Jeffrey Wayno is a CLIR-DLF Postdoctoral Fellow for Data Curation in Medieval Studies at Columbia University. He lives in New York City and has been a member since 2009.
Alma maters: AB, Princeton University, 2007; MA, University College London, 2009; PhD, Columbia University, 2016
Fields of interest: medieval Europe, the papacy, legal and institutional, communication, religious
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? When I was nine, I fell in love with the history of the Civil War after seeing the movie Gettysburg, which is based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Killer Angels. I was hooked, and I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to study history. But in high school and then college, I got more and more interested in the Middle Ages. A few particularly wonderful teachers solidified that interest, and I have been studying it ever since. History is always something of a puzzle, but medieval history is even more so because of the state of the source material. That is one of the things I love the most about it. You have to be both incredibly careful and creative in how you use material. And when you get to hold a parchment manuscript in your hands . . . well, that is just something special.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? New York City is a place that challenges you every single day. Originally, I was skeptical of moving here for graduate school back in 2009, but I have come to love it. Its energy and diversity are almost impossible to replicate, and it is a particularly wonderful place to live if you love music, which just (barely!) lost out to history when I was deciding what I wanted to study. Columbia has a wonderfully active and supportive community of medievalists, and it has been a true pleasure to work with them, first as a student, and now as a colleague.
What projects are you currently working on? I just finished an article that comes out of one of my dissertation chapters. Now I am working on another while also starting to think about my book manuscript, which is based on my dissertation about papal communication practices in the Middle Ages. It is a fun project, because it touches on so many areas that interest me: communication, law, religion, institutional change, and techniques of governing. Naturally, it is a bit daunting to return to a project that has already consumed a number of years of my life. But I still have a real sense of excitement about the project, and that is always a good feeling.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? My interests actually started to evolve in my last two years of grad school, when I was teaching the first-year “great books” course in the Columbia Core Curriculum. The course, which covers works of European literature from antiquity to the present day, really forced me to think outside of the box, and to see history working with other areas of study. I have always loved teaching, and now I am trying to bring that experience to bear on my research, too.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? Last year, I discovered a papal document from the early 13th century that visually mapped out a trend I had observed in the way that popes were communicating with the rest of the church. It was a wonderful validation of what I had been trying to argue for months, and there it was: right on a parchment folio from seven centuries ago.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? If you are in the mood for something serious, try John Baldwin’s magisterial book, The Government of Philip Augustus: Foundations of French Royal Power in the Middle Ages. But if you are looking for a bit more fun, I highly recommend watching The Lion in Winter, starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole.
What do you value most about the history discipline? I strongly believe that individual and collective self-reflection is absolutely essentially in this day and age. And at its most basic level, history is a form of collective self-reflection. It is the study of who we are and where we come from. Does it get any more interesting than that?
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? Sometimes, it is easy to become lost in our subfields, even when they (in and of themselves) are broad in scope. I am a medievalist, but first and foremost, I am a student of history. The AHA is an organization that reminds all of us to think broadly about the past and the ways to educate others in a subject that is important to us.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.