ver since she can remember, Dorsey
A professor of English and medieval literature
at Purdue since 2002, Armstrong is a recipient
of this year’s Outstanding Undergraduate
Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B.
Murphy—Purdue’s highest undergraduate
Although Armstrong has always been
bewitched by the distant past, her destiny
became clear during her junior year at
Stanford University as she watched Professor
Seth Lerer speak passionately about the
medieval classic The Canterbury Tales.
“I thought, ‘Wait a minute—someone
might pay me to do this, to speak about
literature I love?’” she says.
In her early years at Purdue, Armstrong
worried about the immense amount of
information she had to pack into her
classes. “I was very nervous about making
sure students walked away with all of the
information they needed,” she says.
Now Armstrong finds that her classes have
more breathing room, opening up time for
students to bring their own perspectives and
to make new discoveries about the material.
One of her favorite discoveries was a student’s
suggestion that the mythical King Arthur is
an immortal figure much like the zombies on
the TV show The Walking Dead. This inspired
her to write an essay comparing the themes
explored in both medieval literature and the
zombie genre, such as the fear of foreigners,
disease, and the decay of society.
“After all these years, I’m still learning,
discovering, and finding inspiration,”
Armstrong says. She credits her students
with making her fall in love with literature all
Armstrong’s classes are ultimately
exuberant celebrations. Instead of a final
exam, one class ends with a medieval
feast complete with authentic food and
entertainment. She fondly recalls when one
student made a knight’s coat of chain mail
and another replicated the medieval sling
used to hurl heavy stones at castle walls. In
his demonstration, he launched wet sponges
from Heavilon Hall toward the Purdue
Outside her classes, Armstrong publishes
extensively about medieval culture,
particularly the legend of King Arthur. In
January 2009, she became editor-in-chief
of Arthuriana, the official journal of the
North American branch of the International
Arthurian Society. This prestigious
publication explores the Arthurian legend
from its medieval origins to its impact in
the present day.
The passion Armstrong was born to
follow keeps rewarding her again and again.
“I have to pinch myself sometimes,” she says
in response to finding her dream job. “I feel
lucky every day.”
By Sam Watermeier. Photo by John Underwood.