Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On Pushback, Progress and Promise

by J J Cohen

I offered a version of this note this morning on a friend's Facebook feed after she posted about sadness, frustration and anger in the aftermath of the personal and social media backlash against medievalists of color and their work in the wake of the recent Leeds conference (and an article in the Chronicle about the issue). I offer it here to anyone who has felt dispirited in the wake of what has been unfolding, but especially to scholars of color who are young in the field and undertaking the kind of work that is generating resistance in its many modes.

The field of medieval studies is changing: it's too late, those transformations are already quite advanced (look around at peer reviewed publications and social media alike: the list of resources and scholarship is vast). The backlash is fear at the realization of the profundity of these changes. Yet there is no turning back: the groundwork is in place -- and larger, sturdy, innovative structures for rethinking what the Middle Ages is and does are rising and have risen, transforming already the future's horizon. Those working to change medieval studies have had a success that is not at this point ignorable and cannot be dismissed, silenced, or lost. This success scares scholars (of many ages: it is not generational) so deeply because the excellent scholarship behind it demands a complete rethinking of assumptions that have shaped them in their professional formation as medievalists. Those normative tenets are now being shaken to the core and the cracks are showing. It would be very difficult to return to business as usual medieval studies at this point.

If you are feeling the backlash, please keep this in mind: YOU are the future of the field. I and many, many others thank you for all you are undertaking and have accomplished. We have dreamed and worked in our own way towards such a re-alignment of what medieval studies could be -- and sometimes despaired that lasting change would not take hold. But it is arriving and its roots are already deep. Backlash, painful as it is to endure, means you are doing things right and that you are doing things well. Please do not despair, do not think about not continuing -- and know that panicked negativity can be so shrill its noise drowns out voices of support. 

But never for long.

Monday, July 17, 2017

2 posts by Angie Bennett

my favorite picture of any medievalist ever (from AB's post
by J J Cohen

Anything that Angie Bennett writes is well worth your time, but these especially: two beautifully written pieces examining the entanglement of the personal, the professional, the political, the critical ... and so much more. With a paean to London thrown in along the way.

Here is Song of Summer part one, and here is part two. Much food for thought here as well as some playful, insightful, and moving prose.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

David Wallace on Europe: A Literary History

by J J Cohen
Writing cultures continue to matter, even as they become ever more intricately involved with digital, video, and other technologies and less exclusively associated with the paper page.
So observes David Wallace in a recently published interview at Romanische Studien in support of the publication of the massively collaborative (83 scholars!) two volume project Europe: A Literary History 1348–1418 from Oxford. The book is indeed a paean to what working in collaboration can achieve, and is well served by its multivoicedness. And the endeavor makes a problem of Europe in ways that have become only more useful post-Brexit:
“Europe” is indeed a complex, permeable, and uncertain term; in ancient Greece it indicated more of a direction than a specific, locatable territory. Europe is not a continent: as previously suggested, north-western Eurasia might be a more appropriate term. So yes, the folly and contradictoriness of the European-Song-Contest speaks or sings to this muddled (but creative) state of affairs quite eloquently.
The Europe project is incredibly wide ranging, and the interview well captures the capacious ambit of its two volumes plus digital presence. Let me close with David's words about why Damascus should be a part of the book's scope as an inspiration to more wide-ranging work from all of us.
And why include locales such as Damascus? Two of the greatest literary men of our period, and two of its greatest travellers, made their way here along the Maghreb from the western Mediterranean and then north along the region known as the Levant. Ibn Baṭūṭah travels through Jerusalem to Damascus, and on to Mecca. Ibn Khaldūn, born in Tunis from an Andalusian family of Arab descent, was one of the great intellectuals of the age: the father, we might provocatively say, of European sociology. His genius was acknowledged at, or just outside, Damascus by Timur (Tamerlane), Mongol conqueror, during weeks of intensive intellectual debate. The work of Shams al-Dīn Ibn al-Jazarī, who was educated at Cairo and Damascus and died in Shiraz (Iran), found its way to a translator in Aragon. Christian pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem were sometimes inspired to continue their journey south along the Mediterranean to Cairo—thereby, they thought, following the path of the Holy Family. Mamluks ruled the sites of the Holy Land, ruled Damascus, and ruled Cairo: without some knowledge of their crucial literature-producing centers the experiences of westerners pushing east, if we are to adopt such a circumscribed view of “European” experience, cannot be made intelligible.
Read and enjoy the interview in its entirety here.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Informal Events at IMC Leeds 2017: Public Medievalism and Disability Mentorship


Are you heading to the International Medieval Congress in Leeds tomorrow? Note these INFORMAL EVENTS not listed on the official program: on Monday, an informal discussion on public medievalism and countering the alt-right; on Wednesday, an informal mentorship gathering for medievalists with disabilities (and allies).

Full information below! [Click image to enlarge; equivalent text also provided in this blog post.]

#PublicMedievalism event at #IMC2017; original tweet here
#PublicMedievalism: Developing Methods to Counter the Alt-Right
An informal discussion for delegates at #imc2017
Wilson Room, Emmanuel Centre, 13:00-14:00, 03/07/2017
For enquiries please contact Shihong Lin (on twitter @shlin28) and James Harland (on twitter @djmharland)
The rapid growth of social media usage and the emergence of social media subcultures such as #medievaltwitter have led to historical scholarship arguably never being more open, vibrant, or accessible. Alongside this development, however, has been an alarming growth of appropriation of the past by resurgent far-right and white supremacist movements to promote their goals, as charted by authors such as Dorothy Kim at In the Medieval Middle and The Public Medievalist’s special series, Race and Racism in the Middle Ages.
The battle for the past is fought across the twittersphere. Alongside a regular output of memes promoting distorted, far-right interpretations of a purely white, Christian past, events such as #femfog and Rebecca Rideal’s withdrawal from the Chalke Valley History Festival have also attracted backlash online, and most medievalists with a presence on twitter will have experienced the reception and misinterpretation of their output—either by open members of the alt-right or members of a wider public informed by nationalistic and racialist ideas.
We invite delegates, especially those who make frequent use of Twitter, to an open, informal discussion on the development of methods to effectively counter this trend, while ensuring that our twitter output remains no less lively, engaging, and publicly accessible.

Informal disability mentorship event #disIMC at #IMC2017; original tweet here

Medievalists with Disabilities
An informal gathering for disabled students, ECRs, academics, researchers and allies. All welcome!
12:45-14:15 on Wednesday 5th July, St George Room, University House
Accessible via lift from either Refectory Foyer or via University House
Bring your lunch and come and meet other medievalists with disabilities, or support your disabled colleagues. This gathering is completely informal, and we hope it will be the start of a supportive community.
[event hashtag for twitter is] #disIMC
If you have any queries, especially about accessibility requirements, please contact Alicia Spencer-Hall by email via aspencerhall [at] gmail [dot] com or on twitter @aspencerhall or contact Alex Lee by email via alexralee12 [at] gmail [dot] com or on twitter @AlexRALee.

If you're not attending IMC in Leeds this year, you can follow the official hashtag on twitter #IMC2017. The hashtags for these two informal events are #PublicMedievalism and #disIMC respectively.

P.S. Online PDF and mobile-accessible version of the official #IMC2017 programme is available through this link on the Congress website.