News & Events

Barrie Ruth Straus

Very belatedly, I would like to report with sadness the death of former NCS member Professor Barrie Ruth Straus on September 17, 2014. Notice of this has only recently come to my attention. Professor Straus was a member of NCS and attended NCS congresses (she presented at the 2000 Congress in London). Some members will be familiar with her pioneering work on Chaucer. Her essay "The Subversive Discourse of the Wife of Bath: Phallocentric Discourse and the Imprisonment of Criticism appeared in ELH​, ​vol. 55, no. 3 (1988), pp. 527-554, and was reprinted in ​Chaucer​: Contemporary Critical Essays​, edited by Valerie Allen and Ares Axiotis, Palgrave, 1997.​ Another essay, "Reframing the Violence of the Father: Reverse Oedipal Fantasies in Chaucer's Clerk's, Man of Law's, and Prioress's Tales," appeared in Domestic Violence in Medieval Texts, edited by Eve Salisbury, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall Llewelyn Price, UP of Florida, 2002, pp. 122-138.

Below is the notice of her death by her colleague Suzanne Matheson at the University of Windsor, Canada.
Best wishes

A note from Suzanne Matheson on former colleague Barrie Ruth Straus 

(Originally published on: Tue, 10/07/2014)

Barrie Ruth Straus, who taught Medieval literature and Women’s Studies at the University of Windsor from 1990 to 2006, was known for her pioneering work on Chaucer, feminism and psychoanalysis. She was born in Winnipeg in 1943 and took her BA at the University of Oregon and PhD at the University of Iowa. She taught for many years in the English department at the University of Florida before relocating to Windsor and Detroit. She was involved in building Women’s Studies programs at both institutions, and parlayed her interest in critical theory and gender into important articles on the feminine voice in Middle English literature. Barrie Ruth’s work on the Canterbury Tales and Margery Kempe helped shape feminist analysis of the period and continues to be much cited, discussed and anthologized. She was a rigorous, intelligent critic with the best kind of skepticism: a wariness concerning entrenched ideas and established forms of power, tempered by compassion for the complexities of real people. As my friend she was intensely loyal, kind and generous—a strong, supportive colleague, a mentor, an honorary aunt to my children, a confidante. She bore years of serious ill-health with resolution and optimism, passing away peacefully in hospital on Sept.17th. She had told me with characteristic bravery she was ready.

“Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimmages,
And palmeres for to seeken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, couthe in sundry londes”

C. Suzanne Matheson

In Memoriam: Anne L. Middleton (18 July 1940–23 November 2016)

Anne L. Middleton, Florence Green Bixby Professor Emerita of English at the University of California, Berkeley, died in her sleep on November 23, 2016, one month after receiving a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.

Middleton was a titanic figure in Middle English literary studies—indeed a large figure in every way. Her physical frame was commanding, and she piloted it with an energy that seemed inexhaustible and effortlessly disciplined. She spoke off the cuff in intricate and subordinated but relentlessly (sometimes coarsely) lucid sentences. These terrified colleagues in department meetings. Her essays, too, could overawe. Beginning with “Two Infinites” (1972), they tore into the insoluble with cool confidence in the power of learning and thought. (“Busted another crux,” she said as she handed me the typescript of one.) During her great period of production, through “Acts of Vagrancy” (1997) and “Thomas Usk’s Perdurable Letters” (1998), they grew denser, more ambitious, and very much longer. Drafts could reach a hundred pages. (“Another ‘Fidel Castro Memorial Lecture,’” she said, handing me another. Castro was, of course, not dead at that point.) The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman, for which she spent the last twenty-five years preparing the volume on the third vision, became the fit form for her style of criticism, which could move from the minutely philological to the trenchantly theoretical and back again without breaking a sweat. This volume, her “life work”—to adapt her dense joke about Piers Plowman—was finally nearing completion when she died.

Her contributions to Chaucer criticism came from her refusal to be a Chaucerian. It seemed to some that she was out to diminish him. “The Idea of Public Poetry in the Age of Richard II” began with the poker-faced assertion that one could best capture the literary history and the literary greatness of Chaucer’s age by leaving Chaucer out; so captured, it proved to be a thing of intellectual and moral beauty, but it also helped set off what Chaucer had in fact done. In essays both early and late (e.g., “Chaucer’s ‘New Men’ and the Good of Literature in the Canterbury Tales, 1980; “Commentary on an Unacknowledged Text,” tardily published in 2012), she traced how Chaucer constructed a poetic identity on the fly and then treated it as something that had waited for him to occupy. The upshot of these arguments was indeed that Chaucer did not hold his position in literary history by right of nature; but the upshot of that was that he held it by right of invention.

Middleton received her PhD in 1966 under Morton Bloomfield, who recognized her promise and cultivated her career. He forbade a dissertation on Piers Plowman: too many careers plunged into that poem and never emerged again. That is how she came to write a remarkable dissertation on the prose style of Ælfric’s lives of St. Martin. But it was Reuben Brower who supplied the shape and vocabulary for her critical instincts. Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, her close attention to the imaginative and intellectual shape of laws and institutions made her look like a new historicist; later still, her attention to the foundation of distinctly literary effects made her seem to some the first new formalist. But these two interests emerged from a single conviction, that both poems and institutions are significant because they are things composed, works of the speculative and practical reason realized in different media but on the basis of principles that guide all intentional actions perforce. Ralph Hanna recalled to me recently her revelatory capacity to find conceptual "legs" in the driest of empirical scholarship "and move it into an implementing context." In this she was deploying and radically extending the style of interpretation (the formalist style, if you like, and if your standards of precision are not high) that she learned from Brower.

In that one important way, her time at Harvard was defining. In every other way it was an exception. The rest of her life was spent in public education—the Detroit school system, the University of Michigan, and Berkeley, where she taught until she retired in 2006. She spoke with cheerful contempt of the private schools and their ways; recruiting me to Berkeley and explaining that it worked to make every hire tenurable and to tenure every hire, she called the alternative “the east-coast system.” She believed in public universities as public goods. As teacher, department chair, and very active member of the Academic Senate, she worked with fierce energy to ensure that Berkeley would oustrip all competitors in intellectual distinction and would make it broadly available to the citizens of the state.

Her intelligence was never gentle, but it was generous. She threw her whole mind into every conversation; Lee Patterson once mused that, merely talking to Anne, one found that one grew smarter. She threw it into action when colleagues needed help: she would drop everything to work through an argument if someone was facing a deadline, or to hound the administration if she felt an injustice had been done. She threw it into the social life of a colleague and teacher. The house she and her husband Gene Rochlin shared on Derby Street was the most unostentatiously hospitable place I’ve ever known; when she was at the height of her powers, a late-afternoon visit would often land you among other of Anne’s and Gene’s colleagues and students and the clamor of their conversation. Most of all she threw it into her graduate students, who now number many distinguished figures in the field. I will not list them, but she proudly did, twice in my hearing, the second time with the comment: “No one has produced students like mine.”

Steven Justice, UC Berkeley  


The New Chaucer Society and the Department of English at Saint Louis University, a Catholic Jesuit institution dedicated to student learning, research, healthcare, and service, are now accepting applications for a one-year residential postdoctoral fellowship for 2017-18, to be held at Saint Louis University. Candidates for the New Chaucer Society Fellowship must have received their Ph.D. degree between January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2017, and should have a research project for 2017-18 in the Society’s areas of interest, namely Chaucer and his age. The successful candidate’s main responsibility will be to work on her/his/their research project. The Fellow will teach one undergraduate course for the Department of English in the spring semester. In addition, the Fellow may be invited to offer an occasional workshop, lecture, or seminar on her/his/their area of research.

The term of appointment is nine months, from September 1, 2017 through May 31, 2018.

Fellows are required to be in residence at SLU during this time. The fellowship carries a stipend of $50,000 plus benefits, health insurance, and a budget of up to $1,000 towards moving expenses. Fellows will be provided with an office and computer, and full library privileges.

Applications should be made by email attachment to Prof. Ruth Evans, or by post to Ruth Evans, NCS Executive Director, Department of English, Saint Louis University, Adorjan Hall, 3800 Lindell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63108.

Applications, consisting of a single PDF file, must include a curriculum vitae (no more than 3 US-letter-size pages), cover letter (no more than 2 US- letter-size pages), statement of research plans (no more than 1 US-letter-size page), and a writing sample of 20-25 (max.) pages. Please ask for two letters of recommendation that comment specifically on the candidate’s research plans for 2017-18 to be sent by email to Prof. Ruth Evans, or by mail to her at the Department of English, Saint Louis University, Adorjan Hall, 3800 Lindell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63108 by February 10, 2016.

Saint Louis University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer (AA/EOE) and encourages nominations of and applications from women and minorities.

The deadline for applications is February 10, 2017. For further information, please email

NCS mourns the loss of Anne Middleton

It is with great sadness that NCS reports that Anne Middleton, a long-time member of the Society, passed away in her sleep yesterday (23 Nov 2016). She was a powerful presence in the English department at Berkeley, on the campus, and in medieval studies across the world. It's a great loss to Berkeley and medieval studies.

The 2016 Leonard Boyle Dissertation Prize

The competition for The 2016 Leonard Boyle Dissertation Prize for Medieval Studies is currently open. This prize will be awarded to an outstanding dissertation in any field of medieval studies. The dissertation must be written by a Canadian or by someone resident in Canada. Entries are adjudicated by the Dissertation Prize Committee, a subcommittee of the Canadian Society of Medievalists (CSM). The prize consists of a cash award as well as a membership in the CSM for three years. Members automatically receive copies of the journal Florilegium and the CSM's newsletter “Scrinium.”

For the current competition, new PhD holders who defended their dissertations in 2016[1]  are invited to submit their work. For consideration in the competition, an applicant should submit the following documents by January 15, 2017, to the Chair of the Committee: (a) one paper copy of the dissertation, (b) one electronic copy of the dissertation, (c) a letter or report from the supervisor, and (d) either (i) an external report or (ii) a letter from an additional member of the dissertation committee. Canadians who completed their dissertations at foreign institutions must also provide proof of citizenship, such as a photocopy or digital scan of a passport.

Please address inquiries and applications to this year's Chair of the Committee:

Dr. Lynn Arner
Dept. of English
1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way
Brock University
St. Catharines, Ontario L2S 3A1

[1] The current competition is the transitional year regarding the date parameters for this prize. Henceforth, the year of the award will be announced in the prize title, and the dissertation must have been defended in the stated year. For this competition only, the committee will accept dissertations defended late in 2015 if the PhD was officially conferred in 2016. (However, no dissertation entered in last year’s competition can be re-entered this year.)

New Chaucer Society Early Career Essay Prize

The New Chaucer Society announces a new venture: an Early Career Essay Prize, worth $2,000, to be awarded every two years to the best essay published by an early career scholar in Studies in the Age of Chaucer. The prize will be awarded after publication in SAC, and will be given out at the biennial congress.

The prize is open to any graduate student OR to any scholar within 6 years of their PhD being granted at the time of submission of the essay. Beginning with those already accepted for publication in SAC 38, we will ask for eligible essays to be identified on submission, following which they will automatically be considered for the prize. The first award will be given in 2018 at the Toronto Congress.

Search for New NCS Executive Director/home

The New Chaucer Society, a growing international scholarly organization, seeks an Executive Director and an institutional home, to begin in August 2018.

The Executive Director (ED) is fully responsible for the administrative and financial affairs of the Society. Duties include: recommending and handling membership dues; taking a leadership and liaison role in the organization of biennial international congresses; liaising with the Chaucer Bibliographer and with the Editor and Book Reviews Editor of SAC. The ED acts as Secretary and Treasurer of the Society; serves as Returning Officer for all elections; maintains the website; supervises student assistant/s and any other staff. The term of appointment is normally 5 years, ordinarily renewable once. However, we will also consider bids for 3 years, renewable once.

Ideally, the institutional home will provide support for the Society through provision of office space, office expenses and staff help (which might, for example, include student assistantships), and research and travel support for the ED. Major responsibilities of the office will include web support, dues processing, newsletter editing, administrative assistance with budget management, and administrative support of the Biennial Congress Program Committee. 

All initial inquiries should be sent to Professor Ardis Butterfield, President of the Society and Chair of the Search Committee (, who will offer advice on the details that will be required for a formal bid. Individuals and institutions are also encouraged to consult with the current ED, Professor Ruth Evans, for help in shaping bids ( Completed applications should be sent via email to the President. They will be reviewed from 27 March 2017, continuing until a new ED and home are found.

Notes from the Teachers’ Business Meeting at the 2016 Congress

Image for Notes from the Teachers’ Business Meeting at the 2016 Congress

The 2016 Biennial Congress offered a pre-congress workshop day for secondary school teachers. As part of the workshop, teachers engaged in a business meeting to address the following concerns:

  • In what ways would we like to organize ourselves?
  • How shall we communicate as we continue?
  • What specific issues and topics does our group need to discuss both now and in the future?
  • Other questions/concerns the group would like to consider going forward.


Business Meeting High School Teachers, New Chaucer Society
July 10, 2016
(Notes submitted by John Longo and Kara Crawford)

1. Future NCS congresses: Pedagogy thread should actively include high school teachers in paper selection.

2. Establish an official NCS “Secondary School Teachers Group” ­­ (consider inclusive name “Secondary School Education Group” for all interested in this topic)

3. Create a dedicated session or conference time for this group at future congresses
     - Encourage Secondary Teacher submissions to Poster Session at NCS

4. Work with Jessica R. to create web page or pages for communication, blogging, resources on the NCS website (link to NEH website, EDSITEment, MLA Commons, etc.) Also use Suzanne F. and David R. as resources here.
     - Develop structure for resources and lesson plans using a peer review system that indicates alignment with specific standards (Common Core, AP, UK system, etc.)
     - Consider facilitating mentoring and collaborative partnerships between teachers who wish to develop their use of Chaucer’s works in the classroom.

5. Look into offering teachers professional development credit hours for attending the international congress.

6. Explore opportunities to link up with other conferences/organizations (NCTE, NAIS, MAA, etc.), and offer Chaucer­specific sessions for secondary teachers.

7. Develop 5–10  goals: What do the High School Teachers students want students to get out teaching Chaucer?  Articulate Skills / Themes especially well suited for Chaucer instruction. For example: empathy/polyphony of voices; satire/social commentary; close reading (character sketches); archetypal themes (pilgrimage, journey).

8.  NCS should actively advocate (a position statement) for using Chaucer to meet Common Core Standards (and, perhaps, skills for AP Literature and AP Language frameworks).

9. Public School travel expenses—funding possibility?

10. “Chaucer Day” at regional sites,­­schools or universities (Suzanne Hagedorn of William and Mary will do this next year  and may create a model others can emulate around the country.)

Information for Disabled Attendees at the NCS Congress in London

Access between congress venues on the Queen Mary University of London site is step-free and the entire campus is disability friendly. See about QMUL buildings. London buses mostly have ramps for step-free access. Many tube stations have lots of stairs and no lifts/elevators, so it is best to check with as you plan your travels. Taxis on the street are plentiful. Email or message Anthony Bale if you have more specific questions: