Medieval road trip

Evanston, Illinois

One of the most memorable Spanish classes I ever took was a Medieval seminar on Spanish literature at UIC. There were only four students in the seminar. The professor, Reinaldo Ayerbe-Chaux, taught the course with great enthusiasm. So much so that I wanted to write my doctoral dissertation on some Medieval text. One of our writing assignments involved transcribing a Medieval text written on parchment into Spanish. I don’t know why, but I was truly fascinated by this project. The language of the parchment was archaic but comprehensible. The alphabet was moderately different from the modern Spanish alphabet. Some parts of the text taxed my brain in order for me to decipher the writing and then comprehend what was actually stated. Little did I realize that this was good training for me as a Spanish professor when I would have to decipher student compositions with  illegible handwriting before I could intrepet the student’s intended message. But, hey, I love puzzles!

Well, the highlight of our seminar came at the end when we went on our field trip to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Their Spanish department had the largest collection of Medieval Spanish texts in the world. However, most of them were on microfilm. Professor Ayerbe-Chaux said we just had to go to the university and see the collection for ourselves. I offered to drive our class to Madison, Wisconsin, in my minivan, which he thought was a good idea. Of course, UIC paid for my gas.

Professor James Compton, who is now retired, also wanted to go with us since he had graduated from there. Maybe I’m just too easily amused, but I had a lot of fun on this trip. I enjoyed looking at all the Medieval texts even if they were only on microfilm. Professor John Nitti gave us copies of two of their publications, which I shall someday read. But the highlight of the trip for me was meeting the faculty. Professor Compton was happy to see his dissertation adviser Lloyd Kaston once again. He was now professor emeritus, but he still had an office in the Spanish department and he still was actively transcribing Medieval texts. When we went to his office, he just happened to be napping. He was ninety-something years old, so he was entitled to nap whenever he wanted! Well, I got to see four generations of faculty in the same room!

I will always remember this seminar because Professor Ayerbe-Chaux gave the entire class, all of us, copies of a book by Don Juan Manuel that he had published. He had read the original texts by Don Juan Manuel and then transcribed them. He was even gracious enough to autograph the book for me!

4 thoughts on “Medieval road trip

  1. Professor Ayerbe was one of the most influential people in my life. I would love to know how to get in touch with him if it is possible. –Kate McJury

  2. I had Professor Reinaldo Ayerbe-Chaux for Spanish in high school in 1970 and at Syracuse in 1971. He was a great friend, and I consider him a friend (who I have not seen for almost forty years). He was enthusiastic then and I believe he was one of the best teachers I ever had. And although I did not pursue Spanish, he inspired excellence in work and a spirit of love and kindness like no other. Please contact me and tell me if he is still teaching, or what you know about him.

  3. A great step in medieval text reading is going to the physical ones instead of the microfilmed ones. (I wonder if the Newberry Library has Spanish books, like the French ones I saw there.)

    Unless you take this step, where else do you get a chance to read books with acid-free bookmarks and wear gloves on your hands to protect the books? It’s not just a feast for the eyes, but for the nose. Some of the physical inks reflect light like precious metals and the smell is strong.

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