Spotlight on Dr. Melissa Crofton: Master Medievalist & Tolkien Fanatic

The spotlight is on Dr. Melissa Crofton! New to the Florida Tech family, Dr. Crofton is busy this semester teaching with the Department of Humanities and Communuication and planning the next Creative Writing Institute in June. Dr. Crofton is excited to be back where her heart calls home–Florida. She lives with her husband, a two and a half year old dinosaur/shark loving daughter, two dogs, two birds, and a handful of fish. And really, when you live in Florida, why wouldn’t you love sharks? She can foresee the addition of turtles, frogs, and hamsters, but she draws the line at snakes.


What classes do you teach at Florida Tech? COM 1101, 1102, HUM 2051


How many years have you taught at FIT? This is my first year at Florida Tech


How many years have you been a professor, and where have you formerly taught? I have been teaching since 2002, when I received my Master’s degree from Florida Atlantic. I adjuncted there for two years before pursuing my doctorate at the University of South Carolina. I taught at USC as a graduate student (2004-2010), then as adjunct (2010-2012). I also worked for the Center for Academic Excellence at the Medical University of South Carolina from 2010-2012.


Do you have any awards, honors, publications, or accomplishments you’d like to share? I’m currently waiting on a final thumb’s-up for my very first publication: “From Medieval Mystic to Early Modern Anchoress: Rewriting The Book of Margery Kempe.” It’s been a long process, but it was made even longer by Hurricane Sandy. The journal I submitted it to is located in downtown New York City, and the editor’s home is STILL under water. Needless to say, she’s had a lot of other more pressing issues on her plate, and The Journal of the Early Book Society has been placed on the backburner for a bit.

As for awards, I was lucky enough to receive a grant-in-aid from the Folger library in Washington D.C. for the 2008-09 academic year. I made a lot of progress on my dissertation while here and met a lot of great people as well. I also won a scholarship with my dissertation director in 2007 that enabled me to travel to the British Library to do a month’s worth of research on my dissertation project, though the library closed at 4:30pm and I was forced to go out and see other parts of London. Poor me.  It was there where I found out I was HIGHLY allergic to 13th, 14th, and 15th century manuscripts. Luckily, London sells Claritin over the counter, but I felt bad for all the other patrons in the rare book room who had to listen to my sniffling for three days before the meds really kicked in. Sometimes you have to really think through your research project before jumping in. For a person who’s highly allergic to animals, working on manuscripts that were written on animal skins doesn’t make much sense. But I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess, and nothing will stop me from coming near a manuscript, even the powder they used to dry the ink. Yep, I’m allergic to that, too.

I’ve also received two teaching awards from the University of South Carolina.


Are you a member of any professional organizations? If so, which ones, and what is your capacity? I keep meaning to join more organizations, but right now I’m just a member of the Journal for the Early Book Society. You get really, really cool books with your membership fees, and if you don’t want the selection of the year, you can pick anything out of their catalogue. That rocks!


What are your particular research interests?  My current research area is on medieval texts of devotion and their transition from manuscript into the printed medium.  I’m currently working on the following authors from the late 14th-early 15th centuries: Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, and Nicholas Love. My article on Margery Kempe is the one I’m about to publish, and I’m headed to the International Congress on Medieval Studies in May to present a paper on Nicholas Love. As soon as I get the conference paper under control, I’ll start trying to expand it into an article. I’ve already got the dissertation chapter to start with, but my research never seems to end, and I keep finding more and more that I need to do. If I ever get finished on my work with these three authors I’d like to branch out into another text of spiritual devotion by Christina Markyate. Since I’m interested in how early modern editors reshaped medieval texts during the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century, I’m also interested in a few religious texts that were written in the early 1600s by several members of the Syon brethren. In my spare time I’ve also started reading three very interesting Purgatory poems—Gast of Gy, St. Patrick’s Purgatory, and Vision of Tundale—and I plan to turn my attention to that group of texts next. They’re a lot different than Dante’s Purgatorio, though what’s cool about them is that they’re real-life accounts of people who claim they visited Purgatory while on their death-beds. They didn’t die, of course, which is why they wrote the books. See, people were fascinated by the after-life even back in the Middle Ages. And Dante? Well, even though his Divine Comedy is really cool, and I’m teaching the Inferno in my Civ I class next semester, he ain’t got nothin’ on a real life account. I’ve certainly got more that I could list here, but almost everything is pretty obscure, and I think I’ve listed enough already. Plus, looking at this long list of research interests makes me feel like I really need to get back to work.


How did you first become interested in your area of research? I had two incredibly wonderful professors at USC whom I adored. What’s strange is that I almost didn’t take the one class that introduced me to the works of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. It’s not that I didn’t want to take the class, but USC just so happened to have a LOT of classes that I was interested in for that semester (which is very rare for a medievalist/early modernist), so I had to pick and choose wisely. Luckily, I put Latin and another class (I can’t even remember which one) on the backburner and took Medieval and Renaissance Women Writers. The other class that really helped fine-tune my focus was a Medieval Literature class that focused on spirituality.


What advice do you have for budding scholars? Never, ever, EVER give up. The road to scholarly production is never easy, and I’ve got the battle scars to prove it—just don’t make me talk about my dissertation defense. Ugh.  Some things happen for a reason, and if you’re determined enough to stay the course, it’ll all make sense somewhere down the road, no matter how long and winding it may be. Always solicit help from friends, too, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be from people who are in academia. I spent many a night babbling about my dissertation project to my husband, and came up with some great ideas. I may have bored him to death in the process, but he never complained (and no, he’s not one of the authors of the Purgatory dream visions listed above). In fact, it’s almost better to talk about some of your ideas to people who don’t know your subject area, because they can help find the holes in your argument better than someone who already knows what you might be thinking. I have this great friend who’s in educational leadership and she’s the absolute BEST person to talk to.


What is your favorite Florida Tech memory? Right now, getting a job here.


What do you like to do in your free time? Free time? Who has free time? Especially when you’re spending your free time running after a three year old. But…I’m a beach bum, I admit it. I’d like to say that I can spend hours on the beach just reading, but did I mention that I have a three year old? I do get to go to the beach, though, but I have to leave the reading at home. I can also veg in front of the T.V., and I’m addicted to my DVR, especially now when Mad Men and Game of Thrones is about to come out for the season.

I keep telling myself that I’m going to start to write historical fiction and children’s books. My daughter loves, loves, LOVES sharks and dinosaurs, but most authors don’t seem to understand that girls like sharks and dinosaurs, so I’d like to write some books for those spirited young girls who refuse to read only stories about princesses (however, my daughter does like Snow White, Ariel, and Cinderella, so don’t get all panicky like my mother and mother-in-law). If you can spare some time, let me know, I’d love to buy it.


If I could live in a different time, I would live in… as much as my students think I would love to live back in the medieval period or the Renaissance, I very much enjoy modern technology and medical advancements, even though computers and I don’t always get along. Florida Tech’s IT department can confirm.  However, I wouldn’t mind time-traveling, and yes, I would go back to the Renaissance, but only if I could be Queen Elizabeth—she had some UNBELIEVABLE clothes. Who cares if they weighed fifty pounds? I’m a thin girl, but I could handle it. Plus, England gets really cold in the winter, and they didn’t have indoor heating back then. I can only imagine that all that extra weight would help keep me warmer. Yeah, it took hours to get dressed what with all the undergarments you had to wear, but if I was Elizabeth I I’d have people to help me. The Middle Ages were a bit too barbaric for me, though. I mean, seriously, who wants to live through plague season? Not fun. Not fun at all, I’d venture to say.


My favorite book is…hard to say. Really, how do you ask an English professor what her favorite book is? I can give you my favorite genre, though. It’s historical fiction, and I generally read a lot about Queen Elizabeth.  I just finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and I’m about to start her next one, Bring Up the Bodies, which is about Anne Boleyn. If you absolutely, positively have to have an answer for this question I would probably say Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy. In fact, I’m looking forward to teaching a HUM class on Tolkien in the future.


The last movie that I saw (and enjoyed!) was…I’m working my way through the 2013 Academy  Award winning movies, and the last Netflix rental that just came in was Zero Dark Thirty. It was great, even though it did keep me up way past my bedtime. Netflix has just notified me that Les Miserables is on the way. Woo-hoo!

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