Office Hours with… Marcel Elias

Meet Marcel Elias, an assistant professor of English with expertise in medieval and French literature.
Marcel Elias

Marcel Elias

A new series of pithy Q&As introduces newcomers to the Yale faculty to the broader university community. Here, meet Marcel Elias, an assistant professor of English with expertise in medieval and French literature.

Title Assistant professor of English, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Research interest Medieval English and French literature; crusade and travel writing; the relations between Europe and the Islamic world
Prior institution Cambridge University
Started at Yale Summer 2020

When you describe your professional interests for people outside the academy, what do you usually say?

That depends on their level of interest! I usually just say that I work on Christian-Muslim relations during the Middle Ages.

You’re under contract for your first book, “Questioning the Crusades: Romance and History in Late Medieval England.” What’s the central idea? 

It explores the impact of the religious wars we know as “the Crusades” on English literature and culture during the later Middle Ages. It focuses in particular on the legacy of failure of these wars.

The first courses you taught at Yale (remotely, by necessity) were “English 125: Readings in English Poetry” and, with Professor Ardis Butterfield, “The Multicultural Middle Ages.” What were some key questions your students grappled with?

ENGL 125 centers on some of the foundational early English poetic works: Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” Shakespeare’s sonnets, and Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” We explore how genre, form, and language shape meaning, discussing issues such as gender, sexuality, love, religion, and race. “The Multicultural Middle Ages” is a lecture course that focuses on the massive increase in travel and cultural exchange between Europe, north Africa, and west Asia that took place during the 12th to 15th centuries. We think about how people defined themselves in relation to those whom they perceived as different.

Amid the challenges of the pandemic, were there any pleasant surprises for you in the last year, professionally or personally?

My son Aaron was born just over a year ago — it’s been wonderful getting to know him and seeing him grow.

I gather you’re preparing to move to New Haven, and that it will be your first time living in the U.S. — you were born in Canada, grew up in Switzerland, and earned your Ph.D. in the U.K. Is there a place in the U.S. you’re especially keen to visit?

There are many! In the first instance, my wife and I are looking forward to skiing in Vermont next winter.


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