Susan Phillips (Northwestern University)
Alumnae of Northwestern Teaching Professor;
Associate Professor of English
“Medieval Mischief 101: Teaching the Art of Disorderly Conversation”
A medievalist with Early Modern leanings, Susie Phillips (Ph.D., Harvard University) teaches courses on late medieval and Early Modern literature and culture, Chaucer, Shakespeare, drama, and the history of the book. In her scholarship as well as her teaching, she is interested in the materiality of the book, that is, in exploring how texts were produced, published, circulated, and read. Her book, Transforming Talk: The Problem with Gossip in Late Medieval England (Penn State 2007) explores the religious, cultural, and literary work of “idle talk” in late medieval England. Gossip’s supposedly idle words, she argues, are transformative; they blur the boundaries between people, discourses, genres, practices, and words. She has published essays on Chaucer, gossip theory, late medieval pastoral practice, Renaissance dictionaries, medieval multilingualism, and pre-modern pedagogy.
Her current project, Polyglots and Pocketbooks, traces the cultural history of the dictionaries, phrasebooks, and guides to conversations that flooded the European marketplace from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. These extraordinarily popular bestsellers taught readers not only how to conjugate verbs and negotiate with foreign merchants, but also how to insult neighbors and chat up chambermaids in up to eight different languages. More than simply entertaining content, these mischievous conversations constitute a new pedagogical practice, as language learning itself undergoes a translation—out of the classroom, into the marketplace, and further down the social ladder.
Professor Phillips has been awarded an Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Fellowship (2009-10), the Weinberg College of Arts and Science Award for Distinguished Teaching (2008), and has been twice named to the ASG Faculty Honor Roll. She is the current holder of the Alumnae of Northwestern Teaching Professorship, the University’s highest award for distinguished teaching.
Transforming Talk: The Problem with Gossip in Late Medieval England
(Penn State University Press, 2007)