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About Rollins

Jana Mathews, PhD

Associate Professor of English


My research and teaching focuses on the literature and culture of medieval and early modern England, with concentrations in alliterative poetry, legal studies, material culture, and kingship. My essays have appeared in numerous collections as well as in Fragments, The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, and Notes & Queries. My secondary scholarly and pedagogical interests include career and life planning and collegiate sororities and fraternities.

T. 407.646.2666
Curriculum Vitae

English teacher leads a roundtable discussion in a classroom.

I earned my Ph.D. from Duke University and won the professional lottery when I was invited to join the English department at Rollins College. Currently, I am an associate professor who specializes in medieval and early modern British literature. Some of my favorite courses of the moment include Dirty Old Men (think Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton), Hoarders (premodern material culture) and Globetrotters, which examines travel writing produced in the Age of Exploration and Discovery.

Teaching comes first at Rollins and if I am known for one thing on campus, it is being fiercely committed to my students. To this end, I am incredibly honored to be the 2019 recipient of the Hugh F. McKean Award (given by graduating senior class to one professor for excellence in teaching) and the 2018-2019 recipient of the prestigious Cornell Distinguished Teaching Award at Rollins. I am also a fortunate former recipient of the Arthur Vining Davis Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Outstanding Faculty Award, the Professing Excellence Award and the Cornell Distinguished Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Service and Scholarship. I also am lucky to the be subject of a super flattering and slightly humorous profile piece about my unconventional teaching practices that you can read HERE. You can also hear me talk about some of my out-of-the box teaching strategies in this PBS interview (start at 13:00): The Power of Reading

When I'm not in the classroom, you can find me in the bowels of the library, researching and writing on a broad range of medieval and early modern topics. My academic articles and essays appear or are forthcoming in the Journal for the Study of British Culture, Fragments: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Ancient and Medieval Pasts, and in edited collections published by Cornell University Press, Bloomsbury Academic, Routledge, Bedford-St. Martin's and Brill. In addition to these scholarly projects, I also have had opportunity to connect the medieval past to the present by talking about the history of kingship and the British royal family in the local and national media.

In addition to researching and teaching on conventional academic subjects, Rollins' close proximity to Orlando's attractions has enabled me to pursue a new avenue of scholarly study: namely, the rich, nuanced and sometimes weird ways in which medieval objects, people and events are displayed, reanimated and creatively reimagined in contemporary pop culture. Some of my pop culture medievalism courses include Dungeons & Dragons (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Cinderella's castle, Medieval Times Dinner theater, etc.) and a class that examines the medieval source texts that inspired Game of Thrones. In 2013, I had the opportunity to partner with one of my students and alum Mark Miller to write the script for a 90-minute theatrical dinner show that was performed for over 100,000 people at Orlando's Arabian Nights Dinner Theatre. My work on medieval bible collections displayed in religious themes parks and interactive museums is featured in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture and referenced in the Wall Street Journal.

A second unexpected but equally exciting academic side interest emerged through my engagement with on-campus sororities and fraternities. You can read more about my current book project on the topic HERE.

Finally, I am a huge advocate of the liberal arts educational model and am committed to producing college graduates with majors in the Humanities who can compete in the global job market and are poised to make immediate and significant contributions to whatever professional field they choose to enter. Read a story about my first-year students' experiences writing for a real-life client and go HERE to learn more about my involvement with other campus career and life planning initiatives.

“Faith and Belief: The Medieval Church and Teenagers,” Youth in the Middle Ages, ed. Daniel Kline, London: Bloomsbury Academic, Forthcoming.

“Spectacular Treason: Firework Shows as Fantasies of Regicide after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605,” Journal for the Study of British Culture, 2019, Forthcoming.

“The Scrapbook as Repurposed and Transplanted Manuscript Illustration: The ABCs of Medieval Alphabet Compilations in Nineteenth-Century England,” Wolfenbütteler Notes zur Buchgeschichte (The Wolfenbüttel notes on book history), Herzog-August Bibliothek, Forthcoming.

“Class and Social Status: The Law Versus the Hair ‘Down There,’” The Cultural History of Hair in the Renaissance, ed. Edith Snook, 127-43, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

"Cinematic Thanatourism and the Purloined Past: The Game of Thrones Effect' and the Effect of the Game of Thrones on History, In Ghost Roads: Essays in Virtual Dark Tourism, ed. Kathryn N. McDaniel, 89-112, New York: Routledge, 2018.

“Textual Treasure Hunting: Using Geocaching to Teach the Art of Close Reading,” Technology in the Literature Classroom, ed. Timothy Hetland, 214-234, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017.

“Theme Park Bibles: Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Holy Land Experience and the Evangelical Use of the Documentary Past,” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Fall 2015: 89-104.

“Royal Personhood and The Owl and the Nightingale,” In Imagining Legal Personhood in the Middle Ages, ed. Andreea Boboc, 29-49, Leiden: Brill, 2015.

“It Takes a Consortium to Prepare Students for Life After Graduation: An Inter-Institutional Blended Learning Careers Course,” with Anne Meehan and Beth Chancy, Transformations (June 2014): 1-19.

A Royal Celebration. With Mark Miller and Zack Uliasz (Rollins student), Arabian Nights Dinner Theater, Orlando, FL, show performance dates June-December 2013, Voted “Best Themed Restaurant of 2013” by The Orlando Sentinel, August 2013.

“Literary Lawmaking.” Fragments: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Ancient and Medieval Pasts 3 (July 2012): 115-119. University of Michigan Press.

"Land, Lepers and the Law in The Testament of Cresseid, The Letter of the Law: Legal Practice and Literary Production in Medieval England, eds. Emily Steiner and Candance Barrington, 40-66, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002.

“The Case for Misprision in Wynnere and Wastoure,” Notes and Queries 244 (1999): 317-21.

Game of Thrones

In this course, we study the myths, texts and real-life events that inspired HBO's award winning TV show. You'll be divided into houses for the semester and in that capacity, you'll marry off relatives, plot to assassinate your rivals, design torture devices and learn the art of necromancy.


This upper-division English course examines how the material culture of the distant past (ie. medieval and early modern objects) shape contemporary conceptions of individual, communal and national identity. Students in this course have the opportunity to construct mock museum exhibitions; tour cemeteries and visit an embalmer to evaluate the relationship between premodern and contemporary funerary practices and grave good culture; study sixteenth-century slave narratives alongside modern accounts of human trafficking and design Pinterest boards for premodern clientele.

Global Middle Ages

Thanks to the incredible generosity of an alum donor who wants to provide opportunities for all students—regardless of financial, physical or life circumstances—to have the kind of transformational international travel experience that he did as an undergraduate at Rollins, I have the privilege of taking small groups of English majors and minors and Writing minors on highly subsidized short-term field studies to different destinations around the globe. These week-long trips are embedded within a semester-long course, where we conduct in-depth studies of that country's premodern history, literature and culture. So far, my colleague and partner-in-crime Emily Russell and I traveled with students to Scotland and Ireland, Spain and Peru. For Spring Break 2019 we partnered with Ben Hudson and took a group to Venice and Milan.

Literature and Law

How do poems, novels, plays, and short stories inform and inspire legal process and procedure--and vice versa? This course examines the surprising intersections and overlaps between literary and legal culture. In addition to holding mock trials, analyzing autopsy reports, writing legal briefs and studying Supreme Court rulings, students also make use of the privileges afforded to them by the Freedom of Information Act by investigating real-life Florida cold cases and then constructing new narratives of what they think happened and why.

Only in Florida

By conducting critical examinations of alligator wrestling matches and python hunts; drug runners and dumb criminals; murder trials and Spring Breaker escapades, students gain a deeper understanding of why our state is the nation's magnet for the weird, bizarre and downright crazy. This course makes Rollins' signature learning style—experiential education—accessible to all types of students (including adult learners and commuter students) by meeting for 6 consecutive weekends. We spend our extended time together going on overnight service and civics-based Immersion trips (invasive species clean up in the Everglades and Civil War and Civil Rights-era history in Jacksonville and Amelia Island) and partnering with local organizations like United Against Poverty Orlando, the Groveland Historical Museum, and the Orange County History Center.

Graduates of liberal arts colleges have all of the skills that employers are looking for in new hires. Helping students to communicate the value of their majors and degrees to prospective employers has been—and continues to be—one of the most rewarding pedagogical experiences of my professional career.

In 2012, I partnered with Anne Meehan to develop and pilot a 2-credit career and life planning course targeted to first and second-year Humanities majors. The 2013 iteration of our course was linked to a parallel course taught at the University of Richmond. The runaway success of Careers in Humanities inspired us to expand and develop a sister course—Making any Major Marketable—for all majors. Over the past 5 years, Making any Major Marketable has grown from serving under 15 students a year to close to a 100.

In 2015, Anne and I developed and piloted a week-long intensive Job Market Bootcamp course for 50-60 graduating seniors. Since, then, I have co-taught this course every academic year. In this course, students get brush-up tutorials on LinkedIn, resume and cover letter writing skills, learn job interview techniques, participate in workshops on salary negotiations, benefits packages and post-graduation financial planning and budgeting. The course concludes with a mock networking event with college alumni.

I believe that career and life planning in higher education should not just take the form of stand alone courses, but is content that should be integrated into every course one teaches. In the Fall 2018 semester, junior and senior-level students enrolled in my general education course (rFLA) partnered with Barnie's Tea and Coffee on a comprehensive re-branding project. Students worked in multi-disciplinary teams to develop new "brand stories" and marketing campaigns for the company's brick-and-mortar cafe, new line of premium sourced coffee, on-line retail business, and social media platforms respectively. They pitched their ideas to Barnie's executive team and public relations firm, received feedback, and then developed formal proposals and business plans that will be implemented starting in the Spring of 2019. In addition to gaining invaluable experience working with a real client, some lucky students in this course ended the semester with internship offers!

My upper-division Globetrotters course (transatlantic literature 1400-1700) offers another example of how students in my courses apply their academic training to professional contexts. One student group conducted anthropological field-based research at bible-themed attractions in the Orlando area. Their collaborative work resulted in the production of a virtual tour of the Wycliffe Discovery Center for the Materializing the Bible Project, run by Dr. James Bielo at Miami University.

A second student group partnered with middle school drama teachers in the Boston area to develop an interactive age-appropriate curriculum for Early American Puritanism and the Salem Witch trials.

On a broader campus-wide level, my work on career and life planning issues includes serving as the co-director (with Norah Perez) of Rollins's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Development Committee. Our multi-disciplinary group was charged with leading the College through the process of devising a 5-year plan to integrate career and life planning into our faculty-student advising model. Since rotating off that role, I have the privilege of serving as a lead QEP Reviewer for the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities (SACS), where I get to help peer institutions build and assess similar programs.

I attended an undergraduate institution that did not have Greek-letter organizations and experienced a huge culture shock when I started teaching at a college that boasts one of the largest per-capita sorority and fraternity memberships in the country (approximately 45% of Rollins College undergrads are members of a Greek-letter organization, whereas the national average is 10%). My initial interest in these organizations derived from a combined sense of curiosity and hope that if I took a genuine interest in what excited my students, that they would, in turn, take an interest in what excited me: namely, medieval literature. You can read HERE about how that went.

Since 2011, my involvement in the fraternity and sorority community has evolved from a passive observer to serving in sequence as a faculty advisor to several sorority and fraternity chapters on campus. Most recently, I served as the Executive Board Chairman (basically the head advisor) for one of my college's IFC fraternity chapters. In my role as an advisor and scholar, I've had the privilege to travel around the country and shadow dozens of sorority and fraternity recruitments, training seminars, social events (yep, I was that middle-aged woman lurking in the shadows of sorority formals), national conventions, and conferences. I'm in the final stages of compiling my academic and ethnographic research into a full-length monograph titled Group Sex: Relationship Culture in White Sororities and Fraternities.

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