Faculty Profiles

Jessalyn Bird

Jessalynn Bird

Associate Professor
Department Chair
Humanistic Studies

"The Lord . . . hates no thing which he has made and desires that all humans come to the recognition of truth" 

--Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre

I came to the field of medieval studies by happy chance when, as a first year college student, I signed up for a course whose title was misprinted as "Europe in the Wilder World, 500-1500." I remained torn between love of history and love of literature, and so decided to do both. That love of interdisciplinary work remains with me: my research has drawn on church and secular law, sermons, theological and pastoral treatises, letters, histories, medieval encyclopedias, bestiaries, saints' lives, travel writing, inter-faith polemical works, and artwork. The Paris masters whose careers I investigate navigated the known globe. Similar to the cohorts in Humanistic Studies, their joint identity as a group was formed by their shared studies at the University of Paris. They then went on to wide and varied careers in the four corners of the medieval world, from Scandinavia and the Baltic, to the Near East and northern Africa, to the Iberian peninsula and other regions. It is their attempts to apply what they learned in the schools to the pressing issues of their day which most interests me. These issues included pastoral care, the reform of the church, the promotion of the crusades, concern for the poor and prostitutes, attempts to counter the rise of money-lending at interest, the rehabilitation of heretics, and missionary efforts intended to convert members of other religions and lead to the reunion of the Latin and eastern Christian churches.


Doctor of Philosophy, Medieval History, Oxford University (UK)
Dual BA, History and English, University of Pennsylvania

Areas of Expertise 

  • Christian-Muslim Relations
  • History of the Crusades and Pilgrimage
  • Medieval Sermons and Pastoral Care
  • Medieval Moral Theology and Heresies
  • English Literature and Writing (Creative and Analytical)

Research Interests 

  • Paris masters and medieval social justice
  • The Eastern and Western Histories of Jacques de Vitry
  • The Impact of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)
  • Early inquests against heresy and clerical 'abuses'
  • Crusader rights and canon and secular law
  • Interfaith Relations in the Middle Ages


Courses Recently Taught 

  • HUST 197, (In)famous Women: Myth, Legend, and History
  • HUST 203, East Meets West
  • HUST 292: Reclaiming the Classics for a diverse and Global World
  • HUST 297: Worlds of Islam
  • HUST 321, Cultural History I: Ancient and Medieval Culture
  • HUST 322, Cultural History II: Medieval and Renaissance Culture
  • HUST 464, Colloquium IV: Modern Literature 

Professional Experience 

  • Licensed High School English Language Arts Teacher (Illinois), 2017–present
  • Adjunct Professor, Dominican University, 2014-2015
  • Adjunct Professor, Purdue Calumet, 2015
  • Visiting Professor, North Central College, 2005
  • Visiting Scholar and Instructor, Northwestern University, 2002
  • Instructor for Greene, Keble, Greyfriars, and Exeter Colleges in Oxford, 1995-1999

Creative and Scholarly Work 

Editor and contributor, The Papacy, Crusade, and Christian-Muslim Relations: Essays in Memory of James M. Powell (University of Amsterdam Press, 2018).

Editor (with Damian J. Smith), and contributor, The Fourth Lateran Council and the Crusade Movement: The Impact of Fourth Lateran (1215) on Latin Christendom and the East (Brepols, 2018).

Editor (with G.E.M. Lippiatt) and contributor, Crusading Europe: Essays in Honour of Christopher J. Tyerman (Brepols, 2019).

"Recent Trends and Future Directions in the Study of Medieval Religion, Heresy, and Inquisitions," English Historical Review (2020).

"Reclaiming the Classics for a Diverse and Global World Through OER," KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies  (2022)

"Prophecy, Eschatology, Global Networks, and the Crusades, from Hattin to Frederick II," Traditio 77 (2022).

Professional Memberships 

Medieval Academy of America
International Medieval Sermon Studies Society
Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East
Illinois Medieval Association