Tommy Questionnaire – Dr. Ann Brodeur

This month Dr. Ann Brodeur answers our Tommy Questionnaire. Dr. Brodeur started teaching medieval and early-modern European history at UST in 2009. She received her doctorate from the University of Toronto and M.A. from the Catholic University of America. In addition to teaching a full load in the department, she served as the Chair of the Adjunct Task Force after being appointed by the Provost and Dean of Arts and Sciences. Her answers to our questions:

1) What inspired you to become a historian?

I am the daughter of a librarian and a cowboy, so books and tall tales were all around me when I was a kid!  Our house was crammed with Zane Grey novels, encyclopedias, National Geographic magazines, histories of the West (U of Nebraska Press!), military history (my dad’s a veteran), and classic literature.  History became a natural lens through which I viewed the world, even as a kid–it wasn’t enough for me  to know that something happened; I had to know why it happened.  The more I’ve studied history, the more I’ve come to appreciate it as one of the bedrock liberal arts–it shapes the way we see and engage our world with depth and humility.

2) Why medieval history?

I’ve always had a fascination for medieval history because it is this lovely mix of the strange and the familiar.  I spent my senior year of university studying at Oxford University at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Study, and the experience of reading under some of the top scholars in medieval history sealed it for me!  I knew then that was the direction I wanted to go in.  I think a grounding in the medieval past is essential for understanding our world today–our political institutions, our educational ideals, how we think about war, peace, and what it means to be human in the 21st century.

3) What is exciting you with your current research?

I’m currently finishing up an article on the practice of ransoming captives during the Hundred Years’ War and trafficking captives in wartime.  It’s part of a larger interest of mine understanding how communities understood and dealt with poor and marginalised groups in the premodern world, before the development of a state-based social safety net.  I’ve also begun my next research project, on the development of the works of mercy (the religious mandates to care for the poor) in the middle ages.  I’m excited because this will take me outside of England (my normal research stomping grounds) into Scandinavia, France, the Holy Roman Empire and beyond.  I not only will be working with manuscripts from the period, but also with the art and architecture of the period, which will be fun!

4) What is your favorite thing about teaching history?

Teaching history is little bit like study-abroad in a time machine–we get to introduce students to a completely different society in a different time, shaped by different forces, and with a different way of viewing and engaging the world.  We get to teach them the “etiquette” of dealing with “the locals”–the methods of interpreting the evidence of a given society in the past, in order to arrive at an understanding of that time, place and society.  In my classes we spend a lot of time talking about the big questions–beauty, the meaning of suffering, why are we here, what does it mean to be human, how ought we to live together–because these are the essential human questions that every human society from 500 BCE on has dealt with.  I love it when students realize that history isn’t about cramming dates and data into their brains, but a way of entering into a conversation that spans millennia.

5) What are you up to when you are not on campus?

I love hiking and gardening and power tools, so I’m usually outside with my husband and kids or plotting some creative destruction to my yard or house.  I have two girls, one of whom is autistic, so I spend a lot of time trying to understand the world from her point of view.  My bedside table is probably indicative–a book on autism, a book on classical education (I sit on the board of a classical school), a book on landscape architecture, a cookbook, and William Faulkner’s A Light in August.

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