History professor Carol Lansing honored for deciphering life in the Middle Ages | UCSB

Carol Lansing

Like many people, Carol Lansing is looking forward to it being safe enough to travel to Italy again. What makes her unique is that when that longed-for day arrives, she won’t just fly off to another continent. She will also time travel.

The UC Santa Barbara history professor won’t be spending his time on Lake Como or a Venetian canal, but rather in libraries and archives, examining legal documents and other artifacts from the 13th century.

Its aim, as it has been for decades, is to better understand life in the Middle Ages, particularly how gender issues played out in pre-Renaissance times.

His distinguished working life has now earned him a prestigious honor. Lansing was made a member of the Medieval Academy of America, a status granted to less than 5% of the organization’s membership. His induction will be formalized at a ceremony at the University of Virginia in March.

“Professor Lansing is particularly deserving of this award because she is one of the most distinguished historians of medieval Italy,” said Sharon Farmer, professor emeritus of history at UCSB, who will testify to Lansing’s achievements at the ceremony.

“She has made significant contributions to the fields of religious, gender, and political history, as well as to the emerging field of the history of emotions,” Farmer said.

Lansing’s reaction to the honor is a bit more perplexing. “It used to be an old boys’ club, but now the girls are getting into it,” she laughs.

Lansing has broken down barriers his entire life. Her father, an economics teacher, had a passion for archaeology, and when she was a junior in high school, he took the whole family on a bus trip from London to Mumbai, stopping to admire various cathedrals and ruins. .

“People weren’t used to seeing young American girls wandering around that part of the world,” Lansing recalled.

Inspired by such trips to study history at the University of Michigan, she was lucky enough to find a female mentor: Sylvia Thrupp, a well-known scholar of the medieval period. Lansing went on to earn a Ph.D. in medieval history from this same school, and gradually directed his research towards Italy.

This decision was, in part, practical: she notes that a number of Italian towns keep “a surprising volume of archival material” that dates back to the Middle Ages. But it also reflects the richness of that particular time and place.

“It was in Italy that the first autonomous municipalities were formed,” Lansing said. “It was the first time that collectives of individuals created their own autonomous cities.

“They struggled to figure out how to do it and had some really interesting conversations about what it takes to live a nice, peaceful life in an urban community. Their struggles and the solutions they found still resonate today.” today.”

As an example, Lansing cites laws that restricted how people could mourn at funerals. “I was working in a beautiful little Italian town on another project when I came across a whole bunch of court cases in which hundreds of people were convicted for breaking funeral laws – almost all men,” he said. she declared.

“They were fined for going to the streets, crying, tearing their hair and tearing their clothes as a sign of solidarity and grief,” she said.

After doing a lot of research, “I eventually came to think that it was an obligation for men to grieve histrionics. But it came to be seen as something that could inspire violence – vendettas and even a civil war.

“So a whole new discourse was created in which it was something that women did, but men didn’t. There’s a dramatic transformation in the late 14th and early 15th century. It’s a moment really interesting ambivalence about powerful emotion and the nature of masculinity.

This revelation led to even more research into the status of women at the time, including the paradox that in some respects poor women had more freedom than rich women, who were supposed not to dishonor their families by speaking.

When she was in college, Lansing recalled, “People kept pushing me to get into what was then called ‘women’s history,’ because I was pretty much the only one local woman. I asked, ‘Why do I have to study women’s history just because I’m a woman?’

“I’ve since changed my mind. Now I’m obsessed with it.”

Lansing’s students, she says, have little problem connecting with this ancient culture, especially when she lectures on current topics such as how authorities have dealt with the plagues: “There has things they find in the distant past that help them think about possibilities in the world. gift.”

The research itself involves spending countless hours reviewing legal documents, court records and private contracts, most written on parchment in abbreviated Latin. “It’s like a big puzzle,” she says. “It’s fun if you like that kind of puzzle and don’t mind sitting in a library for really long periods of time. For me, it’s a treasure hunt.

While this search for gold sometimes proves futile, there are welcome diversions along the way.

“Notaries who register this stuff got bored and scribbled,” Lansing said. “You never know when you’re going to come across a doodle in these docs – a photo from a joust, or the guy’s girlfriend.

“Sometimes there are lines of poetry. Especially in Bologna, which was the center of the book trade, some of these guys created beautiful drawings.”

Overall, “I love what I do,” she said. “I am so privileged.” And she is eager to return to Italy to continue her research on her latest book, on the lives of poor women of that time.

But if you think having a broader historical perspective makes Lansing more optimistic about today’s issues, think again. Yes, some conflicts come back, but it’s the newer ones like climate change that she finds terrifying.

The people she studies, she notes, “did not have the ability to destroy their environment.”

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