What Great Minds Can Do: Athena Frade
Creative Writing, History majors; Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Women and Gender Studies minors
Athena Frade '19 graduated with a bachelor's degree in both History and Creative Writing, as well as minors in both Medieval Studies and Gender Studies. In addition to participating in the Honors Program, she was an intern at the Seton Hall Archives. She plans on continuing her education after graduation with a master's degree in Library and Information Science. In addition to becoming an archivist, Athena's aspiration to pursue creative writing is her driving passion. Her favorite subject of historical study is the Medieval period, especially Byzantium.
Could you describe the subject of your project?
My favorite subject of historical study is the Medieval period, especially Byzantium. In addition to being interested in the Medieval Period, I'm enthusiastic about the study of women. For my project, I combined these interests and attempted to answer the question of how women moved within the societal role they were given in Medieval Byzantium. I mainly looked at about a 600-year period of Byzantine history. I was particularly interested in women who were able to climb the social ranks to take on influential roles. For example, I'm researching Empress Theodora, who was at one time a circus performer and perhaps even a prostitute. She was chosen by Justinian to become an empress and eventually became one of the most well-known women of the period. Her notoriety inspired me to look at how women navigated social mobility in medieval society.
I’m motivated by this topic because I enjoy researching and writing about women in history. In a class with Prof. Wangerin, I learned about some extraordinary medieval women like Princess Theophano, who became an empress in the Ottonian dynasty despite her Byzantine origins. I am fascinated by women who became powerful in unexpected ways. This class really sparked my interest in Byzantine women.
What kind of sources did you find?
The primary sources are fairly scarce, but not as scarce as you'd expect for this sort of niche topic. I found documents which recount the lives of ten female saints, as well as medieval writings which discuss the activities of powerful women. It's much harder to find sources that relate to average working-class or lower-class woman, but I can occasionally find bits of information hidden in law records or financial records. I used bibliographies of secondary sources to help me track down primary sources in English translation that might otherwise be difficult to locate.
Favorite History Course so far? Favorite non-history course so far?
It's a tie between two. The first would be "Medieval Women" because it really inspired me to research further into the subject. My other favorite course would have been the Game of Thrones course with Dr. Hoffer, because I’m a huge fan of the books. I enjoyed the rousing discussions in class; it was really a fun course. As far as a non-history course, I enjoy my Creative Writing classes because I’m very passionate about writing and it's a great creative outlet. The best creative writing course I've ever taken is probably "The Craft of Fiction" because I was able to conduct historical research and combine it with writing original stories. The historical research that goes into creative writing is so important, and it brings together my two favorite subjects. It is so fun to really dig deep into the research of a particular event and then work creatively with it.