Introducing Kellie Robertson

Introducing Associate ProfessorKellie Robertson
  Kellie Robertson

What is your current project, and what led you to it?

I’m currently writing a book on how medieval science and medieval poetry influenced one another. Both were invested in representing the natural world in words, since medieval physics (or natural philosophy as it was known) was less about mathematical formulas and more about finding the correct language to describe how the material environment could lead to more metaphysical truths. This same problem preoccupied some of the greatest of medieval poets from Dante to Jean de Meun to Chaucer. This book results in part from the simple observation that modern physics and fiction-writing are imagined as very different enterprises today, ones that are rarely seen to overlap. I wanted to know why the two enjoyed a much closer relationship in the medieval period and to think about what has been lost as a result of partitioning off these types of knowledge. 

What are you most looking forward to as you teach this fall?  Can you tell us a little about your approach to teaching Arthurian Legends?

I’m looking forward to getting to know the University of Maryland undergraduates. My Arthurian literature class usually draws students from across the college—engineers, pre-med, history majors—alongside those from the English department. The class allows me to teach works from the Middle Ages (Geoffrey of Monmouth, Caxton) to American literature (Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) to contemporary graphic novels that feature Arthur. It’s rare that a single class allows you to teach over a millennium’s worth of writing.

What undergraduate courses would you enjoy teaching?

I’d love to offer a course that I’ve taught in the past on early English literature and modern eco-criticism called “Another Green World.” A fluid concept, ‘nature’ and our ideas about what is ‘natural’ are a compelling example to students about why it matters where a society draws the line between what is human and what is not, what is culture, what nature. 

What was the last book you read that you really enjoyed? Why?

I’m a relentless novel reader, anything from Patricia Cornwall to Cervantes. My favorite novelist is Anthony Trollope, and I’ve just finished re-reading Phineas Finn.

Trollope is often considered to be long-winded and boring, but I’ve found that it is usually only the first 200 pages of his novels that are boring, while the last 300 pages are utterly compelling. (And anyone who parodies Charles Dickens in print as "Mr. Popular Sentiment" is OK in my book…). 

If you weren’t a professor of Medieval studies, or even a professor at all, what do you think your field/occupation would be?

Professional skeet shooting.

What interests you most about working with graduate students?  Do you have any advice for our incoming graduate cohort?

I’m very excited to begin work as the department’s graduate placement director. Working with graduate students who are on the job market is one of my favorite parts of my job (I undertook the same work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at the University of Pittsburgh). Often it is useful for students at this late stage to have a reader outside of their dissertation committee to talk to about what’s exciting in their projects. I learn so much being a sounding board in this way. 

In terms of incoming graduate students, I can only echo the excellent advice of the twelfth-century polymath Hugh of St. Victor: “Learn everything. It will all come in useful somewhere.” Even if you are not writing an encyclopedia, it pays not to specialize yourself into a corner where you can only speak to a few other experts.

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