By Patrick Coy-Bjork ’24
We are thrilled to welcome Assistant Professor Coral Lumbley (she/they) to the Macalester English Department as our new medieval specialist! Coming most recently from New York University, Professor Lumbley has focused their research in medieval cross-cultural studies, race in the premodern world, premodern trans/gender studies, ecocritical and environmental studies, and Welsh and Arthurian literature.
I had the joy of getting to sit down with Professor Lumbley to talk about her background, transition to Macalester, and classes for this academic year.
Our conversation went as follows:
PCB: How has your first semester at Macalester been so far?
CL: It’s been a whirlwind. I just relocated to the twin cities and started at Macalester, so I’m brand new, but so far it’s been great; I’ve been touring different pancake restaurants in the cities.
PCB: What’s your top recommendation for pancakes as of now?
CL: The Highland Grille.
PCB: How has it been coming to Minnesota?
CL: It’s been lovely; it’s easy to get around and do things. In New York, if you’re going to go one direction, you have to plan your entire day around that direction–otherwise you’ll spend three-to-four hours on the subway. Here, it feels like everything is just fifteen minutes away from everything else; there’s this incredible range of stuff to do. It’s also very relaxing. I’ve lived in the midwest before and grew up in rural Texas, so I’m not new to places smaller than New York City, but the twin cities are a nice combination of the very small rural places I’ve been and the massive city I still live in half the time. I didn’t know how it would feel, but it feels good.
PCB: How did you first get interested in medieval literature specifically?
CL: I really liked fantasy literature, and got curious about where it came from and why I enjoyed it. I was also really interested in this idea of “the dark ages.” It kind of sets up this mystical period of “we don’t know much; what was going on?” As an undergraduate, I got more and more curious about why I didn’t know anything about the medieval period in my education leading up to college, and I had a great professor who just illuminated the middle ages in a really engaging way.
PCB: What classes have you been teaching this semester?
CL: I’m teaching “Reading Along the Silk Roads,” which has been fantastic. We’re currently in our Arabic travels unit, so we’re getting to know some different travel narratives really closely as well as the different voices of these travelers. Our conversations are revolving more and more around the ethics of historical studies: archeology, anthropology and even literary study. What are the ethics of poking our noses into various cultural histories as an American academy? How do we do historical cultural studies ethically? That has been a really enriching vein of thought that we’re continually diving deeper into–which is an archeological metaphor I suppose. We kind of lack a good vocabulary for intellectual exploration that isn’t informed by colonialist and imperialist histories: “diving deeper,” “pushing farther,” “a ‘pioneer’ in the field;” we have these histories baked into the vocabulary. So, as we’re doing historical studies, how do we get out of that vocabulary as we’re trying to unpack the unethical bits of these historical endeavors; it’s fascinating. I’m enjoying it a lot, and the students are bringing in great intersections from other classes that they’re taking.
My other class this semester is “The Literature and Language of Medieval Wales.” That has been a lot of fun. There is a language component where we’re learning some Welsh, and there’s a literature component where we’re reading original medieval Welsh fiction, and it’s a really good time. We’re reading it in English, but it’s so important to have the basics of the language when you’re reading the literature. Otherwise we wouldn’t know how to pronounce the names of our main characters or places. I think that the Welsh language has always been a barrier of entrance to its literature, but that literature is very cool; there’s monsters, dragons, warriors, and goddesses; the stories are fascinating, but they’re hard to access if you don’t have a bit of the language because the Welsh language is just fundamentally different from English.
PCB: What classes will you be teaching in the spring?
CL: “Silk Roads” will be running again. I’ll also be teaching the “British Literature Survey:” the “greatest hits” of pre-1700s British literature, and that’s going to be fun. It is themed “the self society,” so it’s going to be focused on how writers position the self in regards to their larger context throughout history. This class is a way to get people more comfortable with saying, “how do I look at traditions where I can’t look for myself in the same way I can in a modern movie or a modern novel?” There’s also going to be a focus on gender and women authorship, which was relatively rare, but more present that most folks have encountered.
PCB: Are there any words or phrases in Welsh that you’re particularly fond of?
CL: There are many–of course! The most famous Welsh word is “hiraeth.” It essentially means nostalgia or longing, so it has tones of homesickness as well as “time-sickness,” and I like the word a lot more than nostalgia; I don’t think in English we have quite the same word. Although, I don’t want to over-romanticize Welsh because it is a practical language that’s very much alive today, but hiraeth I think is a special word, so it deserves some of the attention that it gets.
PCB: Is there anything else on your mind?
CL: It’s been great being here. I feel so at home already–in the classroom and with colleagues; it’s lovely, so I feel very happy to be here–very lucky. Of course teaching is tiring, but after classes I go home and I think “man, someone decided that I should get to do this for a living,” and I feel very spoiled, so that’s a nice feeling.
Thank you to Professor Lumbley for giving their time for this interview. We are so happy to have you here!
Responses have been edited for clarity.