This is exciting: writing a blog post from New York, where I was kindly invited by Professor Simon Doubleday to join the Department of History at Hofstra University to deliver a session on “Friendship in Medieval Iberia”.
The 2 hour session was specifically aimed at the students who are currently enrolled in the module “Investigating History”, for which they are asked to develop an independent research project on ideas and representations of ‘friendship’ from different perspectives, mainly based on the primary materials available in the Hofstra Archives.
A number of scholars working on friendship in different contexts and time periods had already joined some of these sessions to provide the students with additional ideas and encourage them to reflect upon the multidisciplinary potential of this subject. Needless to say that I was thrilled to contribute by sharing my own research experience!
Unsurprisingly, considering the nature of the Hofstra Archives, the majority of those students’ projects focused on modern American History. So, the question I tried to answer since the beginning of my presentation was how and to what extent the study of friendship in Medieval Iberia could inform their projects.
Reading anthropological, sociological and philosophical studies on friendship proved extremely useful for my own research, as it helped unpacking differences and similarities between modern and pre-modern communication, networks formation and relationships labelled as ‘friendship’ (among other definitions). In our digital environment ‘friends’, ‘contacts’ and ‘followers’ virtually interact with each other within the boundaries of the digital communities to which they belong. In a sense, medieval communication shared similar practices, as it was often based on a sense of belonging, defined by social, economic, ethnic and religious criteria, among other factors. Medieval epistolary exchanges are perhaps one of the most noteworthy examples. In fact, despite the fact that not always the interlocutors knew each other in person, they frequently addressed each other as “friends”, a formula which also carried deeper political and diplomatic implications.
This general overview led us to examine thematic approaches; language as a vehicle of communication; the History of emotions and the related tension between individualistic and cultural interpretations of human emotions and their display; ideas of change and continuity; as well as writing strategies on how to come up with, develop and deliver an independent research project!
I presented my own research experience to the History students at Hofstra by talking them through the stages which led to the completion and publication of my monograph, Friendship in Medieval Iberia. I hoped this would be an interactive session and it definitively was: the students asked questions, provided feedback and engaged in a very lively debate.
This was an extraordinary experience, which brought my research and teaching expertise together in a lively cross-disciplinary forum for discussion. I hope there will be other thought-provoking opportunities like this in the future!