(edited on 3/5 to reflect fact that the number of free e-prints was limited)
I'm reproducing below an email I received early last week from Michael W. Scott, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics who is conducting some fascinating research in which I know ITM readers will be interested.
Follow the link within his email to access an essay on Geoffrey of Monmouth, underground realms of plenty, American interventionism, Melanesia, and ethnic struggle in the wake of the Norman conquest. While it might seem that multicultural medieval Britain and the contemporary Solomon Islands have little to say to each other, Scott's article is in fact a fascinating postcolonial anthropological reading of matter, myth, and story making. He provides an intriguing model of how to conduct a present-minded analysis of medieval materials ... and suggests that medievalists and contemporary anthropologists do not necessarily have to believe that methodologies, geographies, history and language have together constructed a wall of absolute difference that cannot be traversed.
Sometimes the best conversations happen once a chink has been removed from such a barrier and an unexpected exchange unfolds. This is one such case.
Read the essay and let me know what you think.
Dear Prof. Cohen,
Apologies for writing to you out of the blue. I am a social anthropologist based at the London School of Economics and have been conducting ethnographic field research among the Arosi of the island of Makira (Solomon Islands) since 1992. I write to you on the recommendation of Andrew Lynch, Director of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia. Andrew kindly suggested that you, as one of number of theoretically broad-minded medievalists, might be interested in a recent publication of mine:
Scott, Michael W. (2012) The Matter of Makira: Colonialism, Competition, and the Production of Gendered Peoples in Contemporary Solomon Islands and Medieval Britain. History and Anthropology 23(1): 115-148. Users from subscriber institutions should be able to access the article freely at the journal's webpage http://www.tandfonline.com/
I presented an earlier version of this paper at Andrew’s Perth Medieval and Renaissance Group Seminar in July 2010, and it has now appeared in the journal History and Anthropology. The title and abstract of the paper are as follows:
The Matter of Makira: Colonialism, Competition, and the Production of Gendered Peoples in Contemporary Solomon Islands and Medieval Britain
Since civil tension disrupted Solomon Islands between 1998 and 2003, the Arosi of Makira have elaborated discourses according to which their island contains a secret and preternaturally powerful subterranean army base. These discourses have clear antecedents in Maasina Rule, a post-World War II socio-political movement sometimes analyzed as a “cargo cult”. Offering an alternative interpretation, I compare Arosi discourses about the Makiran underground to the Matter of Britain as represented in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (completed c. 1138). I argue that both sets of discourses arise from the dynamics of mutually precipitating communities mythologizing themselves and each other in terms of the analogous oppositions colonizer is to colonized as allochthon is to autochthon as male is to female. This comparison, I conclude, recommends the medieval European phenomenon of a “matter” as a productive model for understanding contemporary ethnogenetic myth-making in and beyond Melanesia.Although anthropologists of Melanesia and scholars of so-called ‘cargo cult’ phenomena are perhaps the primary intended audience, it is my hope that medievalists and experts on Arthuriana may also find the comparative analysis intriguing. Given your wide-ranging interests, therefore, I send this along in the spirit of interdisciplinary dialogue.
Dr Michael W. Scott, Dept. of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom. Email: email@example.com