Michael A. Ryan


On his book A Kingdom of Stargazers: Astrology and Authority in the Late Medieval Crown of Aragon

Cover Interview of February 08, 2012

The wide angle

This is my first single-authored monograph and, as such, is a direct outgrowth of the dissertation that I defended from the University of Minnesota’s Department of History in 2005.  In my dissertation, I studied various late medieval prophetic and divinatory texts.  I noticed a close linking of astrology with apocalyptic expectations, throughout, and wanted to elaborate on that connection further in my book.

But the seeds of this particular project were sown back in 1997, while I was a graduate student at Western Michigan University, While conducting research on the effects of the Black Death in fourteenth-century Rome for a graduate seminar paper, I encountered the scholarship of Robert Lerner, who mentioned the presence of a prophetic treatise by a fourteenth-century Franciscan, John of Rupescissa, imprisoned under suspicion of being a sympathizer to a group of heretics.  When I saw that Rupessica had written an apocalyptic treatise about the imminent arrival of the Antichrist, I knew that was a subject that would appeal to me for a dissertation topic.

Then I chose to study at the University of Minnesota for my doctoral work because I wanted to work with a top-notch group of scholars affiliated with the Department of History, the Center for Medieval Studies, and the Center for Early Modern History, as well as work under the direction of perhaps the two premier scholars of premodern Spain, William D. Phillips, Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips.

As I began revising my dissertation for publication, I noticed how prevalent astrological imagery and theories were referenced in prophetic and divinatory treatises.  I wanted to delve deeper into that specific aspect surrounding late medieval divination and thus my book was born.  I tried to write a book that would appeal to both scholarly and lay readers, one that could be used effectively in advanced undergraduate and graduate seminars in colleges and universities, but that could also be picked up, read, and digested by the educated general reader.  I think that many of the themes and criticisms I address in A Kingdom of Stargazers will resonate with both groups of readers.