Carol Symes is a theatre professional and historian whose scholarship focuses on the relationship between texts and performance practices in medieval Europe, as well as the transmission and reception of ancient and medieval dramatic traditions. She trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School after receiving a B.A. from Yale and an M.Litt from Oxford, earning her Equity card while completing a Ph.D in medieval history at Harvard. She continued to work professionally as an actor, director, dramaturg, and dialect coach while teaching history and theatre at Bennington College. She moved to the University of Illinois in 2002, where she is now the Lynn M. Professorial Scholar and Associate Professor of History, Theatre, and Medieval Studies. She is also affiliated with Global Studies and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory.
Carol’s first book, A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras (Cornell University Press, 2007), was the winner of four national and international prizes: the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association, the John Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy of America, the David Pinkney Prize of the Society for French Historical Studies, and the Bevington Prize of the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society. She is the editor, with Caroline Goodson and Anne Lester, of Cities, Texts and Social Networks, 400-1500 (2010); and co-author, with Joshua Cole (University of Michigan), of W.W. Norton’s bestselling Western Civilizations textbooks. She is also the founding editor-in-chief of a new academic journal, The Medieval Globe.
Her current book project, Mediated Texts, analyzes the material and embodied uses of writing, the give-and-take among multiple literacies, and the fundamental influence of performance on medieval textuality. Another ongoing project, Modern War and the Medieval Past: The Middle Ages of World War I, explores the ways that ideas, monuments, and landscapes associated with the Middle Ages were sentimentalized, targeted, and destroyed before, during, and after the Great War. Meanwhile, a very new project investigates how the experience of incarceration shaped Shakespeare’s actors, audiences, and plays. It grows out of the lessons she learned while teaching and performing Shakespeare at the Danville Correctional Center, a medium-maximum security state prison for men. She subsequently founded the Education Justice Project‘s Theatre Initiative and directed a full-length production of The Tempest with her acting troupe, the Band of Brothers, in April of 2013.
In recent years, Carol has been creating actor-friendly (post)modern translations of medieval plays. Her versions of the Anglo-Norman Ordo representacionis Ade (the Jeu d’Adam or Play of Adam) and the Latin comedy Babio have both been published in The Broadview Anthology of Medieval Drama (2012). Her translation of the Ludus de Antichristo (The Play about the Antichrist) will be published with an introduction and commentary by Kyle A. Thomas, a Ph.D candidate in Theatre at Illinois who is completing a dissertation on this monumental drama – and who has directed productions of all these translations. Kyle’s staging of the Play of Adam is currently slated for performance at The Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in December of 2016.
Carol is proud to have received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (2008) and the Queen Teaching Prize for Instruction in History (2007). To date, her work has been supported by a Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Mellon Foundation, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois, and the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York. She has also been Visiting Associate Professor of History at Harvard.