William Johnson

Dr. Nina Caputo
Liberal Arts and Sciences
 
"I want to challenge myself as a student. I am currently enrolled in ROTC, and will serve in the Army after college. I feel like this will be one of the few opportunities I get to conduct research in the immediate future. I love medieval history, because I feel that it is a period of time that is often neglected by the public. While some feel that medieval studies are not relevant to the modern world, I believe that some of our largest problems can be solved by understanding the medieval background to our issues. This project is an attempt to bridge our modern understanding of self with that of the medieval world."

Major

History

Minor

Classics

Research Interests

  • Medieval Europe
  • Ancient Europe
  • Military History

Academic Awards

  • Florida Bright Futures Scholarship 2013-2017
  • AROTC 2014-2017
  • University Scholars Program 2016

Organizations

  • Gator Raiders
  • Phi Alpha Theta

Volunteer

  • Gator Guard Drill Team Support Staff
  • Payne's Prairie Clean Up

Hobbies and Interests

  • Reading
  • Weight Lifting
  • Computers

Research Description

Medieval Autobiographies: Rediscovering Self in the High Middle Ages
After the Church Father Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote his Confessions at the conclusion of the 4th century, no major autobiographical works appeared in Western Europe for over 600 years. Evidence of scholars beginning to record their life events reappeared in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, the most famous being the memoir of the Benedictine abbot Guibert of Nogent. While his work has been studied in great detail, the memoirs and confessions of other, less known scholars and nobles have been neglected by historians. These documents include Othlo of St. Emmeran’s On Temptations and Peter Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum. The body of secondary literature on these texts includes Sarah Spence’s Texts and the Self in the Twelfth Century, which paralleled the development of the self with that of the vernacular. Other writings include an essay by Willemien Otten comparing the religious conversions of Othlo and Abelard. I intend to expand on these works by exploring the educational developments of the time period, as well as the rebalancing of national, communal, and self-identification in response to internal and external threats.
The project that I am proposing will cross-analyze various autobiographies from the 11th through the 13th century. I will compare the style, language, and narrative of the various documents in an attempt to reveal the development of “self” and “self-identification” throughout the period. My primary sources will be Saint Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions (5th century), Othlo of St. Emmeran’s On Temptations (11th century), Guibert of Nogent’s Memoirs and Peter Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum (12th century), and the vernacular autobiography of James I of Aragon (13th century). Brief mentions of later works such as Leonor Lopez de Cordoba’s Memorias and Opicino de Canistris’ Confessions (14th century) will serve to explore how the themes developed in the High Middle Ages endured beyond the period.
Because Saint Augustine’s Confessions was the primary autobiographical model of the medieval world, I will begin my thesis by outlining his common themes and the life events that he presents in the context of the Late Roman Empire. I will then analyze the various 10th-12th century texts and how they incorporated and adapted Augustine’s themes to the context of the High Middle Ages. The narrative style of autobiographies in the High Middle Ages followed a common pattern that emulated prior works to relate the author’s life events into a formulaic story of religious conversion. This paper will analyze the extent to which the memoirs balanced literary narrative and the authors’ unique life events. I will conclude my paper with a brief discussion of the theory of the “12th century Renaissance” and how my work relates to scholars’ understanding of the period’s intellectual development.
My 4000 level research seminar focuses on the analysis of memoirs and microhistories. I am currently enrolled in Latin I, and I will continue my Latin studies over the course of next year. Professor Nina Caputo will advise me on this project. As an expert on medieval theology, she will assist me in understanding the perspectives of the various monastic authors. This project was recently accepted into the University Scholars Program. I plan to use the support of the University Scholars Program to conduct archival research in Europe, specifically the national archives in France and the UK. Visiting these archives would allow me to examine the original documents and research their prevalence in the High Middle Ages. This in turn will allow me to qualify to what extent medieval Europeans were observing and supporting the autobiographical developments of the period.