the seminar introduced me to the ‘New Social History,’ which inspired me to read the work of David Herlihy and go on to study with him at Harvard.”
She encourages students currently in the graduate program to prioritize their own research above all else. “I’m always happiest when lost in transcribing a document or chasing down sources to resolve some question; everything else seems to fall away in the concentrated bliss of searching for answers, for the piece that will make other shards of evidence come together meaningfully. If you’ve had even glimpses of that happiness, seize this opportunity to pursue it. ‘Professionalization’ can happen when you need it. It's research that teaches you how to solve problems and produce knowledge—and that’s what our world needs (both the academic world and the ‘real’ world).
How does Maureen advocate for the role of history – especially medieval history – in undergraduate education these days? “Teach for and to those students not majoring in history, to those terrified of not being able to support themselves (and so majoring in less interesting things like computer science or business) or terrified of disappointing their parents (who are even more terrified of them not being able to support themselves!). It’s the non-majors who need our compassion most. They know we can transport them to other worlds and can make more sense of the world they are in than any other discipline. Giving them the desire and skills to keep reading history as they navigate their futures is an important mission.”