Alexis Becker

Assistant Professor, Literatures in English
Office: Muller Faculty Center 330, Ithaca, NY 14850
Speciality: Old and Middle English literature; medieval British multilingualism; political ecology; climate and literature; labor; history of reading and the book; literacy; history of English

My research traces the relationships among reading, labor, and the environment in medieval Britain; I teach medieval literature with a focus on gender, the human/nonhuman divide, material texts, access, and under-studied voices. I also teach poetry and the History and Structure of the English language. I came to Ithaca College in 2018 from the University of Chicago, where I was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of the Humanities and a Harper-Schmitt Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. 

My current book project, Land and Literacies in Medieval Britain, shows how the management of the land is both a material precondition for and an obsession of medieval British reading and writing. The years between 1000 and 1400 saw major social and ecological changes, including the climatic transition from the medieval warm period to the Little Ice Age. Each century saw different literary efforts to sustain the fiction that the land’s productivity as well as its social meanings were constant and manageable. Medieval elites had deep interests in organizing land and books into meaning together, but so did other, less conventionally literate populations.Land and Literacies shows how different languages negotiated different meanings for land, in frequently complex and unpredictable ways. Peasant populations in the 1300s, for example, used their contingent Latinity as a tool to assert their ability to determine the the social and historical meanings of the land they worked, while English-speaking aristocratic populations a century earlier taught their children the French words for the tools of agricultural labor as a strategy of eliteness maintenance. The book discusses texts in Latin, Old English, Anglo-Norman French, Middle English, Middle Welsh, or, often, a combination of these languages. I'm also working on translating medieval poetry about labor conflicts from Latin, and I am always trying to figure out how medieval forms of meaning-making can help us understand our own world.

 I'm an advisor for Zoetic, the literary magazine of  Omega Psi, IC's chapter of the international English honors society Sigma Tau Delta. I'm always excited to collaborate with students on trans-historical and weird projects.

Recent Courses

Joan of Arc, 1412-2023 (Spring 2023)

Deep Dive: What Is a Book? 

Medieval Mysticisms

Race and Racism in/and the Middle Ages  

Slow Read: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin 

Studies in Medieval English Literature: The Canterbury Tales 

Introduction to Poetry

Medieval Literature 

History and Structure of the English Language 

Seminar in World Literature: Community, Isolation, Transmission 

Publications

“ ‘He should not overlook anything that could ever be of significance’: Knowledge and Vocabulary in Gerefa.” Listing: Medieval and Early Modern British Writing, ed. Eva von Contzen and James Simpson (forthcoming from Ohio State University Press, summer 2022)

"Subsistence (Land and Food) in the Squire's Tale," The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales (2017)

“Sustainability Romance: Havelok the Dane’s Political Ecology,” New Medieval Literatures 16 (2016) 83-108

Things in Progress

Land and Literacies in Medieval Britain (book manuscript)

“Domesday Does Nothing for Them: ‘Malicious’ Latinity in the 1370s” (article in progress)

Selected Conference Papers and Research Presentations

"Behovely Work." New Visions of Julian of Norwich (Oxford, UK, July 2022). 

“Books of the Solar Minima.” The Fifty-Fifth Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 2020) (cancelled due to COVID-19) 

“Bodies and Castles.” International Piers Plowman Society Conference (Miami, Florida, April 2019)

“Other Ways of Reading in the Middle Ages.” Sigma Tau Delta Faculty Speakers Series (Ithaca, New York, March 2019)

“Land, Labor, Literacy.” Modern Language Association Convention (Chicago, Illinois, January 2019)

“Mismanagement vs. the Greenwood.” Medieval Insular Romance Conference (Cardiff, Wales, April 2018)

“How Should a Personification Be.” The Fifty-Second Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 2017)

“Practical Georgics.” Medieval Studies Workshop, University of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois, November 2016)

“Dung Mingled with Earth Upon Gravelly Ground.” The Eleventh Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (Moscow, Idaho, June 2015)

“Hunger and Crisis on Either Side of the Fourteenth Century.” The Nineteenth Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society (Reykjavik, Iceland, July 2014)

“Domesday Does Nothing for Them.” The Forty-Ninth Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 2014)

“Labbing Against the Land.”  The Eighteenth Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society (Portland, Oregon, July 2012)

Education

PhD Harvard University (2015)

AM Harvard University (2010)

AB University of Chicago (2008)