Language as Fossilized History: Myth, the Etymological Method and Medieval Historian




Associate Professor and Undergraduate Chair, Russian and East European Studies

Project Summary

This summer, I worked to find patterns among various medieval authors regarding their common sources and methods of research. My mentor, Dr. Verkholantsev, is interested in the way writers used stories from the Bible, local myths, and even simply their own imagination or reason to inform their works. In particular, she focuses on how etymologies in historical texts came about originally and what we can learn about ancient historiographical techniques from the study of word formation.


My daily work originally consisted of reading a reference work, the Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle. I went through the two volumes reading entries on various authors to see which of them used or wrote about topics relating to the project’s themes. Then, I collected the information and compiled it into a document. Dr. Verkholantsev used this information for her own research to determine which sources to initially consider for her later primary source work. After finishing the Encyclopedia, I investigated several authors of note to complete my work.


I was surprised throughout my work to learn just how connected the medieval world was. Authors frequently relied on texts from all across Europe and often from centuries before their times; naturally, this was facilitated due to the near-universal usage of Latin in scholarship during the Early Middle Ages. This trend decreased over time as local vernaculars grew in importance. Countries that did not use Latin, such as Ireland, often had a sacred connection to their languages, a notion we rarely associate with language today.


Personally, I could not have asked for a better first experience for collegiate research. Dr. Verkholantsev was fantastic and helped me as I learned to read and analyze intelligently and efficiently. I am able to use scholarly databases and annotate texts well, which will be useful for the rest of my college career and beyond. Additionally, I now have an understanding of the actual work that goes into historical research. As someone who is currently undecided in his major, that experience is invaluable in determining in what I am going to concentrate.