A professor and chair of the Department of Religion and Culture will spend the fall studying medieval history while immersed in Scottish culture.

Matthew Gabriele, professor of medieval studies and chair in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech, has been named the 2023–24 Bullough Fellow in Medieval History by the University of St. Andrews

With the fellowship, which is named after mid-twentieth century British historian, Donald Bullough, Gabriele will live in Scotland for the fall semester of 2023 while pursuing his research related to medieval studies and history, including work on two book projects. 

Q: What do you hope to achieve by attending this fellowship?

Gabriele: The fellowship offers two of the most important things that scholars in the humanities need – time and a vibrant intellectual community. The location of the fellowship is also really important. The library at St. Andrews is top notch in medieval studies, in large part because the Department of Mediaeval History at St. Andrews has a cluster of faculty who are world leaders in their area and they supervise a great number of graduate students at both the M.A. and Ph.D. level who are doing all sorts of interesting projects on medieval Europe and beyond. I really look forward to working with them. 

Q: What is your central focus area of research and what motivates you to pursue this type of work? 

Gabriele: My own research is on the European Middle Ages, but also on how the period is remembered. The medieval world is often one that seems simple in that people tend to think we can’t know much about it. But people in the past were people. They were complicated and messy, creating great works of art and committing horrific acts of violence. My research and teaching aims to show not only that the past is interesting but that it matters in our own day.

The period matters today for a number of reasons. In the realm of pop culture, medieval-ish fantasy is having a moment. From “Game of Thrones” to “Lord of the Rings” to “Vikings,” these shows are ostensibly about some sort of imaginary place but then also make claims about authenticity. Why do they do that? It has a lot to do with the genre of pop culture but also about the knights/dragons being “medieval” and there’s a history to those claims. In addition, medieval Europe is used in culture and politics as a source of legitimacy and power. European nations at a very basic level claim their origins in the period, but even in the U.S. we see white supremacists make claims about “Anglo-Saxon” heritage or foreign policy experts talk about the Crusades. When they do that, they’re making claims about both the past itself and how that past is remembered. That’s fascinating, and it needs actual expertise to help people understand those claims and why they matter.

Q: Have you ever been to Scotland and if so, what did you think about the country? What do you plan to do and see while you are there (aside from the fellowship)? 

Gabriele: I’ve been to St. Andrews a few times. It’s absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to be back. Although I think I’ll be working pretty constantly, I really look forward to being integrated into a wider U.K. community of scholars and traveling as much as possible to see museums and visit colleagues elsewhere on the island.

Some answers were edited and condensed for clarity.

Written by Emily Meade