Medieval Studies

Medieval Studies Medieval Studies

Carol Symes

Associate Professor of Medieval Studies,History,LAS Global Studies,Center for Global Studies, and Jewish Culture and Society

User Photo

Contact Information:


Carol Symes received the Ph.D from Harvard and became a member of Actors’ Equity in the same year.  She also holds a B.A. from Yale, an M.Litt from Oxford, and a Certificate in Stage Combat from the Society of British Fight Directors, earned during professional training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.  Her first book, A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras (Cornell University Press, 2007), has been awarded the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association, the John Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy of America, the David Pinkney Prize of the Society for French Historical Studies, and the Bevington Prize of the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society She is the editor, with Caroline Goodson and Anne Lester, of Cities, Texts and Social Networks, 400-1500  (2010); and co-author, with Joshua Cole, of W.W. Norton's bestselling Western Civilizations textbook. She is currently developing a series of lectures on "The Medieval Legacy" to be filmed by The Great Courses. In 2019, she was honored with the Medieval Academy of America's Kindrick-CARA Award for Service to the field of Medieval Studies. 

Fundamentally, her research focuses on histories of communication and transmission: the means by which people of the past exchanged ideas and information; and the processes by which artifacts and understandings of the past are transmitted to future generations. Her current book project, Mediated Texts and Their Makers  in Medieval Europe analyzes the material conditions and embodied uses of writing, the give-and-take among multiple genres of documentation and multiple literacies, and the fundamental influence of performance on the making and meanings of medieval texts.  It reveals that many non-elite historical actors were involved in negotiating, drafting, disseminating, and interpreting the sources on which we rely for our knowledge of the past. This project has been supported by a Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and a residency at the National Humanities Center in 2013-14. It is under contract with Penn Press and will be completed with the support of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (2017-18).

Another ongoing project, Modern War and the Medieval Past: The Middle Ages of World War I, explores the ways that ideas, monuments, and landscapes associated with the Middle Ages were sentimentalized, targeted, destroyed, and revived before, during, and after the Great War.  Meanwhile, some very new research looks at how the experience of incarceration shaped Shakespeare's actors, audiences, and plays.  It grows out of the lessons she learned while teaching and performing Shakespeare's plays at the Danville Correctional Center, a medium-maximum security state prison for men. She subsequently founded the Education Justice Project's Theatre Initiative and directed a full-length production of The Tempest in April of 2013.

Carol Symes is the founding executive editor of The Medieval Globe, the first academic journal to promote a global approach to medieval studies. This biannual publication explores the modes of communication, materials of exchange, and myriad interconnections among regions, communities, and individuals in an era central to human history. It encourages and promotes scholarship in three related areas of study: the direct and indirect means through which peoples, goods, and ideas came into contact with one another; the deep roots of allegedly modern global phenomena; and the ways in which perceptions of “the Middle Ages” and “the medieval” have been (and continue to be) constructed, shaped, and deployed around the world, in a global context. TMG's inaugural double issue was published in 2014: Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death, edited by Monica H. Green. Like all thematic issues, it is also available in book form.

At Illinois, Symes holds joint appointments in Theatre, Medieval Studies, and the Classics, as well as in History. In the past few years, she has begun to create stageworthy translations of several important medieval dramas, including the Anglo-Norman Ordo representacionis Ade (the so-called Jeu d'Adam), the Latin comedy Babio,  and the monumental Ludus de Antichristo.  All have been staged in productions directed by Kyle A, Thomas (Ph.D 2018).  Her verse translation of The Play of Adam  had its world premiere at The Cloisters (Metropolitan Museum of Art) in New York on December 17-18, 2016. It was restaged and filmed at Illinois in 2017, where a short documentary about the production's creative process was also filmed.

Carol Symes is the recipient of the Queen Teaching Prize for Instruction in History (2007) and the Dean's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (2008).  She was named Helen Corley Petit Scholar for 2008-09.  In 2011, she was appointed Lynn M. Martin Professorial Scholar, an appointment that was renewed in 2014. To date, her work has also been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois, the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, and the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York.  She has also been Visiting Associate Professor of History at Harvard.


  • Ph.D Harvard
  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
  • M.Litt. Oxford
  • B.A. Yale



  • Symes, Carol, and Joshua Cole. Western Civilizations, 19th edition. . New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2017.
  • Symes, Carol, and Joshua Cole. Western Civilizations, 19th edition. . New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2016.
  • Symes, Carol, and Joshua Cole. Western Civilizations: Fourth Brief Edition. . New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2015.
  • A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras. . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.
  • HISTORY IN DEED: Medieval Society and the Law in England, 1100-1600. . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Law Library, 1993.

Publication Photo Publication Photo Publication Photo Publication Photo

Book Contributions

  • "Harvest of Death: Huizinga’s Critique of Medievalism." The Autumn of the Middle Ages Revisited: The Legacy of Huizinga’s Masterwork. . Comp. Martha Howell. Ed. Peter Arnade. University of Amsterdam Press: Amstedam, 2019. 229-243.

  • "Forms and Media." A Cultural History of Tragedy in the Middle Ages. . Ed. Carol Symes, Jody Enders, Theresa Coletti, and John T. Sebastian. Bloomsbury: London, 2019. 15-26.

  • "The ‘School of Arras’ and the Career of Adam." Musical Culture in the World of Adam de Halle. . Ed. Jennifer Saltzstein. Leiden: Brill, 2019. 22-50.

  • "Knowledge Transmission: Media and Memory." A Cultural History of Theatre in the Middle Ages. . Ed. Jody Enders. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017. 199-211.

  • "Medieval Battlefields and National Narratives, 1830-1918." Myth, Memory, and the First World War in Scotland: The Legacy of Bannockburn. . Ed. Gill Plain. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2016. 83-100.

  • "Ancient Drama in the Medieval World." The Reception of Greek Drama. . Ed. Betine van Zyl Smit. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016. 97-130.

  • "Liturgical Texts and Performance Practices." Understanding Medieval Liturgy. . Ed. Helen Gittos and Sarah Hamilton. Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 2015. 239-267.

  • "Ordo representacionis Ade" (Play of Adam) and "Babio." The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. . Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2012. 10-67.

  • "Repeat Performances: Jehan Bodel, Adam de la Halle, and the Re-Usable Pasts of Their Plays." Collections in Context. . Ed. Anne D. Hedeman and Karen Fresco. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2011. 275-287.

  • "The Tragedy of the Middle Ages." Beyond the Fifth Century: Interactions with Greek Tragedy from the Fourth Century B.C.E to the Middle Ages. . Ed. Ingo Gildenhard and Martin Revermann. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010. 335-69.

  • "Out in the Open, in Arras: Sightlines, Soundscapes, and the Shaping of a Medieval Public Sphere." Cities, Texts, and Social Networks, 400-1500: Experiences and Perceptions of Medieval Urban Space. . Ed. Caroline J. Goodson, Anne E. Lester, and Carol Symes. Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 2010. 279-302.

  • Goodson, Caroline , and Anne Lester. "Introduction." Introduction. Cities, Texts, and Social Networks, 400-1500: Experiences and Perceptions of Medieval Urban Space. . Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 2010.

  • "The Confraternity of Jongleurs and the Cult of the Virgin: Vernacular Devotion and Documentation in Medieval Arras." The Church and Vernacular Literature in Medieval France. . Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2009. 176-197.

  • "Manuscript Matrix, Modern Canon ." Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature: Middle English. . Ed. Paul Strohm. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. 7-22.

  • "The Lordship of Jongleurs ." The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350. . Ed. Adam J. Kosto, Alan Cooper, and Robert F. Berkhofer. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2005. 231-246.

  • "Theatre." Arts and Humanities through the Eras (Volume V): Medieval Europe (814-1450) . . Ed. Kristin M. Figg and John B. Friedman. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2004. 377-416.

  • "A Few Odd Visits: Unusual Settings of the Visitatio sepulchri." Music and Medieval Manuscripts: Paleography and Performance. Essays in Honour of Andrew Hughes. . Ed. John Haines and Randall Rosenfeld. Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 2004. 300-322.

  • "The Boy and the Blind Man: A Medieval Play Script and Its Editors." The Book Unbound: New Directions in Editing and Reading Medieval Books and Texts. . Ed. Stephen B. Partridge and Siân Echard. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. 105-143.

Edited Books

  • Enders, Jody, Theresa Coletti, and John T. Sebastian. A Cultural History of Tragedy in the Middle Ages. . London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

  • with Brophy, James M. Perspectives from the Past: Primary Sources in Western Civilization, 6th edn. . New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2016.

  • Green, Monica H., and Carol Symes (executive editor). Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death, The Medieval Globe, vol. 1. . Bradford and Kalamazoo: Arc-Medieval Press, 2014.

  • Symes, Carol, Caroline J. Goodson, and Anne E. Lester. Cities, Texts, and Social Networks, 400-1500: Experiences and Perceptions of Medieval Urban Space. . Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 2010.

Publication Photo Publication Photo Publication Photo Publication Photo


  • Claudel, Paul . "A New Verse Translation." Le Chemin de la Croix. Trans. Carol Symes. The American Organist: March, 2018. 42-46.

Journal Articles

  • "Doing Things beside Domesday Book." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 93.4 (2018): 1048-1101.
  • "Popular Literacies and the First Historians of the First Crusade." Past & Present 236 (2017): 37-67.
  • "The ‘Desire of Deeds’: On Cherishing Medieval Charters." English Language Notes - special issue on Medieval Materiality 53.2 (2015): 149-159.
  • "Introducing 'The Medieval Globe'." The Medieval Globe 1 (2014): 1-8.
  • "The Drama of Conflict and Conquest: Medieval Theatre's First Millennium." ROMARD: Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama 51 (2013): 5-10.
  • Bouhaïk-Gironès , Marie , and and Carol Symes. "Comment faire l’histoire de l’acteur au Moyen Âge" by Marie Bouhaïk-Gironès -- translated as "How Can We Write the History of the Actor in the Middle Ages?." ROMARD: Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama 50 (2012): 31-46.
  • "When We Talk About Modernity." American Historical Review 116.2 (2011): 715-26.
  • "The Medieval Archive and the History of Theatre: Assessing the Written and Unwritten Evidence for Premodern Performance." Theatre Survey 52 (2011): 1-30.
  • "The Middle Ages between Nationalism and Colonialism." French Historical Studies 34 (2011): 37-46.
  • "The History of Medieval Theatre / Theatre of Medieval History: Dramatic Documents and the Performance of the Past." History Compass (2009): 1-17.
  • "The Performance and Preservation of Medieval Latin Comedy ." European Medieval Drama 7 (2003): 29-50.
  • "The Appearance of Early Vernacular Plays: Forms, Functions, and the Future of Medieval Theater ." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 77 (2002): 778-831.

Special Issues of a Journal

  • Carpenitieri, Nicola, and Carol Symes. Writings in Times of Turmoil: Medieval Sicily, al-Andalus, and the Maghrib. Spec. iss. of The Medieval Globe 5.2 (2019):
  • Bedos-Rezak, Brigitte M., and Carol Symes. Seals—Making and Marking Connections across the Medieval World . Spec. iss. of The Medieval Globe 4.1 (2018):
  • Normore, Christina, and Carol Symes (executive editor). Re-Assessing the Global Turn in Medieval Art History. Spec. iss. of The Medieval Globe 3.2 (2017):
  • Lambourn, Elizabeth, and Carol Symes (executive editor). Legal Worlds and Legal Encounters. Spec. iss. of The Medieval Globe 2.2 (2016):
  • Green, Monica H., and Carol Symes (executive editor). Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death. Spec. iss. of THE MEDIEVAL GLOBE 1 (2014):


  • "The Shakespeare Teacher: Shakespeare's Globe and the Prisoner's World." The Feedback Loop. Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2013. 21-28.

Website Articles


  • Rev. of The Oxford History of Historical Writing, Volume 2: 400-1400, ed. Sarah Foote and Chase F. Robinson. English Historical Review 129 (2014): 1158-1161.
  • Rev. of Authorship and Publicity before Print: Jean Gerson and the Transformation of Late Medieval Learning, by Daniel Hobbins. American Historical Review 115 (2010): 1438-1440.
  • Rev. of Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time, by Kathleen Davis. Journal of Modern History 82 (2010): 158-159.

Audio/Visual Publications

  • The Tempest (performed at Danville Correctional Center). Education Justice Project, 2013.
  • Our Play (a medley of scenes by William Shakespeare performed at Danville Correctional Center). Education Justice Project, 2012.

E-mail and search functions