Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College


Dana M. Polanichka

Dana M. Polanichka

Assistant Professor of History

Ph.D., History, University of California, Los Angeles
M.A., History, University of California, Los Angeles
A.B., Medieval Studies, Dartmouth College

Main Interests

Late antique and medieval intellectual and cultural history, especially medieval conceptions of sacred space, Christian rituals, liturgical performance, art and architecture; Carolingian history and historiography; gender, sexuality, and the conception of scandal at the Carolingian court; legacies of Roman history, literature, art, architecture, and ritual in the medieval world.

Research Interests

My main research interest is medieval cultural history, particularly religious beliefs, practices, and rituals, as well as ecclesiastical art and architecture.

The specific questions driving my first major research project revolved around the visual, corporal, and ritual aspects of Christianity: What role did the visual and material play in medieval Christianity? How did corporeal performance affect belief and vice versa? In my doctoral dissertation, "Precious Stones, Living Temples: Sacred Space in Carolingian Churches, 751-877 CE" (UCLA, 2009), I undertook an extensive investigation of both visual and textual sources. I examined how sacred space developed metaphorically, architecturally, and ritually in the Frankish world of the eighth and ninth centuries. In approaching this topic, I analyzed and synthesized myriad texts: theological treatises, legal sources, episcopal statutes, biblical commentaries, liturgical directives, saints'  lives, relic translations, a treatise on religious art, a monastic plan, art, and architecture, including more than twenty Carolingian and earlier Italian churches and monasteries. Examining the ways in which churches were conceived, constructed, and used, I demonstrated how theology, devotion, ritual, gender, architecture, and art intersected.

Currently I am revising my dissertation into a book manuscript. In expanding my project, I am now exploring the diverse functions and effects of churches in creating not only religious, but also social and political communities. In particular, my postdoctoral research considers how the ways in which Carolingian churches were conceived, created, and used affected the political understandings of the Carolingian kingdom.

Additionally, I have made forays into a second research project on gender, sexuality, and the conception of scandal at the Carolingian court, particularly during the reigns of Charlemagne (768-814 CE) and Louis the Pious (814-840 CE). My initial research into gender and accusations of sexual scandal at the Carolingian court led me on an exciting tangent: I spent last summer reading Nithard's Histories of the Civil Wars of the 840s through the lens of family, alongside current Wheaton senior and history major  Alex Cilley '14. From this research emerged two articles, one co-authored with Cilley, which will be published in 2014.

Teaching Interests

I enjoy teaching courses that span the ancient and medieval Western worlds, especially those focusing on religion, gender, and all forms of intellectual, cultural, and political history. All my classes encourage interdisciplinary exploration and the examination of myriad texts, both written and visual.

Other courses I have taught include:

  • 100. Ancient Western History
  • 298. Byzantine History
  • 298. History of England
  • 299. The Middle Ages in Popular Culture (independent study)
  • 299. A Less Christian Middle Ages--Science, Magic & Demons (independent study)
  • 343. Late Antiquity--Transformation and Migration
  • 344. Sex, Gender, and the Body in the Medieval World (Fall 2013)
  • 398.  Carolingian History
  • 399. Great Books of Medieval and Early Modern History (independent study)
  • 399. Medieval Heresy (independent study)
  • 399. Holy, Holy, Holy: Saints' Lives and Writings (independent study)
  • 401. Senior Seminar

Other Interests

A complete bibliophile, I am a member of two book clubs, and I am always excited to talk to students, colleagues, friends, and (honestly) strangers about books, particularly classic and contemporary novels. I encourage students to swing by my office and chat with me about books, reading, and writing!


First author, with Alex Cilley '14, "The Very Personal History of Nithard: Family and Honor in the Carolingian World," Early Medieval Europe 22, no. 2 (2014): 171-200.

"Transforming Space, (Per)forming Community: Church Consecration in Carolingian Europe," Viator 43, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 79-98.

"Another Word on Job-Market Etiquette," Perspectives in History 49, no. 9 (Dec. 2011): 28-29.

Getting an Academic Job in History. Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2009.


"'As a Brother Should Be': Siblings, Kinship, and Community in Carolingian Europe," in Kinship and Community: Social and Cultural History, ed. Jason Coy et al. (forthcoming).

Student Projects

Undergraduate students are key participants in my varied research projects. Over the past five years, I have worked with five different history majors on a research project entitled "Women and Family, Love and Marriage at the Court of Charlemagne" (supported financially by a Wheaton Research Partnership).

In summer 2011, Christine Sobieck '12, Eben Diskin '12, and I received a Mars Collaborative Research Grant to explore Frankish royal women's participation in political and social activities at the Carolingian court.

In summer 2012, Alex Cilley '14 and I received a Mellon Collaborative Research Grant to research and write an article entitled "The Very Personal of History of Nithard: Family and Honor in the Carolingian World." We presented an early version of this article, since accepted for publication, at the Dartmouth College Medieval Studies Seminar in September 2012.