Scholarly Connections: Professor-Student Team and the Links Between Medieval Poem, Political Commentary

November 25th, 2013 by Andrew Cook '15

English Professor James Kee brought a lifetime of interest and experience when he spent part of the summer assisting English major Chase Padusniak ‘15 with his summer research project, titled “The Will to Charity: The Movement of the Will in Piers Plowman and the Works of George Grant.” The project was part of the College’s Summer Research Program.

Padusniak took Kee’s Readings in Medieval Literature class during his freshman year, alongside political philosophy courses in which he was introduced to the 20th century works of Canadian philosopher and political commentator George Grant. After noticing strong resemblances in the works of Grant with the long medieval poem “Piers Plowman” which he studied in Kee’s class, Padusniak devoted his summer to writing a thesis that explored the link between the two. “Looking at Piers Plowman and the works of George Grant was not just pleasurable,” Padusniak says, “but really touched on universal truth in two different historical contexts. The project was really aimed at seeing the unity in what seems a mountain difference.”

To help him with his undertaking, Padusniak also enlisted the aid of Matthew Dinan, visiting assistant professor of political science. Both Dinan and Kee were more than happy to provide the necessary assistance.

A 33-year veteran of the English department, Kee has a long history with “Piers Plowman.” Written and rewritten by English poet William Langland over a 20-year span in the late 14th century, the poem is an allegory in the form of a dream vision that focuses on the search to lead a true Christian life.

Kee, who wrote his doctorate dissertation on the poem and has returned to it countless times in the years since, says he still remains “impressed by the integrity of Langland’s poetic vision.” Langland wrote at the tail end of a century that began with Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, and Kee believes the two stand as fitting bookends for the philosophical and theological shifts that occurred in the interim. He admits the difficulty level is high for modern readers to descend into the work, but says this makes Padusniak’s independent study all the more impressive. While they both share the same infectious enthusiasm discussing “Piers,” Kee makes it explicitly clear that this was Padusniak’s ballgame from the start, and he was happy to simply provide some relief pitching.

“I didn’t see assisting in Chase’s project as work,” says Kee. “It was a real joy and pleasure to return back to the poem again alongside a fresh set of eyes. This is a work that allows for continual study, and seeing Chase’s work on it is just evidence that it will continue to prove so for many years to come.”

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