Lisa DarienAssociate Professor of English
Associate Professor of English Lisa Darien arrived on campus in 2001. One of the first things she learned was that she had big shoes to fill in the English Department. "I had barely arrived in Oneonta, and just about anyone I met had a story about Terrance Fitz-Henry, who had just retired. Rumor had it that he had to hold his last class in Anderson Theatre because so many students wanted to take it."
Rather than be intimidated, Darien took her predecessor's renown as a good sign. She had an audience, already primed, who might just be willing to follow along with her in Old English, Middle English, and Old Norse-Icelandic.
"It's interesting," says Darien, "Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings have had a real effect on students' willingness to express interest in the medieval."
She's surely right. But when one hears Darien talk about her love of the sound of "reading Beowulf--the best, most beautiful, and the most complex of Old English poems"--one suspects she might be part of the reason medieval literature classes are among the toughest tickets in Oneonta. Lord of the Rings has probably brought students to Darien's door. But, despite the number of Academy Awards the Ring Trilogy has won, Darien's contagious enthusiasm for introducing students to the "the real thing" emerges as a much more plausible explanation.
"Most colleges don't even offer Old English at the undergraduate level," she explains, "But we do--lucky Hartwick students! They can study Old English for the beauty of the language, the breathtaking imagery of the poetry, and, to steal an image from Bede, the strange magnificence of the flight of a sparrow through the mead hall."
"What can I say," she laughs, "I've been told I have a medieval mind."
But Darien's not just all medieval all the time; she's also interested in sumo wrestling, Shakespeare, and hagiography.
Darien is author of the essay "Bridging the Gap: Getting Medieval at the Small Liberal Arts College," published in SMART: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching. The essay had its genesis in the Summer 2004 NEH Institute on Anglo-Saxon Studies at Cambridge University, in which Darien was selected to participate.
Professor Darien's research interests include issues of women and gender and the reception of the medieval. After finishing her study of the use of the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great in the construction of late 19th century Anglo-American racial and imperial identity, she plans to return to her research on gender in the Old English period.