JOSEPH M. SULLIVAN
Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma
B.S. United States MIlitary Academy at West Point, 1985
Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin, 1999
Employed at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma since 1999. (Go Sooners!)
While my graduate school training was as a Germanist, I have evolved into more of a comparativist scholar with broad research interests. My publications focus on the resonance of cultural ideas and societal attitudes in pre-modern European literatures (especially in Arthurian romances from North of the Alps and north of the French border) and in modern popular representations of the Middle Ages. All my research considers literary and cultural artifacts from a range of national and linguistic traditions. Thus my first book, based on my PhD thesis, Counsel in Middle High German Arthurian Romance (2001), analyzed the reception into medieval German Arthurian romance (and the early tradition of Arthurian romance in France) of medieval and Ancient ideas about giving advice and making decisions, and many of my more recent publications take a similarly culturally informed approach.
Some of that research over the last dozen years has focused on the medieval translations of Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, the Knight with the Lion into Germanic languages, including the Middle High German Iwein and the Old Swedish (i.e. East Norse) Herr Ivan, a text that I have published quite a bit on in the past eight or nine years. More recently, I have become interested in the Middle Dutch tradition of Arthurian romance, and especially how the romances of the circa-1320 Lancelot Compilation are thematically linked to one another. Further, last Fall (2015) I completed a translation with facing-page medieval German edition of Wigamur, a 13th-century German Arthurian romance in the Boydell & Brewer 'Arthurian Archives' series, and recently began yet another English-language translation with facing-page medieval German edition, this time of Wirnt von Gravenberg's Fair Unknown romance, Wigalois, from the beginning of the 13th century. And over the last decade, I have also done a good deal of work on the representation of the Middle Ages and medieval motifs in the movies, and, for instance, recently published a piece on the Grail in Georges Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. My current film project analyzes Liv Ullman's 1995 adaptation of Sigrid Undset's Nobel Prize-winning (1928) novel about the life of a medieval Norwegian nobelwoman, Kristin Lavransdatter.
In general, I like to think of my research as adventurous and even a bit promiscuous, albeit in a scholarly way: I am always on the hunt for artifacts that haven't received much scholarly attention and I try to seek out and accept projects that challenge me work in areas and in languages in which I am not yet an expert. Such hopping around among different traditions and languages certainly means that I publish much less than I otherwise would, but as a scholar, I find the possibility to work broadly and simultaneously in many tradtions, continually widening my competencies and learning brand-new things, simply irresistable.
Over the last decade, I have served the larger profession as the secretary-treasurer (2010-2013) of the North American Branch of the International Arthurian Society and previously (2007-2010) as secretary-treasurer for the North American Branch of the International Courtly Literature Society. And closer to home, I have served (2008-2010) as president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Asociation of Teachers of German.
At the University of Oklahoma, I teach German language and culture courses from the freshman year through the Master's level. I also teach courses outside the German program in English on the international Arthurian tradition. In Fall 2014, for instance, I taught for the second time in two years a larger-format version (about 90 students) of our university's popular course on the Arthurian legend. This is one of my favorite courses and one that I teach in seminar style rather than traditional lecture format. I am always eager to talk to prospective students and members of the public, both at home and from abroad, about studying German and other modern and medieval Germanic languages, Medieval Studies, and Arthurian Studies.
(Photo at top is from the North Porch of Chartres cathedral, France, and depicts Mary and Jesus. Quotation is from the prologue of Herr Ivan, the 1303 Old Swedish translation of Chrétien de Troyes Arthurian masterwork Yvain, and translates roughly as "Arthur was king of England. He took Rome by sword and fire and was emperor there...")