Student Essay on Medieval Law to be Published

An essay by recent graduate Katherine Pierpont on the variety of late medieval laws governing prostitution will be published in Proto: An Undergraduate Humanities Journal in 2014. Pierpont, a double major in History and English, started the research for a History course called Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Europe last fall.

Katherine Pierpont

Katherine Pierpont 2013

“There are relatively few journals publishing undergraduate research, especially in the humanities,” said Susanna A. Throop, Assistant Professor of History. “Proto’s acceptance of Katie’s work signals the very high quality of her work relative to humanities undergraduates in the mid-Atlantic region, but also nationwide.”

It’s not the first time the work has been recognized. In the spring of 2013 she presented the essay (titled The Public Body: Sumptuary Legislation, Clothing, and Prostitution in Medieval Europe) at the Phi Alpha Theta Pennsylvania East regional conference, where it received an award. Phi Alpha Theta is the American honor society for undergraduate and graduate students and professors of history. The society has more than 350,000 members, with about 9,500 new members joining each year through 860 local chapters. The PA East regional conference is large; there are more than 20 schools in the region and there were more than 85 student papers presented, each representing the best work of their respective institutions.

“Katie examines the variety of late medieval laws governing prostitution, in particular prostitutes’ clothing, from a Foucauldian perspective,” said Throop. Foucauldian discourse analysis is focused on power relationships in society as expressed through language, and is based on the theories of French philosopher Michel Foucault. “Through this lens she incisively criticizes dominant historical arguments and contributes her own wholly original interpretation to the ongoing scholarly dialogue. Her argument is highly persuasive, thanks to rigorous use of primary source evidence, deft handling of contemporary theory, and scrupulous attention to the modern scholarship.”

Pierpont is thrilled at the prospect of her work being published and plans to continue with her research. “I find the challenges and implicit contradictions in medieval views on prostitution fascinating,” she said. “Sumptuary legislation was a highly gendered set of laws that essentially served to further limit and marginalize women. They made it easier to isolate women from other women, but because the legislation was parading under the ruse of fiscal responsibility and our own current insecurities with gender performance, their power as defining force behind gender roles has gone largely unexplored by historians.”