Dana M. Polanichka

Associate Professor of History; Chair, History Department


327 Knapton

Wed 3:30–4:50pm, Thu 2–3:30pm, and by appt.

(508) 286-3672

(508) 286-3640


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.

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!


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

Research Interests

My research centers on early medieval European history, specifically the Carolingian realm from the reign of Pepin the Short (r. 751–768 CE) through the civil wars of the 840s CE. I approach the Frankish world through the lenses of cultural, political, and gender history. The questions animating my research involve the intersection of religion and royal power, the role of physicality and space in Christian devotion and the political imagination, and the nature of the gendered body in the Church and at court.

My first research area, emerging from my doctoral work, examines sacred space as developed metaphorically, architecturally, and ritually in the Carolingian realm. On the broadest level, I am interested in connecting the physical space of Frankish churches to cultural, intellectual, social and political life. My book manuscript, Building Church and Empire: Sacred Space in the Carolingian World, narrows the chronological focus to the reign of Charlemagne (r. 768–814 CE) while expanding the conceptual focus to explore how the diverse functions of churches created political communities. My monograph argues for the centrality of the physical church to Charlemagne’s vision of empire because the spaces within churches’ walls served as his most tangible version of the realm or empire.

My second, multifaceted area of research–one dependent on full collaboration with Wheaton students–explores gender, sexuality, and family at the Carolingian court during the reigns of Charlemagne (768-814 CE) and Louis the Pious (814-840 CE). My initial foray into this project, in summer 2012, involved a student collaborator, Alex Cilley (Wheaton’14) with whom I read Nithard’s Histories of the Civil Wars of the 840s through the lens of family. Then, in spring 2015, I began to collaborate with current Wheaton senior and history major Alora Buxton ’17. We turned our attention on a handbook written by a mid-ninth century woman for her son (Dhuoda’s Liber Manualis), and are currently at work on two articles unpacking Dhuoda’s view of the Church and the world.

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.

Courses I have taught include:

  • First Year Seminar: The Middle Ages in Popular Culture
  • History 110. Ancient Western History
  • History 111. The History of Europe to 1000 CE
  • History 253: Medieval Popular Religion and Devotion
  • History 298. Byzantine History
  • History 298. History of England
  • 343. Late Antiquity–Transformation and Migration
  • 344. Sex, Gender, and the Body in the Medieval World (Fall 2013)
  • 398.  Carolingian History
  • 401. Senior Seminar


“‘As a Brother Should Be’: Siblings, Kinship, and Community in Carolingian Europe,” in Kinship and Community: Social and Cultural History, ed. Jason Coy, Ben Marschke, Jared Poley, and Claudia Verhoeven (Berghahn, 2015).

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.

Student Projects

Undergraduate students are key participants in my varied research projects, as noted above. Over the past seven years, I have worked with six different history majors on a research project entitled “Women and Family, Love and Marriage at the Court of Charlemagne.” Our collaborative research has been supported financially by a Wheaton Research Partnership (2010–2014, 2016–present) and five Wheaton College Mars/Mellon Collaborative Summer Research Grants (2011–12, 2015–17).