UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Schreyer Scholar Doran Tucker has been interested in medieval armor since before he started college, so much so that he has made his own chain mail.
The Penn State geography and international politics major considered making some armor to fulfill a general education course requirement but decided to research and write about it instead.
Tucker's independent study paper on that topic has been accepted to both the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University this May and the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, in July.
Tucker took a look at the divergence between European and Middle Eastern armor from the Crusades through the 16th and early 17th centuries. His research has crossed over into the work he has done on his honors thesis, which also focuses on medieval armor production but more specifically in 13th to 17th-century Milan.
Though he hopes to go on to graduate school and is interested in a career in national security, Tucker found it enjoyable to dive into a topic that didn't have much to do with his regular coursework — at least not on the surface, though he would discover some political and geographic influences at work.
"It's not where I intend to be focused in five years, 10 years; I almost think of it as hobby research," he said. "It's what I do when I need a break from other things."
At the urging of his professors, including Penn State art history instructor Heather McCune Bruhn, Tucker applied to the conferences, figuring it would be a good chance to learn how to write an abstract and apply for funding. Some of the readings applied to his thesis topic, which Tucker had chosen and honed after beginning work on the independent study paper.
The paper Tucker will present at the conferences examines the evolution of armor in Europe and the Middle East. Focused on the time period from the beginning of the Crusades until the early 17th century, he explores the differential developments of armor and what might have contributed to these varied evolutions.
His honors thesis delves into the armor industry of medieval Milan, which he notes produced some of the finest and fanciest armors of 16th-century Europe. Tucker characterized the relation between these high-quality suits and the more common "battlefield" armor of the day as: "comparing a Ford Focus to a Lamborghini," he said. "It stops being about getting from point A to point B. It's about power, it's a statement, bravado.
"In lots of ways, Milan's armorers focused on producing armor that did just that. Their armor was about more than just protecting someone on the battlefield; it was about the pomp."
Tucker, of Aaronsburg, was home-schooled, and it was a trip to the United Kingdom with other home-schooled children, when he was 4 years old, that piqued his interest in medieval craftwork.
"I've always had the option of doing education my way, and I wanted to continue doing that," he said. "In lots of ways I feel like this is the outgrowth of that."