University of Arkansas – Fort Smith student Hayla May of Greenwood didn’t realize she wanted to be a medievalist until she stood in front of the Chartres Cathedral in Paris. She had studied the structure throughout the spring 2018 semester as part of an Arts in Paris course, but her research did not do it justice.
“The monumentality and fine ornamental details in the Gothic structures I had experienced, specifically Chartres Cathedral, made me realize that, even with the all of the research I had done, there were still years and years of untapped research lying in wait behind them,” May said. “It was really something I could only understand by being in the physical presence of these spaces.”
May couldn’t have chosen a better time or place to decide on a career track. That week in France led to May presenting her research on flying buttresses at the University of Kansas this semester, a major bullet point for her resume when applying for graduate school.
As part of the course, May was tasked with selecting a work of art in Paris and researching it for a presentation she would give in front of the artwork when the class traveled there. She chose the Chartres Cathedral out of a love for medieval architecture.
“The medieval period is when Europe started to develop and flourish in this whole new fashion with art and architecture,” she said. “The medieval time is when we started to see cathedrals climbing to the heights they reached and the use of very complex features like flying buttresses.”
The latter was her specific focus of study. Dr. Mary Shepard, UAFS associate professor of art history and instructor of the Arts in Paris course, was impressed by May’s work and suggested she submit it to a conference for the Mid-America Medieval Association.
“Hayla May is terrifically independent and insightful,” Shepard said. “I was so impressed with Hayla’s presentation in France, I suggested she continue working on it. The result is her outstanding presentation at the Mid-America Medieval Association.”
May traveled to Lawrence, Kan., to present the paper, an experience which gave her valuable insight into academia.
“It was an awesome environment, to be around all these graduate and doctoral students and professors who have been studying for years and years,” May said. “I got some good feedback in the question-and-answer session afterwards and got to learn a lot more afterwards about the depth of upper-level studies.”
This experience also solidified her decision to attend graduate school and become a professor of medieval studies. But she reflects on her trip abroad as vital to sparking the flame that led to her new career goal.
“I can’t stress enough how traveling to Paris with my class was integral in helping me to decide what I wanted to do,” she said. “It was an experience unparalleled by anything else. The fact we can do study abroad classes at UAFS is really fantastic.”