Bonnie Wheeler steps back in time to the Middle
Ages every day to illuminate such issues as gender, heroism, and chivalry through her scholarship
and her teaching. Although her research spans from the origins of the legend of King Arthur
in the sixth century to the heroism of Joan of Arc in the fifteenth, Wheeler contends that
her discoveries offer students valuable insight about their roles in society today.
"We presume that gender is a contemporary
concern, but the first thing people always ask about a healthy baby is, Is it a boy
or a girl?" says Wheeler, associate professor of English. "Im interested
in how gender formation takes place across cultures and time. Until recently, weve
known very little about women in the Middle Ages, but weve also known just as little
about male role formation in that period."
Wheeler, who serves as director of SMUs
Medieval Studies program in Dedman College, has spent the past 25 years researching gender
roles in the Middle Ages, focusing on such significant figures as the Abbess Heloise, Abelard,
and Joan of Arc. She also writes about literary representations of heroism in the Middle
Last fall Wheeler, who frequently appears on
the History Channel and A&E Network, discussed Joan of Arc on a History or Hollywood
program. "Joan of Arc was the quintessential military hero and ultimate political victim.
Her story is one about love for her country only as much as it is about her love for God.
It forces us to consider questions of spirituality, something that intellectuals (as professional
skeptics) often find embarrassing."
As general editor for the book series The
New Middle Ages, Wheeler has edited Feminea Medievalia I: Repre-sentations of the
the Middle Ages; Medieval Mothering; Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc; Becoming
Male in the Middle Ages; and most recently, Listening to Heloise: The Voice of a
Wheeler also serves as editor of Arthuriana,
the quarterly journal of the International Arthurian Society North American Branch.
The journal maintains a Web site at dc.smu.edu/Arthuriana/.
"Stories of King Arthur are often thought
to be utopian, but I argue instead that these stories maintain a vivid, hopeful even
heroic idea of society and politics in spite of inevitable human frailty," Wheeler
says. "These stories are often beautifully crafted, and I am drawn to their beauty
as much as to their insight."
Wheeler, who joined SMU in 1975, previously taught
at Columbia University and Case Western Reserve University. At SMU she has received numerous
honors and grants, including the Outstanding Teacher Award, the Perrine Prize of Phi Beta
Kappa for excellence in scholarship and teaching, and SMU Research Council grants, among
others. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University in 1971.
For more information: Bonnie Wheeler
Web site: www.smu.edu/~bwheeler/medstud/program.html
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