My scholarly work is centered around medieval Spain and its (in)famous Three Faiths–Christians, Jews and Muslims (in alphabetical order). I am interested in the ways cultures that live together, whether they want to or not, change one another, whether they like it or not. I love old things, old places, and old buildings, and I like to imagine what people did there, how they used the old objects, what their experiences were (I am particularly drawn to the experience of mystical enlightenment, for some reason, even though I cannot claim to have experienced it myself, and haven’t been inside a church to do anything other than gawk at the stained glass for decades; maybe two grand-daddy preachers has something to do with this). I then set out reconstruct those scenarios as accurately as possible (no it is not possible to ever completely access the past, but I believe it’s our loss if we don’t at least try). I follow no particular theoretical school other than Everything And the Kitchen Sink–id est, if it’s useful, I use it. Material, literary, architectural, archival, you name it. Preferably not accessible on the internet so I have to go to Europe or somewhere to look at it.
My scholarly research and writing requires lots of languages, which I love, and a good deal of travel, which I also love. It also involves the assiduous application of what my brilliant mentor Oleg Grabar used to refer to as “sitz-fleisch” (get out your German dictionary if you like), in an activity described by one of my Madrid-based colleagues as “aplanando el culo” (Google it). Let’s just say that my desk chair has a well-worn hollow in a certain spot.
Though my decades of mucking about in places like the Alhambra, or wrestling with translations of the difficult but divine Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-`Arabi (born in Murcia; d. 1240, Damascus), are not immediately apparent in BIRDS OF WONDER, they are surfacing in the novel I’m working on right now, and will do so even more clearly in future ones.
Why fiction, why now? Escapism, pure and simple. Not unrelated to having chaired a department for going on six years. That’s a soul-killer (sorry deans and provosts, but it is, especially in today’s frown-upon-the-humanities, let’s-matrix-everything climate). Sort of like a tour through the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. Don’t do it, you’ll never eat there again.
More on my scholarship can be found at https://arthistory.cornell.edu/cynthia-robinson