National Endowment for the Humanities supports research on medieval women
Admittedly, the topic may strike some as a bit obscure: “The Role of Noblewomen in Literary Production in Northern France during the 13th Century.”
Kathy M. Krause, however, has earned national and international recognition for her scholarship in that area. It’s important to an understanding of not just medieval literature, but also the leadership role women often played in that society – and how history was rewritten in later centuries to obscure that role, with implications that filter down to the lives of women today.
Krause is a professor of French in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She was recently notified that she has won a year-long National Endowment for the Humanities grant that will allow her to complete her research and write a book on the topic.
It’s not the first time her research has earned national-level recognition. In 2008, she explored the subject as a Fulbright scholar in northern France and Belgium.
This time around, there will probably be a short trip to France involved. But the primary purpose of the fellowship is to give her time to convert the massive amount of research she has collected into a published manuscript.
“The Fulbright allowed me to do the main research in the libraries there, looking at the manuscripts. The coming year will be the hard work of writing it up,” Krause said. “The goal is a book. The working title is pretty much the same as the NEH proposal.”
Her interest in the topic was piqued as she read a number of French literary works from the period. Not only were women major characters, but in many cases, they held substantial lands.
“A remarkable number of female protagonists and other major female characters are heiresses. In many cases that is what starts their troubles, and thus the story itself,” Krause explained. “These were works of fiction, but they reflected the reality of the time. As I researched, I found that during this period almost all the major domains in northern France were inherited by women.”
In later centuries, however, the historical record was re-interpreted to conform to a male-dominated social structure.
“In the 19th century, they couldn’t imagine women as heiresses, so they wrote the women out of the stories,” she said. The record shows that, in many ways, women’s rights regressed over time. “In most of western Europe – with notable regional variations – women inherited in the absence of a brother. If there were no male children, daughters could, and did, inherit.”
Krause, who joined the UMKC faculty in 1995, said the NEH Fellowship will not just benefit scholarship in the field of medieval literature, but also her students on campus.
“The work I’ve done with manuscripts has already has enhanced my teaching, helping me to give students a better understanding of what literary production was like in the Middle Ages – as well as what real life was like.”
Krause has an Ivy League background – bachelor’s from Dartmouth, master’s and doctorate from Penn – but has found a home at UMKC.
“The medievalist community at UMKC has a number of scholars doing remarkable research for a school of our size,” she said. “It’s a community like what you would expect to find at major flagship campuses with lots of resources, like (University of) Michigan, (University of) Wisconsin, (University of) Illinois. Indeed, UMKC has a reputation for medieval studies in the international scholarly community.”
Which doesn’t mean she’s blasé about the NEH award.
“I am completely blown away,” she said. “The last time I looked, they were funding at less than nine percent, not even one in 10 applications, so I really expected that I would not get it. But if you don’t apply you can’t get one. I am just delighted and amazed.”