NU professor's interest in medieval women leads to teaching, writing


CAROLE LEVIN poses with one of her five published books, "Political Rhetoric Power and Renaissance Women." Levin is in the midst of having another book published, which will be co-published by one of her students.

Carole Levin remembers her first contact with Queen Elizabeth I.Accompanying her mother to the local library as a child, Levin remembers randomly pulling the virgin queen's biography off the shelf to read during one of their weekly trips.Levin quickly became enraptured in the book."Her biography enamored me," Levin said.But finishing the first book she read on Elizabeth didn't end the UNL history professor's fascination.Instead, it sparked a career dedicated to spreading knowledge of the life of Elizabeth and other women in medieval and Renaissance history.Her passion for teaching and researching Elizabeth - as well as other historical British figures - was rewarded this fall when she was named a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.The British society elects historians who specialize in British history to be fellows.It is a prestigious honor for a UNL professor to have, said Dane Kennedy, history department chairman."It is noteworthy because she is a British historian while being an American at an American institution," Kennedy said.Despite growing up in the Midwest, Levin was fascinated at a young age with Elizabeth and British history.But it was in a course in her senior year of college when she began to look closer at women in England, some of whom held a more infamous place in history.After doing a project on witchcraft for her class, she began to discover that thousands of English women died for their radical beliefs and actions.When she moved on to Tufts University in Medford, Mass. to get her graduate degree in history, she began to specialize in women's and British history."I loved it," Levin said. "As I was taking the classes, I knew this was the work I was meant for."Her study of witches in college led her to develop a course of her own. Titled "Saints, Witches and Madwomen," the course focuses on some of the roles women played in medieval history.Tim Elston, one of Levin's graduate students who is enrolled in the course, said the class has taught him the importance of women's roles in history - and that credit is not always given to them when it is due."For far too long, men have taken the glory, whether it was theirs to take or not," Elston said.In many cases, women had a huge impact helping to make the world what it is today, Elston said. One example is Joan of Arc.Levin's class makes these realities known, without trying to alienate her male students, Elston said."One criticism about women's courses are that they are geared at women to study," Elston said. "But Professor Levin does not put forth an agenda that makes it uncomfortable for most males."Another stigma often associated with women's courses is that they are not rigorous, Levin said.This was proved to her while she was teaching her course at the State University of New York at New Paltz.An outside group that lobbied the university to make the curriculum more intensive saw the title of Levin's class and assumed it was fluff.But the students taking the class wrote letters to the group, testifying to its intensity.Many students were able to vouch for the class's rigor, but the attitude about women's studies still exists today, Levin said.The history professor spends a lot of time inside and outside of class trying to dispel the myth and emphasizing the importance of women's roles in history.Having numerous published books is one way of getting the message across.Her newest book, which is forthcoming, focuses on lesser-known women in medieval and Renaissance history.One of the women profiled is a merchant's wife, who learned to read and write just so she could correspond with her husband when he was away.That same woman also agreed to adopt and raise her husband's illegitimate child.Levin said she hopes the book, which is aimed at a general audience, will help readers understand the courageousness possessed by women throughout history."There are so many women in the book who were extraordinary because of their family, or their loyalty to a parent or a partner," Levin said."It just shows that women can be extraordinary in a whole range of activities."