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Amy Remensnyder

Associate Professor of History:
Phone: +1 401 863 7417

Amy G. Remensnyder's research focuses on the cultural and religious history of medieval Europe. The author of numerous articles and of a book about monastic culture and memory in southern France, she is currently finishing a book about how pre-modern Spanish Christians used the Virgin Mary as a symbol of the conquest and conversion of non-Christians in the Iberian Peninsula and in early colonial Mexico.


Amy G. Remensnyder earned her A.B. summa cum laude from Harvard University, studied at Cambridge University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, and received her Ph.D. in History from the University of California at Berkeley. She joined the Brown faculty in 1993. Named the Stephen Robert Assistant Professor in 1995, she was promoted to associate professor in 1998. Her honors include the Van Courtland Elliott Prize from the Medieval Academy of America, Brown's William G. McLoughlin Award for Teaching Excellence, and Brown's Academic Advisor Award. She has held research fellowships from the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She recently completed a three year term as a Councilor of the Medieval Academy of America. The author of a book about medieval monasteries and collective memory in southern France, she is currently finishing a study of the Virgin Mary as symbol of conquest and conversion in medieval Spain and colonial Mexico.


In her research, Amy G. Remensnyder focuses on the cultural and religious history of medieval Europe. She is currently writing a book about how Spanish Christians shaped the Virgin Mary as a symbol of the twinned colonizing enterprises of conquest and conversion in medieval Spain and early Spanish America. The book starts with the eleventh century and ends in the seventeenth century. It thus brings together contexts that have been kept apart by the scholarly dividing lines between the medieval and early modern periods, and between the Old and New Worlds. It also brings together minorities whom historians most often treat separately: Jews, Muslims, those Jews and Muslims who converted to Christianity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (conversos and Moriscos), and the indigenous peoples of the New World.

Remensnyder's inclusion of this range of social actors is dictated by the project's analytic core: through the Virgin Mary, she examines the dynamics of Christian and non-Christian identity in the pre-modern Spanish world. This approach distinguishes her research from the surprisingly few scholarly studies that have been done of the Virgin in the pre-modern world. These often have a biographical tone: Mary herself is the focus. Remensnyder instead uses the Virgin as a lens to understand how people established identities for themselves in the contexts of domination and devotion.

In the first half of the book, Remensnyder looks at how Spanish Christians used the Virgin to draw lines of demarcation between themselves and non-Christians. These could be metaphoric lines of identity created by doctrinal differences and religious polemic, or they could be physical ones of war. In this section of the book, Remensnyder is particularly interested in Mary's martial function, an aspect of the Virgin that has been glossed over by most historians, perhaps because it disturbs their understanding of her as a compassionate maternal mediator. The book also explores how Mary was a point of distinction around which Christians, Jews, and Muslims could articulate oppositional identities. But while the Virgin symbolized military confrontation and religious borders, she could also embody religious borderlands, the places of hybrid and fluid spiritual identities. Accordingly, the second half of the book looks at how the Virgin served as a place of passage where religious lines could be crossed through conversion. The book considers Christian stories that depict Mary as a particularly effective agent in the conversion of Jews, Muslims, and natives of the Americas. The project also examines those Jews, Muslims, and Indians who converted to Christianity: the Virgin was a figure of power through whom they could express their new hybrid identities.

Remensnyder's current research is rooted in her long-standing interests in how cultural images can profoundly affect social and political realities. In her first book, Remembering Kings Past (Cornell, 1995), she considered how collective or communal memories are shaped by present needs and can themselves come to influence the present. This book focused on the foundation legends which forty southern French monasteries embroidered for themselves in the Central Middle Ages. It examined the ways in which the legends explained the monasteries to themselves while at the same time situating these communities in a local web of social and political relationships with other groups and institutions. It also analyzed the supra-local aspect of the legends. These monasteries were located in an area that modern historians of medieval France have often seen as part of the political periphery. Yet in their legends, these communities created a vibrant image of the political center, the king. In this book, Remensnyder therefore challenged the prevailing tendency of most studies of medieval kingship: to examine how the political center elaborates images of itself which it then communicates to the political periphery it wishes to dominate. Remensnyder argued that scholars instead must realize that the representations fashioned by the so-called periphery can be as creative of the political, symbolic center as is that center of itself.


Fellowship at the Internationale Kolleg für Geisteswissenschaftliche Forschung (Ruhr Universität, Bochum Germany), spring 2009

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2002–2003)

American Council of Learned Societies/Social Science Research Council/National Endowment for the Humanities (ACLS/SSRC/NEH) International and Area Studies Fellowship (2001–2002)

Fellowship at School of Historical Studies (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ), 1997-1998

Mellon Fellowship for Graduate Study in the Humanities, 1985-1987, 1990-1991 (Woodrow Wilson Foundation)

Berkeley Fellowship for Graduate Study, 1987-89 (University of California, Berkeley)


Stephen Robert Assistant Professor, July 1995-July 1998 (Brown University)

William G. McLoughlin Award for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences 1995-96 (Brown University)

Van Courtland Elliott Prize 1992 for best first article in the field of medieval studies: "Un problème de cultures ou de culture?" (Medieval Academy of America)

Sophia Freund Prize 1983 for highest GPA in graduating class (Harvard University)

Thomas Hoopes Prize 1983 for one of twenty best undergraduate senior theses (Harvard University)

Phi Beta Kappa 1982

Oliver-Dabney Prize in History and Literature 1982 and 1983 (Harvard University)

Lucy Paton Prize 1982 and 1983 (Harvard University)



Medieval Academy of America
Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies

Councilor of the Medieval Academy of America (2002–2004)

Member of Committee on Professional Development, Medieval Academy of America (2001-2004)

Member of the Steering Committee of the New England Medieval Conference (2000-2002).


Professor Remensnyder teaches a variety of undergraduate courses on the European Middle Ages, including "The Early Middle Ages", "The High Middle Ages", "Medieval Iberia: The Land of Three Cultures", "Gender and Sexuality in the High Middle Ages", "The Chivalrous Society and the Monastic World". She also teaches an introductory course on pre-modern Europe. At the graduate level, her teaching includes research and reading seminars on topics as diverse as history and theory, virginity and sanctity in the Middle Ages, the question of objectivity, and the historiography of medieval Europe.

Funded Research

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2002–2003 ($30,000)

American Council of Learned Societies/Social Science Research Council/National Endowment for the Humanities (ACLS/SSRC/NEH) International and Area Studies Fellowship, 2001–2002 ($40,000)

Salomon Research Grant, 2001-3, Brown University ($10,000)

Course Development Grant, 1999-2000, Brown University ($3,000)

Member, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ, 1997-98 ($26,500)

Wayland Collegium Group Study Grant, 1996-97, Brown University ($2,000)

Wriston Course Development Grant, 1996-97, Brown University ($3,000)

Curriculum Vitae

Download Amy Remensnyder's Curriculum Vitae in PDF Format