Friday, February 12, 2016


by J J Cohen

I am posting here in more enduring form a collation of thoughts I've been disseminating on Facebook and Twitter. The issue is an important one -- at the heart of the future of the university, in fact.

Among the "innovations" dreamt by Simon Newman, chief-executive-and-entrepreneur-turned-president of Mount St. Mary’s University, is a freshmen survey that without revealing its purpose asks students intimate -- and one would thereby have assumed confidential -- questions about depression, financial worries, and learning disabilities. Despite its seeming humane concern for the well being of those newly transitioning to college life -- a bumpy period that deserves all the sympathy that staff and teachers can muster -- the survey was actually to be used to cull the student population and thereby better the university's retention rate. Those students to be escorted to the door of an institution where they had just arrived were described by President Newman as bunnies to be drowned or shot in the head. For questioning the ethics of such methods two Mount St. Mary’s University professors (one a tenured philosopher, the other the untenured advisor to the student newspaper that broke the story) were fired. That's the entrepreneurial, lean-and-efficient, business world spirit we hire university presidents to bring these days.

But wait, there's more. In "a first step of reconciliation and healing in the season of Lent and the Year of Mercy" (yes that is an actual quote from an actual university communication) the two fired professors have been told they may well be reinstated. Because, mercy. And Lent. I love this quotation from the InsideHigherEd piece: "President Newman called [fired professor Thane Naberhaus] and told him he would be reinstated in part because the Roman Catholic Church has [declared] a Year of Mercy." Even more, I love Professor Naberhaus's response to that offer by email: "Hell no." Naberhaus is not returning until Newman is gone. And for some additional context for President Newman's pious embrace of the Roman Catholic Year of Mercy, it is worth noting that he has also allegedly declared that the campus contains too many crucifixes and that "Catholic doesn't sell well."

Sell well.

Universities are not businesses. Students are neither customers nor products. Being a CEO or an entrepreneur likely disqualifies you for the job of university president rather than makes you the attractive candidate the advisory board stocked with rich donors believes. Universities exist for the intensification of the life of the mind, the betterment of the future, and the humane care of students, not as avid practitioners of the cult of the dollar. Colleges and universities are therefore best run by intellectuals. If you do not possess a PhD and have not composed some excellent books or articles that most people will never read, then you are woefully underqualified for the job. If your best claim to fame is that you amassed millions in riches without sharing that wealth immediately and widely, then enroll in an ethics or philosophy course and start again. But do not think that you are worthy to run an institution of higher learning -- or that you should be allowed anywhere near eighteen to twenty-one year old women and men.

Simon Newman demonstrates exactly where the belief that a successful business background qualifies one to lead a university leads -- and that destination, full of intimidated faculty and threatened students and a university losing its reputation, is nowhere good: not for young people, professors, staff or society. And yet I fear that President Newman, the man who would "drown the bunnies" and dismiss the students with financial and emotional needs, is both the present and the future of higher ed in the United States -- which is to say, the harbinger of higher education's end as a straightforward social good. Students with depression, financial anxieties, and learning disabilities should earn a college's care, not culling.  Comparing at risk students to bunnies to be drowned or shot with a gun is never acceptable. Metaphors matter (enroll in an English literature class, President Newman: I will let you audit mine, if you'd like). It is the obligation of tenured faculty to call out an administration like Newman's for its ethical violations. To do so is not actionable disobedience; it is not disloyalty; it is an affirmation of the utopia that higher education must strive always to become, even if in that striving it will always fall short. 

President Simon P. Newman of Mount St Mary's University is unfit to run a university and should resign. No university should henceforth hire a former CEO or entrepreneur to run the institution like a business. That refusal would be a significant step towards higher education becoming a place in which no student is shot, drowned, or shown the door because they are poor or having a tough time or because they are simply human. 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

30% off Elemental Ecocriticism, Stone and Prismatic Ecology

by J J Cohen

Though this flyer was specifically targeted to ASLE members, the discount code may be used by anyone to purchase three ecocritical book at the University of Minnesota Press at a very nice savings, 30% off. The books are:

You may order the books online via the press website (use the discount code MN79310) or by telephone (800 621-2736, mentioning MN79310). You may also print out the image of the brochure at the top of this post and mail it the address provided.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

CFP: “Ecological Catastrophe: Past and Present" (MLA 2017)

by J J Cohen

Academics in all periods! The Middle English Forum and the Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities Forum will propose a co-sponsored roundtable for MLA 2017 (Philadelphia). Our topic is “Ecological Catastrophe: Past and Present."

How do we read ecological catastrophe across periods? Bringing together scholars of contemporary and premodern environmental literature, this roundtable seeks to generate a conversation about the representation of ecological crisis, natural disasters, environmental degradation, and/or apocalyptic images or rhetoric.

Abstracts should be sent to Shannon Gayk ( and Jeffrey J Cohen ( by March 15. The session is not guaranteed ... but we are optimistic. Please share this notice with anyone who might be interested.

Monday, February 01, 2016

on becoming a better teacher

by J J Cohen

When C. came to my office and told me that she was experiencing debilitating anxiety about her progress in my course, I surprised myself by saying the right thing. I thanked her for taking the risk of confiding in me. I asked her if the anxiety was new and if she was experiencing similar feelings about other classes (it was not; she was). I told her I was sorry -- no one deserves to be dogged by worry and unease -- and that her speaking to me was a sign not of the weakness she feared but of great strength. I was not so courageous in college, I told her, and I wish I had been.

C. was the smartest student I’d had in a very long time, but that was beside the point. I asked her to promise to make an immediate appointment at student health services, despite the fact that her parents did not want her to do so. I offered to walk her over if she would like. We decided we would speak again in two days. A good teacher will long be remembered, but I spent too many years assuming that those lasting impressions unfold only at the classroom's front. Well into my career I realized that an offhand remark will (for better or worse) more likely linger than a subtle reading of a complicated text. So will the offer to listen, to affirm, and to walk alongside.

Many college students face serious depression, anxiety, trauma. They often do not know what systems are in place to assist them, or fear seeking that support, or convince themselves they have no right. Too many students suffer in silence and alone. Some students turn to drugs and alcohol to numb themselves. Some students die: an overdose, a jump from a building, a knife. GW has had four student suicides in recent memory. While I cannot know what would drive a particular young man or woman to take a life at a time when it is hardly underway, I would like to think that someone, at some point, might have extended a hand, had they only been asked, had the student only known that they could ask. No, I cannot save anyone. But universities need not be so relentless.

I am grateful for the pedagogical training I received as a graduate student. We spoke often about reading the body language of the room at the same time as focusing on verbal content during discussion sections – and that attentiveness assisted me greatly in thinking about potential impacts of gender and race in the classroom. I learned early what to do when, for example, a male student attempts to talk-over his female peers, and how to know when someone is waiting to be asked to join the conversation. But two sentences of advice, imparted as if impartial truths, stayed with me for too long before I figured out the harm that they had done: We are not trained mental health professionals. Students have a right to fail.

Both these aphorisms are, of course, true. No professor should convince themselves that it is OK to act as a trained mental health professional (that is dangerous, to say the least), and young people really do sometimes choose to screw everything up. But these sayings were imparted to us as injunctions to the same action: back away from a student in distress. Refer that student to Mental Health Services or tutoring: outsource them, and then impose distance. Teachers teach. And now back to engaging your section in Shakespeare Chaucer Gawain etc etc etc.

So for a long time I backed away. I figured it was up to my students to seek and secure the help they needed. The resources were there: a pamphlet told me so. I was off the hook. Except, of course, that was a lie, and I was never off the hook. The resources are not always self-evident and not every student is going to know they have an absolute right to seek reprieve from suffering, to find a way to preserve themselves from suffering and harm. It is tricky having to deal with a student in crisis but just because it is complicated that does not mean that a teacher, likely one of the few adults in a college student’s immediate life at the moment, can self-extricate by stating We are not trained mental health professionals. Students have a right to fail. Yes we should not pretend we can accomplish what we are not trained to do. Yes, of course. But that does not mean we can accomplish nothing. Or walk away. At the very least, we can accompany our students to the Writing Center, to Mental Health Services. We can ask them to tell us how they are doing. We can make clear to them that those who ask for help are brave, and that they have an absolute right to self preservation and self care.

When our son came home from college for the holiday break in December he was experiencing panic attacks, anxiety over the possible arrival of panic attacks, and severe insomnia because even though he knew he was in good health he was afraid that he might suffer a heart attack or aneurysm. Some nights in December I had to sleep in the same room with him for him to doze at all. I rubbed his back. I shared his bed, clinging to the side so I would not fall out. I felt like I did when he was very young and had a fever: in the back of my mind I could not shake the fear that if I left the room he might die. He does not know this but sometimes that December when his breathing finally eased and sleep took him into peace, my eyes would fill with tears and I would not know what to do. I could not return to sleep after that.

I am not trained as a mental health counselor and would never pretend to be able to solve anything for a student in crisis. But I know that I can listen attentively, praise them for what they are doing right, walk with them to where they can receive they help, wait with them if they want. And then check back.

You will find this note on every syllabus I compose:
University Mental Health Services 202-994-5300The University Mental Health Services offers 24/7 assistance and referral to address students’ personal, social, career, and study skills problems. Services for students include crisis and emergency mental health consultation and confidential assessment, counseling services (individual and small group), and referrals. Mental Health Services is located on the ground floor of the Marvin Center and maintains a branch at the Mount Vernon campus. Both have walk in hours as well as appointments. For additional information, call 202-994-5300 or refer to the website: GW Faculty have access to the CARE Network to get you the help you need. Please talk to me for more information. I will also walk you to the Mental Health Services office if you would like: just ask. 
Things are much better now with our son. The panic attacks began in November, crested in December, and were gone by the time he returned to campus in January. I did not quite recognize him, when he returned for his holiday break: his anxiety could so quickly become dread, and I began to fear he would wander beyond reach. But he knew he had a right to seek the help he required. He had met already with a counselor at Mental Health Services, just after his first anxiety episode. He spoke openly with his friends about what was unfolding, and several admitted that they experienced the same thing (it is really hard to be a college freshman; we forget that too easily, and at our students' peril). By the time he left our house in January to return to campus, though, he was back to his usual self, happy and at ease. Mindfulness training is helping. The biggest aid, though, was biofeedback. In a few weeks' worth of sessions it changed his life. Alex told me I could share his story with you, because he believes that keeping such narratives private makes something already difficult to speak about become impossible to address. I wish I had been as wise as he is at age 18. And yes, I'm very proud.


I do not think that I can save anyone. I can't do it as a teacher, and I probably can't do it as a parent, either. I can listen. I can walk with someone to a door to ensure that it is open and a welcome awaits on the other side. I can try to be for my students the kind of teacher I hope our own children have. I am not saying I have got it right. I am only saying, I know I cannot cease to try.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

two things

by J J Cohen

Medievalists and others who have been following the recent discussions about Allen Frantzen and his anti-feminism, would you please read this? I want to make a special plea for two things:

(1) In the long wake of what has come to light, discussed and condemned, it is also important to keep in mind that Allen Frantzen directed or served as a reader on many dissertations, took part in many panels, published much work in volumes that featured numerous contributors, and there must be no guilt by association. Some fine people worked with him, and some of them are young in the field. Their accomplishments are impressive and belong to them alone. Do not allow the revelations of the past few weeks to take anything away from our good colleagues. They do not deserve that.

(2) Silence is not complicity. Silence is complicated. Sometimes people refrain from speaking 
because they are vulnerable. Sometimes they are traumatized. Sometimes they need time to think, time to choose their words, time even to figure out how they feel. I would ask you not to judge anyone who chooses to hold back from speaking at the current moment. It is their choice and their right.

As I just wrote to a friend, this problem has been very long in its making and will not be solved (if it is ever can really be "solved") swiftly. Slow conversation and careful thinking through of community and care are *essential* to building the kinds of structures we want to support the better futures for which most of us are yearning.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Elemental Ecocriticism: at MLA, and at 30% off for blog readers

by J J Cohen

[So much going on blogwide at the moment, but please read and consider signing this letter to the Medieval Academy]

Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, AIr, Water, and Fire was published just in time for this year's Modern Language Association meeting in Austin. I never had the chance to blog about that conference (coming back to the immediate start of the spring term plus #femfog ensured that would not happen), but I did want to publicly thank all who attended the launch we had at the conference. Unlike a few sessions I attended that featured papers going far over time and an audience intent on asking questions that were really mini presentations (or so specific that were about a fragment of research rather than an invitation to communal dialogue), this roundtable had a truly communal feel. The presentations were poignant and the conversation that unfolded afterwards thoughtful and engaged. The room was full of people with little in common as far as archives go (everything from classical literature to postmodern fiction, and a wide variety of languages represented) but at every moment palpably present was a commitment to working something out, together. I have never left a session as full of hope -- and for that I give full credit to the presenters (Stacy Alaimo, Lowell Duckert, Stephanie LeMenager, Steve Mentz, Serpil Oppermann and in spirit Sharon O'Dair) and the amazing audience, who pressed forward to forge some provisional answers to the impossible question of what future might we make?

I have blogged some background to the collection here, and want to emphasize its origins in the joy of collaboration. The volume is for a limited time 30% off at the press website, if you follow the instructions for ordering it here. Purchasing the volume (or asking you library to do so) supports collaborative work in the humanities and sends a message to the press that we need more such communities of shared endeavor. Thank you!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Call for Signatures: Letter of Concern to MAA


[UPDATED February 1, 2016: In a swift response to this widely-circulated open letter, the Medieval Academy of America has announced that it will produce a statement on inclusion, diversity, and academic freedom. Since the MAA is now taking action, the italicized passages no longer apply (i.e., no additional signatures are required).]

Original posting dated January 29, 2016:

ITM readers and any other medievalists brought to this link through other means:

Please read this Open Letter of Concern addressed to the Medieval Academy of America (click to this link to access the PDF with full updated list of signatories) discussing the "Allen Frantzen Affair" and its wider implications. This letter was authored by Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Jonathan Hsy, Eileen Joy, and Alex Mueller (listed in alphabetical order by surname).

If you wish to add your name to the growing list of people signing this letter, please click through to the public Facebook page and add your name in the comments section.  Please let us know if you are an MAA member, lapsed member, or potential member (and your institutional affiliation, if any). You can even identify yourself as a FOM (Friend of Medievalists). All these signatories will be added to the letter and the full list will be conveyed to the MAA.

If for whatever reason you're not on social media or otherwise cannot access the Facebook comments page, you can add your name in the comments section below (please note the comments are moderated on this blog and it may take some time for each comment to appear). Alternatively, you can contact Eileen Joy with the subject heading "MAA Open Letter" to be added to the list.

We hope that by acting together in and across our various communities we can create a better future.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Our Values + Thanks Donna Zuckerberg/Jezebel

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, "Enigma-Riddle-Joke" (2015)

First of all, read Jeffrey's post below, showcasing the wonderful, heartbreaking work of Dan Kline, which we have been so privileged to publish here often. There, Jeffrey writes:
We as a field have not yet had an open conversation about the conditions that have enabled the flourishing, endurance and continued toxic effects of so much misogyny, racism, abuse. But it's important to me to look at once backwards and forwards, like the Janus head that is our ITM emblem. Our communal gaze should not be averted from trauma and invidious history, nor should we stop attempting to discern the horizon of a more humane future. No forgetting, no excusing, no ceasing of the forward gaze.
Next, we as a collective of bloggers would like to affirm the values we believe in, and we hope, practice here. Now, it may be funny to say "We as a collective of bloggers" in 2016, long after the Blogosphere has given way or returned to, well, paid edited writing (if not actually well-paid, edited writing). But I feel I can say "collective of bloggers" now, with pride, because we've had the privilege over the past almost 2 weeks of amplifying the activism of Eileen Joy, Dorothy Kim, and others who have been working so relentlessly and righteously to make a better medieval studies and a better scholarly community.

So, we as a collective of bloggers, or even We as In the Middle, join with the Material Collective ("Embracing the Fog") and MEARCSTAPA ("Diversity Statement") and Elaine Treherne, speaking with Anglo-Saxonists (#ILoveOldEnglish) in proclaiming our values. Thank you, readers, for being part of this community. We couldn't have written this without your inspiration:
People want to be medievalists for a lot of different reasons. Some are drawn to the Middle Ages because it offers up a time of supposed ethnic purity, a lost ideal, a culture of sacred obedience, or an admirable ethos of warrior heroism. Our outlook for medieval studies resists all this. We welcome the weirdos, the obsessives, the lovers of the minute, the constitutionally uncertain. We welcome those drawn to the Middle Ages  because it calls to them as a time forgotten and disdained by the demand that we be “up to date” and only “of the present.” Our medieval studies would not be possible without feminists, without queers, without posthumanists, without those who insist that the paired notions of a “white medieval Europe” and a “Christian Europe” are cruel anachronisms. Nor would it be possible without the joy of sharing our love in discoveries about, say, ascenders in late English script, or the trade in coconuts, or the transport of stories of holy greyhounds, in knowledge that maybe no one else values.
Our medieval studies is attentive, excited, empathic, at times sad, and above all careful, of itself and of its community.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Jonathan Hsy
Mary Kate Hurley
Karl Steel
Finally, thanks so very much to Donna Zuckerberg for writing such a fair, sharp, comprehensive take on antifeminism and academia and Allen J. Frantzen's very public embracing of the so-called Men's Rights movement. And thanks to Jezebel for publishing it. It's rare that medievalists get much attention from larger media, and rarer still that we're engaged with so well. A quote, which rightly recognizes that Frantzen is a symptom:
I’m worried about the professor who uses a meeting with female graduate student that’s supposed to be about offering critique to ask her opinion on a birthday gift for his wife. The professor who introduced me to a visiting lecturer as the person who bakes cookies for coffee hour. The professor who calls criticism made by a male academic “sharp” and the same criticism by a female academic “shrill.” The man who explains a woman’s work to her. The reviewer who suggests that a paper with two female authors could use a male perspective and the conference organizer who thinks nothing of having multiple all-male panels. The hiring committee with an undeniable bias against female professors with children and the administrator who forces the tenure-track professor to consider her pregnancy a disability. Let’s not forget these toxic people, the ones who don’t do us the courtesy of plastering offensive bumper stickers on their cars. Some of them are almost certainly among those loudly denouncing Frantzen.

"Sometimes I have to be reminded what the stakes are, so that I may proceed with fear and trembling"

I took this picture of Dan on Matanuska Glacier
by J J Cohen

I'm proud to have Daniel T. Kline as a friend.

If memory serves, we first met at Kzoo many years ago, hit it off immediately, went to lunch, kept in touch. His work has always rocked my world, from scholarship on children and medieval literature to gaming to digital humanities to Levinas: his scholarship is as capacious as it is beautifully composed. His short essay The Pearl, a Crayon, and a Lego is, I would contend, the best piece ever composed on that poem -- and although I teach it every year, I cannot stop welling up when I speak about its meditation on loss.

Dan wrote a public Facebook post about being plagiarized by a collaborator, Allen Frantzen (yes that Allen Frantzen). You can read Dan's post for yourself here, and find within it a tale of how senior scholars sometimes abuse their position of power to claim work not their own, trusting that the more junior person will not complain. It's important for such stories to circulate, and for this tradition (there are many such stories) to cease. I applaud Dan for sharing.

But I also believe it's essential to think about hope and affirmation in times of despair, the very theme of so much of Dan's scholarship. The essay on Pearl to which I linked above is literally about the loss of a child. Three of the most moving blog posts ever published here at In the Middle were guest contributions by Dan, compelling meditations on life in the wake of the worst things humans do to each other. Yes, the terrible stories that form the past and present of medieval studies will and must continue to surface. We as a field have not yet had an open conversation about the conditions that have enabled the flourishing, endurance and continued toxic effects of so much misogyny, racism, abuse. But it's important to me to look at once backwards and forwards, like the Janus head that is our ITM emblem. Our communal gaze should not be averted from trauma and invidious history, nor should we stop attempting to discern the horizon of a more humane future. No forgetting, no excusing, no ceasing of the forward gaze.

Here are Dan's three beautiful posts. They are well worth lingering over, especially for the less violent world and classroom and profession they imagine. Dan may have been denied an important early career publication by someone lacking in ethics, but what he has contributed to medieval studies, in the past and now through his convivial and compassionate social media presence, deserves celebration.

  1. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief 1
  2. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief 2
  3. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief 3

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Chronicle Piece on #Femfog

by J J Cohen

Here is Rio Fernandes reporting on the discovery that Allen Frantzen has published misogynistic web pages. There is more to the story (stay tuned!) and it is not going away any time soon.

I wish that I could travel back in time and edit the last quote from me, which does not convey what I wanted to say. Here is what I meant:
"There are many female medievalists and their allies who have come out against Frantzen because he does not represent the field. Honestly, young female medievalists are shaping the future of the field at this point because they are doing the most interesting work."
I have never mastered the phone as technology and therefore give terrible interviews on it.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Happy 10th Birthday, In the Middle!

by J J Cohen

a meditation on what the blog has meant to me, personally: I cannot speak for anyone else

In the Middle began on January 18, 2006 with a little post that was really just a cut-and-paste job: my entry for RACE in the Supplement to the Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Way back then most reference works in medieval studies were consulted as hardbound volumes that you had to walk (with your actual feet, not on a hoverboard) over to the library to peruse. These hefty tomes required occasional updating -- though their supplements would themselves often be out of date by the time they appeared. The original DoMA had no entry for race (!), so I was delighted when William Chester Jordan asked me to compose one. I got to argue vigorously that yes race actually does matter to the Middle Ages -- a contested notion, way back when. I knew that few people would have access to the volume in which the entry would be published, especially because the supplement cost something like $100 -- and I know, now even a Palgrave print-on-demand title is priced higher than that, but in 2006 $100 was a monumental sum. And why lock knowledge away in research libraries? A book wants to be read. So I started this blog as a kind of informal open access for work I was doing, attempting along the way to assist in the shared project of bringing about a medieval studies where postcolonial theory could find better welcome [and here and here], where feminism and queer theory and critical race studies would be at home -- as well as working through the last draft of my third book (a book ruined in some ways by my taking an inimical "blind" peer reviewer too seriously: it took me a long time to recover my writer's voice after that experience, and ITM was instrumental to that process).

Not much time passed before I was blogging about contemporary issues that resonate with medieval ones, such as the aggression shown against homeless Muslims in Paris by volunteers who served only pork soup (check out the comments for a working through of how to cite a blog, something that the MLA had not yet established). The personal also made its swift debut. Here is the first post about my son Alex (then 8, now 18 and away at college), telling me how ignorant I am. By 2010 much of the personal had vanished into other platforms, especially Facebook, as I observed somewhat sadly in this story about fireflies, and again in a short piece on Katherine. [On a side note, I was talking to Alex on the phone last night and he told me that he is reading ITM regularly, and was happy that I posted this weekend about calling out misogyny; I don't know why that touched me so much, but it did.] I do not wholly shy away from personal reflection (see this piece for example on suicide, or this on the death of my thesis advisor). Pedagogy is also a frequent topic, and I once blogged an entire graduate seminar using titles taken from Decemberists lyrics (a trick so clever no one figured it out). Every now and then I have written a post that can, when I re-read it, break my heart: this one, and this. Conference summations also appear frequently (here is a favorite).

Early in the life of In the Middle I begin linking frequently to other medieval and academic blogs, since it seemed like we were doing something new as a community rather than as individuals. Within the first month of blogging I also opened the site to anyone who would like to contribute (and signaled that fact by changing its name to what the blog bears today). I've written about the origins of ITM in community before: see, for example, this brief and personal history of ITM from 2009 that will tell you exactly when the first co-bloggers arrived on the scene. Karl and Mary Kate were both graduate students when they joined, and now as early career academics (one tenured, one in a TT job) they have each altered the field so much for the better. Eileen left her tenured position during her time of blogging, and has now departed this blog to concentrate on punctum books: we wish her a future full of thriving. Jonathan earned tenure during his time as co-blogger and brought some wonderful disciplinary convergences to In the Middle (and my department: I am so fortunate to have him as a colleague). Working with these four magnificent people so closely has been a treat ... and we have also had the great fortune of hosting dozens upon dozens of guest bloggers who have filled this site with their wisdom and insight. A partial list includes Arthur Bahr, Dorothy Kim, Dan Kline, Sharon O'Dair, Lowell Duckert, Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters, Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Alexandra Gillespie, Lesley S. Curtis and Cord J. Whitaker, Robert McRuer, Julian Yates ... ok, that only hits recent ones but you get the picture.

The ten years of this blog's life have not been unremitting sunshine and rainbows. I've spoken about the stalker that my work on ITM attracted, and the blog's problems with trolls. I have lost friends over posts I have written and not everyone in the field even today takes the kind of public outreach to which I am committed (here and on other social media) as a serious form of academic engagement -- but that has been slowly changing. Yet we are at the point where some graduate students tell me that they "grew up" with In the Middle, and I find that comforting: the emphasis here has always been on future-making and field change. Activism is also an important component of what ITM undertakes: from the (failed) attempt to get the MAA to cancel their scheduled meeting in Arizona to the recent posts about the field's longterm and recent problems with misogyny and racism. So much work remains to be done. But I want to pause here, for a moment, and thank you for reading this blog. Your support is what has kept this space lively for a decade. You have made the work that ITM requires a pleasure, and always worthwhile.

-- Jeffrey

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hugh of Avalon, and the Limits of Sympathy


Gerald of Wales' life of Hugh of Avalon, bishop of Lincoln, speaks twice of his zeal for burying the dead.

Certain dead, anyway: here's a story on Hugh, once more interrupting an important trip to do his Christian duty. A free and partial paraphrase:
Hugh is on his way to Westminster, and he learns of a human body lying unburied in the street. He immediately asks whether it's a Christian or Jewish body, because just the day before, on the day of Richard I's coronation, the Jews of London had been massacred. When Hugh hears that the corpse [or however we want to resolve that implied pronoun] was a Christian, he at once dismounts, and has a new cloth bought, and has the corpse sewed into it. And assembling a funeral party from his retinue, he has it buried with all due ceremony.
Is he ensuring that he doesn't accidentally bury a Jewish body in a Christian graveyard? Or is it that he wouldn't have buried the body had it been a Jewish victim of the London pogroms? Might he then have delivered it to the remaining London Jews to bury? Or would he have just left it exposed in the street, again, for whatever Jews were willing to expose themselves as Jews the day after a massacre?

Whatever the possible results, Gerald's story makes a point about Hugh's care in getting burial right, while perhaps inadvertently making another point about the limits of sympathy. Fastidious piety looks more than a little self-serving, more than a little heartless.

I think first of Jeffrey's post below: "Christians and Jews in Angevin England now in paperback."

You yourself might be reminded of this story from the same massacre, which I'm borrowing from Fordham's Medieval Sourcebook:
While the king was seated at table, the chief men of the Jews came to offer presents to him, but as they had been forbidden the day before to come to the king's court on the dav of the coronation, the common people, with scornful eye and insatiable heart, rushed upon the Jews and stripped them, and then scourging them, cast them forth out of the king's hall. Among these was Benedict, a Jew of York, who, after having been So maltreated and wounded by the Christians that his life was despaired of, was baptized by William, prior of the church of Saint Mary at York, in the church of the Innocents, and was named William, and thus escaped the peril of death and the hands of the persecutors.
The citizens of London, on hearing of this, attacked the Jews in the city and burned their houses; but by the kindness of their Christian friends, some few made their escape. On the day after the coronation, the king sent his servants, and caused those offenders to be arrested who had set fire to the city; not for the sake of the Jews, but on account of the houses and property of the Christians which they had burnt and plundered, and he ordered some of them to be hanged. 
On the same day, the king ordered the before-named William, who from a Jew had become a Christian, to be presented to him, on which he said to him, "What person are you," to which he made answer, " I am Benedict of York, one of your Jews." On this the king turned to the archbishop of Canterbury, and the others who had told him that the said Benedict had become a Christian, and said to them, "Did you not tell me that he is a Christian?" to which they made answer, " Yes, my lord." Whereupon he said to them, "What are we to do with him?" to which the archbishop of Canterbury, less circumspectly than he might, in the spirit of his anger, made answer, "If he does not choose to be a Christian, let him be a man of the Devil;" whereas he ought to have made answer, " We demand that he shall be brought to a Christian trial, as he has become a Christian, and now contradicts that fact." But, inasmuch as there was no person to offer any opposition thereto, the before-named William relapsed into the Jewish errors, and after a short time died at Northampton; on which he was refused both the usual sepulture of the Jews, as also that of the Christians, both because he had been a Christian, and because, he had, " like a dog, returned to his vomit."  
From Roger of Hoveden: The Annals, comprising The History of England and of Other Countries of Europe from AD 732 to AD 1201, trans. Henry T. Riley, 2 Vols. (London: H.G. Bohn, 1853; rep. New York AMS, 1968), Vol 2, pp. 117-19