towards a progressive medieval studies
I have a different kind of Sunday amusement. Every year (or so it seems) I get asked to comment on the massacre of the Jews in York in March 1190. This year it comes up in the context of a local broadcast on the Holocaust and its meaning for young people (secondary school pupils/high school students) today. My role is simply to stand on the spot and talk about 1190. Whatever I say is likely to be cut to around 2-3 minutes of broadcast time - so perhaps I don't need to worry too much about the content. Just go on repeating the story, keeping it alive. But given the interests of In the Middle, I thought I might ask for inspiration. How would you tell the story to such an audience?
How would you tell the story to such an audience?Oh! If I could, I'd talk about the Jews in York as Yorkish Jews, that is, as part of the community, and not some precarious alien element that gets extirpated as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Yes, there was a catastrophe, and, yes, the local interests did nasty things for various local reasons, but York was still a place where Jews and Christians lived together. In other words, I might try to direct attention away from 1190 and towards, if you like, 1189 and the years preceding that, and also, we might look at the recovery of the Yorkish Jews in the decades following (before the nastiness against English Jews really takes off in force in the mid to later 13th c.).Lord knows what would happen to this if it were cut to pieces by the television people, but, who knows?
I like that.It is not what I did.I just told the story. I probably did make the faux pas of talking about the newness of the situation (but then I really do think the situation was new, not just in relation to jewish people, but the sudden dramatic impact of royal government in the provincial north, massive resurgence of the city's economy, large scale immigration from all over, the revivalist preachers) which made York in 1190 a bit like a frontier town in the wild west full of all kinds of new kinds of people. I like your line a bit better.But mostly I used my 3 minutes to just tell the story of what happened on 16 March as slowly, in as much detail and in as clear everyday terms as I could muster. It was very atmospheric - it always is - Jonathon Cowap, the presenter - had chosen the late afternoon as the tower was closing. We sat in the keep waiting for the last children (racing noisily around the ramparts) to leave and began the recording as silence and dusk descended. The next day he was taking a group of young local teenagers to Auschwitz. That is the real point of the hour-long programme and my bit was just to provide a tiny bit of local context - to make the point that bad things happen outside Auschwitz and by familiar people in our own home. Anyway, I came away determined to do something about getting 1190 properly explored and commemorated. Of which more in due course.
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