Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bonnie Wheeler 2013 Summer Research Fellowship

by J J Cohen

If you are eligible, apply! If you are not, donate!

The Bonnie Wheeler 2013 Summer Research Fellowship is open to women medievalists below the rank of full professor, and for 2013 offers up to $10,000 in financial support. Candidates from previous years are welcome and encouraged to reapply. In the two years since our foundation, our recipients have been Lorraine Stock (English, U Houston) and Lois Huneycutt (History, U Missouri). Applicants should register at and see the Application Instructions <> for details.

The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship Fund of The Dallas Foundation is designed to support the research of tenured women medievalists below the rank of full professor. This year’s financial award is to be used during the period of June 1–December 31, 2013. In the future, if more funds are available, Wheeler Fellowships will be awarded for full-year and half-year projects, but the Fellowship Committee recognizes the need in the current economic climate for the immediate support of women scholars.

*Eligibility* Applicants must be women who hold a Ph.D. in any area of medieval studies and who are full-time faculty in an academic department. Preference will be given to candidates who are “caught in the middle” in the promotion ladder, as described in the MLA report “Standing Still: The Associate Professor Survey.” <>

Budgets for Fellowship applications are simple: include not only your research costs, but also the costs of freeing up your time—for example, relief from summer teaching, daycare and/or eldercare expenses, and the like.

*Mentoring*: A special feature of the Fellowship is that it will always connect the recipient with a mentor in her scholarly field.

*Timetable*: Completed applications must be received no later than January 31, 2013. The award will be announced February 28, 2013.

*Application Procedure*: Please register at and see the Application Instructions <> for details.
On this site you will also find more information about the Fellowship, its rationale and goals, and contact information.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Just in Time for the Winter Doldrums: Dark Chaucer


. . . you never know what you will discover in the dark.

. . . certainly our shared enterprise requires dependability, loyalty, generosity, hard work; those who employ us, take our classes, and read our work deserve our full engagement. But if we are to commit ourselves truly to the study of the past, to the study of the humanities, what can we really gain from the Thesian good man speaking well? Is the buttoned-down, impersonal professionalism suited to profit-driven business enterprises a good fit for our wider, stranger enterprise of shared inquiry? Our very strength, our very expertise, comes from darkness, indeterminacy, unmarketably disastrous historical realities, hanging, drowning, plague, ruin. Strange dark Saturnine knowledge, and all the unsightly darkness that goes with it. Let’s see with our flawed vision, be happy with less than enough, and work darkly and beautifully at the bottom of our game.

~Brantley Bryant & Alia, "Saturn's Darkness"

Myra Seaman, Nicola Masciandaro and I are pleased to announce that your box of Dark Chaucer: An Assortment has arrived, and just in time for some reading by the fireside in the wan light of a winter dusk, your cigars and bottle of whiskey at hand (or tea and crumpets? coffee and donuts? water and rye crackers? ale and chiknes with the marybones?).

This book had its genesis over a dinner shared with friends — Nicola Masciandaro, Öykü Tekten, Karl Steel, and myself — in a restaurant in Brooklyn on April Fool’s Day in 2011, the same day that saw the launch of punctum books. Nicola mentioned that over the years, as he has been teaching Chaucer, he has been taking note of how many dark moments there are in Chaucer [once you start looking and regardless of Chaucer's also-comic sensibilities], and he also remarked that the word "dark" shows up a lot in Lee Patterson's book Chaucer and the Subject of History [we've actually dedicated the book to Patterson]. It struck us that evening that in order to do justice to these moments, which are more numerous than you realize when you start looking for them, that you would have to be willing to fall into these abyssal passages without ropes and without worrying how everything ultimately turns out (this would be a rogue journey against the teleological tides of the narratives and over the beachheads of certain comforting scholarly “resolutions”). The idea would be to undertake something like soundings in the darker recesses of the Chaucerian lakes and to bring back palm- or bite-sized pieces (black jewels) of bitter Chaucer that could be shared with others — an “assortment,” if you will. It could be productive (and hell, interesting), we thought, to gather together some shipmates who would be willing to explore Chaucer’s darker topographies, and even get lost there, not so much making sense of these dark passages, or referring them to how things ultimately turn out, but rather, making them more rich, more ample, and more strange. Myra joined us as lead editor, and off we went.

We asked contributors to write short pieces (~3,000 words) in which they would focus on "dark moments" in Chaucer, without trying to craft any sort of sustained, scholarly "argument," but rather, to simply explore these dark recesses and tell us, like vagabond travelers, what they found there. What they returned with and what is assembled here represents an astonishing variety of styles, approaches, and "finds" -- from 9 scholars (1 named, Brantley Bryant, and 8 anonymous) confessing their own dark personal moments in relation to their chosen profession as medievalists and the darkness of Saturn in the Knight's Tale, to a 20th-century African American poet's appropriation of Chaucer (Candace Barrington), to Alcyone dreaming and the limbo of living death in Book of the Duchess (Ruth Evans), to Chaucer's "apocalyptic" afterlives (Gaelan Gilbert), to a sympathetic reading of the executioner in Cecelia's botched beheading in the Second Nun's Tale (Nicola Masciandaro), to a reconsideration of black crows by way of the Mancilple's Tale (Travis Neel and Andrew Richmond), to a re-telling of the Physician's Tale through The Story of O-as-palimpsest (Lisa Schamess), to an exemplification of 3 of Chaucer's most sad "heroines" (Custance, Virginia, Emelye) via Deleuze's maxim, "if you're caught in the dream of another, you're fucked" (Karl Steel), to Chaucer's Physician's Tale (again!) seen as a "disembowling of the corpus of virgin martyrs' passions" (Elaine Treharne), to the 'litel clurgeon' as zombie undead in the Prioress's Tale (Lisa Weston), and so on.

But why not see the entire Table of Contents for yourself, and download the open-access e-book for FREE, or purchase a handsome print edition for a mere $15 [not $100!], by going HERE. And while you are at it, please also notice the "PLEASE DONATE" button on punctums's website: the good work of open-access publishing, and punctum books in particular, is kept aloft by 3 primary factors:
  • an incredible, global network of students (and also post-students with no real or only a tenuous foothold in the academy), humanities faculty, creative designers, and technologists who have all donated their valuable time to review, copy-edit, proofread, format, and design each one of our books, journal issues, e-book platforms, etc., and you really have NO IDEA not only how time-consuming all of this is (especially if you still believe in the book as a beautiful and well-designed art object, as well as in maintaining high standards of scholarly rigor and presentation) but also how generous these donations of labor are, all on behalf of the cause of a more radically open and creative intellectual commons;
  • YOUR purchase of the print editions, the proceeds from which all go back to foster, cultivate, and produce more work; and
  • YOUR donations of either actual cash or labor to open-access initiatives.
And while you are trying to [maybe?] take a rest amidst the hectic hurly-burly of the so-called holiday season, remember: the punctum workshop never takes a day off. We think the future vitality of academic publishing might depend on this, and we hope you do, too.'Tis the season for giving and all that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Against $100 Books

by J J Cohen

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that in my arsenal of axes kept handy for frequent grinding is a publishing related twibill: the pricing of scholarly books. Check out this doozy from Oxford University Press: $299 for Henry of Huntington's Historia Anglorum. At least this 12th century history of England doesn't break the $300 mark; that would be market suicide.

Then again, Gervaise of Tilbury (also at OUP) does just that. I wonder, do they keep an ancient bottle of sherry at Oxford University Press Headquarters and break it out every time someone buys a copy of Gervaise? I'm guessing that at $325 per book the sherry bottle is still rather full. I admit, in a world where bookstores have special sections dedicated to "Teen Paranormal Romance" editions of Latin historiography with excellent translations count as somewhat obscure. They are also wonderful. I can imagine the occasional interested nonscholar wanting to read through both Henry and Gervaise, who are vivid writers, and I am certain more specialists would buy the books if it were not necessary to choose between them and a month's rent. I understand the business model on which the pricing is based, since it has been honed so well by Palgrave Macmillan, Brill and others: have a low print run (200 copies and under) and sell at a very high price ($80-$300) to research libraries, making a significant profit via small investment. Yet OUP is a not-for-profit entity. On what grounds can such a price be justified, especially because its effect is to place within a vault texts that ought to be out in the world? Maybe this is the Object Oriented Ontologist in me but you know, books actually want to be read.

Last night I was back on the subject of overpriced books and did a little research on my own works. I was shocked to see that the price of Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain has now reached $100. This rise into the triple digits is especially galling because the book is print on demand, with all the degradation of quality you'd expect to come with that process, and the website does not warn you of the fact. Needless to say, neither an e-text nor a paperback version is now or likely ever will be available. This book has sold out its small print run twice but at $100 and POD it is now essentially dead. That triple digit price is a padlock. I should be happy the little book is being kept safe from scurrilous readers. It's better for Hybridity to be in the loving custody of a research library. I pray only that someone dusts its binding every now and then.

Now compare a book I published at the University of Minnesota Press, Medieval Identity Machines. It's $26 as a nicely produced paperback, and $14.04 for the Kindle version. Monster Theory and Of Giants are similarly priced -- and quick to download via Amazon or Google. (Cf. Ohio State University Press, which despite having a small Open Access initiative sells electronic versions of most books for about $15 ... but on CDs that get mailed to you. Does anyone even own a CD player any more? Neither my laptop nor iPad has one. You may as well put the books on video tapes). I've published three books with UMP, with my fourth under contract and out in 2013. Each one has sold at least 1000 copies, and sometimes twice that, compared to the 200 at which Hybridity flatlined with Palgrave. Those numbers mean something.

I had sworn never to publish another $90 book again -- before Palgrave Macmillan upped the price of my last one to $100. I understand very well that not every scholar has options when it comes to publishing, especially early in the career. But when there is a choice it makes very little sense to support a system that keeps books out of the hands of potential readers. Ideally, if scholarly publishing is not going to be immediately open access, then a book should appear with a not-for-profit press at a reasonable price ($50 or under in hardcover, $25 or less for paperback). It should also be instantly downloadable in an affordable and well formatted e-form ($15 or less and available via Amazon). Last, it would be great if after a certain amount of time the book became open access so that those who want to read it in the future may do so and the book will stay alive.

If you have a choice -- if you have good alternatives -- please join me in refusing to publish any more $100 books. As scholars I hope we are not so removed from the world that we are content to allow our words to vanish into a small number of libraries. I hope we are no longer bound to think of books only as hardcover physical objects that must cost a great deal to hold value (especially because despite the high price they may well be poorly constructed: books should be beautiful, but that doesn't mean they have to be conventional). The publishing system will not change unless we pressure it to do so: it ought to serve the interests of the writing and reading community, not of the profit margin

A book wants to be read.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

E-Medieval: Teaching, Researching and the Net

by J J Cohen

Don't miss E-Medieval: Teaching, Researching and the Net, a cluster of electronic essays published by Literature Compass (sadly: PAYWALL: what is up with Lit Compass and its self-immurement?). ITM's contribution is an essay called Why We Blog: An Essay in Four Movements -- a relic of the time Way Back When this blog had a mere four co-bloggers.

I reproduce the ToC below. Check out Brandon Hawk's smart reflections on the issue at Modern Medieval.

Technology in the University and the Death of Socrates (pages 1010–1015)
Wendy Marie Hoofnagle

Why We Blog: An Essay in Four Movements (pages 1016–1032)
Karl Steel, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Mary Kate Hurley and Eileen A. Joy

Thursday, December 13, 2012

NOW PUBLISHED: The Intimate Senses [postmedieval]

Figure 1. Ann Hamilton, body object #5 sagebrush [1986/1991; more about cover image HERE]


. . . sensation is an intimate threshold of knowledge that emerges in the fragile and ephemeral space that exists between our futures and our pasts. It beckons for a more sensuous connection with the past that can resonate in the present, even as it builds on the material ways in which we are already interconnected. And it hopefully inspires us to feel differently about those.

~Holly Dugan and Lara Farina, "Intimate Senses/Sensing Intimacy"

As we are having this really engaged discussion, here at ITM and elsewhere, over the subject of Stephen Greenblatt's award-winning book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern [and how that book gets the medieval period all wrong ... again!] and also over the subject of the perils and possible benefits of what we call "periodization," especially in literary and historical studies, I would like to put in a shameless plug for the ongoing work of the journal postmedieval to call certain temporal and "period" boundaries into question and to also keep in continual motion and friction the question of the relations between the medieval and modern as well as their supposed differences and/or similarities, OR, as as Ruth Evans, Helen Fulton, and David Matthews argue in their Introduction to Medieval Cultural Studies: Essays in Honour of Stephen Knight, to place “medieval” and “modern” side by side, not to “simply give 'cultural studies' a diachronic dimension or make the middle ages relevant to today. Rather, it is about continuous provocation.” It has also been the aim of the journal, from the very beginning, when a medievalist [myself] and an early modernist [Craig Dionne] joined hands to tackle the subject of the premodern post/human with a whole fleet of collaborators working in medieval and early modern studies, but also in contemporary studies, to craft new spaces for a a more broad "premodern" studies in which the lines between "medievalist" and "early modernist" would be less visible, and where we would "merge" and "converge" upon each other's so-called "periods." 

Therefore, I am especially pleased, too, to announce the publication this week of the most recent issue of postmedieval, a volume of essays, co-edited by an early modernist, Holly Dugan, and a medievalist, Lara Farina, on "The Intimate Senses," in which medievalists and early modernists investigate together how "sensation is an intimate threshold of knowledge that emerges in the fragile and ephemeral space that exists between our futures and our pasts." Further, in their Introduction to the issue, where they hone right in [if even unconsciously] on some of the issues that have been recently percolating, in troubling or at least vexing ways, concerning so-called period "divisions" + disciplinary "divides" and the various "field" routes by which we orient and "collect" ourselves, they write:
Sensory experience, past and present, is for us anything but determined or detrimental to a future-oriented optimism about relational embodiment. We have, therefore, sought essays that increase our understanding of the ways that people, places, and things became intimates in the medieval and early modern periods. Literally overlooked in favor of recent attention to visual culture, past habits of smelling, touching, and tasting emerge here to challenge the reign of the gaze as determiner of subjectivity, power, and pleasure in/with the other. Visual culture continually earns pride of place in humanistic and posthumanistic study, and cultural history too often repeats the story of vision's ascendancy and its triumph over the other senses during and after the Enlightenment. Many scholars working on sensation in contemporary culture and in the past have demonstrated how this assumption is simply untrue. Our issue thus draws from this work and the multiple fields in which the primacy of vision and the limitations of the ‘visual turn’ in scholarship are under new scrutiny. The five essays here each offer their own substantive contribution to this broader project of sensory recovery. To draw out the potential of their work on the non-visual past for new stories about intimacy, however, we have followed them with responses written by scholars of present-day cultures. We hope this pairing of past and present suggests ways in which intimate relations can resonate across time to join a broader conversation about how we feel together.

Such a project is as embodied as it is scholarly. The very term ‘intimate’ renders the self as a being in space, one with an ‘inner’ dimension that is both separate from the world at large, yet at times, remarkably close to it (Oxford English Dictionary). The designation of taste, touch, and smell as senses more ‘interior’ than others located them close to the core of personhood. But their operation simultaneously suggested that the human body was open, porous, and vulnerable to its environment. Associated with fleshly forms of knowing rather than enlightened reason, these ‘intimate senses’ rooted a body in its material environment even as they defined its boundaries. Mapping the sensing body spatially, we might say, gave us intimacy. Yet intimate sensation is not idiosyncratic. The alternative definition of intimacy uses spatial proximity as a metaphor for affect, suggesting that sensory history provided a language for describing the collective social body as well the individual one (Oxford English Dictionary). The ‘closeness’ accorded to intimate sensations came to describe both abstract and material sets of social relationships in the early modern period. We still rely on these metaphors when we designate others as ‘close’ to us (Bromley, 2012, 6).
It is noteworthy as well that Holly and Lara include in the issue 5 essays by scholars working in more contemporary periods in a rich diversity of fields -- anthropology, disability studies, cultural geography, theater and performance studies, medicine/neuroscience, and rhetoric -- who wrote essays that respond directly to the work and thought undertaken by the premodernists in the issue, thus modelling a more capaciously cross-temporal and cross-disciplinary analytic framework for thinking about the senses across time and in different places, one in which scholars working in different periods and fields are directly engaging each other and not just talking past one another. 

It occurs to me, especially after having just spent 3 days at a "collaboratory" on the "Faces of Emotion" at the University of Melbourne, where presenters attempted to respond to some pretty big questions about the medium of the face [as the site of actual encounters, but also as representational screen, as performance, as the plane of ethics, and so on] in relation to issues of historical change, that we can't really talk about changes over time [whether in cultural climates, intellectual life, individual and group identities, beliefs, mentalities, etc.] without massively collaborative approaches that are not restrained in advance by notions of disciplinary "difference" or temporal and cultural and linguistic boundaries, while at the same time, of course we should be working to try to bring certain differences [cultural, historical, mental, whathaveyou] into some sort of relief in our work, because the emergence of "change" in any given moment or place is always significant: it highlights transformation, without which, there is no real history, nor future that is not static and "dead." But as Steve Mentz has also usefully reminded us
Any narrative about historical change-and-continuity must, in order to be a narrative, do some violence to the plenitude of the historical record. Some narratives  are better than others; some work and others do not. . . . History overfills all human narratives; that’s why in addition to “facts” we need poetry — and geometry, statistics, economics, plasma physics, interior design, geoclimatology, the Hubble Telescope . . . Objects and alliances of all sorts, human and not.
We need these narratives, of course, even when we recognize what they occlude or simply neglect to address. For example, in this post about the new issue of postmedieval, I want to tell a story about how medievalists and early modernists have worked together to productively tackle complex historical-cultural subjects [such as the "senses" or the "post/human"], the "lives" of which extend [in often surprising and unexpected ways] across disciplinary and temporal boundaries, and in order to do that, I reinscribe the temporal markers "medievalist" and "early modernist." I make the so-called period "division" palpable again.

One would like to imagine a future in which university scholars and others outside of the university proper who do cultural-intellectual work would simply collectivize and work together over affectively shared interests in particular objects and subjects that do not necessarily sit still in traditional disciplinary and/or temporal frameworks. These objects and subjects would draw us "in" together and give us new fields of play and thought. But "location" will always matter, and time periods are objects of fascination, too: things and places that attract us and that we desire. But they also don't "sit still." And that's something to think about, too.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve and the MLA's James Russell Lowell Prize

by J J Cohen

Alongside the lively discussion that recently unfolded over periodization, a related conversation commenced in the same social media about an essay in the LA Review of Books by Jim Hinch on Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong — and Why It Matters. Hinch's piece is bracing, and important, but not for its corrective power. Detailing the factual errors and shallow history in Stephen Greenblatt's prizewinning book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern is not new. Kellie Robertson did it before the book was even published (see her excellent essay "Medieval Materialism: A Manifesto" in Exemplaria 22 [2010]). Of Greenblatt's thesis that Lucretius inaugurated modernity after a long period of medieval darkness John Monfasini, for example, observed that "the problem is that Greenblatt has virtually no evidence to justify this assumption, while a massive amount exists for constructing a different story." After pointing out its numerous methodological errors Monfasini concludes that The Swerve is "an entertaining but wrong-headed belletristic tale." Jim Hinch documents several more of these errors but prefaces them with this prescient plea:
as American book lovers gear up for another awards season — the National Book Award this month, followed by the PEN/Faulkner Award in March, then the Pulitzers in April — the acclaim showered on Greenblatt’s book about the discovery of an ancient poem raises profound questions about just what these awards really mean. Simply put, The Swerve did not deserve the awards it received because it is filled with factual inaccuracies and founded upon a view of history not shared by serious scholars of the periods Greenblatt studies. That such a book could win two of America’s highest literary honors suggests something doesn’t work in the awards system itself.
And now comes the news that the MLA, the scholarly organization which represents those of us who teach language and literature at the college level, has awarded Stephen Greenblatt the James Russell Lowell Prize for excellence in literary or linguistic study. This is the third time the MLA has awarded him the same prize (he earned an honorable mention in 1973 then received the prize for Shakespearean Negotiations in 1988).

There's been much shock expressed on Facebook and Twitter about the award. It's discouraging. When Greenblatt was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the book I thought: OK, it's a general audience, and maybe any attention on the past is good attention. But now that the MLA has given a work so devoid of nuance in its account of a long span of human history -- a book that in its relentless reductiveness and lack of complexity (or even humane impulses towards those who find themselves locked in 1000 years of unremitting and untextured darkness) offers a negative example of how to form an ethical relation to history -- well, I just wonder about what the prize really means. Is it OK to compose caricatured history that reaffirms common prejudice and conveys factual errors rather than work that might make the past more unstable, variegated, intricate, alive?

Check out Elaine Treharne's smart post, Swerving from the Straight and Narrow: Greenblatt's Fictional Medieval Period
Medieval Meets World (Swerving into the Fray)
In Romaunce as We Rede (Musings of an InterSwervist)
Bookfish (Swervin': Modernity Is Not History)

Monday, December 03, 2012

A Periodization Collation

by J J Cohen

The discussion on "early modern" quickly became a colloquy on periodization more generally, and has been quite vigorous across different modes of social media. If you'd like to catch up and join in, here are some highlights:

The conversation also proceeded via FB (that link brings you to my profile's public links) and Twitter. See especially @jeffreyjcohen, @ETreharne, @burnablebooks, @jonathanhsy, @RickGodden.

That's a start. Have I missed any links?