As director of medieval studies in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Bonnie Wheeler has served as a role model to her students as well as a driving force in her academic field. Now, colleagues throughout the nation have organized a festschrift to honor “her many scholarly achievements and to celebrate her wide-ranging contributions to medieval studies in the United States.”
Magistra Doctissima: Essays in Honor of Bonnie Wheeler (published in late 2013 by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University) contains nearly 20 individual contributions by eminent medieval scholars and is edited by Dorsey Armstrong and Ann W. Astell of Purdue University and Howell Chickering of Amherst College. In five distinct groups of essays, as well as in the book’s title (“Most Expert Teacher”), its creators pay homage to a scholar who “has effectively shaped medieval studies over the course of the last three decades,” wrote Astell and Chickering in their introduction.
“Not only is Bonnie most expert (doctissima) in her chosen scholarly fields as well as a master teacher in the classroom and lecture hall, she has also guided innumerable national committees, often as their chief, and, above all, has been a beloved mentor to generations of students and colleagues. During her career she has played the role of magistra in so many different contexts that the title seems inevitable.”
The editors chose to focus on writings that “extend or complement” Wheeler’s own considerable body of scholarly work. She has edited, co-edited or co-authored 13 essay collections and serves as series editor for two Palgrave Macmillan’s peer-reviewed series, The New Middle Ages and Arthurian and Courtly Cultures. In addition, she is founding editor of Arthuriana, the quarterly journal of the International Arthurian Society/North American Branch.
In a break with usual festschrift tradition, only one former Wheeler student contributed an essay – the late Stephen Stallcup ’92, then assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. The rest were written by peers and colleagues, many of them preeminent experts in their fields.
A section on Old and Middle English literature includes works on topics ranging from Chaucer’s Britishness to a Japanese woman writer’s engagement with Grendel’s Mother. The next, on “Arthuriana Then and Now,” includes an essay on the continued presence of the Holy Grail on the World Wide Web. Another, on Joan of Arc, features reflections upon the warrior saint’s afterlife on stage and screen.
The fourth section, on “Nuns and Spirituality,” includes an edition and translation of a previously unpublished letter from the abbot of Clairvaux to the abbess of Fontevrault, as well as a consideration of El Greco’s Espolio by Annemarie Weyl Carr, University Distinguished Professor Emerita of Art History in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. The final section, “Royal Women,” features an examination of the personal seal of Constance of France and an edition of two previously unpublished bequests by Jeanne d’Évreux to the abbey of Saint-Denis.
Jo Goyne, SMU senior lecturer in English, earned a grateful mention in the book’s acknowledgments “for her crucial role in helping develop this volume” as well as for her editorial assistance.
The festschrift is not the first honor bestowed upon Wheeler by her peers in medieval studies. In 2010, an international group of colleagues and friends created The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship Fund to support women scholars in medieval studies as they complete major research projects that will enable them to advance in their profession.