Spotlight On: Professor Lori Garner


While Professor Lori Garner may be a new face in Palmer Hall, Rhodes College has long been present in her mind. As a native Arkansan and an undergraduate at Hendrix College, she admired Rhodes from a distance. As the Rhodes English Department’s new medievalist, she returns to an educational environment that is much like the one that first nurtured her academic career. Coming to Rhodes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she greatly values the intimacy of the department and campus. Her current class sizes are nearly halved from those she taught at Illinois, and the opportunity to be involved with and follow her students from their first year until graduation was instrumental in  her returning to a liberal arts setting. As a keen student of oral tradition and its intersections with all aspects of culture, she is also relieved to be back in a part of the country where she might use “y’all” without fear of persecution.

Professor Garner’s current academic interests first took root in her M.A. program at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. There, her work on folklore led first to an interest in Old Norse sagas and then to a fascination with Old English charms, which became part of the focus of her Ph.D. work at the University of Missouri - Columbia. She embraces this breadth of interests wholeheartedly, and it informs her desire to break down student’s preconceptions (and misconceptions) about a uniform medieval culture in order to reveal the diversity of a period that spans nearly ten centuries in Britain alone.

Professor Garner firmly believes that medieval culture need not be foreign and obscure. Whether her students are reciting passages in Middle English in order to become accustomed to its spellings and sounds or writing their own Old English riddles, they are always in direct interaction with the subject matter. Her interest in medieval architecture – well represented in her forthcoming book, Structuring Spaces: Oral Poetics and Architecture in Early Medieval England – is particularly popular with her students, who delight in the glimpses of material culture she can offer them through images of Anglo-Saxon buildings.

In addition to making the Middle Ages relevant to a modern audience, Professor Garner’s interest in folklore also entails teaching students to analyze their own cultural experiences. Her first-year writing seminar on modern folklore pushes her students to reflect on familiar traditions such as Christmas celebrations and Rhodes campus ghost stories, and in doing so to turn a critical eye on parts of their lives which may previously have gone unexamined.

Professor’s Garner’s expertise in oral tradition, the history of the English language, and the emergent literacy of the medieval world all promise to keep her academic life at Rhodes thriving. Her current research, a return to the Old English charms of her dissertation and their use of space and performative context, is sure to work its way into her future course offerings where students can continue to learn from the challenges of reconciling a seemingly distant culture with their own.

Andrew Miller ’11