Friday, May 30, 2008

Nadia R. Altschul on the postcolonial Middle Ages

by J J Cohen

For a comprehensive and sympathetic overview of the subject, check out Nadia R. Altschul's essay "Postcolonialism and the Study of the Middle Ages" (History Compass 6/2 [2008]: 588-606). The piece bursts with references to favorite ITM scholars: Patty Ingham, Sylvia Huot, Kathy Biddick, Carolyn Dinshaw, Sylvia Tomasch, Lees and Overing, Michelle Warren, Kathleen Davis, Bruce Holsinger, John Ganim, Kofi Campbell. The essay's point of departure is the hesitancy of some medievalists to affirm the value of re-approaching the medieval period with PoCo theory an ally.

I'm frontpaging Altschul here because her essay has much to offer our unfolding discussion of disability studies. She wonders, for example, about the risks of anachronism and applicability when transporting back in time a body of theory developed around a modern encounter. She argues that, provided a two-way conversation unfolds (with both postcolonial and medieval studies open to change), the anachronism and inapplicability arguments are unpersuasive.

Of course medievalists need to be cautious (JJC adds -- because who is more cautious than the etymology- and codex-addled medievalist?) but medievalists must also (he continues) be open to the fact that the facts of the Middle Ages are a lot less inert than we might think. They aren't like those burials at Stonehenge, dozing for a few millennia as they await a discovery that will announce the whole complex to be nothing more than a gravesite. In fact the burials proved nothing of the sort, declaring only that the stones, mounds, and ditches were an architecture that gathered together human lives and human deaths. Graves can also (as Geoffrey of Monmouth insisted) be places of healing, of transformation: a space where history assumes a new life.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Just a footnote: given the essay's comprehensiveness, two significant omissions are the work of Geraldine Heng, and that of Finke and Shichtman. A strength, though, is the essay's engaged reading of Biddick against her critics.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

PS I have the Altschul essay in pdf form if anyone wants a copy.

Greg Carrier said...

Could I get a copy of that pdf, please, Jeffrey? Just send it to my email account.

Many thanks!

Rick Godden said...

Jeffrey, could you send me the pdf of the essay? I'd greatly appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeffrey - I'd love to a copy of the .pdf as well.


meli said...

oh could you send it to me too? just what i need for my introduction. thanks a million.

engmrd [at] leeds [dot] ac [dot] uk