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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. "I’m interested in how gender formation takes place across cultures and time. Until recently, we’ve known very little about women in the Middle Ages, but we’ve also known just as little about male role formation in that period."

Wheeler, who serves as director of SMU’s 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 Ages.

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 Feminine in
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 Twelfth-Century Woman.

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
E-mail: bwheeler@mail.smu.edu
Web site: www.smu.edu/~bwheeler/medstud/program.html

 



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