My first book Taming a Brood of Vipers: Conflict and Change in Fourteenth-Century Dominican Convents (Brill, 2011) recognizes that the convents of members of the Order of Preachers were homes, schools, workplaces, rich and complex lived communities that encouraged conflict while idealizing the quest for cooperation. The boozing and womanizing of the Order’s undisciplined friars in the fourteenth century is legendary, which led me to ask what explains behavior that badly fits our assumptions about those who promised themselves to a religious profession. The book carefully illustrates the complexities of the friars’ communal life, which included conflicted identities, competing loyalties, and plenty of good reasons to confront the demands of an organization growing increasingly bureaucratic and legalistic.
My second book is Constructing Catalan Identity: Memory, Imagination, and Medieval (Palgrave MacMillan, 2018). The book is about how Catalans use their understanding of the past to construct their present and future. Catalans draw from a rich inventory of thoughts and actions, veritable events and handy fictions, geographic and other material signifiers as they construct and reconstruct their collective identity.
My research has three principal areas of focus: First, I want to examine the thoughts, actions, and ways of organizing that bound medieval societies together. I study people when they do not work well together, or when they fail at their joint efforts at reform, in part because I think we can learn most for the present from these past moments of crisis, dissent, and experiment. Second, I am interested in the relationship of the past to the present, particularly how present populations use the past in the construction of modern identity and political action. Third, I am interested in the limitations of the academic discipline of history. An emphasis on gathering and interpreting written sources only gets us so far in understanding what people in the past and present are really up to. Professional historians play only a small part in the active recollection, interpretation, and use of the past. Non-professionals play their part in making the past purposeful, sometimes for pleasure and entertainment, other times for political advantage.
Some Recent Peer-Reviewed Publications:
“The Past as an Actor in Barcelona’s Contemporary Metropolitics,” Journal of Catalan Studies (available after April 2015; dated as 2014 edition). Available online at: http://anglo-catalan.org/oldjocs/17/Articles%20&%20Reviews/Versio%20pdf/07%20Vargas.pdf
“’Catalonia is Not Spain’: Projecting Catalan Identity to Tourists in and Around Barcelona,” Journal of Tourism History 7: 1-2 (August 2015). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1755182X.2015.1068872
“Pondering Dysfunctions in Heritage Protection: Lessons from the Theft of the Codex Calixtinus,” International Journal of Cultural Property 21 (February 2014), 1-21. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-journal-of-cultural-property/article/pondering-dysfunctions-in-heritage-protection-lessons-from-the-theft-of-the-codex-calixtinus/B2D1099EF28F8585CEBDF8C68894ED39#
“How a ‘Brood of Vipers’ Survived the Black Death: Recovery and Dysfunction in the Fourteenth-Century Dominican Order,” Speculum 86 (July 2011), 688-714. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1017/S0038713411001151?journalCode=spc