Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Underdog saves the day
by J J Cohen

I've written here before about the Code of Courtesy included in each syllabus I create (see also here). Like many readers of this blog I'm now back in the classroom -- summer, how could you be so fleeting? -- and yesterday had occasion to discuss the code with my new crop of 90 students. It's a large class, and because it lacks the intimacy of a seminar students sometimes imagine they are invisible and text, surf the internet, or whisper to nearby friends. I always frame this code positively: students owe each other the creation of a community where the focus is upon the speaker, whether that speaker is me or a fellow student; we possess few contemporary spaces in which we can be truly present to each other, and the classroom is one of them; paying attention in a world full of distractions takes practice and has rewards. Yesterday I pointed out to the class that I was keeping track of time on my iPhone, sitting on the lectern: I am as easily sidetracked as anyone, I admitted, and for that reason 75 minutes of focus in class is actually a pleasure.

Who knows how many I convinced. This semester marks the fourth time I've taught the course (Myths of Britain), and I have had success with its being a class in which the majority of those who attend pay attention to me and to each other rather than their cell phones, Facebook, and nearby friends. I'm hoping my luck holds. I was also thinking yesterday about how I am asking them to be docile, in the sense of "apt or willing to learn" (from Latin docere, to teach); I am also asking them to be disciplined in their bodies and comportment (arrive on time; don't leave the room; be focused and attentive). What I do not want them to be, though, is docile in the sense of intellectually submissive. As I talked about the Code of Courtesy I emphasized its closing lines: Never hesitate to ask a question, to express a doubt, or to request clarification. I told them if they always believe me, if they never challenge me to defend what I declare, then they are being intolerably passive, and should be ashamed. College is not a place where you swallow the knowledge that your teachers place in your mouth with a long spoon; I want them to tear their books apart as they debate with me. That would be taking the class seriously -- especially because the course is in large measure about how to formulate and defend an effective argument.

I'm writing all this because docility was on my mind yesterday, and only partly because I am always a little embarrassed to read the code of courtesy (I wish it were not necessary, even as long experience has taught me the good having it on the syllabus achieves). When I returned home from my own first day of class, I was greeted by Katherine, who'd had her first day of first grade. She was a little quiet, already engrossed in her homework, an exercise in which she had to write about herself and her family. She told me more about her day later, and although I knew she'd mainly enjoyed it, the change from kindergarten was weighing upon her: in first grade students do not move around all that much; the teacher has an eagle-eye and can spot inappropriate whispering, giggling, and bodily movements from across the room. It's a class, in other words, that teaches docility in every sense of the word. And I suppose that is what must happen when you are six and about to be launched into twelve or sixteen or more years of sitting at desks and listening and learning.

I felt better, though, when just before dinner Katherine asked me to cut two dog-ear shaped pieces of paper for her. She disappeared into her room for about twenty minutes, then emerged with a cape fashioned from a cloth napkin, on the back of which she had drawn a giant U. She was wearing the ears attached to her headband. Katherine had become Underdog, an animal who can fly, punch villains, and save the hapless from the machinations of world that puts them in places they'd rather not be. The hour she spent "flying" from chairs and beds was the perfect antidote to docility. Long may Underdog reign.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Peer-to-Peer Networks (A Guest Post by Martin Foys)

the FB conversation

In some kind of invented ideality, we'd all be friends. If we could all be friends of Facebook, that'd be one weird realization of the semantic web utopia, or more accurately, heterotopia.  About two seconds after that realization, it would begin to fail epically, for the obvious reasons.

Since we all can't be friends on Facebook, what happens? Professionally, for medievalists, and all sorts of other academics, all kinds of  impromptu conversations that begin casually often cant in unexpectedly valuable directions. And there they usually stay, in Facebook's not-quite-private-not-really-public liminal state.  In this blog and in his "Blogging the Middle Ages" chapter for the vastly entertaining Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog,  our own JJC wrestles with exactly what the relationship is between new digital frenemies Facebook and what can now, already, be called the "traditional" blog. Will so much of the new electronic orality once buzzing around in public fora cloister now in semi-private spaces? Certainly,  I expect, just as other professional conversations will remain in selective email exchanges, Skype calls, conference sessions and good old face-to-face meetings.

The beauty of digital media, as Henry Jenkins points out, is its urging for convergence. The moment one event happens in ones and zeroes, it has the opportunity to happen in another. A few days ago, I FB’d a link to a New York Times article on new models of digital peer reviewing for scholarship, which discusses the recent Shakespeare Quarterly experiment (also discussed here at ITM), as well as the "Becoming Media" issue of Postmedieval that Jen Boyle and I are editing. A robust conversation quickly developed between Richard Burt, Eileen Joy and Karl Steel, with a bit from myself - and rapidly had little to do with the rest of my FB life, principally concerned as it is right now with whether my wife and I are actually going to be able to buy this amazing house in South Orange, NJ, my second life as a roller derby referee, and the joy that is my two-year old daughter, Hazel.

So I brought the conversation to ITM. Here it is, because it has grown to a point where it demands more voices and a broader public. And this, perhaps, is the hybrid model we can think about more - using private social networks, when warranted, as springboards over to the public blog.  It is in some way, no different than the process by which we develop scholarship all the time: the thought that comes to the conversation, the conversation that comes to the writing, the writing which comes to the synthesis, the research, the argument, with all the recursive loops along the way. The topic is also deliciously meta, as the open review and comment of scholarly ideas is exactly what was going on in the FB conversation, and what happens here at ITM all the time. So have at it, friends.

(If you click on the image above you can enlarge it, but many people will have a hard time reading it all the same. I'm therefore posting the exchange below -- JJC) 

Martin Foys "The quarterly’s experiment has so far inspired at least one other journal — Postmedieval — to plan a similar trial for next year." - this is the issue Jen Boyle and I are editing; we we're interviewed, but didn't rate a sound byte, I guess ;(

The Internet is calling into question one of academia’s sacred rites: the peer- reviewed journal article.
Eileen A. Joy Martin: I think there's still a 2nd article coming on new media + digital publishing, so don't cry . . . yet!

Martin Foys . . okay, tears dried!

Richard Burt An interesting article. I just forwarded a link to a Shakespeare listserv. But I think it is no accident it came out in August (the slowest month of the annual news cycyle) I question the (hyperbolic?) claims that "radical" shifts are happe...ning because of new (digital) media. Robert Darnton suggested putting various drafts of a dissertation online back around 1996 (in NYRB). that never happened. Now we have the reviewing process exposed in a single issue of SQ. But it is still peer reviewed. Rowe asked people in the field to participate in the comments. (I declined, on two occasions, out of disinterest.) But does anyone who reads SQ, accessible only through subscription or libraries, really care about the comments from non-specialists from space flights? Will anyone read this genetic, pre-publication material that usually drops away from publications like booster rockets do? To what end? Won't people just cite the published articles as they have before? More crucially, there seems something fraudulent about the SQ "experiment." I stress "seems" here, but I do also say "fraudulent" have to wonder if the fix was not in before the essays were officially accepted. None were rejected. How likely is that? The revision process of SQ's essays resembles the process of publication--contract with readers' reports, author responds, author turns in a revised mss to the press (which the editor does not actually look at to check to see if any changes have been made). The difference is that SQ now has a kind of dead blogging trail of the revision process of a faux peer-reviewed process. Did the academics who were invited by Rowe to comment really say all that they thought? Or did they censor themselves since their comments could be read by anyone, instead of just by members of the editorial board, as is usually the case? Letters of recommendation without student waivers aren't taken seriously, right? 
     As for the author, would you really want to have 350 people commenting on your essay as you were revising it? Would you seriously respond to all of the comments? How critical, in every sense of the word, are these comments? Do they really rise to the status of criticism? Might it not be better to proceed with the customary dialogic standards already in place (the author if an article is already engaged in dialogue with other critics)? Can anyone explain to me the value of this experiment? Or why anyone should want to adopt it? Speed seems to be the only stated advantage, but in fact, nothing is sped up in the SQ publication process. The journal will still publish in the same quarterly way it did before. But why can't we go at our own pace? Is there a NEED to go faster when we already use email and can send our written work to people who will give us useful feedback before and after we we submit it? And why would editors want to give non-specialists as much authority as non-specialists? What does the editor do, then? Accept essays by plebiscite? Authors understand themselves to be competing for Academic idol? Martin? Please help me out here. 

Richard Burt Here's another concern: “our crowd sourcing.” Is crowding a good thing when it comes to the publication process? Isn't the reason academic books have such small print runs (500 to 1,000 copies) that they do not have mass appeal (however much we wish they did)? Are we not each other's fit audiences, though few? We few, we happy few?

Karl Steel the size of a crowd is relative. For peer review, 5's a crowd. How many eyes typically see an article before it goes to press? The author; the journal's editor; two peer reviewers (maybe two). And that's it. Even if only 10 or so qualified and interested people look at the prepublication material, commenting on the sections they know best, we're in territory of 'crowd.' 

Martin Foys ‎@ Richard: early days, remediation, digital incunable, blah blah blah, time still needed for all this to shake out :) BUT - as editor on this, one thing we are excited about is how all the contributors will be more easily plugged into all the other contributions, should they desire. This is something much rarer, and logistically obdurate, in traditional modes of publishing.

Richard Burt Karl, Yes, "the size of a crowd is relative. For peer review, 5's a crowd." But my basic questions stand: Who benefits from the crowd of five or more? The author? if so, why don't editors require even more peer reviewed reports? The rea...der of the published and still peer reviewed publication? I don't see the point of publishing pre-publication material. Unless you want to make a sort of DVD edition with a "making of" extra / appendix. Is there a logic to the current pre-production, production, post-production publication process? I don't see the logic of altering it. The statements about peer-review being bad in the NY Times struck as being entirely fabricated. I have heard of no actual case where peer reviewing per se has been a scandal. I'm just sayin': it ain't broke, so why fix it?
You wrote: "This is something much rarer, and logistically obdurate, in traditional modes of publishing." I think the rarity is a good thing. There is no limit to the number of readers an author can send his pre-published mss to (in theory). WHy not let the author determine who reads it before it is ready to be published? We already know how the process works. So why publish what usually gets flushed? I just don't get it. Sorry.

Martin Foys Ah, Richard - I was writing there specifically to the idea of all contributors (not any reader) having easy access to all other essays in an issue, and being able to revise in discourse as the process moves forward. Not necessarily *the* model that one needs to have in all academic publishing, but I do think one worth exploring in these early-ish days of born-digital scholarship

Eileen A. Joy ‎@Richard: there are all sorts of ways in which the traditional anonymous, double-blind peer review process does not work well. It may not have caused any large "scandals," as you call them, but that does not mean that it is not a system in... some need of reform. I also think there is immense value, for all sorts of reasons, in having a more transparent review process, regardless of what eventually gets "flushed" or not. Scholarship IS a process, not just an endless series of supposedly static "products," and I think we should take better account of that.

Karl Steel ‎"if so, why don't editors require even more peer reviewed reports? "
briefly, time: more reader wrangling would lead to even longer review times for submissions, which would be deadly for pre-tenure proffies. Whereas an online prepublicatio...n open comment period could, I think, speed things up compared to the the status quo.

Richard Burt Martin,
Now I get you. Contributors to same issue makes sense. I think that process has already ben informally in place for years, however, when it comes to editing book anthologies (contributors are often asked to read and refer to other e...ssays in the volume as they are relevant).
I'm all for new media publishing possibilities and for reforms that improve the quality of whatever gets published (in codex form and in digital form). But I still don't see what is so bad about the peer review system as presently constituted or why it is need of reform. Can you say more? I agree that publishing is a process, but the "product" is also part of a process: books get forgotten and many are never even read). So everything gets flushed at some point. The bad publication to be used as toilet paper analogy goes back to Ben Jonson (who cribbed it from Martial) and then gets picked up again with the Augustans (Swift and Pope both use it). So much of what gets published even when peer reviewed isn't worth reading. In my experience, pretty much everything gets published somewhere even that means a mss starts at Princeton UP and ends up at Duquenes UP. Adding more comments to the pre-published publication to come seems to be to gather more moss, to shift metaphoric gears, rather than make things more transparent. And what counts as discursive transparency, anyway? Isn't transparency a phantasm, part of the academic imaginary (which of course traverses the academic symbolic)? All I care about is the product and the process of responding to it with another product, and so on. Can you tell me what the value of creating a new intraprocess is and why adding it is a desirable reform rather than more junk? All I care about is the product and the process of responding to it with another product, and so on.
I have no investment in the peer review status quo. As I said above, I just don't see what the problems with it are (the ones mentioned in the NY TImes article seemed totally bogus to me). 

Richard Burt Karl,
Why is speed a value when we do not produce (supposedly) assembly line products? Isn't speed a word administrators like? How will things be sped up if the journal is published the same number of times a year with the same number of p...ages? Won't the backlog just get longer? 

Martin Foys Karl, Eileen, Richard - any objections to moving this convo wholesale to "In the Middle"? Jeffrey and I would love to break this discussion open to a larger audience . . .

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flash Review: Jonathan Elukin, Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages

I hope this study of how Jews lived among Christians has suggested that many of the fundamental characteristics and experiences of convivencia can be seen in non-Spanish settings. Jewish-Christian relations in northern Europe is actually convivencia in a minor key. Seeing the medieval past in this light will perhaps help to eliminate or at least challenge the false dichotomy between the experience of Jews in Spain (and other Mediterranean settings) and of Jews in northern European societies in the Middle Ages. Jews of England, France, Italy, and Germany were deeply integrated into the rhythms of their local worlds. They faced many of the same challenges and uncertainties as their Christian neighbors. They navigated a world of unexpected violence but recurring stability, ad hoc policies of repression and toleration. All of this suggests that Jewish-Christian relations were dynamic and cannot be understood only in terms of persecution. Jewish-Christian interaction in medieval Europe created if not a history of toleration then habits of tolerance. (136-7)
By trying to write as though the Holocaust were not the inevitable future of European Jews, Elukin aims to shift our attention away from lachrymose history to quotidian survival. In the early middle ages, at least, we shouldn't confuse clerical antijudaism with general attitudes: how much power did Church councils really have, he asks, and what could an antisemitic king do when he could barely hold onto his (Visigothic) throne? Moreover, he argues, violence was not typical for Jews, or, at least, not particular for Jews: in polities without much in the way of infrastructure, standing armies, or police forces, in a public rhetorical tradition devoted not to calm description but to evaluation--praise and blame, violence was endemic. What the Jews suffered was not all that unusual. Violence should be understood as only occasionally afflicting the Jews, who, despite it all, almost always came back to the cities or regions that expelled or massacred them. Sometimes this took a generation, as in the Rhine valley following 1096; sometimes this took centuries, as in England following 1290. But it always happened. Elukin implies, in brief, that we should not believe we know better than the Jews: if they thought it was safe to move back, why shouldn't we?

Elukin's evidence did shake some of my lachrymose expectations: Jews in early medieval Sicily established a shrine to Elijah on the model of a Christian saint's shrine; Jews in Rheims offered to bring out their Torah to help break a drought; the Jews of eleventh- and twelfth-century Speyer had to take their turns guarding the town walls; English 'ritual murder' shrines were financially unsuccessful; interfaith marriages and Christian conversions to (what we now call) Judaism occurred...every so often. But a brief work that covers this much temporal and geographical territory (from 5th-century Minorca to 17th-century Germany) must necessarily skim (see for example Michael Toch's review of Elukin in The Catholic Historical Review); its reception of Gregory of Tours and other historical narratives takes as straight fact what should be taken as discursive fact (and here Elukin could have looked to the model of Daniel Boyarin's thinking with Marc Bloch and Foucault, either here or here or here or indeed here); its conception of two clear groups called "Jew" and "Christian" could have worked more with Ivan Marcus and Israel Yuvel. Ultimately, I'm unconvinced by the rosier picture Elukin promotes. Rhetoric against heretics or peasants or women could get nasty, yes, and violence against Jews should be understood within the larger context of a Christian and exploitative and masculinist society whose objective violence is all too clear to we paranoid modern critics. But surely the repeated massacres, judicial murders, and expulsions of Jews from the late eleventh century on, and the centrality of antijudaism to, say, the development of Mariolotry (warning: pdf) suggests that Jews were a special object of hatred for medieval Christians. We may be back where we started.

Not quite, I hope: with Elukin in hand, we should read more carefully, read in the heterogeneous present of medieval Jews without having their future, our present, so clearly in mind. We read with a hope at once retroactive and future-oriented, knowing that what we think of as the past tied singly to the future could have gone another way and indeed went other ways in its own present, where we have York 1190 but also the York before that, where Jews made a community among Christians, where I imagine not every Jew and not every Christian was recognizable, primarily, as such. In a society in which Jews hired Christian nursemaids, we have to rethink the primacy of religious divisions.

That said, that Jews returned to their various particular homelands--England, France, Germany--and that they therefore did not feel themselves to be in danger does not mean that they were not in danger. We can see patterns they couldn't. Yes, Jews held on to Spain even after 1391; they moved back to the Rhine valley after 1096; they petitioned to return to England in 1320. These were mistakes. I think Elukin takes Jews as rational actors. But people aren't rational, or not only rational. Or, better, home and habits have reasons of their own. A comparison, mutatis mutandis to avoid any sense that I'm blaming the Jews for what they suffered: in 2010, in this time of climate change, Americans continue hyperconsuming. There's no indication that this will stop. This doesn't mean I'm not in danger (nor does it mean, once more, that systemic antisemitism and antisemites are identical to climate). It just means that, like people generally, I'm insufficiently pessimistic, unable to do what I should to abandon my home, my habits, and therefore myself, though I need to if I'm ever going to escape this coming doom.

Odds and Ends

by J J Cohen

I'm back from Maine. I wasn't gone long -- less than a week, just enough time to visit three sisters and celebrate mom and dad's 52nd wedding anniversary in their favorite chowder house. And eat doughnuts, pancakes, whoopee pies. And oh yes, hike in a nature preserve at an estuary to work off the accumulated adiposity. Great stuff, and a good way to be in a rested state of mind as term begins.

Here are a few things to share as I take a break from catching up on unanswered emails.
OK, enough procrastinating. Emails to answer, and then a nature walk with my daughter: our last day of freedom before school starts Monday.

Multiple Reasons to Head Over to A Corner of 10th-C Europe

I stole this JJ picture from his blog.
by J J Cohen

First, hearty congratulations to Jonathan Jarrett, author of A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe and international arm wrestling champion, on his new job. Bravo! As to the new hairstyle (and attendant cheerful demeanor) that he's adopted to go with it ... we don't even know you any more, dude. Why did you have to lose your bearded coolness just to teach at Oxford?

But all displaced tonsuring aside, I'd like to point out two recent posts that every reader of ITM will want to peruse at JJ's blog:
  1. A full and entertaining installment of Carnivalesque.
  2. An account of NCS Siena that includes full details of the "Animal Theories and Methodologies" panel as well as the inaugural NCS Blog panel, the one that I never blogged.

Castration anyone?

(posted on behalf of Larissa Tracy)

Castration Volume — Call for Papers

This is a call for submissions for a collected volume on castration in classical, medieval, or early modern tradition.

This volume, inspired by a series of discussions at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds, 2010, will investigate the social, cultural and moral implications of literal/actual castration and/or genital mutilation from historical, literary, artistic or legal sources, interrogating the boundaries of punishment and social taboos in the medieval/early-modern world.

Punishment, dismemberment and violence have come to the fore in the last ten years as very active fields of study and discovery, and yet castration and genital mutilation are often regarded as taboo. This volume seeks to address a gap in scholarship, focusing on actual accounts of castration, rather than theoretical interpretations or analysis.

We welcome submissions in any area of classical/medieval/ or early modern studies as long as they deal with representations or accounts of actual castration (or the threat of it).

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Dr. Larissa Tracy, kattracy@comcast.net by Oct. 1, 2010.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Women and Disability in Medieval Literature

by J J Cohen

Here's my blurb for Tory Vandeventer Pearman's forthcoming book Women and Disability in Medieval Literature. Look for it in (where elese?) Palgrave's New Middle Ages series.
Disability Studies is emerging as an essential entryway for rethinking the literature and culture of the Middle Ages. By combining this important interdisciplinary approach with solid work in feminist theory, Tory Vandeventer Pearman has written a book that both medievalists and disability studies scholars will want to read. Pearman's argument is sensitive to historical context and to the complicated relationships among power, authority, textuality and body. By focusing upon disabled female characters in the literature of high medieval Britain (including Marie de France, Chaucer, Kempe, Chestre and Henryson), she elucidates the centrality of gender to the creation of able-bodiedness. Disability is, like sex, both difference and process. Analyzing femininity in tandem with disability enables newly complicated understandings of how stigma is attached to certain bodies and what roles texts play in this process of othering. Women and Disability in Medieval Literature is a lucid and compelling piece of scholarship. With this book Pearman joins Irina Metzler and Edward Wheatley as a leader in the field.

MEARCSTAPA: An Open Letter to MAA

(reprinted from here)

As the executive committee of MEARCSTAPA, an organization with more than fifty members, focused on the study of monstrosity in the Middle Ages, we wish to speak out both against the recent group of laws passed in Arizona (primarily the now-infamous SB SB1070, but also HB HB2281 banning the teaching of ethnic studies and also the AZ Department of Education's new move to bar teachers with "heavy accents" from teaching English). We also wish to voice our opposition to the Medieval Academy's refusal to relocate the conference from Tempe, despite these offensive laws. We draw the name for our organization from the Old English for "Border-Walker," a term used to confer monstrosity on Grendel and his mother. We are troubled by the intensification of the rhetoric that is applied to the peoples living on both sides of our own borders, and on the rampant use of terms to dehumanize these people ("illegals," "aliens," "anchor-babies," etc.).

We specialize, as a group, in the study of the construction of otherness, and our collective examination of history shows all too clearly the tangible, bodily effects that this process inevitably has. Once a group of people has been repeatedly depicted as not quite human, their mistreatment is to be expected. We cannot stand silently while these acts occur, as to do so would be, through our silence, to voice our implicit consent. The history of assaults on Jews, Muslims, Africans, Indians, women, and on, throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, begins in each case with dehumanizing language and laws.

Despite an understanding of the financial ramifications that a full boycott might have had on MAA, we feel that matters of conscience are of greater significance. We also feel that the numbers of the recent poll have been misinterpreted, and their presentation misleading. That 32.7% of poor academics were willing to to give money to NOT attend a conference, in order to voice their solidarity in opposition to the blatant racism of these laws, speaks to the depth of their conviction. This is quite a high number, and probably overlaps with the 42% who voted to cancel the meeting altogether. Three-quarters of those who voted to cancel are willing to put their money where their mouths are, and that certainly should count for something. We are in a very homogenous field, and this collective action taken by MAA reinforces this. MAA had an opportunity to send a message to students interested in the field that the medievalist community is inclusive and welcoming. Instead, it has sent the opposite message. For a strong letter on this, see "The General's" guest post on Quod She.

What is at issue both in these laws and in the responses to them is perception. Otherness -- monstrosity, even -- is, of course, entirely a matter of perception: The idea that anyone "looks like an immigrant," or than there is anyone who does not speak with "a heavy accent" is rooted in the idea that the perspective (or appearance or accent) of the dominant group is not a perspective, at all. But so, too, all of the good intentions of those who argue that attendance of the meeting in AZ is the more helpful, ethical choice does not impact the perception of those who see this as an expression of unconcern with the rights of minorities.

If the Medieval Academy of America persist in holding the conference in Arizona, we the executive committee will boycott the meeting, and those of us currently members will withdraw our membership in the Academy, though we shall do so with regret, as we find the Academy's meetings to be excellent venues for the discussion of scholarship. With this letter, we voice our solidarity with those members of medievalist community in Arizona who have spoken out so eloquently about the need for this boycott. We will encourage our membership to do the same.

Asa Simon Mittman, Chico State
Jeff Massey, Molloy College
Larissa Tracy, Longwood University
Derek Newman-Stille, Trent University
Renee Ward, Wilfrid Laurier University

The following MEARCSTAPA members also asked to be added as signatory:

Frances Auld, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk Co.
Robyn Cadwallader, Flinders University
Jeffrey J Cohen, George Washington University
Spyridon Gkounis, Ionian University, Corfu
Ana Grinberg, University of California, San Diego
Diane Heath, University of Kent
Marcus Hensel, University of Oregon
Norman Hinton, University of Illinois-Springfield
Eileen A. Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Lisa LeBlanc, Anna Maria College
Dana M. Oswald, University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Karl Steel, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Debra Higgs Strickland, University of Glasgow
Kevin Teo, University of Calgary
Rodger Wilkie, St. Thomas University
Mary Williams, San Jose State University
Diane Wolfthal, Rice University
Aimeric Vacher, International School of Geneva

[Note: This letter has been forwarded to the Councillors of the Medieval Academy of America.]

Monday, August 23, 2010

PAPERS WANTED for 2011 Kalamazoo Congress: BABEL and postmedieval Sessions

Figure 1. detail from Hieronymous Bosch, "Removing the Stone of Madness" (1490)


The BABEL Working Group and postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies have 3 sessions lined up for the 2011 International Congress on Medieval Studies, to be held May 12-15 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and we are still looking for presenters for all of these sessions. This year we decided to let the BABEL sessions be completely developed and organized by graduate students. Although the Kalamazoo CFP lists me [Eileen Joy] as the session contact person, BABEL's two ROUNDTABLE sessions are being organized and run by David Hadbawnik [a PhD student at SUNY Buffalo] and Mo Pareles [PhD student at New York University] as follows:

1. Queering the Muse: Medieval Poetry and the Contemporary Poetic Imagination
Organizer: David Hadbawnik [SUNY Buffalo]

20th-century poets have long used the medieval for inspiration, notably Ezra Pound, whose version of The Seafarer marked an important step in his poetic development, as well as being a superb contribution to the corpus of translations of Anglo-Saxon poetry in its own right. However, not enough thought has been given to the ways in which contemporary poets reuse, reinterpret, and otherwise engage with medieval poetic tropes and practices. How can formally experimental “translations” of Old English, which take into account recent poetic and translation theory, be beneficial to the contemporary avant-garde? Or, to turn the question around, how can quintessentially contemporary reading and writing practices—such as the game-based approaches of OuLiPo, Conceptual Art with its ideas of “exhaustiveness” and boredom, and the use of factual/archival material—provide ways of reading or understanding medieval writing? Finally, in looking at an unpublished translation of Beowulf by the poet Jack Spicer, recently discovered in the archives at Univ. of California, Berkeley (and which is currently being edited for SUNY's "Lost and Found" translation series), the roundtable participants will explore the way such poetic practice constitutes a queer approach to medieval translation, which results in a wilder, more experimental, and perhaps truer way of understanding and engaging with the medieval poem. Panelists already committed include Anna Klosowska (Miami University of Ohio), Daniel Remein (New York University), David Hadbawnik (SUNY Buffalo), Chris Piuma (Univ. of Toronto), and Sean Reynolds (SUNY Buffalo).

**For this panel, we are looking for one more presenter. Paper abstracts [of approx. 250-300 words] should be sent to Eileen Joy [ejoy@siue.edu] and simultaneously to David Hadbawnik [dhadbawnik@gmail.com] no later than Sep. 15th.

2. Madness, Methodology, Medievalisms
Organizer: Mo Pareles [New York University]

Historicizing madness produces two-fold definitions. On one hand, medieval literature and history is populated with those who were sometimes tormented by demons and beatified by visions. What we may now call schizophrenia, some medieval texts perceived as contact with the divine. Saints self-mutilated and starved themselves (“holy anorexia”), turned a supposed abhorrence of sex and the body into super-charged modes of holy eroticism, and were visited by wracking anxieties and irresistible compulsions, not to mention episodes of psychosis. On the other hand, madness was hardly an empty empirical category in the premodern period. Medieval views of madness, while not coextensive, do overlap with our own. They provoked doubt about the visions of some, generated compassion for the sick, and led to ruminations on (among other things) the consequences of sin. In our own time genius has been closely coupled with mental illness (Nietzsche, for example) and even suicide (Woolf to Deleuze to David Foster Wallace), and scholars (especially in queer studies) have found in sorrow, depression, schizophrenia, trauma, and other forms of negative affect the grounds and inspiration for critique—and even new critical modes. Others reject the romanticization or valorization of mental illness, personally experience it as crippling and devastating to productivity, or embrace optimism and sanity in their scholarship. This roundtable discussion session will showcase debate and dialogue on various aspects of mental illness as both subject matter of and mode of scholarship on the Middle Ages, to include possible discussion of: new perspectives on “holy anorexia,” demon possession, fits, and visions in medieval hagiography; problems of historicizing madness; trauma studies and medieval studies; mental illness and feminism; transcultural mental illness/mental illness and postcolonialism; mental illness and deconstruction; “queer optimism”; the geography of madness; the ethics of historical compassion; negative affect as critical mode; etc. Panelists already committed include Mo Pareles [New York University], Nicola Masciandaro [Brooklyn College, CUNY], and Jennifer Little [The Graduate Center, CUNY], with Michael Sargent [Queens College, CUNY] serving as Respondent.

**For this panel, we are looking for 1-2 more presenters. Paper abstracts [of approx. 250-300 words] should be sent to Eileen Joy [ejoy@siue.edu] and simultaneously to Mo Pareles [pareles@gmail.com] no later than Sep. 15th.

2011 marks the first year of what will hopefully be a long run of provocative sessions sponsored by postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, and the idea we have is to coordinate these in relation to special issues of the journal that are still in the pre-development stages. So, for next year's Congress, Laurie Finke and Marty Shichtman are running a regular paper panel under the banner of "The Transcultural Middle Ages," which will also be the title of a special issue of the journal they they will be editing [slated for publication in 2013]. To whit, their more full description of that issue [and session]:

3. The Transcultural Middle Ages
Co-Organizers: Laurie Finke [Kenyon College] and Marty Shichtman [Eastern Michigan University]

The Transcultural Middle Ages is a project that would track the flow of ideas, words, people, goods, money, books, art objects, and artifacts across national boundaries. Through this project we hope to encourage collaborative migrations into conceptual territories mapped by geographical “middles,” by trails and routes. Our aim is to explore movement across and between medieval cultures generally understood as distinct and internally homogeneous, to reveal the hybridity and fluidity produced by cultural interaction: by commercial traffic, migration, nomadism, intermarriage, imperialism, and diaspora. Two border crossings are central to our purpose. First, we want to shift the focus within medieval studies from the uniqueness or distinctiveness of the national cultures that have defined medieval studies, encouraging scholarship that elucidates the mobility of cultures and the exchanges between them, ultimately decentering Europe as the locus of medieval culture. For this reason we are especially interested in work from outside of Europe or work that connects Europe to other areas of the world. Second, we want to encourage traffic between disciplines, fields, and areas of expertise in the academy. We want to establish a place “in the middle” where scholars with different expertise can come together and create a common space and language for thinking more globally about routes that connect rather than borders that separate and define, and in so doing perhaps rethink their own expertise.

**No final decisions have yet been made regarding the final line-up for this panel. Paper abstracts [of approx. 250-300 words] should be sent to Eileen Joy [ejoy@siue.edu] and simultaneously to Laurie Finke [finkel@kenyon.edu] no later than Sep. 15th.

Friday, August 20, 2010

On the ghostly unending of Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois


It's typical to understand the ending of Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois as didactically Christian (for example). By ending with a Passion Play, Rohmer closes up the wandering confusion that had come before, finds a terminus to the imperfect advice offered successively by Mother, mentor, and hermit, and resolves our gormless hero (a "Welsh hick" as one Wikipedia entry terms him) into a good Christian by going so far as to have his Perceval also play Christ. This scene is all the more an authoritative glossing of what came before because only here does Rohmer allow himself to add to Chrétien a new text and, as well, because this scene, uniquely, is in Latin, the paradigmatic language of clerical authority. As the standard line goes, Rohmer has does what we should have expected this good Catholic to have done.

The ending does not work, though, not quite. Here are Finke and Shichtman:
[The Passion Play] is not an apt conclusion to the film because there is nothing in the preceding two hours of film that hints of such an ending. It comes literally, like the Loathly Lady, out of nowhere, To be sure, it does have some basis in Chrétien's text, but there Perceval's visit to the hermit seems far from conclusive, nothing more than yet another episode in a relentlessly episodic--and ultimately unfinished--text. Rohmer clearly wants to create a spiritual film that reflects his Catholic morality and his scholarly sense of the Middle Ages, but he is, in the end, thwarted by his adherence to the letter of Chrétien's resolutely courtly text. The Passion play is not the logical conclusion of the film but a "tearing rupture" (Rider et al., 157) in its fabric that imposes a false sense of closure on the narrative, whose primary interests lie elsewhere. (263)
As much as I recommend Cinematic Illuminations--and I do, highly--I suggest that this reading, part of a larger project of reading the Grail itself as an irreducible anamorphic blot, needs to attend more to where the film actually stops. It's not the Passion Play. When the Passion Play ends, Rohmer cuts, quickly, and here, truly jarringly, to Perceval riding again in the forest, continuing his wandering, no longer in a quest for his mother, now dead, but on a quest for...what?

Such an ending recalls, of course, the ending of any number of Westerns (one version here); it also invites continuation, a properly medieval approach to a Perceval narrative. But this ghost ending (ghostly because it is an ending after an ending, barely acknowledged by the criticism) also frustrates the "false closure [of] the narrative." With this unending wandering in mind, we no longer need draw out Rohmer's symptoms, or accuse him of piety, as we good secular people often do. Rohmer beat us to it. He builds the critique of "false closure" into his film, or, understood differently, extends the film past its ending into an unending, haunting the Passion Play and his own glossing of the narrative with what frustrates any foreclosure or eschaton of significance.

Recall that in Chrétien, Perceval shares Easter with the Hermit. In Rohmer, however, we get only the Passion in a play that ends with the Lance entering Perceval/Christ's side. There is no resurrection and therefore no redemption. In what sense can it be Good Friday if Easter Sunday never arrives? The Fisher King remains wounded, the land diseased, Perceval's mother dead, Blanchefleur abandoned. Notice, as well, that this forest scene offers the film's sole "external" shot of night. Perceval rides off into darkness, back into the forest, aiming for nothing.

Incidentally, if you've not seen the film (I saw it for the first time last night) the clip above should give you a good sense of it. Boorman this ain't, and thank goodness.

(acknowledgements to my wife, ALK, whose observation about the wandering's "frustration of symbolic unity" grounds this post)

Jews Who Live in Stone Houses Shouldn't Throw Glass

by J J Cohen

OK, that was one of my patented nonsense aphorisms, but this post is meant to direct you to something smart: a short piece on the myth of Jews inhabiting stone houses in the Middle Ages. It strikes me that one reason we often assume surviving houses built of stone to be the dwellings of Jews is because we want so much to be able to discern Jewish survival.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


by J J Cohen

Someone asked me last night what I do to relax, and instead of the thousand smart ass remarks that came to mind (mock; translate obscure Latin; write monographs; serial kill), I answered run. My quickness to state this truth surprised me, mainly because it seems odd that something that makes me sleep deprived and at times in pain should be accounted a pleasure.

When my family is on its school-is-in-session schedule, I rise every other day at five, get on my gear, stretch, strap my iPod to my arm, and take off up, down, around and through my neighborhood. The sun is at best just inching towards the horizon. The streets hold a few early commuters and a scattering of delivery trucks. This is the only time of day during the summer when it might not feel like someone has dropped you in a humid oven. For forty-five minutes I lose myself in music and a dark, quietly transformed world, and on many days these are my only moments of true solitude.

For much of the summer I took a break from running. I knew that NCS Siena would mean late to bed and early to conference, so my running shoes stayed home. When I returned I ran once, but then we were off on our family vacation, a ship from Dover to Barcelona. Here I ran twice, and those moments of circling the deck with the sea at my side -- moments when I was also usually alone -- were so peaceful that they seem the journey's most calming. We're about to head to Maine to visit my family, our annual pilgrimage. I'll pack my gear and on several mornings I'll rise early and run a path that traces the Marginal Way, then cuts back through Perkins Cove and Ogunquit. I love this route because it's one that as I child I walked every year with my family. Running its circuit seems like encountering a me I remember from a very long time ago.

I've been doing a good deal of metaphorical running since I returned to DC: the CFP, poster, and details of the GW MEMSI objects conference; the drafts of the fellowship applications I'll file next month, in the hope that I can get a year of teaching and administrative release so that I can finally finish my stone book; the odds and ends of various publishing projects; the talks I'm giving in the fall, especially this one; a MEMSI annual report for the Powers That Be; and so on. I've also had some time with Alex and Katherine, who had no camp or other obligations last week. Alex mainly likes to "chillax" with his friends, but I convinced him to have lunch with me and hang out a few times. Katherine had a burst of creativity and started a store called "The KEC" (based on her nickname, which stands for Katherine Eleanor Cohen). She manufactured all kinds of products out of paper, from a de-electrocutor (a contraption that looks vaguely like a defibrillator made of paper plates; it removes the electricity if you get struck by lightning) to a comic book about Super Dog (who miscegenates in the end with Super Cat) and rockets that you blow with straws.

I worked on my syllabus yesterday and got my office in order for the start of classes. A good summer is coming to an end. I'll miss the openness that has come with the absence of a rigid schedule, but I'm also looking forward to being back. I miss running.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

GW MEMSI Conference: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

by J J Cohen

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral
Ethics and Objects in the Early Modern and Medieval Periods
An interdisciplinary conference sponsored by the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute

March 11 and 12, 2011
George Washington University
Washington DC

KEYNOTE LECTURE by Jane Bennett, Professor and Chair of Political Theory at Johns Hopkins University, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things and The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings and Ethics

The conference fosters a lively conversation structured around the keynote and five plenary sessions:

We also invite paper, panel and roundtable proposals. Please send one paragraph abstracts or complete panel proposals to gwmemsi@gmail.com by October 15, 2010. To keep the proceedings intimate, conference participation is limited to eighty.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Briefly Noted: Rossellini on Fra' Ginepro and the Pig's Foot


I expect you're familiar with the story of Brother Juniper and the Pig (Latin is here, paragraphs 2-9, Italian here, and modern English translation here). Briefly: Juniper is the fool of fools among Saint Francis's band, no doubt narratively necessary because the original fool, Francis, had become an the administrator of his flock. The first act of Juniper's holy foolishness: to satisfy a sick brother's craving for a pig's foot. Juniper heads out to the forest, finds a herd of pigs, captures one and cuts off its foot, and voila! He heals his brother. But then an enraged and nearly implacable swineherd shows up. Finally calmed by Juniper's innocence, the swineherd bestows on the friars the remainder the now 3-footed pig. Francis declares, "Fratres mei, fratres mei; utinam ego haberem de talibus iuniperis unam silvam" [My Brothers, my brothers: would that I had a forest of such Junipers!"] The end.

Roberto Rossellini's Francesco, giullare di Dio [Francis, God's Jester, distributed in English as "The Flowers of St. Francis"] treats the episode a bit differently. Click on the image above for a sense of how the hunt begins. Juniper isn't just hunting down a pig. He piously understands the pig as participating in the community of charity: just as the film's Juniper keeps giving his habit away to the poor, so too will the pig give away its foot. Soon enough Juniper finds a herd of 5 or so pigs, and addresses them: "Brother pigs, the Lord has placed you on my path to help me. Listen to me. Brother pig, listen to me, please. Most handsome pig, with your succulent foot, would you grant my sick brother's wish? I promise I won't hurt you. The Lord will help us in need. Think, brother, of the few opportunities we have to do good." With this, Juniper and his knife disappear behind a bush, which shivers while an unseen pig screams. And keeps screaming. Horribly.

Juniper prays, "Thank you, Lord, for the good that that pig and I will do with this foot." He returns, the pig's scream following him through the valley, and he declares, "Listen, he's thanking the Lord too." The pig screams for a while more, then stops.

The swineherd, as in the original, appears, but remains implacable: "You call this doing good? One of your friars cut off my pig's foot!" He leaves, and then here, too, returns with the carcass, but Rossellini (or Fellini (!), or perhaps his other screenwriters) simply has the swineherd throw down a gutted carcass, shouting, "Here, you vagrants, eat!," and then stomp away. What he offers them may be less a charitable donation than an all-too vividly rendered carcass, made inedible by its own coagulated blood. So much for Brother Pig.

Though Rossellini's film ends with Francis sending his friars out into the world to preach peace, though through the film the friars, particularly Juniper, bring peace wherever they go, or at least suffer meekly for Christ's sake, through Rossellini gives us the illusion of immediate access to peace by casting actual monks to play his friars, he nonetheless assaults us with the cinematic equivalent of the Turkish March in the Ode to Joy, as glossed by Žižek. Forgive the long quote:
In the middle of the movement, after we hear the main melody (the Joy theme) in three orchestral and three vocal variations, something unexpected happens at this first climax, which has bothered critics since its first performance 180 years ago. At bar 331, the tone changes totally and, instead of the solemn hymnic progression, the same “Joy” theme is repeated in the marcia Turca (“Turkish march”) style. Borrowed from the military music for wind and percussion instruments that 18th century European armies adopted from the Turkish Janissaries, the mode becomes that of a carnivalesque popular parade, a mocking spectacle. Some critics have even compared the “absurd grunts” of the bassoons and bass drum that accompany the beginning of the marcia Turca to farts. And after this point, everything goes wrong, the simple solemn dignity of the first part of the movement is never recovered.

However, what if things do not go wrong only at bar 331, with the entrance of the marcia Turca? What if, instead, something was wrong from the very beginning? We should accept that there is something insipidly fake about the Ode to Joy, so that the chaos that enters after the bar 331 is a kind of the “return of the repressed,” a symptom of what was wrong from the very beginning. We should thus shift the entire perspective and perceive the marcia as a return to everyday normality that cuts short the display of preposterous portentousness and brings us back to earth, as if saying “you want the celebrate the brotherhood of men? Here they are, the real humanity.”

And does the same not hold for Europe today? After inviting all mankind to embrace the celebration of ecstasy, the second strophe of Schiller’s poem that is set to the music of “Ode to Joy” ominously ends: “But he who cannot rejoice, let him steal weeping away from our circle.”
He who cannot accept our peace, our charity, let him steal weeping, footless and pigless, away from our circle. Let his screams be heard as joining our prayer. To his credit, Rossellini has not made what the "The Decent Film Guide" calls a "beautifully simple little film," nor has he made a film that offers "a compelling vision of life that rejects materialism and violence." He has done that, that is true, but that's not all. Only a third of the way through Francesco giullare di Dio, Rossellini shows us the true, shattering violence of revolution, that the inclusiveness of community and of dreams of peace cannot help but leave behind the equivalent of a bereft swineherd and mutilated pig, each dragooned into someone else's simple and naive dreams of a pure charity.

So much from Brother Pig. So much for Brother Pig.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

NEW in The Heroic Age: Mary Kate Hurley's "Beowulf and Bethlehem Steel"


I am proud to announce that the third entry in The Heroic Age's "babelisms" column [Issue 13] is the essay "The Ruins of the Past: Beowulf and Bethlehem Steel" by our very own Mary Kate Hurley! Follow the link through the title just cited to read the essay and take a look HERE at the entire issue's Table of Contents, which looks really interesting.

Let me also announce here that The Heroic Age and postmedieval are embarking on an experimental joint adventure for Heroic Age's Issue 14 and postmedieval's Issue 2 [vol. 1: 2010]. We are "co-producing" together, across the two issues, a cluster of essays on "The State(s) of Early English Studies," featuring contributions from Elaine Treharne, Carol Braun Pasternack, Kathleen Davis, Mary Dockray-Miller, Gillian Overing, Clare Lees, Jacqueline Stodnick, Renee Trilling, and Lisa Weston. Part of the cluster will appear in Heroic Age and part in postmedieval, but the entire cluster will be available free online for part of November 2010, when both issues go "live." Go HERE for more details on that cluster.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

2 book notes involving medieval Jews

by J J Cohen
  1. A work of interest, now in process: The York Massacre of 1190 in Context: Reassessing Relations between Jews and Others in Medieval England. Table of contents here
  2. At lunch today I was reading aloud the dust cover for my copy of Licoricia of Winchester: Marriage, Motherhood and Murder in the Medieval Anglo-Jewish Community and got to these lines about the author: "Suzanne Bartlett was inspired to write this book by the discovery of part of Winchester's Jewish cemetery just outside her back garden. She liked to think that perhaps Licoricia, after her tumultuous life and tragic death, finally came to rest there." Licoricia died of stab wounds inflicted in her own house. To think that she could find peace beneath the geraniums of an English garden struck me as ... odd, and a bit chilling, though I know the author means well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dreaming a Future for the MAA

by J J Cohen

In the comments here, Aunt Pansy observes:
There will be exciting things upcoming [for the MAA]. A new Executive Director in a little less than a year, a new set of by-laws, perhaps some insurance for directors and councilors and officers to prevent them being threatened with the individual financial costs of law-suits for failing to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities? more supportive attitudes towards grad students? better turn-around for submissions to Speculum?
In the comments to this post, Karl writes:
Things might settle back into the status quo ante, but perhaps not? Not to be too cutesy, but in this confusion and uncertainty, we might be seeing the rumblings of an actual future, an opening into who knows what.
ADM adds:
I'm not sure what it is that the MAA wants to be, or that its members want it to be. It may be a time for redefinition -- or definition? Another thought: the MAA is old. It used to be *the* medievalists' society in America. But so many other societies have grown up in the last 15-20 (or fewer) years, and my impression is that these societies, e.g., those that focus on the Early Middle Ages, were created by people who felt that the MAA meetings and Speculum did not really represent their scholarly interests ... Basically, MAA isn't the 800-lb gorilla anymore, but I think it still sees itself that way. The reality is that people have broader options and less money for memberships and subscriptions. This may be the time for a re-think on how to make the organization more relevant to all of us, or perhaps to specialize to a couple of core groups.
To keep the conversation productive, and future focused, let me piggyback on these important queries and ask: what do you want to see from the MAA in the years ahead? How can the organization remain vital, and where should its communal energies be focused?

What next for the MAA?

by J J Cohen

So the story gets more interesting (and complicated, and depressing) as time goes on.

That the Executive Committee was not behind the recently disseminated CFP makes me wonder who composed and distributed it. Was this CFP an advertisement of the newly added conference topics, or an attempt to get people to submit papers for a potentially moribund conference? Are MAA members voting again, this time through electing not to participate in the Tempe event? How united was the Executive Committee in the decision that the conference be held in AZ after all, and were they the determining voices? Is the resignation of three faculty members from the program committee a sign that local arrangements are in trouble?

My last post about the MAA was optimistic about its eventual future. I am having a harder time holding on to that hopefulness at the moment.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

About the updated MAA Call for Papers

by J J Cohen

Yesterday I posted my reaction to the Medieval Academy of America's updated call for papers for the annual meeting to be held (despite the protests of many) in Tempe, Arizona, in April. The CFP was distributed by email on August 10 and can be accessed here.

I want to call your attention to two facts that I did not know when I composed the post:
  1. Three members of the program committee planning the conference, faculty members of Arizona State University, had resigned almost two weeks earlier to protest the location of the meeting. You can read their letter here, in which they urge a boycott of the state.
  2. The updated call for papers was apparently distributed without the consultation or approval of the MAA Executive Committee. See the comment here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Green, Newhauser and Voaden: An Open Letter to the Medieval Academy of America

[reprinted with permission of the authors, who have resigned from the Tempe program committee]

An Open Letter to the Medieval Academy of America

On July 26 and 27 the three of us, faculty members of Arizona State University, resigned from the program committee planning the 2011 conference of the Medieval Academy of America in Arizona.  We did so because we could not in good conscience be involved in planning a conference in our own state when our commitment to human rights demands that we support the boycott of Arizona, in protest against its recent immigration law, SB 1070.  There are clear financial, political, but above all ethical reasons for the Medieval Academy to join this protest by moving the venue of the 2011 conference to another state or cancelling the meeting next year, but still we struggled with our decision to resign from the program committee, not wishing to desert our colleagues.  While some provisions of the legislation were struck down by a federal judge on July 28, the governor of the state is appealing that decision, and all indications are that this will be a long court battle that may not be resolved before the time of the Academy's meeting in 2011.  We therefore urge the executive committee of the Academy to reconsider its decision to continue planning the 2011 conference for Arizona and we urge the members of the Medieval Academy of America to support the boycott of Arizona until SB 1070 is repealed or confirmed to be unconstitutional.

The most effective way to influence unjust legislation is to exert economic pressure.  This was demonstrated in 1992, when after a number of years of a boycott that resulted in millions of dollars of lost revenue, voters in Arizona finally approved the designation of Martin Luther King Day as a public holiday.  In the case of SB 1070 many events, including academic conferences, have moved to other locations to protest this legislation.  The National Urban League cancelled its 2012 conference in Phoenix, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity moved its meeting from Phoenix to Las Vegas this year, and the groups who have called for a travel boycott of Arizona include the American Educational Research Association, the Society for Applied Anthropology, and the Presbyterian Church (see for more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2010/05/13/20100513immigration-boycotts-list.html).  Boycotts have been proven to be effective, but they take time to work and some sacrifice.  It is understandable that the Academy wishes to avoid the costs involved in cancelling its hotel reservation, especially given that a mere 33% of those responding to a recent poll of the membership were willing to help defray the cost of canceling the meeting in Arizona, whereas 65% said they were unwilling to do so.  But that 33%, to which the three signees of this letter belong, also includes at least one person who has pledged up to $1000 to help the Academy avoid financial loss.  Others are sure to help as well.  If the Academy stands to lose little or nothing by moving the conference to a different state or cancelling this year's conference, and may in fact experience a loss of revenue if the conference is held in Arizona anyway because of those members who will not want to attend a conference here, what compelling reason is there for the Academy not to do what it can to resist injustice?

The appropriateness of making collective political statements might be raised as an objection to having the Academy take at stand on the issue of SB 1070, but the passage of the law itself erases that argument.  Having made the debate on immigration so polemical, the law forces everyone to chose sides:  in such an atmosphere, not opposing the injustice of SB 1070 is almost equivalent to supporting it.  Nor is the issue only a matter of immigration policy, but one more in a series of attempts to use border security as a wedge issue to motivate partisan politics.  As Roll Call reported on July 29, 2010, there are plans to force votes on border security issues this fall at every opportunity (p. 13).  By not supporting the boycott, the Academy has not avoided making a collective political statement; it has tacitly approved one that others have made for it.

And that statement is clearly one of intolerance and injustice.  If all parts of the law are upheld in the appeals process, it will lead to widespread civil rights violations.  It stigmatizes an entire community.  The fact that plans for the Academy's conference now feature keynote speakers and special sessions on immigration and displaced persons is some indication that the membership of the Academy does not support the legislation and is aware of the injustice it will perpetrate.  Yet writing and speaking about injustice in the academic world are no substitutes for acting in the real world.  We feel this all the more intensely because it is in our names, as citizens of Arizona, that the state legislature has said it acted.  Ultimately, our conscience would not allow us to participate in the planning for a conference in Arizona.  We feel that we have no choice but to use every opportunity to protest legislation which violates both civil and human rights.  To this end, not only have we resigned from the program committee, but as long as SB 1070 is the law in Arizona or is in the appeals process we will also find it impossible to attend the meeting of the Medieval Academy in our own backyard.

There are moments when we are all called upon to make moral decisions, no matter how uncomfortable they might be, no matter how much they force us to chose between supporting the groups we work with or supporting our allegiance to the greater community of humankind.  For us, the question of the Academy's unwillingness to oppose the injustice of SB 1070 is just such a moment.  We hope it will prove to be one for you as well.


Monica Green, Professor, School of Historical, Religious, and Philosophical Studies, Arizona State University (mhgreen2@cox.net)
Richard Newhauser, Professor, Department of English, Arizona State University (Richard.G.Newhauser@gmail.com)
Rosalynn Voaden, Associate Professor, Department of English, Arizona State University (rosalynn.voaden@gmail.com)