Jenna Phillips

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins University

I am a medieval historian, specializing in the social and cultural history of France, Italy, and Sicily. My dissertation is entitled "When Kings Sang Songs: Power, Culture and Violence in Thirteenth-Century France."

The dissertation aims to recapture a lost sound-world at a time when memory and written record began to thrive side by side. The thirteenth century witnessed the triumph of the vernacular languages, manifested in an outpouring of new documents recording verse and song, propaganda and political satire, as well as the clarion calls of revolt of subjugated peoples. Voices that had long echoed in court and city were finding their way into manuscript productions, especially amid the increasingly literate, documentary culture of northern France.

My approach is to situate these records in the social and political context that produced them, while taking advantage of the emergent thirteenth-century "recording technology"—the proliferation of musical notation—to listen to these popular voices with an historian's ear. Working from the archives of the cutting-edge center for musical production at the court of Robert II of Artois, a patron of performers and a consummate—and vicious—warrior, I investigate the startling dualities posed by these texts. The counterpoint to so many elegantly-crafted melodies and verses of erotic conquest was one of violence and warfare—the French aristocracy's military conquests, political crusades, and wars of expansion. Setting these records into their social and political contexts, examining their patrons, authors and performers allows us to reconstruct what we may think of as "the Period Ear."

Another area of research has centered on trade and commerce in the medieval Mediterranean, and in 2011 I published an article on the nouveau riche fourteenth-century Venetian merchant, Bandino Garzoni, based on the discovery of several of his documents in Princeton's Scheide Collection (recipient of the Princeton Library Prize).

I was recently awarded a Whiting Fellowship in support of my dissertation. Before coming to Princeton, I earned my B.A. at the University of California at Berkeley with highest honors and highest distinction. I studied medieval English at Oxford, with emphasis in palaeography and Middle English dialects.

Before coming to Princeton, I spent several years working in Europe, New York and China as an entrepreneur and designer of shoes and lingerie. I was awarded one of three Young Innovator Prizes from the UK Department of Trade and Industry. I bring my knowledge of the global marketplace and trade to the study of commerce in the Middle Ages, and hope that this variety of experience and perspective enriches my work as a teacher and an historian.

Dissertation Title:

"Sound, Violence, and the Period Ear in Thirteenth-Century France"

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