2017-18 Medieval Institute Mellon Fellow Taylor Cowdery Presents His Work at the Annual Mellon Colloquium

Author: Emily Mahan

Taylor Cowdery Headshot_web

Since 2001, the Medieval Institute has offered the A. W. Mellon Junior Faculty Fellowship in Medieval Studies to one outstanding early-career scholar each year. The Fellowship allows a junior faculty member who holds an assistant professor position at a United States university to spend a full academic year in residence at Notre Dame, researching and working on their first book.

Our 2017-18 Mellon Fellow is Taylor Cowdery, Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Cowdery received his Ph.D. in English from Harvard in 2016 and specializes in late medieval and early modern poetry. His book manuscript is entitled Matter and Form in Premodern Literature: English Poetics from Chaucer to Donne. "The book," Cowdery explained, is “a study of literary attitudes towards language, form, and materiality in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The goal of the book is to sketch an ontology of poetry in early England—to cast light on what premodern poets thought their poems were made of.” Each chapter explores this topic through a different poet, in the context of contemporary theories regarding language and artistic creation.

“When I heard last April that I’d be given the chance to live and work at the Medieval Institute for the 2017-18 academic year, I was naturally excited,” said Cowdery. “Notre Dame has an exceptional community of medievalist scholars, and a full year to write is something that any academic would happily accept. As it turns out, though, the A.W. Mellon Junior Faculty Fellowship in Medieval Studies exceeded even my wildest hopes. With the generous support of the Institute and the Mellon Foundation, I was able to draft several new chapters of my book manuscript, examine in detail an entirely new archive of primary materials, and re-frame the book project as a whole.”

On April 7th, 2018, Cowdery presented his work in progress at the annual Mellon Colloquium. The Colloquium is not only an opportunity for the Mellon Fellow to share their scholarship with the Notre Dame medievalist community but an opportunity for the Fellow to receive detailed feedback in return. Three senior scholars are invited who carefully read the book draft and present their comments at the Colloquium, and who offer the Fellow more detailed feedback one-on-one in an extended, private afternoon session. This year, the discussants were Christopher Cannon, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and Classics at Johns Hopkins; Michelle Karnes, Associate Professor of English at Notre Dame; and D. Vance Smith, Professor of English at Princeton.

Cowdery found this close response process invaluable. “One of my readers," he noted, "remarked to me afterwards that everyone should have a chance to work through their manuscript in such a fashion, and I entirely agree. The Mellon Colloquium is a model of both rigor and collegiality, and I can think of no better way to help a young scholar with his or her book-in-draft."

About his experience with the fellowship on the whole, he continued, "Just as important as the scholarly side of my life, however, is its personal side, and so I also feel incredibly grateful to the many individuals and groups who went out of their way to make me feel so welcome at Notre Dame this year. Medievalists are famously good-natured, but I have to say that everyone in South Bend sets the bar for warmth and friendliness even higher than normal. To all of you: thank you very much. I’ll look back on this year with great fondness once I’m back in North Carolina." 

Read more about our past Mellon Fellows and their research.

Learn more about the Mellon Fellowship, including eligibility and application procedures.