Saturday, July 14, 2018

Kalamazoo ICMS - two letters, and asking for your support

by KARL STEEL

Writing quickly from the last morning of the New Chaucer Society in Toronto to ask you to read two recent letters about the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo.

The first is by Seeta Chaganti, whose letter, at the Medievalists of Color website, begins like this:

I can no longer participate in nor support the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo. While performing a seemingly virtuous commitment to academic freedom, the actions of this organization’s leadership not only silence marginalized voices but also enable racially-based harassment. More than one organization whose intellectual profile reflects a commitment to politically progressive critical theory along with social and racial justice has found its voice minimized in the planning for next year’s conference. In what follows, I address this issue regarding one such organization. But I additionally point out that an environment permitting such minimization also facilitates harassment and potential harm. It is an environment entirely inimical to genuine academic freedom.


It's an important letter, and a welcome to challenge to the problem any community faces when confronted with bad actors.

Meanwhile, the BABEL working group has created a letter on the topic of next year's program. It begins like this:

We have two concerns. The first is that there seems to be a bias against, or lack of interest in, sessions that are self-critical of medieval studies, or focused on the politics of the field in the present, especially relative to issues of decoloniality, globalization, and anti-racism. The second is that there is a profound lack of transparency around the process by which ICMS programming decisions are made, an opacity that is out of line with the norms of academic conferences and harmful to ongoing conversations in the field.

The letter has data on the program supporting this charge. BABEL is asking for two key things:

As a gesture toward addressing inclusion and diversity at ICMS 2019, we ask that Medievalists of Color be given the option -- should they choose upon deliberation to exercise it -- of reinstating at least 2 co-sponsored panels of their choice (of the 4 rejected). Responding to the field's evolution would mean acknowledging its heightened interest in the perspectives of scholars of color and creating space for these underrepresented voices.

To address the lack of transparency that characterizes the ICMS conference committee, we request (at a minimum) that the committee be changed to include a non-anonymous and rotating set of members, at least some of whom are from outside the Institute. 
If you support the letter, I join the BABEL Working Group in asking that you add you name to the list of its supporters. Please scroll to the bottom of the page here to add your name.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

SEMA in Nassau (November 8-10)


A conference that will be of interest to ITM readers:

Continuing the conversation about race and the decolonization of medieval studies is critical for our discipline’s future. To facilitate that conversation, SEMA’s annual meeting, held this November 8-10th in Nassau, The Bahamas, will focus on topics surrounding the concepts of diaspora, migration, and exile. Examining these subjects will allow us to broaden our knowledge of the spread of people, the construction of culture, and creation of identity, national and otherwise. Further to the relevance of this topic is our conference site: The Bahamas. Formerly a British colony, The Bahamas was populated through the African diaspora and has been working for over forty years to decolonize its institutions and culture. Integrating these two, the conference theme and The Bahamas, demonstrates our commitment to making medieval studies inclusive in subject and inclusive of people. Although the deadline has passed, please consider submitting a paper or panel proposal; there is still time while sessions are being organized.

For information about the call, the conference hotel, or to submit a session or paper abstract, go to http://semabahamas.com/

If you have questions, please contact Christine Kozikowski at christine.kozikowski@ub.edu.bs

Friday, June 22, 2018

PARADISE ON FIRE: CFP for ASLE 2019

by J J Cohen

Hi everyone,

Readers of this blog may be interested in the ASLE conference to be held in June 2019 at UC Davis. You'll see from the call for sessions that we had medieval and early modern materials in mind as we framed this shared project ... and we would like to emphasize that all are welcome to propose sessions and to attend. This is a conference known for its congeniality. I promise you will enjoy it!

We are seeking your creative ideas for sessions. Form the panel of your dreams, and please propose it!

-- Jeffrey



PARADISE ON FIRE
JUNE 26-30, 2019
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS
DAVIS, CA

Plenary addresses will be given by Ursula Heise, Cherríe Moraga, Melissa K. Nelson, and Nnedi Okorafor.

https://www.asle.org/conference/biennial-conference/

CALL FOR PANELS
This year we are experimenting with a two-part submission process intended to make the conference more participant-driven and democratic. The first step is this Call is for PANELS. We are also issuing a call for Pre/Post Conference Workshop proposals at this time. Proposals may be submitted until Sept. 1, 2018.

Conference panels may be proposed by anyone interested in organizing one. All panels are 90 minutes long and may take the form of a traditional paper session (4 presenters); a roundtable (up to 6 presenters making brief remarks that foster lively conversation); or a jam session (up to 8 participants in a nontraditional format of the organizer’s choosing that includes significant audience participation). These panels may be of two types:
  • A preformed panel that lists all participants and is ready for the conference program as it stands.
  • A panel seeking participants, to be filled by its organizers through the conference call for papers released in October. We expect the majority of accepted panels to be of this kind.
Panel proposals should be submitted electronically. The complete process is detailed after the conference description below. The ASLE conference committee will select a wide range of proposed panels appropriate to the conference theme and panel proposers will be notified of success by October 1, 2018. ASLE will then distribute by email and on our website a Call for Papers listing all conference panels seeking paper proposals. Those who wish to participate in the conference may submit a proposal for consideration for inclusion within one of these panels, or for one of the open topic panels to be organized by the conference committee. Panel organizers will inform paper proposers if a submission has been accepted no later than January 10, 2019. All paper proposals that do not find an initial home will also be considered for placement in one of the open topic panels. Paper submissions for these panels begin Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 15. Please email us at info@asle.org with any questions.


“If paradise now arises in hell, it's because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Conference Theme: Paradise on Fire
The Biennial ASLE Conference will be held in Davis, California, in June 2019. Following a longstanding tradition, this conference gathers scholars and artists working in a diverse array of environmental humanities projects and offers a special focus on some themes that resonate well with the location of the meeting.

Paradise does not exist, and yet that never seems to stop people from finding it, or building it, or dreaming its contours often to the detriment of humans and nonhumans on the wrong side of its walls. Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy imagines a walled city with a climate- controlled dome called Paradice where genetic engineers create new forms of life, a bubble breached by human violence and climate catastrophe. In the sixteenth century Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo imagined a place called “California,” an island ruled by a dark skinned Amazonian queen with an Arabic name, Califia (Las Sergas de Esplandián). California was affixed to our maps by conquistadors, eager readers of Montalvo who believed the Earthly Paradise to be nearby. The price of its establishment was the genocide of the land’s indigenous populations. The Greek word for Eden is “Paradise,” a walled garden that bars entrance to most. Yet as Octavia Butler’s dystopian vision of California on fire has shown, walls seldom lead to lasting safety and cannot exclude a turbulent world for long (The Parable of the Sower). If as Rebecca Solnit contends, “paradise arises in hell,” when democratic communities are built from the ground up during times of disaster that leave us “free to live and act another way,” what might life in catastrophic times entail for the environmental humanities? How should we write, teach, protest, live, and act during this era when “paradise” is on fire, figuratively and literally?

The Biennial ASLE Conference “Paradise on Fire” explores the connections among storytelling, real and imagined landscapes, future-making, activism, environed spaces, differential exclusions, long histories, and the disaster-prone terrains of the Anthropocene. Plenary addresses will be given by Ursula Heise, Cherríe Moraga, Melissa K. Nelson, and Nnedi Okorafor.

Topics may include but are certainly not limited to:
  • reckoning with “paradise” in the face of colonial histories, environmental injustice, and
    ecological catastrophe
  • the intimacy of myth to possibility, alternative realities, and catastrophe
  • the reduction of diversity after the arrival of settler colonialists, especially but not only in
    California
  • cross-cultural currents and global vectors, human and nonhuman
  • the relation of imagination to discovery, settlement and transformation
  • extinction, ecological imperialism, monstrosity, megafauna, and scale
  • gender, race and ecology in dystopian times
  • the proliferation of material and ideological walls around enclaves, states, and nations
  • attending better to the people, animals, plants, and natural forces that find themselves on
    the wrong side of the gate, forced into communities not of their choosing, or forced to
    migrate without safe destinations
  • radical welcome: creating more just, capacious, and humane modes of living together
    across species
  • how the past matters to the imagination of a more capacious future
  • climate fiction (CliFi), climate fact, and the future of ecological science studies
  • archives of recovery and enclosure
  • Afro-futurisms, Indigenous futurisms, Latinx futurisms, Asian futurisms, queer futurisms
  • California and beyond: exceptionalism, secession, natural and unnatural disasters, green
  • gentrification (the L.A. River), evacuation zones, Sanctuary Cities and States, gated communities, immigration and Dreamers, Trump’s border wall, housing and being humane
  • The Trans-Pacific: imaginaries, cultures, materialities, flows
  • Fire as emblematic of the strange agencies and hybrid onto-epistemologies of the Anthropocene, and fire as emblematic of the passion, energy, and incendiary creativity off activism
ASLE is a diverse professional community that is enriched by the multiple experiences, cultures, and backgrounds of its members, and we strive for access, equity, and inclusion in the conference.

Panel Submission Process
We are modifying the organization of the 2019 ASLE conference to ensure that the conference program reflects the diverse strengths and interests of the ASLE community. As our membership and the number of conference presenters have grown, a small selection committee is likely no longer the best judge of our members’ capacious range of interests and expertise. We also want to empower ASLE members to shape the conference they will attend. As in past years, there will also be a significant number of panels organized by the conference committee based on open submission, ensuring that everyone’s interests are welcomed.

Proposed panels for the ASLE 2019 conference may be submitted until September 1, 2018. The secure submissions site requires you to create a simple login account to submit your panel proposal, which will also allow you to view your submission and make modifications up to the deadline. 


Please note that unlike in previous years we are not seeking only preformed panels. We hope to have many open panels that will choose their participants through the Call for Papers circulated in October.
All conference panels are 90-minutes long. ASLE strongly encourages organizers to experiment with alternative forms of presentation, discussion and engagement. Both scholarly and creative submissions are very welcome. Panels which are aligned with the conference themes and reflect the diversity of the ASLE mission will be given priority.

Key information:
  • Proposals for panels must include the type (traditional papers, with or without a respondent; roundtable; jam session of any kind) and a 250 word abstract for the panel outlining topic, format, and participants’ roles.
  • Preformed panels must include a short synopsis of the role of each participant and a brief bio (two or three sentences).
  • Multiple panel submissions are allowed, but keep in mind that only one paper submission is allowed per person, as participants can present only once during the conference. Pre/post conference workshop participation, organizing panels, and chairing a panel do not count as presenting. Panels may be co-proposed.
  • Panel proposals must be submitted online.
  • To encourage institutional diversity and exchange, all panels must include participants
    from more than one institution and from more than one academic level/sector
ASLE policy is currently to discourage virtual participation at our biennial conferences
except in extraordinary circumstances or to accommodate disability.

Panel proposals must be submitted by September 1 2018 at https://asle.submittable.com/submit
Panel organizers themselves will choose presenters from the submissions that they receive and will let paper proposers know if their paper has been accepted no later than January 10, 2019. All paper proposals that do not find a home in the panel to which they were submitted will be considered for placement into one of the conference’s many open panels. 

Thank you for your patience as we attempt this two-step method of organizing our biennial gathering. Our desire is to maximize the ability of our membership to participate in the shaping of the conference, an event at the very heart of our ASLE community. As interest in the environmental humanities has greatly expanded, we hope this structure will not only be more transparent but will take better advantage of the wide-ranging interests, expertise, and diversity within ASLE. Please email us at info@asle.org with any questions.


Pre/Post Conference Workshops Call for Proposals
We will offer a number of workshops on important and emerging topics that reflect the diversity of our approaches and our membership. These workshops may or may not relate directly to the conference theme (although we encourage it) and will be held either at the beginning of the conference on Wednesday, June 25th or at the end, on Sunday, June 30th. Ideally, Sunday workshops will be more experimental; for example, site-based and/or including a field component.
We are calling for proposals for these workshops, and will choose the slate of offerings from the submissions. Workshop leaders will receive free registration for the 2019 conference and a complimentary year’s membership in ASLE. For further information or to submit a proposal,
A diverse array of panels in keeping with the conference theme will be chosen by the conference committee, and a call for papers will then be released October 1. Anyone who wishes to participate in the ASLE conference may then submit a paper proposal for consideration for inclusion within a specific panel, or within an open panel, between October 15 and December 15, 2018. Please email Nicole Seymour, Conference Workshop Coordinator, at nseymour@fullerton.edu

Workshop proposals must be sent to the coordinator by September 1, 2018.
Proposals should include:
  • a 500-word max description of the proposed workshop theme and structure (for four
    hours), in addition to the leader’s or leaders’ (limited to two) particular qualifications to
    lead it; and
  • vita for the leader or leaders.
    Information on which topics are being offered will be available in late Fall 2018. There is limited availability (15 persons) in each workshop, so you will need to pre-register to reserve a spot. As participants’ names will appear on the program, we encourage registrants to apply to present in one of these events instead of giving a paper at the conference. In addition to the workshops to be proposed, our Graduate Liaisons will organize a writing workshop for graduate students.
    If you have any questions, please email Nicole Seymour at nseymour@fullerton.edu

THE UNIVERSITY AND THE CITY

Since its founding in 1908, UC Davis has been known for its academics and commitment to sustainability. They remain dedicated to solving issues related to food, health, the environment and society.
The 5,300-acre campus is in the city of Davis, a vibrant college town of about 68,000 located in Yolo County. Sacramento, the state capital, is 20 minutes away, and natural and cultural destinations such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake Tahoe and the Napa Valley are within a two-hour drive.
To learn more about UC Davis and attractions and activities in the city and region around Davis, see http://davisdowntown.com/ and https://www.ucdavis.edu/about
Recorded Plenary Talks from the 2017 Conference are available in the Conference Archive. For information on all past conferences, see the Conference Archive.  

Sunday, May 06, 2018

on saying good bye

by J J Cohen

I keep attempting to craft an elegant and  poignant blog post about saying good-bye -- or rather how terrible I am at saying good-bye, because good-byes are impossible to execute well. And so it seems are blog posts about them: I have spent a month creating and deleting them. Instead then I am writing this public memo today to record that I am not going to write that elegant and moving post now or at any time in the future.

There, I've let it go.

And now, a short and inelegant and non-poignant blog post about good-byes that will in no way capture the utter complexity and ambivalence of taking leave of places and of people. It will at least record some short and scattered thoughts.

A good-bye can be painful, unpleasant, bitter. A good-bye can be a relief. Yet sometimes a good-bye arrives naturally because an arc has culminated or important work is clearly accomplished or omens simply indicate that it is time to seek the new. After ten years I realized that even if I had stayed at GW I have achieved most everything I wanted as director of MEMSI, for example, and was in danger of starting simply to replicate the familiar rather than attempt collaboratively the future of the past. It is someone else's turn to lead -- and I have excellent colleagues for that role, should they choose it. I also knew that after two decades as a GW English Department member I had done what I wanted to do, and now younger career faculty members are making their own changes and I do not want to be in the way. Had ASU not offered me a chance to reinvent what I do, I was contemplating a move that would have brought me more deeply and explicitly into the environmental humanities and comparative literature, an intensification more than a change. But I am moving to Phoenix: on Friday we will we have a house in that city, and in the near future we will relocate. After a long time in a selective private institution the chance to work within an access-oriented public university appeals to me deeply -- and yes, I know I am giving up a very comfortable and in some ways near perfect job in DC but I believe that what I am about to do is actually more important. Some good-byes seem right. Careers have life cycles, and ending some obligations and investments of time has already opened up a space for others (just wait until you see the CFP for ASLE 2019, and the Noah book I'm writing with Julian Yates for U Minn Press is a constant source of joy).

To say good-bye is also to decide what to distance and what to hold close, either as memory or in an embrace towards future community. GW MEMSI will live on in new forms, I have no doubt. Many of those who gathered under its auspices are friends now forever: they are companions on a boat named Friendship, as a thoughtful gift masterminded by Lowell Duckert, Steve Mentz and Jonathan Hsy at the GW MEMSI Ten Year Celebration made clear to me. At that event Dorothy Kim asked me to speak about closure, because so many things that have been important to me and many others kind of seem to be ending ... but really they are just in new hands, and their fates are open to reinvention.

Our family sold our house but its place in the heart remains. Over the twenty years we owned it we reconfigured the structure so much that I doubt its original 1940 owners would recognize it. We made the house ours by breaking down walls and rendering its spaces more capacious, easier to access. We have welcomed hundreds of people through its doors in the time we lived here, and we hope they departed with a little bit of the warmth and happiness that this house shelters. Washington DC will forever be the city which most feels like home.

And this blog will forever seem a virtual home. I'm not leaving In the Middle, not at the moment, but I imagine that if I continue to blog here what I offer will be less frequent and rather different in content. My wonderful co-bloggers have the chance to reinvent what this site is and does; nothing would make me happier. That, to me, is the best kind of good-bye: one in which space opens for others to thrive. A well built home endures for a long time, even if at some point it no longer resembles what it once was.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

A Brief Talk on Animal Lives

by KARL STEEL
British Library Add MS 11390, 18vDer naturen bloeme.


Just wrote this thing, for the "Channeling Relations" medieval conference at the Graduate Center, May 4, 2018. The program looks fantastic, and I'm proud to be part of it.

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and brought me forth in the spirit of the Lord: and set me down in the midst of a plain that was full of bones. And he led me about through them on every side: now they were very many upon the face of the plain, and they were exceeding dry. And he said to me: Son of man, dost thou think these bones shall live?

In part, my goal in doing medieval animal studies has been to try to give flesh and life back to animals. Of course, medievalists do that with people too, but the tendency for decades of medievalist writing about animals had been to take animals as medieval symbolic schemes took them: chiefly as textual. The old method is effectively an extension of the medieval genre of the bestiary, whose various entries on animals, and sometimes stones, and sometimes humans themselves, begin with a compendium of natural history - what we might call the 'real' of the animal - before swinging into Christian moralization. That is, the older method of reading medieval animals had been to concentrate on animals as if they had a final cause, namely, what they meant symbolically for us, as if understanding that was sufficient for giving us something like the truth, because a symbolic truth produced with a clerical imprimatur, that is, with the approval of trained intellectual, would have been presented as the truth.

Giving life back to animals means working with less certain materials, with a mind not just to the final cause, but also to the material, formal, and efficient ones, as well as the ongoing cause of the thing itself, distinct from whatever end it ends up as. Sometimes attention to this rich range of truths requires working with the history of interest, an attention to the way that animals drew culture makers -- writers, visual artists, and so on -- to dwell with them as something more than mere opportunities for thought. It wasn't the symbolic use that first drew them on: the symbolic use feels very much like an arbitrary schoolroom exercise, sometimes quite calcified with centuries of hermeneutic habits -- the eagle's ability to look directly at the sun is predictably a model for the life of a holy person -- and sometimes quite arbitrary, with no particular or necessary attachment to the animal on hand.
What drew culture makers to dwell with the particular animals was not only the desire to make symbols, but also, and perhaps even but also primarily the body and ways of the animals themselves.

More than a decade ago, in his "Inventing with Animals in the Middle Ages," Jeffrey Jerome Cohen observed that the various nonhuman lifeworlds of animals - the gender complexity of hyenas, the fact that bears literally lick their cubs into shape after they're born, and so on -- offered humans a chance to imagine other ways of life, not so predictably bound to being merely human.1 In some sense, material like medieval natural science – a man will lose his power to speak if a wolf sees him before he sees the wolf, but he can regain his voice if he takes off all his clothes – is something like medieval science fiction, an imagination of what else the human might be, to the extent of losing human difference altogether. Many of you here will of course be thinking of “Bisclavret.”

And yet that’s still about what the animals can do for us. A more animal-focused approach might be inclined to want the data provided us by archaeology. On Monday, in Leeds, a graduate student offhandedly told me about work she’s read about evidence of dietary differences between working dogs in the country and companion dogs that lived mostly indoors: I’ve yet to be able to track down the article, but I thought I’d mention it here on the off chance that one of you knows about it. And just yesterday, I found an article on a dog skeleton discovered in Southwestern France; it had been buried, quite deliberately, during the 11th or 12th centuries. Of average size, the dog had suffered broken bones on at least three separate occasions, but there is no evidence of its carcass having been abused, or its having been skinned for its fur, or butchered for its meat.2 A victim of abuse, it was also cared for in death. We can put flesh on the dog by imagining its grim life, its being beaten by what Chaucerians know as yerdes smerte, and by wondering whether the person who buried the dog was the one who beat it, or the one who loved it, or both.

We can give animals more life by not just attending to how we dream new lives for ourselves through their exotic bodies and capacities, and not just by relying on so-called “brute matter” offered us by archaeology--—the brute matter metaphor, incidentally, may date, in English anyway, to Robert Boyle, in 1686, on God as divine clockmaker3. The material of brute matter calls out to us in the voice of truth, which they seem to have because it exists whether or not we’re there to take notice of it. But of course life is a truth too, as are shared lifeworlds, which means we have to attend to narrative, to the way the animal unfolds itself through its own time and space, sometimes with us, and sometimes for reasons that are not for us at all. As I’m nearly out of time, let me just point you to the Life of Cuthbert, to remind you of the story of the horse that gnaws on a thatched roof, dislodging a loaf of bread: the horse’s appetite feeds the saint, who, in gratitude, and to preserve his fast, gives half the loaf to the horse.4
Thank you.

1 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Inventing with Animals in the Middle Ages,” in Engaging With Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt and Lisa J. Kiser (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2008), 39–62.

2 Annelise Binois et al., “A Dog’s Life: Multiple Trauma and Potential Abuse in a Medieval Dog from Guimps (Charente, France),” International Journal of Paleopathology 3, no. 1 (2013): 39–47, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2013.02.001. For butchery of dogs, see, for example, Eileen M. Murphy, “Medieval and Post-Medieval Butchered Dogs from Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland,” Environmental Archaeology 6, no. 1 (June 1, 2001): 13–22, https://doi.org/10.1179/env.2001.6.1.13.

3 Timothy Shanahan, “God and Nature in the Thought of Robert Boyle,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 26 (1988): 558. He develops his example by pointing to the clock at Strasbourg.

4 Many versions of this story survive; for one, J. T Fowler, ed., The Life of St. Cuthbert in English Verse (Durham: Surtees Society, 1891), ll. 1278-1306.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Nahir Otaño Gracia, "Welcome to a New Reality!"

Readers of this blog will not want to miss Nahir Otaño Gracia's superb reflection on the recent MAA meeting -- and a more capacious framing of what the Middle Ages should be: "Welcome to a New Reality! Reflections on the Medieval Academy of America’s Panel: "Inclusivity and Diversity: Challenges, Solutions, and Responses."" The piece is featured at Medievalists of Color website, which you really ought to bookmark.

Friday, April 27, 2018

taking leave

by J J Cohen

In the past few weeks I have been forcing myself to face up to some difficult au revoirs, again and again. Many of these farewells are small: people I know through business exchanges, or neighborhood rounds, or synagogue, or my daughter's school. Others are heavy with the weight of long acquaintance and (sometimes) the knowledge of diminishing attachment in the years ahead. A few farewells are joyful: I actually do never want to deal with certain institutional offices again and take some small joy in not having to file another report for them. (Yes I know they will be replaced in time, but still.) Most however are bittersweet.

It is time to move on. We have sold our home of twenty years here in DC. Next week we close on a new place for our family in Phoenix. We are not houseless yet because we've rented back for a while. But it's not ours anymore.

I thought the process of letting go would be more difficult. Last weekend though we met the family who will live here next. They have three young children, and to see those kids tumbling around on the grass by the front door made me think, weirdly, that the house wants this. I showed the father the various parts of the small yard, including the little herb garden and where the makeshift pet cemetery is located, with its memorials to hermit crabs, fish, a lizard, a hamster. He said "You are literally showing me where the bodies are buried." I think he will do OK here. I think this family will be happy, as we have been happy. Our house has been good to us: two children have grown up as we adapted and changed its contours and colors, more guests than we can count have slept inside its walls, the place has sheltered all kinds of writing and music and feasting and frolic. It's a good place, and saying good-bye to its warmth ... well, it is not only sad.

Yesterday I taught the last meeting of my "Literature and the Environment" course ... and my very last class at GWU. I'd been dreading saying good-bye to my students. Leave taking is difficult in an ordinary semester after 12 weeks of closely working together, but seemed especially freighted that day in ways that have nothing to do with those in the room. In lieu of a final exam I set aside the last class for mapping the terrain we had traversed together, articulating the knowledge we'd collaboratively generated about the intimacy of text and place; the rewards of sustained attentiveness; narrative as a technology for the changing of minds and hearts; memory and art; creativity and materiality; how the best learning unfolds at unexpected moments and generally outside rubrics and assessment models that capture and measure things well known in advance. I brought my students donuts and fruit, and because they are a "quiet class" (meaning, they hesitate: but I love that about them) I told them that the only requirement left was to come to the front of the room and take some food. And they did. Then they spoke with passion and good humor about how they'd pushed themselves to try new things over the semester, and had often found a talent or a voice or a possibility they did not know they possess. By the end of the 75 minutes I felt buoyed. All twenty-two students promised to email me in five years to tell me what they are doing and how much of what they spoke about today they've put into practice (and they were *so* excited to have something not special to me but very much to them: my non-GWU email address, as well as an invitation to call me by my first name. The dropping of these last formalities mattered). I left the room smiling. The future is in very good hands.

To my pleasure my son Alex, freshly back from study abroad in New Zealand, came to this last class and met my students (something both my children have been doing since they were very young -- but now he is the same age as those I teach, and there was something, well, beautiful about seeing him sitting among them). From my office window before we left for class Alex took the picture that I am using to illustrate this day. He noticed that the students in the plaza had accidentally formed into a line. I hope he won't mind that I am posting it here because it just seems so ... right. I like to think that for the students in the image and in my life this accidental metaphor is a line that points forward towards a more just future, the one they are going to make.

For me though it's a curve, because it is not as straight as it looks, and they are always going to be in my heart. I am departing GWU, my home of two decades, as fond of its students as I was on my very first day as a beginning assistant professor.

I could not ask for more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Pull of the Sky

by J J Cohen

Well I missed Earth Day with this ... but readers may interested in the piece I wrote for a new platform called Emergence Magazine on "The Pull of the Sky." The illustrations are pretty wonderful if I do say so: some of my favorite medieval imaginings of the Earth as viewed from space.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

2018 Paxson Grant Winners!


BABEL is delighted to announce the four winners of the 2018 James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds, generously co-sponsored by punctum books. The Paxson Grant supports scholars’ participation in the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. This year’s winners are (in alphabetical order)

·      Micah Goodrich (University of Connecticut), to present “Piers Plowman’s Limbs” in the session Social Justice in the Piers Plowman Tradition
·      M. Breann Leake (University of Connecticut), to present “Authorizing White Identity through the Voice of the Snotera Engla Ðeode Lareow” in the session A Feminist Renaissance in Anglo-Saxon Studies I: Interdisciplinary/Extramural and “Authority and Advocacy in the Medieval Studies Classroom” in the session “Advocacy and Resistance”
·      Rachel McNellis (Case Western Reserve University), to present “A Labyrinthine Puzzle: Musical, Textual, and Visual Discourse in En la maison Dedalus” in the session Manuscript (Trans)formations: Transmission and Reception
·      Murrielle Michaud (Wilfrid Laurier University), to present “Woman Resurrected: The Lives and Deaths of Christina the Astonishing in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 114” in the session Holy Women Breaking Bonds: Roles, Gender, Authority

Check the ICMS program for presentation times and locations.

We received many, many strong applications this year, and the difficult decision among them was made by a committee of five judges: Heather Blatt (English, Florida International University), Joshua Eyler (Center for Teaching Excellence, Rice University), Shirin Fozi (History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh), Nicole Lopez-Jantzen (Social Sciences, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY), and Mo Pareles (English, University  of British Columbia). Many thanks to these scholars for generously sharing their time and expertise.

We’d also like to thank the many donors who contributed to last year’s BABEL fundraiser. They – together with punctum books – made this year’s grants possible! Be on the look out for a new fundraising initiative from BABEL that will be kicking off this summer….

Please join us for a reception at #Kzoo2018, co-sponsored by BABEL and the Material Collective, where the winners of the Paxson grants will be recognized. It will be a fun happy hour on Thursday, May 10, at 5:15 pm in Fetzer 1045 – and everyone is invited!

Finally – BABEL is looking forward to sponsoring our annual evening at Bell’s Brewery, which will take place on Friday, May 11, starting at 9 pm. PLEASE NOTE: there will be somewhat fewer free drinks this year than the previous ones; we have $500 worth of drink-tickets reserved for non-tenure track / contingent faculty, graduate students, and self-identified members of the academic precariat. Come by circa 9pm to get yours! And of course, EVERYONE is welcome & encouraged to enjoy the evening.

(post composed by Julie Orlemanski and happily published here at her request)