Friday, November 21, 2008

Today is the Day

by J J Cohen

Last spring some GW colleagues and I proposed a new Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, GW MEMSI. Having run a seminar on early transnational Europe for nine months (the MEMSeminar as we called it), having attracted twenty or more people to each of its convocations, and having maintained an email list of interested faculty and students that burgeoned to one hundred names, we realized that the time had come to attempt to give what had been a fairly informal and potentially ephemeral community a more enduring, institutionally supported structure.

Fortunately for us, our proposal succeeded. GW MEMSI has been funded at $40K for three years of life, the most substantial investment my university's Research Office has made in a humanities initiative. We've convened our seminar once, and had a spectacular debut symposium (when Touching the Past surpassed 50 RSVPs, we had to stop advertising because our room had reached capacity), and we have many plans for the spring. We hope many readers of ITM will be joining us for them.

But this flurry of activity has been cart before horse. GW MEMSI has in fact never been chartered by the university, so we do not yet exist as an instititute. The research committee that convenes to grant such charters has summoned me for an appearance today. With luck all will go well ... and this entity that has been acting as if it has a director and a steering committee and some enthusiastic participants will come into actual being. For some reason I keep imagining that this group who willd ecided upon the charter will be dressed in monastic robes and that the room will be illuminated only by flickering flame. Mysterious queries will issue from hooded visages. Wrong answers will be punished by imprisonment, burning, and/or a reduction in the funds that have so far allowed the bacchanal that is GW MEMSI. Wish me luck.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

So I was asked a barrage of questions about institutional architectures, advisory versus steering committees, the intangibility of that which can catalyze edge of field humanities research (how do you quantify engaged conversation), research products, external and institutional support, best practices at other similar institutes, why other DC faculty members seem collegially disposed towards us rather than in competition (22 of them signed on as local supporters) ... and on and on. I have no idea how it went.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Well, good luck, and I hope to show up some time... when it's not across from Haskins!

theswain said...

Good luck and Congratulations! It is great news that a medieval initiative is getting some support and attention!