Sample CGU Dissertation Grant Proposals


Proposal by Rosann Simeroth, English Department (awarded for 1998-99)
Proposal by Fay Botham, School of Religion (awarded for 2003-04)


These sample grant proposals include a dissertation synopsis, statement of future plans and goals, and a budget. Please be sure to read current application guidelines thoroughly before you begin writing your own proposal.

"Venus in Fame’s Palace:
Visions of Fame in Late Medieval Literature"

by Rosann Simeroth

What is an author? Critics have argued this question for decades. Is an author truly an individual voice, expressing the ideas of a unique self? Or is an author a vessel that collects stories, cultural attitudes, and shapes them into a text? And how has the title of "author" changed over time? These questions pose unique challenges for scholars of the Middle Ages. Much of what is called medieval literature consists of stories that are freely adapted, that are attributed to "anonymous" or stem from folklore and scripture. The merging of an oral tradition with a manuscript tradition adds to this complexity.

Some answers regarding early configurations of authorship lie in an area that has not been fully investigated: poems on fame in the late middle ages. This study will deal with such poems, specifically allegorical journeys toward fame and honor. I conclude that these poems present ideas about medieval authorship that are much more complex than the image of a medieval self as "less ‘I’ than icon" put forth by cultural historians Michel Foucault, Terry Eagleton, and Stephen Greenblatt. These allegorical visions of fame form a highly sophisticated dialogue in which the author actively questions history and literary traditions.

Two striking features recur within these poetic visions: the "palace of fame" that houses prominent men and women from the author’s past, and the female guides who appear along the way. After surveying the debate over fame in classical antiquity, I examine this medieval landscape of fame in Chapter II. Metaphors of building, writing, and memory help formulate this landscape. The palaces of fame constructed in these allegories are linked to spatially-arranged memory systems that were popular in late medieval rhetorical handbooks and pedagogical practice. Mary Carruthers, author of The Book of Memory, refers to these memory systems as the "architectural mnemonic." As Carruthers explains, memory systems that characterize the late Middle Ages frequently depict buildings and rooms as metaphorical containers for cultural material committed to memory. I demonstrate the ways in which these palaces of fame become malleable containers and play spaces that allow each author to present a problematic literary past and to comment on the title of "author."

The palaces of fame created by Chaucer, Gawin Douglas and Christine de Pizan contain figures of cultural importance such as Old Testament prophets, epic poets, and characters that personify courtly virtues. As the poets create these buildings room by room, they, as narrators, comment on fame and the status of these cultural authorities. These fictional buildings portray the poets’ visions of competing vernacular, academic, and Biblical traditions. Their visions may be satiric or apocalyptic; always they are informed by a drive to amend cultural material according to the individual poet’s ideals.

Intimately linked to these palaces are the female figures who appear as guides along the way—especially Venus, Dido, and Lady Fame. In Chapter III, I demonstrate how these female figures open up crucial points of intersection between a broader concept of cultural authority and the individual author’s self-definition and worldview. Using the disciplines of rhetorical studies and feminist criticism, I survey early medieval visions in which women help form authorial identity, including Andreas Cappellanus’ "Palace of Love" from On Love (c. 1174), Nicole de Margival’s Le Dit de la Panthere d’Amours (c. 1300), and Jean Froissart’s Temple d’Onnour (c. 1363). I then map the transformation of these female proctors from conventional courtly ladies to visions of Venus, Dido, and Lady Fame.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s House of Fame highlights these female figures within this quintessential poetic commentary on fame and individual authority. Within his vision, Chaucer’s narrator "Geffrey" walks the halls of Venus’ temple, viewing a series of portraits that show the story of the Roman epic, the Aeneid. As Geffrey interprets each portrait, he relates his own version of the Aeneid. Geffrey’s retelling of the Aeneid paints Aeneas as a treacherous deserter of Dido and Carthage, rather than the founder of a new Roman race. Venus and Dido summon up high anxiety within Geffrey, and, by extension, Chaucer, to build his own satiric and apocalyptic commentary on the idea of a stable western literary past.

Although the surmised composition date of Chaucer’s House of Fame is 1379 and Gawin Douglas’ Palice of Honour is a Scottish sixteenth-century text (first edition dated 1553), I compare them both in Chapter IV to chart how Gawin Douglas turns away from Venus and the promise of authorial fame to seek courtly honor. This significant shift toward political positioning marks many allegories from the early modern period, the most notable being Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Unlike Chaucer, Gawin of Douglas was born into an aristocratic Scottish family, and preferments came easily for him. In fact, Gawin ends his Palice of Honour by dedicating the book to "the Richt Nobill and Illuster Prince James the Feird (James IV), King of Scottis." Gawin’s royalist sympathies outweigh the desire to explore authorship in the Palice of Honour. The author’s new identity here is servant to the crown. Furthermore, this shift prompts Gawin to minimize Venus, who presides over the production of fiction. In fact, Mary is elevated over Venus—a Mary who could also be read as Mary, Queen of Scots—and Gawin portrays himself as a loyal follower of James who finally ascends from the palace of honor into the heavenly city described in Revelations.

I conclude with Christine de Pizan’s Le Livre de Cite des Dames [The Book of the City of Ladies] (1405), a text which realizes another important shift within these visions of fame. Specifically, I example how a woman writing about fame differs from the representations of women and fame that precede her. Christine picks up her pen and "builds" a new city—a city in which she transforms stories of "famous women" from the medieval misogynist tradition. Christine deliberately veers away from linking Venus with fame: Venus, Dido, and Lady Fame are replaced by the female figures of Reason, Rectitude, and Justice—all guide the author swiftly and surely through the building of her new city. These allegorical female figures do not provoke authorial uncertainty; rather, for Christine, they become the standards against which all other authors must be measured and amended.

Ultimately, it is my hope that this study will provide an original and significant refiguring of what is called the "self" and the "feminine" in medieval authorship. Many ideas about the self, of gender, and of competing versions of history/literary traditions that are hotly debated today were formulated during the Middle Ages. It is vital to our current understanding of these debates that scholars continually take a fresh look at this dynamic era.


Statement of Future Plans and Goals

Simply, put, my future goal is to be a professor of medieval literature at a college or university that promotes excellence in teaching as well as research, and fosters strong ties with the surrounding community. As a returning student, I held the dual careers of library assistant and musician while completing my B.A. degree. My college literature courses were continually exciting and inspiring. As a result of my writing ability and class contributions, several professors encouraged me to pursue graduate studies. I was presented with the Excellence in English Award at my alma mater, California State University, Fullerton—and award that is given to one graduating English major per year.

During the first year of my graduate studies at CGU, I enrolled in Professor Constance Jordan’s seminar on narrative and historiography in medieval and early modern literature. This is when I made the decision to pursue medieval studies. I was fascinated by the intersection of myth, folklore, Christianity, and Arabic philosophy within works from the Middle Ages. I became intrigued by medieval philosophy, and was struck by how medieval debates over the nature of truth dispute the same basic points that deconstructionists and essentialists wrangle over today. I also noticed a great deal of free play with concepts of gender, writing, and cultural exchange. Most of all, I fell in love with the old languages—with the stanza patterns and sounds of medieval poetry. As my studies in medieval literature progressed, I realized what a dynamic era the Middle Ages had been compared to my earlier, oversimplified idea of an oppressive church authority dictating all facets of medieval life.

From this point on, I enrolled in other medieval courses with Professors Constance Jordan and Peter Allen; also, I have audited or sat in on courses taught by Professors Ralph Hanna (UCR) and Dick Barnes. I presented several papers from these seminars at meetings of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Literature Association (PAMLA—the West Coast branch of the Modern Language Association, formerly known as the PAPC), The Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association, and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. I chaired the Chaucer session of the 1993 PAMLA meeting at the University of Washington, Seattle; and I was invited to chair a special session entitled "Epistemology and Wonder in Medieval and Renaissance Narrative" for the 1994 PAMLA meeting in San Francisco. I wrote a book review for Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal on an important Speculum publication, Studying Medieval Women (1993, ed. Nancy Partner). I have just completed a review of Devils, Women, and Jews: Reflections of the Other in Medieval Sermon Stories, by Joan Young Gregg (1997, State University of New York Press), which I am now sending out for publication. In 1997, I replaced a medieval professor at CSU Fullerton who was on sabbatical. This allowed me to gain experience teaching Chaucer, a medieval literature survey course, and an English literature survey course. On their evaluations, my students spoke highly of my knowledge, classroom demeanor, and enthusiasm. I was also able to work with M.A. students who were going into medieval studies.

The CGU Dissertation Grant would allow me to continue my development as a scholar and complete my dissertation by May of 1999. I would use the money to cut back on my teaching schedule at CSU Fullerton, thus freeing up more time to write and do research at the Huntington Library. The grant would also allow me to spend more time writing the dissertation this summer instead of working temporary jobs or teaching labor-intensive summer courses.

As far as the future of my dissertation topic is concerned, I plan to turn this work into a book. My topic on fame and authorship in late medieval dream-visions engages important and current scholarly concerns, such as gender and poetics, as well as ideas about the self in the Middle Ages. I also extend this topic into the early modern period: I trace the development of these ideas into the courtly patronage systems of early modern England. Professor Constance Jordan has remarked that my dissertation provides "an innovative way to think about poetic tradition." Professor John Ganim (UCR), an esteemed Chaucer scholar, has agreed to be on my dissertation committee and supports further publications of this topic as well.

In addition, my dissertation will prepare me to design my own college courses, such as the idea of the city in Virgil, Augustine, and Dante; the medieval dream-vision; and medieval women writers and literary tradition. These courses could easily be cross-listed with religion, philosophy, and history programs. All in all, the completion of my dissertation work would place me well on my way toward becoming a professor of medieval literature—a life that would allow me to continue to teach, write, and explore ideas and patterns of cultural expression.

Budget of Estimated Expenses for 1998-1999

Tuition (Doctoral Study = $865/semester


Living Expenses ($1,600/month x 9 months)


Books and Supplies




Employment/Sources of Income

My husband's full-time job will be my family's primary source of income for the 1998-1999 academic year. However, his office has been downsized and he has experienced a significant pay cut. I expect to continue teaching at California State University, Fullerton, throughout the year in order for us to meet our expenses. If awarded a CGU Dissertation Grant, I would be able to cut down my class load to two courses each semester for 1998-99.

Record of Financial Aid while at CGU

Fall Semester, 1988

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Spring Semester, 1989

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CGU Fellowship:






Fall Semester, 1989

Student loans:


CGU Fellowship:






Spring Semester, 1990

Student loans:


CGU Fellowship:




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