Alumni Spotlight: Annette Russell

Sharing Medieval Studies with Others

Annette graduated from the College in December 2016 with a major in History and a minor in Medieval Studies. While she was at Georgetown, she particularly enjoyed the literature- and gender-focused medieval studies courses she took with Professors McNamer, Moran Cruz, and Astarita. These professors (all of whom are still at Georgetown!) supported her while she was completing her undergraduate degree, in graduate school, and in her later career. Outside of academics, Annette fondly remembers the Medieval Banquet and trips to the Maryland Renaissance Festival with her friends and family.

While at Georgetown, Annette was able to shadow the Medieval History teacher at the National Cathedral School, and even sat in on nearly every lesson plan for the class one spring. This experience not only piqued her interest in the future of Medieval Studies at the middle and high school level, but also opened up opportunities for Annette to guest- and substitute-teach Medieval Studies after graduation. This experience helped Annette realize that she wanted to teach younger students about the medieval ages, perhaps because she first became interested in medieval studies through her 7th grade Medieval History class. 

In her free time at Georgetown, Annette loved going to Dumbarton Oaks to see its collection of Byzantine seals and mosaics, rare books, and Pre-Columbian collection. The museum is only a 15-minute walk from Georgetown, and is small enough to visit in a single day; it also has beautiful gardens with an entry fee of $5 for college students (admittance to the museum is free). She also recommends the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC, which often hosts visiting exhibits on a range of medieval topics in addition to Shakespeare. 

After leaving Georgetown, she taught Social Studies (including Ancient History and Mythology) for a couple of years in the DC area. In Fall 2019, she began graduate school at the Catholic University of America, pursuing a joint program in Medieval History and Library & Information Science. She then narrowed her focus to Library & Information Science, which she found to be more relevant to her chosen career of teaching grade-school students. She wanted to focus on incorporating digital tools and teaching into Social Studies education. Her LIS courses helped her maximize the resources available on the Internet, especially the educational opportunities provided by cultural heritage institutions like Dumbarton Oaks, to make Medieval Studies more welcoming and interesting for students and teachers of all ages. Annette’s graduate studies have helped her create a portfolio of teaching resources, “The Middle Ages for Middle Schoolers”, which she hopes will help convince schools to continue teaching medieval studies. 

Annette is passionate about teaching medieval history to younger students because she believes it’s highly relevant to modern life, and can teach us about the historical basis for our current worldview. Many of our society’s cultural norms, political philosophies, and racial biases originated in the Middle Ages, and by studying them we can more fully address modern-day problems. In addition, studying the Middle Ages can help us appreciate our own humanity––we grapple with the same questions our medieval ancestors did, and by learning how medieval people satisfied their needs and wants, we can grow in our appreciation for the strength of the human spirit and how humans have sought dignity and community throughout history. 

Annette’s advice for college students pursuing global medieval studies is to try not to be dissuaded by those who claim the subject isn’t practical or useful––she strongly believes that college is about learning how to learn, figuring out what you really care about, and being able to explain that to others. In addition, she’s found medieval studies to be incredibly useful in graduate school and her career. The writing, research, and presentation skills students gain through the Medieval Studies degree, as well as the global emphasis of Georgetown’s program, give students versatility in the job market. Any major in the Humanities can open doors in museum work, archaeology, social work, policy, psychology, anthropology, writing, education, editing, translation, or film; one of Annette’s friends even went to medical school after studying the History of Science! 

For students looking for medieval literature and culture to explore, Annette recommends Dante, Chaucher, and Chrétien de Troyes––she finds that reading the classics helps us understand the many cultural phenomena that were based on these texts. She also recommends the medieval poets Christine de Pizan, Marie de France, Francois Villon, and Boccaccio & the Gawain Poet. For those interested in medieval women, she enjoys reading the works of female mystics Cecilia Ferrazzi and Dhuoda’s “Handbook”. For more modern scholarly works, she enjoys Sharon Kay Penman and Umberto Eco (for historical fiction), “King Arthur: History & Legend” (for podcasts), and Brian Tierney and Chris Wichkam’s works. Finally, Annette recommends following the International Congress on Medieval Studies, the largest Medieval Studies conference hosted in the US, and (for younger siblings) the “Medieval Maidens” series, written by her friend and colleague Lois Jarman.