If you think of the Middle Ages as little more than dirt, blood and Bubonic Plague, recent Allegheny College graduate Madeline Hernstrom-Hill can enlighten you.
“Sure, all that is there, but there is also so much more — complicated medical manuals, treatises about forms of government, astrological thought, trade across incredible distances, I could go on,” says Hernstrom-Hill, Allegheny Class of 2018.
And go on she will — to England, through a year-long Fulbright award to pursue a master’s degree in medieval history at the University of Leeds beginning this fall.
When she was 12, Hernstrom-Hill (at the prompting of her mother) read The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. That work sparked her interest in the Arthurian Legends and medieval times.
“It’s such a vibrant time, from the gold inlay on illuminated manuscripts to the types of stories they told each other about knights and monsters and ladies, many of whom don’t match up at all to our modern notion of the medieval damsel,” Hernstrom-Hill says.
After arriving at Allegheny from her home in Boston, Hernstrom-Hill began to take courses in medieval history and literature with Jennifer Hellwarth, professor of English, and Stephen Lyons, retired professor of history.
Hernstrom-Hill credits Allegheny with teaching her how to conduct independent research and to ask the right questions about it. Even more, Hernstrom-Hill says she has learned to listen to the responses she gets — “to conduct a dialogue, whether between yourself and your subject material, or with another scholar, or with really anyone who has a different perspective than your own. I think that’s a hugely important skill for trying to get the most out of an international experience.”
Hernstrom-Hill will bring impressive academic credentials to her Fulbright experience. At Allegheny, she not only majored in both history and English but also completed two minors: classical studies and medieval and renaissance studies. Her senior comprehensive project explored medieval women from three different faiths during the Crusades.
Patrick Jackson, director of national fellowship advising in the Allegheny Gateway, notes that Hernstrom-Hill took full advantage of all the resources that the College offers as she pursued her interests. For example, she received funding to conduct summer research on campus and to attend a conference in her field hosted by Western Michigan University.
“Madeline did all of this not knowing that it would be the foundation for a successful Fulbright, but because she was interested in pursuing an idea that moved her,” Jackson says. “That’s the secret strength of a liberal arts education. By following our passions where they lead, we often wind up advancing not only our careers, but our lives.”
Hernstrom-Hill says she is grateful to her mentors at Allegheny, and she wants to follow in their footsteps and ultimately become a professor. Following her time in England, Hernstrom-Hill will begin the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program at Northern Michigan University, where she has already been admitted. She hopes to go on eventually to earn a Ph.D.
For now, though, Hernstrom-Hill is focused on making the most of her Fulbright award and studying in England.
“I hope to meet other people who are totally in love with the Middle Ages,” she says. “There’s a wonderful community of medieval scholars out there, and a lot of them spend time at Leeds.”
And there’s another item she’d like to check off of her list:
“Also, I’d like to see a real castle!”