My other question is whether the UK is different - let's say from the US since that is where you all are. I teach a lot of Americans with a great fascination for the middle ages and great scholarly abilities. My slight impression is that there is a greater tendency for them to be drawn into the subject through an interest in the fantastical. Lots of them are also into fantasy writing, dressing up and so on. This is also true of some Brits and Europeans - but much, much less so. My speculative, and provocative, suggestion is that Old Worlders are more likely to feel a continuity between their own world and the medieval past.
What do you New Worlders think about the past - does the fact of your translation to the New make you think about the past differently?
Another Damn Medievalist responds:
Don't know about anyone else, but History in general was always where I felt most at home. I've always read sf/fantasy, and probably read more fantasy now than I did when I turned my focus to the MA. For me, it was combination of deeper connection to the ideas and values of the Classical and Medieval worlds and a deeper sense of community among the grad students and faculty at Beachy U, who took me under their collective wing.
That said, Big Name UG Advisor #1 was reputed to have belonged to the SCA, and he wrote history filks, which he sang in class. I think a lot of students here do come to medieval history in the way you've noticed, but most of mine don't stay unless they are willing to separate the myth from the reality.
I've already made public my embarrassing revelation about how a certain famous medievalist who also wrote works of fantasy convinced a young me that studying the Middle Ages might be more fun than devoting myself to astrophysics (my other obsession at that time; thank you, Carl Sagan). Then again, I've never even contemplated joining the Society for Creative Anachronism and -- much to the shock of the many students who ask me this question -- would never under any circumstances have wanted to live in any prior time period.
It probably didn't help that Cambridge, Boston, Bedford, Lexington and Concord were the geographical ambit of my childhood. I remember declaring as a kid that if forced to walk the Freedom Trail once more I would vomit (this was in the days of US Bicentennial hoopla). A surfeit of colonial history made the ancient past of a distant island all the more attractive. I've observed elsewhen in this blog that the Middle Ages most dominant in the American academy is anglophile and Christiancentric; I wonder if it was my early impatience with places like Plimouth Plantation that now spur such a remark.
So, has anyone --British, Irish, American, or any other nationality -- other stories to offer about the role fantasy did or did not play in their coming to the Middle Ages? Does, as N50 hypothesizes, an attraction to the medieval fantastic lead more New Worlders to their medievalism than continuity-minded Old Worlders? Is there a disciplinary difference (historians vs. lit critics) that might be equally suggestive?