Kristin Bovaird-Abbo, Assistant Professor, English
Kristin Bovaird-Abbo is an Assistant Professor of English with a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas where she completed a dissertation on Geoffrey Chaucer's use of the Arthurian Legend. Her areas of special interest include medieval language and literature, particularly Middle English and Arthurian studies, and she regularly teaches classes on Old English, Middle English, History of the English Language, Linguistics, and the Arthurian Legend.
Her wider research and teaching interests include linguistics, James Joyce, Victorian poetry, drama, mythology, and medievalism. In her free time, she enjoys hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park with her family.
What is your own research background? Please discuss any research that you are currently involved with (with or without students).
I study the Arthurian Legend in the literature of the late medieval period (approximately 12th century – 16th century AD). I focus primarily on the literature of England, but I also frequently work with French literature from this time period, as well as Irish and Welsh literature. I’m currently working on a piece that explores the figure of the Saracen Palomides in Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century romance Le Morte Darthur. Two major questions are driving my research: First, why does King Arthur reject Palomides when other authority figures repeatedly praise him and attempt to recruit him? Second and more importantly, what does Malory’s treatment of Palomides reveal about fifteenth-century attitudes towards racial difference in England, especially in light of European anxieties caused by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 AD?
My book project, A Gawain for the Gentry in Late Middle English Romance, explores Gawain's relationship with the younger knights surrounding him in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Middle English popular romances. In both French and English medieval romance, Gawain plays a central role by presenting a standard by which other knights may compare themselves. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, Gawain's role in certain Middle English romances becomes complicated by shifts in authorship and audience, notably affected by the rise of the gentry classes. My book project accounts for these changes to Gawain's character by exploring the effects of gender and class in terms of his mentorship of younger knights; unlike his French counterpart, the English Gawain plays an active role in how these knights are shaped, for those who imitate Gawain experience limited success, while those who eschew his example profit. My working thesis is that the pejoration of the English Gawain reflects the changing social values of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century English gentry. Ultimately, Gawain loses signification; he becomes a flimsy construct in the hands of gentry authors, who shift attention to knights who reflect the social values that they hold dear.
Please discuss one significant and/or noteworthy undergraduate research project where you served as a fellow researcher and/or mentor.
I just finished working with Courtney Griffey on a creative honors thesis; she’s been working on a fantasy novel for the last several years, and she developed several chapters of it while working with me. She’s been especially interested in archetypes—how fantasy writers are constantly reinventing mythological figures and events, but reshaping them each time for contemporary audiences. Courtney came to me with an impressively outlined fantasy world, named called “Oa,” as well as an outline of the scope of the first novel, and it was so much fun to watch her develop that world further. We spent a lot of time working on developing the characters, talking about what motivated them, what their voices might sound like, from what point of view specific chapters should be told, some of the problems involved in having a female hero, et cetera. One of the things that Courtney needed to navigate was possible similarities to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. For example, how to depict a race of elves in her story? So many people now are familiar with Tolkien’s elves, but Courtney really wanted to create something new that just happened to share the same name, and I think she did a great job with it.
How many undergraduate students are doing research in your department?
There are two students in the McNair Program, and at least ten of our majors are in the Honors Program; both require original research. In most of our 300-level courses, especially what we call the “period” courses as they emphasize historical contexts, we require a decent amount of research. Our capstone courses also require research; for example, last semester in my ENG 441: The Monstrous Middle Ages, students had to pick a research topic, complete an annotated bibliography, and synthesize close reading of a literary text with their research. I received some fascinating papers on weapons in Beowulf, monstrous Norse mothers, cowardice in The Song of Roland, just to name a few; fun—and insightful—reading!
What is most rewarding about working with undergraduate students on original research projects?
Learning! Definitely the learning. I’ve been teaching some texts—like Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur—for well over ten years, but as I tell my students, I never get tired of them—largely because my students are constantly noticing new things or offering me new ways to look at these texts. It’s exciting! And I really love when I get to work one-on-one with students on their original research projects because it’s nice to get to know them outside of class and to learn about their interests, what makes them tick. And I just like being able to help other people.
Please feel free to offer any other comments about your work with undergraduate research.
So far, all of the Honors and McNair projects that I’ve mentored have been on language (ESL, texting, slang), creative projects (mostly fantasy), and mythology. It’s been fun and I’m completely open to more projects along these lines, but I’m really, really hoping that sooner or later (preferably sooner), someone shows up at my office door looking to do a project on medieval literature. Or J.R.R. Tolkien. I’d be totally up for that.