Summer Research Partnership in English: Legacies of the Minstrel

23 January 2023

In Summer 2022 Sophia Heidebrecht ’23 worked with George Shuffelton, Professor of English, to conduct bibliographical research on the figure of the minstrel in the Anglo-American tradition. The project’s aim is to make connections between the original medieval conception of the minstrel and the associations it has gained over the years, with nostalgia, mythic nationalism, racism, and popular entertainment as a mode of both folk authenticity and debased vulgarity. Sophia’s research was mainly focused on the 18th-19th century ballad revival, and 16th century minstrelsy — a period often conceived of as the fall of the minstrel in the face of the rising broadside ballad trade.  Sophia shared her experience as an SRP with the Humanities Center.

“One of the most fascinating sources I came across was a letter published under the name Robert Laneham, describing the faux-medieval pageantry planned for Queen Elizabeth’s arrival at Kenilworth Castle in 1575. The comical description of the “ancient minstrel” seen at these festivities was fascinating in its detail — particularly the description of the minstrel’s appearance, from his fashionable ruffs to his old-fashioned gown to his carefully combed hair, greased to shine “like a mallard’s wing.” These details added another dimension to Tudor ideas of the minstrel, providing a glimpse into how minstrels were visualized, beyond the words they sang.

This opportunity allowed me to practice research skills which will help me immensely with future academic work, particularly as I begin work on Comps. I used the program Zotero for the first time, to compile and organize a shared library of sources. Because of the wide range of the project, George gave me a lot of freedom when it came to which areas and time periods I wanted to focus on. This independence was daunting at first but gave me practice managing my time and planning how I was going to spend my time each week.

George and I met over Zoom about once a week to discuss that week and talk about where I would be directing my focus going forward.  This was an opportunity to think over what I had learned, as well as a chance to share the opinions and thoughts that didn’t make it into the annotated bibliography entries I was writing.  George was wonderful to work with, and talking over my work with him helped both to solidify my understanding of what I’d been reading so far, and to think about where my research might lead.”