Video: English professor and MI Fellow Michelle Karnes on studying 'marvels' in medieval literature and philosophy

Author: Todd Boruff

“In a book on animals in the Middle Ages, you find legendary creatures right next to real creatures, and it’s not that people in the Middle Ages didn’t know there was a difference, it’s that they didn’t really care,” said Michelle Karnes, associate professor of English and Fellow of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame. 

Karnes studies late medieval literature, philosophy, and religion. Her first book, Imagination, Meditation, and Cognition in the Middle Ages (University of Chicago Press, 2011), explores the role of imagination in medieval religious meditations and theories of cognition. Her forthcoming book, Medieval Marvels and Fictions, examines phenomena such as the evil eye, natural objects with unusual properties, and legendary creatures like unicorns and dragons. Karnes is particularly fascinated by the presence of marvels in both natural philosophy and literature.

“Philosophy is interested in truth and literature is not,” she said, “so if marvels belong to both, what status do we give them?”

The Medieval Institute’s resources and faculty, Karnes said, make Notre Dame one of the best places in the country to study the Middle Ages.

“Having really serious, sophisticated scholars who are at the very top of their field brings an energy to the discipline across the university.”

You can also watch this video on YouTube.

Originally published by Todd Boruff at on June 11, 2018.