I'm a historian of the early Middle Ages, and I teach courses about Europe and the Mediterranean in the late antique and medieval periods. My research focuses on the mechanics of culture, including how medieval communities themselves thought that knowledges and commitments were communicated, adopted, and affected by other forms of power. I'm especially interested in the quieter forces that shape ethical systems — forces that were not always purposeful, individual, or human — and it's a thread that runs through my research on narrative, cognition, the interplay between science and religion, and animals.
My new monograph, Legions of Pigs in the Early Medieval West (to appear in 2020 with Yale University Press), examines pigs as both objects and subjects, to measure the impact that this species had on early medieval culture and to highlight the surprising ways that early medieval societies handled their lived environments. You can get a short introduction to some of these pigs here. My first book, The Social Life of Hagiography in the Merovingian Kingdom, highlights how the cultures of Christianity and government defined each other in the early medieval society of Gaul through an astutely crafted literary form.
I'm currently at work on a book (under contract with Liveright/Norton) that invites readers into the world of early medieval Christian monks, moving from the lives that they abandoned into the depths of their minds. At its heart is the monastic see-saw between distraction and concentration: distraction was a problem that monks moralized, but unlike us they also developed sophisticated strategies for concentrating on their work. I'm also preparing a translation of excerpts from John Cassian's Collationes, for the Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series at Princeton University Press — How to Focus: A Monk's Advice for an Age of Distraction. Over at Aeon I've offered some medieval advice for dealing with distraction in a digital age. I've also written a couple of short pieces about jokes in the Middle Ages (yes, they existed!) that appear here and here.
My work has been awarded prizes from the Medieval Academy of America, the Society for French Historical Studies, the Agricultural History Society, the University of Georgia, and the Whiting Foundation. And my research has been supported by several grants and fellowships, including a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University and a Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.
"A Claim for Cognitive History" (co-authored with Henry Cowles), Behavioral and Brain Sciences 42 (2019)
"Pigs in the Flesh and Fisc: An Early Medieval Ecology,” Past & Present 236 (2017): 3-42.
“Autopsies and Philosophies of a Merovingian Life: Death, Responsibility, Salvation,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 22 (2014): 113-52.
“About the Bishop: The Episcopal Entourage and the Economy Of Government in Post-Roman Gaul," Speculum 86 (2011): 321-60.
PhD, Princeton University, 2011