Summer Scholar Megan Drohan ’10 tackles paleography project
Some students spend spring break at the beach. Others head west for some late-season skiing. Megan Drohan '10 spent hers in the archives of Chicago's prestigious Newberry Library poring over a 30-foot vellum scroll. The 15th-century handwritten French manuscript by an unknown historian chronicles the French kingly lineage.
Drohan, then just a sophomore from Wheaton, Ill., is a triple major in French, Spanish and international studies. She was excited to realize that she was easily able to read the historic text and decided to use it as a basis for a Summer Scholars project. The Summer Scholars program provides funding for student/faculty summer research.
With the help of Dr. David Scaer, assistant professor of French, Drohan developed a proposal to compare the content of the handwritten manuscript with that of a printed manuscript of the same vintage. The book they chose for comparison is "Les Illustrations de Gaule et Singularités de Troie" by French poet and historian Jean Lemaire de Belges.
Drohan is working from a photographed version of the scroll and a scanned original edition of the de Belges book. Each week, Scaer and Drohan meet at Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea in Salem to discuss the two texts. Though the manuscripts cover the same material, Drohan has discovered significant differences.
The anonymous scroll, which Drohan describes as "gorgeous," was penned by a well-qualified historian, while de Belges wrote, according to Scaer, "a real humdinger of a story." At the time, de Belges was under the employ of Margaret of Austria, duchess of Savoy, and his version is biased by nationalism and a desire to please his patron.
Drohan is comparing the two manuscripts to a well-known sixth-century account of the early kings of France, titled "Histoire des Francs." Written by Gregory of Tours, the firsthand history is considered the earliest and best source of this information. As Gregory's writings were originally in Latin, Drohan reads from French and English translations.
Scaer stresses that Drohan's research with primary sources sets it apart from the usual type of undergraduate project and describes it as "the sort of research that's pretty rare."
"Her work is not just advanced for her age, but advanced," he says, adding that their coffee shop sessions "are very much like having conversations with colleagues." Scaer also speaks enthusiastically of his student's research skills, which she recently honed at a graduate-level training seminar.
Both Scaer and Drohan were invited to attend Calvin College's Genevan Paleography Seminar in June. Only 10 individuals were accepted to the seminar from applications received from throughout North America, and all participants-that is, other than Drohan-were graduate students or professors. Scaer describes the work at the seminar as "blindingly difficult" but says with pride the Drohan was "the 'paleo' standout." The professor in charge of the program even described her as "the best student there," Scaer says.
Drohan says her summer research was invaluable. She plans eventually to use the project as the basis for a dissertation when she reaches graduate school.
"This is the hardest I've ever worked on something. It is really furthering me in a lot of different ways," she says.
The rising junior spent May Term in Spain learning about the medieval culture and history of the country and hopes to complete an internship related to international politics before she graduates. In the meantime, she has a busy year ahead, as she will spend fall semester in Nantes, France, as part of the International Student Exchange Program and spring semester in the U.S. capital in the Washington Semester Program.
Drohan is not quite positive that she can squeeze in all her planned travel and research and still graduate on schedule, but it is clear that when she gets her degree-in three majors-this ambitious student will have accomplished a lot more than most.