Sunday, January 31, 2016

two things

by J J Cohen

Medievalists and others who have been following the recent discussions about Allen Frantzen and his anti-feminism, would you please read this? I want to make a special plea for two things:

(1) In the long wake of what has come to light, discussed and condemned, it is also important to keep in mind that Allen Frantzen directed or served as a reader on many dissertations, took part in many panels, published much work in volumes that featured numerous contributors, and there must be no guilt by association. Some fine people worked with him, and some of them are young in the field. Their accomplishments are impressive and belong to them alone. Do not allow the revelations of the past few weeks to take anything away from our good colleagues. They do not deserve that.

(2) Silence is not complicity. Silence is complicated. Sometimes people refrain from speaking 
because they are vulnerable. Sometimes they are traumatized. Sometimes they need time to think, time to choose their words, time even to figure out how they feel. I would ask you not to judge anyone who chooses to hold back from speaking at the current moment. It is their choice and their right.

As I just wrote to a friend, this problem has been very long in its making and will not be solved (if it is ever can really be "solved") swiftly. Slow conversation and careful thinking through of community and care are *essential* to building the kinds of structures we want to support the better futures for which most of us are yearning.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Elemental Ecocriticism: at MLA, and at 30% off for blog readers

by J J Cohen

[So much going on blogwide at the moment, but please read and consider signing this letter to the Medieval Academy]

Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, AIr, Water, and Fire was published just in time for this year's Modern Language Association meeting in Austin. I never had the chance to blog about that conference (coming back to the immediate start of the spring term plus #femfog ensured that would not happen), but I did want to publicly thank all who attended the launch we had at the conference. Unlike a few sessions I attended that featured papers going far over time and an audience intent on asking questions that were really mini presentations (or so specific that were about a fragment of research rather than an invitation to communal dialogue), this roundtable had a truly communal feel. The presentations were poignant and the conversation that unfolded afterwards thoughtful and engaged. The room was full of people with little in common as far as archives go (everything from classical literature to postmodern fiction, and a wide variety of languages represented) but at every moment palpably present was a commitment to working something out, together. I have never left a session as full of hope -- and for that I give full credit to the presenters (Stacy Alaimo, Lowell Duckert, Stephanie LeMenager, Steve Mentz, Serpil Oppermann and in spirit Sharon O'Dair) and the amazing audience, who pressed forward to forge some provisional answers to the impossible question of what future might we make?

I have blogged some background to the collection here, and want to emphasize its origins in the joy of collaboration. The volume is for a limited time 30% off at the press website, if you follow the instructions for ordering it here. Purchasing the volume (or asking you library to do so) supports collaborative work in the humanities and sends a message to the press that we need more such communities of shared endeavor. Thank you!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Call for Signatures: Letter of Concern to MAA


[UPDATED February 2016: In a swift response to this widely-circulated open letter, the Medieval Academy of America has announced and followed through on its decision to produce a statement on inclusion, diversity, and academic freedom (now on the top of its policies page). Since the MAA has taken initial action, the italicized passages no longer apply (i.e., no additional signatures are required). We hope this is just the beginning for renewed efforts to make medieval studies fully ethical and inclusive.]

Original posting dated January 29, 2016:

ITM readers and any other medievalists brought to this link through other means:

Please read this Open Letter of Concern addressed to the Medieval Academy of America (click to this link to access the PDF with full updated list of signatories) discussing the "Allen Frantzen Affair" and its wider implications. This letter was authored by Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Jonathan Hsy, Eileen Joy, and Alex Mueller (listed in alphabetical order by surname).

If you wish to add your name to the growing list of people signing this letter, please click through to the public Facebook page and add your name in the comments section.  Please let us know if you are an MAA member, lapsed member, or potential member (and your institutional affiliation, if any). You can even identify yourself as a FOM (Friend of Medievalists). All these signatories will be added to the letter and the full list will be conveyed to the MAA.

If for whatever reason you're not on social media or otherwise cannot access the Facebook comments page, you can add your name in the comments section below (please note the comments are moderated on this blog and it may take some time for each comment to appear). Alternatively, you can contact Eileen Joy with the subject heading "MAA Open Letter" to be added to the list.

We hope that by acting together in and across our various communities we can create a better future.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Our Values + Thanks Donna Zuckerberg/Jezebel

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, "Enigma-Riddle-Joke" (2015)

First of all, read Jeffrey's post below, showcasing the wonderful, heartbreaking work of Dan Kline, which we have been so privileged to publish here often. There, Jeffrey writes:
We as a field have not yet had an open conversation about the conditions that have enabled the flourishing, endurance and continued toxic effects of so much misogyny, racism, abuse. But it's important to me to look at once backwards and forwards, like the Janus head that is our ITM emblem. Our communal gaze should not be averted from trauma and invidious history, nor should we stop attempting to discern the horizon of a more humane future. No forgetting, no excusing, no ceasing of the forward gaze.
Next, we as a collective of bloggers would like to affirm the values we believe in, and we hope, practice here. Now, it may be funny to say "We as a collective of bloggers" in 2016, long after the Blogosphere has given way or returned to, well, paid edited writing (if not actually well-paid, edited writing). But I feel I can say "collective of bloggers" now, with pride, because we've had the privilege over the past almost 2 weeks of amplifying the activism of Eileen Joy, Dorothy Kim, and others who have been working so relentlessly and righteously to make a better medieval studies and a better scholarly community.

So, we as a collective of bloggers, or even We as In the Middle, join with the Material Collective ("Embracing the Fog") and MEARCSTAPA ("Diversity Statement") and Elaine Treherne, speaking with Anglo-Saxonists (#ILoveOldEnglish) in proclaiming our values. Thank you, readers, for being part of this community. We couldn't have written this without your inspiration:
People want to be medievalists for a lot of different reasons. Some are drawn to the Middle Ages because it offers up a time of supposed ethnic purity, a lost ideal, a culture of sacred obedience, or an admirable ethos of warrior heroism. Our outlook for medieval studies resists all this. We welcome the weirdos, the obsessives, the lovers of the minute, the constitutionally uncertain. We welcome those drawn to the Middle Ages  because it calls to them as a time forgotten and disdained by the demand that we be “up to date” and only “of the present.” Our medieval studies would not be possible without feminists, without queers, without posthumanists, without those who insist that the paired notions of a “white medieval Europe” and a “Christian Europe” are cruel anachronisms. Nor would it be possible without the joy of sharing our love in discoveries about, say, ascenders in late English script, or the trade in coconuts, or the transport of stories of holy greyhounds, in knowledge that maybe no one else values.
Our medieval studies is attentive, excited, empathic, at times sad, and above all careful, of itself and of its community.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Jonathan Hsy
Mary Kate Hurley
Karl Steel
Finally, thanks so very much to Donna Zuckerberg for writing such a fair, sharp, comprehensive take on antifeminism and academia and Allen J. Frantzen's very public embracing of the so-called Men's Rights movement. And thanks to Jezebel for publishing it. It's rare that medievalists get much attention from larger media, and rarer still that we're engaged with so well. A quote, which rightly recognizes that Frantzen is a symptom:
I’m worried about the professor who uses a meeting with female graduate student that’s supposed to be about offering critique to ask her opinion on a birthday gift for his wife. The professor who introduced me to a visiting lecturer as the person who bakes cookies for coffee hour. The professor who calls criticism made by a male academic “sharp” and the same criticism by a female academic “shrill.” The man who explains a woman’s work to her. The reviewer who suggests that a paper with two female authors could use a male perspective and the conference organizer who thinks nothing of having multiple all-male panels. The hiring committee with an undeniable bias against female professors with children and the administrator who forces the tenure-track professor to consider her pregnancy a disability. Let’s not forget these toxic people, the ones who don’t do us the courtesy of plastering offensive bumper stickers on their cars. Some of them are almost certainly among those loudly denouncing Frantzen.

"Sometimes I have to be reminded what the stakes are, so that I may proceed with fear and trembling"

I took this picture of Dan on Matanuska Glacier
by J J Cohen

I'm proud to have Daniel T. Kline as a friend.

If memory serves, we first met at Kzoo many years ago, hit it off immediately, went to lunch, kept in touch. His work has always rocked my world, from scholarship on children and medieval literature to gaming to digital humanities to Levinas: his scholarship is as capacious as it is beautifully composed. His short essay The Pearl, a Crayon, and a Lego is, I would contend, the best piece ever composed on that poem -- and although I teach it every year, I cannot stop welling up when I speak about its meditation on loss.

Dan wrote a public Facebook post about being plagiarized by a collaborator, Allen Frantzen (yes that Allen Frantzen). You can read Dan's post for yourself here, and find within it a tale of how senior scholars sometimes abuse their position of power to claim work not their own, trusting that the more junior person will not complain. It's important for such stories to circulate, and for this tradition (there are many such stories) to cease. I applaud Dan for sharing.

But I also believe it's essential to think about hope and affirmation in times of despair, the very theme of so much of Dan's scholarship. The essay on Pearl to which I linked above is literally about the loss of a child. Three of the most moving blog posts ever published here at In the Middle were guest contributions by Dan, compelling meditations on life in the wake of the worst things humans do to each other. Yes, the terrible stories that form the past and present of medieval studies will and must continue to surface. We as a field have not yet had an open conversation about the conditions that have enabled the flourishing, endurance and continued toxic effects of so much misogyny, racism, abuse. But it's important to me to look at once backwards and forwards, like the Janus head that is our ITM emblem. Our communal gaze should not be averted from trauma and invidious history, nor should we stop attempting to discern the horizon of a more humane future. No forgetting, no excusing, no ceasing of the forward gaze.

Here are Dan's three beautiful posts. They are well worth lingering over, especially for the less violent world and classroom and profession they imagine. Dan may have been denied an important early career publication by someone lacking in ethics, but what he has contributed to medieval studies, in the past and now through his convivial and compassionate social media presence, deserves celebration.

  1. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief 1
  2. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief 2
  3. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief 3

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Chronicle Piece on #Femfog

by J J Cohen

Here is Rio Fernandes reporting on the discovery that Allen Frantzen has published misogynistic web pages. There is more to the story (stay tuned!) and it is not going away any time soon.

I wish that I could travel back in time and edit the last quote from me, which does not convey what I wanted to say. Here is what I meant:
"There are many female medievalists and their allies who have come out against Frantzen because he does not represent the field. Honestly, young female medievalists are shaping the future of the field at this point because they are doing the most interesting work."
I have never mastered the phone as technology and therefore give terrible interviews on it.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Happy 10th Birthday, In the Middle!

by J J Cohen

a meditation on what the blog has meant to me, personally: I cannot speak for anyone else

In the Middle began on January 18, 2006 with a little post that was really just a cut-and-paste job: my entry for RACE in the Supplement to the Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Way back then most reference works in medieval studies were consulted as hardbound volumes that you had to walk (with your actual feet, not on a hoverboard) over to the library to peruse. These hefty tomes required occasional updating -- though their supplements would themselves often be out of date by the time they appeared. The original DoMA had no entry for race (!), so I was delighted when William Chester Jordan asked me to compose one. I got to argue vigorously that yes race actually does matter to the Middle Ages -- a contested notion, way back when. I knew that few people would have access to the volume in which the entry would be published, especially because the supplement cost something like $100 -- and I know, now even a Palgrave print-on-demand title is priced higher than that, but in 2006 $100 was a monumental sum. And why lock knowledge away in research libraries? A book wants to be read. So I started this blog as a kind of informal open access for work I was doing, attempting along the way to assist in the shared project of bringing about a medieval studies where postcolonial theory could find better welcome [and here and here], where feminism and queer theory and critical race studies would be at home -- as well as working through the last draft of my third book (a book ruined in some ways by my taking an inimical "blind" peer reviewer too seriously: it took me a long time to recover my writer's voice after that experience, and ITM was instrumental to that process).

Not much time passed before I was blogging about contemporary issues that resonate with medieval ones, such as the aggression shown against homeless Muslims in Paris by volunteers who served only pork soup (check out the comments for a working through of how to cite a blog, something that the MLA had not yet established). The personal also made its swift debut. Here is the first post about my son Alex (then 8, now 18 and away at college), telling me how ignorant I am. By 2010 much of the personal had vanished into other platforms, especially Facebook, as I observed somewhat sadly in this story about fireflies, and again in a short piece on Katherine. [On a side note, I was talking to Alex on the phone last night and he told me that he is reading ITM regularly, and was happy that I posted this weekend about calling out misogyny; I don't know why that touched me so much, but it did.] I do not wholly shy away from personal reflection (see this piece for example on suicide, or this on the death of my thesis advisor). Pedagogy is also a frequent topic, and I once blogged an entire graduate seminar using titles taken from Decemberists lyrics (a trick so clever no one figured it out). Every now and then I have written a post that can, when I re-read it, break my heart: this one, and this. Conference summations also appear frequently (here is a favorite).

Early in the life of In the Middle I begin linking frequently to other medieval and academic blogs, since it seemed like we were doing something new as a community rather than as individuals. Within the first month of blogging I also opened the site to anyone who would like to contribute (and signaled that fact by changing its name to what the blog bears today). I've written about the origins of ITM in community before: see, for example, this brief and personal history of ITM from 2009 that will tell you exactly when the first co-bloggers arrived on the scene. Karl and Mary Kate were both graduate students when they joined, and now as early career academics (one tenured, one in a TT job) they have each altered the field so much for the better. Eileen left her tenured position during her time of blogging, and has now departed this blog to concentrate on punctum books: we wish her a future full of thriving. Jonathan earned tenure during his time as co-blogger and brought some wonderful disciplinary convergences to In the Middle (and my department: I am so fortunate to have him as a colleague). Working with these four magnificent people so closely has been a treat ... and we have also had the great fortune of hosting dozens upon dozens of guest bloggers who have filled this site with their wisdom and insight. A partial list includes Arthur Bahr, Dorothy Kim, Dan Kline, Sharon O'Dair, Lowell Duckert, Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters, Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Alexandra Gillespie, Lesley S. Curtis and Cord J. Whitaker, Robert McRuer, Julian Yates ... ok, that only hits recent ones but you get the picture.

The ten years of this blog's life have not been unremitting sunshine and rainbows. I've spoken about the stalker that my work on ITM attracted, and the blog's problems with trolls. I have lost friends over posts I have written and not everyone in the field even today takes the kind of public outreach to which I am committed (here and on other social media) as a serious form of academic engagement -- but that has been slowly changing. Yet we are at the point where some graduate students tell me that they "grew up" with In the Middle, and I find that comforting: the emphasis here has always been on future-making and field change. Activism is also an important component of what ITM undertakes: from the (failed) attempt to get the MAA to cancel their scheduled meeting in Arizona to the recent posts about the field's longterm and recent problems with misogyny and racism. So much work remains to be done. But I want to pause here, for a moment, and thank you for reading this blog. Your support is what has kept this space lively for a decade. You have made the work that ITM requires a pleasure, and always worthwhile.

-- Jeffrey

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hugh of Avalon, and the Limits of Sympathy


Gerald of Wales' life of Hugh of Avalon, bishop of Lincoln, speaks twice of his zeal for burying the dead.

Certain dead, anyway: here's a story on Hugh, once more interrupting an important trip to do his Christian duty. A free and partial paraphrase:
Hugh is on his way to Westminster, and he learns of a human body lying unburied in the street. He immediately asks whether it's a Christian or Jewish body, because just the day before, on the day of Richard I's coronation, the Jews of London had been massacred. When Hugh hears that the corpse [or however we want to resolve that implied pronoun] was a Christian, he at once dismounts, and has a new cloth bought, and has the corpse sewed into it. And assembling a funeral party from his retinue, he has it buried with all due ceremony.
Is he ensuring that he doesn't accidentally bury a Jewish body in a Christian graveyard? Or is it that he wouldn't have buried the body had it been a Jewish victim of the London pogroms? Might he then have delivered it to the remaining London Jews to bury? Or would he have just left it exposed in the street, again, for whatever Jews were willing to expose themselves as Jews the day after a massacre?

Whatever the possible results, Gerald's story makes a point about Hugh's care in getting burial right, while perhaps inadvertently making another point about the limits of sympathy. Fastidious piety looks more than a little self-serving, more than a little heartless.

I think first of Jeffrey's post below: "Christians and Jews in Angevin England now in paperback."

You yourself might be reminded of this story from the same massacre, which I'm borrowing from Fordham's Medieval Sourcebook:
While the king was seated at table, the chief men of the Jews came to offer presents to him, but as they had been forbidden the day before to come to the king's court on the dav of the coronation, the common people, with scornful eye and insatiable heart, rushed upon the Jews and stripped them, and then scourging them, cast them forth out of the king's hall. Among these was Benedict, a Jew of York, who, after having been So maltreated and wounded by the Christians that his life was despaired of, was baptized by William, prior of the church of Saint Mary at York, in the church of the Innocents, and was named William, and thus escaped the peril of death and the hands of the persecutors.
The citizens of London, on hearing of this, attacked the Jews in the city and burned their houses; but by the kindness of their Christian friends, some few made their escape. On the day after the coronation, the king sent his servants, and caused those offenders to be arrested who had set fire to the city; not for the sake of the Jews, but on account of the houses and property of the Christians which they had burnt and plundered, and he ordered some of them to be hanged. 
On the same day, the king ordered the before-named William, who from a Jew had become a Christian, to be presented to him, on which he said to him, "What person are you," to which he made answer, " I am Benedict of York, one of your Jews." On this the king turned to the archbishop of Canterbury, and the others who had told him that the said Benedict had become a Christian, and said to them, "Did you not tell me that he is a Christian?" to which they made answer, " Yes, my lord." Whereupon he said to them, "What are we to do with him?" to which the archbishop of Canterbury, less circumspectly than he might, in the spirit of his anger, made answer, "If he does not choose to be a Christian, let him be a man of the Devil;" whereas he ought to have made answer, " We demand that he shall be brought to a Christian trial, as he has become a Christian, and now contradicts that fact." But, inasmuch as there was no person to offer any opposition thereto, the before-named William relapsed into the Jewish errors, and after a short time died at Northampton; on which he was refused both the usual sepulture of the Jews, as also that of the Christians, both because he had been a Christian, and because, he had, " like a dog, returned to his vomit."  
From Roger of Hoveden: The Annals, comprising The History of England and of Other Countries of Europe from AD 732 to AD 1201, trans. Henry T. Riley, 2 Vols. (London: H.G. Bohn, 1853; rep. New York AMS, 1968), Vol 2, pp. 117-19

Christians and Jews in Angevin England now in paperback

by J J Cohen

Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I blogged the conference "York 1190: Jews and Others in the Wake of Massacre" back in the day. You can read a version of my conference closing paper here.

The gathering yielded an excellent book edited by the wonderful conference organizers, Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson: Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts. The book is now in affordable paperback ... and for blog readers, available at a reduced rate. See the attached image, which contains a code (16018) that provides 25% discount on the book until March 31, 2016. Having read the book in its entirety as well as participated in the gathering that generated the volume, I can tell you that it's a text anyone who works on medieval England, or who is interested in the uneven relations of power and desire that both bind and vex diverse communities, will want to read.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Antifeminism, Whiteness, and Medieval Studies

by Dorothy Kim

MLK Day 2016

Recently, much of the medieval interwebs have been having discussions on Facebook and Twitter (#femfog) about the implications of a particular senior Anglo-Saxonist medievalist’s toxic misogynist blog.

Many have created compelling responses, including Peter Buchanan; Lavinia Collins; and The Syllabub. Several scholars have responded today on the ITM blog as well, including JJ. Cohen.

In addition, a group of senior Anglo-Saxonists made a strong statement:
Old English Literature and Anglo-Saxon StudiesBy far the majority of contemporary scholars in the field of Anglo-Saxon Studies and especially Old English strive to be professional, respectful, generous, equitable and welcoming to all others, irrespective of identity, including but not limited to, gender, sexuality, race, or age. The field does not belong to any one scholar, or to any one approach, or to any single authority. It is the duty of every generation of scholars in Old English to promote our subject and make the field a better, kinder and more desirable place in which to work for all succeeding generations.

In this way, the response to the identification of MRA scholars in the midst of medieval studies has been vocal, community building, and has mobilized scholars in the field.
I am writing this post today as a way to meditate on intersectional feminism and the difficulties that Medieval Studies seems to have with dealing with both gender and race. I have been thinking a lot about this because I am writing a book called Digital Whiteness and Medieval Studies for ArcPress and one of the chapters addresses the issue of medieval scholars and white supremacy. I am sad to report: it’s become a literal cakewalk to write this chapter. The examples are just so numerous.

Recently, I got another example from Twitter via Jeffrey Cohen who pointed me to a blog post titled “3 Cheers for White Men.” It was written by Rachel Fulton Brown, a tenured medieval historian at the University of Chicago who also blogs at fencingbearatprayer. The post in question—while not her only problematic post—valorizes the supposed whiteness of the Middle Ages. Her post states:
1. When white women (see Marie de France and Eleanor of Aquitaine) invented chivalry and courtly love, white men agreed that it was better for knights to spend their time protecting women rather than raping them, and even agreed to write songs for them rather than expecting them to want to have sex with them without being forced.
2. When white men who were celibate (see the canon lawyers and theologians of the twelfth century and thereafter) argued that marriage was a sacrament valid only if both the man and the woman consented, white men exerted themselves to become good husbands rather than expecting women to live as their slaves.
3. When white women (see Christine de Pizan, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the suffragettes) invented feminism, white men supported them (see John Stuart Mill) and even went so far as to vote (because only men could vote at the time) to let them vote, not to mention hiring them as workers and supporting their education.
And before you start telling me about all the terrible things that white men have done, take a moment to reflect that it was white men who voted in favor of the First Amendment to protect your right to disagree with me in the public sphere, including on matters of heated political discourse.
So, three cheers for white men! Hug a white man today!”
The ensuing discussion on the SMFS Facebook group has been interesting in many ways—with Rachel Fulton Brown stopping by to defend herself.

Here, I want to concentrate on how this post is a #WhiteLivesMatter for the Middle Ages with all the political dimensions that the hashtag denotes. On my original post that accompanied my link to this blog I wrote the following statement:

I believe that one should always support good feminist work in the world, however, I am not OK w/ supporting white feminist work. I am sorry, this is an example. This goes beyond just #‎solidarityisforwhitewomen, it's starting to teeter into a whole other zone particularly in relation to race/religion as well as the consistent upholding of whiteness as a category. And can I discuss how much medievalism and apparently Tolkien is used as a crutch to uphold that whiteness. I wrote this at a roundtable for Homonationalisms at Kalamazoo last year, and can I say, I am dismayed that it has become so EASY for me to write the book Digital Whiteness and Medieval Studies, so easy, the examples of medievalists upholding white supremacy just continue to proliferate... 

"There is no way we can hermetically seal the past in our current moment. The medieval past is already queer time; medieval time has become part of our queer now. Homonationalism now means medieval scholars must address how our historical fields are being used to uphold white supremacy and military machines. This is not the time to scold the public for not being medieval historians; rather, this is the time to educate the public about the medieval past. If medievalists think that they can escape this fact or imagine that their work is not political and/or not going to be used in contemporary war machines, then medievalists must consider what privilege they have to dodge this? The idea that this can be separated away from the current now is a privilege of whiteness, a privilege of heteropatriarchy. 
Homonationalism now means that medieval studies is and always will be political. Flavia Dzodan wrote the oft repeated phrase that “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” I would like to end this by saying that this should be repeated in our field—“my medieval studies will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

After the thread on the SMFS page had more or less died down, several things have struck me especially in comparison with what is going on with Frantzen’s identification as a believer in MRA activism (down to blue pill/red pill). Brown’s defense in the Facebook discussion thread amounted to a stance that included the following: 1. the blog is performance art;  2. it’s written by her persona the bear, not her; 3. she was being ironic by saying “white, white, white”; and 4. she’s still working out the tone of her public writing (though she’s been writing this blog for years); 5. I have been reading too much into the color of her bear (rather than reading her blog post and her statements). I find these responses perplexing.

First off, performance art or aesthetics will not save you from antifeminism or racism-- as so many people know from looking at recent controversies related to contemporary poetry ( or the Whitney Biennial ( Similarly, the persona, “the bear” is espousing statements that entangle one’s scholarly world with one’s personal/political views along with a dash of medievalism for good measure. This cannot escape critical view, especially posting things like “3 Cheers for White Men.” I believe, from the discussion, this was a reaction to Chicago #blacklivesmatter protests. If so, we should meditate exactly on what it means to do a #whitelivesmatter for medieval history in response the current political and social justice terrain.

In this post (as well as others), Brown uses a fantasy “white male” version of the Middle Ages as a way to respond to current conversations about race and uphold white supremacy as a structure. Implicit in her “Three Cheers For White Men” and her explanations of the Middle Ages is the “other”— if it is white men who are to be credited with everything she considers valuable, where does everyone else fit? (Blacks, Jews, non-Christians, non-white women?) As for saying “white, white, white” as a form of irony, I have already pointed out in the discussion thread, there are critical discussions online and in academic circles about hipster racism and irony ( As for her defense that she is still evolving a tone for public writing, the blog has been up for many years. Likewise, as a tenured scholar who has written and published scholarly books, I don’t think this is nor can one use the defense of “new to writing” as a deflection for the content of this and other posts. And no, I am not reading too much into the color of her bear—I am reading her statements about valorizing the benevolence of white men and the importance of whiteness in the legacy of the Middle Ages.

Another rhetorical move I find especially striking is the combination of white fragility+benevolent sexism. The latter parallels what several of the blogs have made clear, that men have been so generous in giving women permission to have rights, create rules for their consent, etc. We responded to AJ Frantzen’s MRA post because it was a form of hostile sexism. However, when medievalists, even the ones who identify as feminist, encounter benevolent sexism, the reaction is quite different:

[Benevolent sexism is] a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (Glick et al., 2000, p. 763).
Yes, there’s actually an official name for all of those comments and stereotypes that can somehow feel both nice and wrong at the same time, like the belief that women are “delicate flowers” who need to be protected by men, or the notion that women have the special gift of being “more kind and caring” than their male counterparts. It might sound like a compliment, but it still counts as sexism.”

If one couples this with white fragility and particular female white fragility, it makes for an interesting cocktail, particularly when it’s the rhetorical stance being used by the female writer in response to her writing. White fragility and female white tears has been explicitly discussed in both scholarly circles and also in the wider public. The terminology (like white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, cisgendered, white privilege, etc.) can be easily found on google searches. What I mean by white fragility, white feminist tears, etc. can be summed up in the following articles:;;;

As someone on the SMFS thread pointed out, it’s not about intention, it’s about the effects. And I am happy that there were people pointing out this problem as well as some of the complicated dynamics related to white fragility and antiracism work. So this is what I saw on the SMFS thread, the bandying of “civility” and “niceness” on the thread in relation to defending RF Brown’s intentions or tone or apologizing to RF Brown was an interesting slice of all these various identified structures that I have just discussed. And the discussion of her being “ganged up” on by the woman of color making a critique of her antifeminist, white supremacist blog also fits these structural dynamics. People have written about these patterns extensively. Sara Ahmed’s work is one I go to frequently and this particularly passage resonates with me at this moment. I have often in my public writing made it clear that I identify as a feminist killjoy. And in particular, this statement: “When black women and women of colour spoke of racism in feminism we were heard, we are heard, as angry, mean and spiteful, as hurting white women’s feelings. The angry woman of colour is not only a feminist killjoy she is often a killer of feminist joy. She gets in the way of how white women occupy feminism.” There are power dynamics at play in whose affective pain has more priority and what roles certain bodies are cast as in these situations.

In relation to power structures, as a woman of color, I do not have the privilege of white fragility especially in academic discussions. There are entire books written about this in relation to women of color in academia ( or this very useful article ( Or as this post explains so succinctly about the uses of white tears or white emotion in relation to discussions of race ( :
1. Having Emotions Validated Is a Direct Example of Privilege…
In this example and countless others since, I’ve learned that white folks usually receive affirmation or comfort when their problematic behavior has been called out, especially in mostly white spaces…The simple ability to publicly display emotions and have those emotions validated – is a direct example of white privilege.”

So I found it fascinating that a discussion that was a critique about benevolent sexism and benevolent racism (which consistently wants emphasizes the goodness of white culture, which is then implicitly pointing to the lack of goodness of non-white culture), ended up mostly in a whole series of examples of these kinds of behaviors. How so very different from the discussions regarding AJ Frantzen. Somehow we cannot address benevolent sexism intermingled with racism in any sustained or systematic way even in a closed Facebook group for medieval feminists. So literally my point about the intersectionality as central to medieval studies vanished, rather got whitewashed, in the whole thread since it became an ongoing conversation that continually centered whiteness again and again. Or in another way, if I posted the exact same thing in the Facebook Group for a Research Cluster on Women of Color, I am absolutely positive that discussion thread would have been completely different. So maybe this is my challenge to the field, how can we make Medieval Studies reach the benchmark that happens in groups like the Research Cluster on Women of Color?

This is the heuristic: why is it so hard to let go of whiteness and white supremacy in medieval studies? Why is it difficult to acknowledge our spectrum of various privilege and try to do the labor and work of dismantling white supremacist ableist heteropatriarchy? Why is it hard, even in a Facebook group for medievalist feminists, to model or even understand intersectional feminism? Why are there not attempts to read, research, learn, and decolonize our historical pasts and reframe medieval futures? Why is it so difficult to read critical race theory and the work of historians of race?

It is both heartbreaking and often exhausting to realize how easy it has become to write this chapter on Digital Whiteness and Medieval Studies. So I appreciate Karl Steel’s post about the issues of the Vikings and the ongoing discussion of imagining a white medieval past and the inherent dangers in this vision ( This summer, I am scheduled to present at New Chaucer Society on a panel discussing why Medieval Studies is still so pale. I can give you an early glimpse at my answer. Look around—consider the white supremacist and patriarchal things being written by medievalists in Medieval Studies. Imagine what that classroom feels and looks like to an undergraduate or graduate student of color. What exactly are students of color supposed to do with a post like “Three Cheers for White Men”? Though the student demographics continue to shift to the extent that soon, it will eventually be majority non-white campuses across the country, what does our professoriate look like? It’s still over 75% white and predominantly white and male. The statistics in academic circles are just as bad as the Silicon Valley tech circles. And what does Medieval Studies currently center? Are we decolonizing our fields of study, our curriculum, our graduate training? What are programs doing to increase the number of faculty of color in the field? This is not just a pressing concern for North American campuses as we have seen a wave of protests and demands from students across the country to have more inclusive curriculum and more faculty of color on campus. This is also something recently discussed in the UK with the campaign that asked “Why Is My Curriculum White?” Jonathan Hsy recently posted steps to move forward on ITM, “#FemFog Medievalism: Lessons Learned+Proactive Steps.” I urge people to read and think about how they can include these suggestions in their academic lives.

So yes, is your Medieval Studies intersectional? If it’s not, it is bullshit.

#FemFog Medievalism: Lessons Learned


Two ITM postings in one day! This posting began as a set of reflections on a public Facebook status update but I'm reposting it all here as a kind of archive (and it's especially appropriate for MLK Day). Brief context: medievalists were engaged in important conversations on social media this week in response to the discovery of distressingly anti-feminist blogs/blog postings by established medieval scholars. Here are some initial thoughts on where we might go from here.

[UPDATED January 28, 2016: For more context on #femfog conversations since this post was made, see Dorothy Kim's post on ITM, this curated archive of #femfog tweets by @OldBooksNewSci, and coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Jezebel (and read our note of thanks to Dr. Zuckerberg and our own affirmation of values).]


What can we (medievalists) learn from Frantzen-gate and Fulton-gate, and what proactive steps can we make to change the field (and our world) for the better?

Some initial thoughts:

1. EVERYONE is implicated. Gay men can be mysogynist, and women can reaffirm patriarchy (and white hegemony). Retired profs can be toxic—and so can grad students. You can be disadvantaged in one way but also exert power/exclude in others. We all need to be aware and look out for each other (male, female, queer, white, nonwhite, nontenured, tenured—everyone).

2. KUDOS to courageous people. Thanks to Dorothy Kim for launching an extended private conversation on the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship Facebook page about enduring harmful scholarly (i.e. medievalist) fantasies of whiteness. I will give some credit to Rachel Fulton Brown (author of one of the blogs in question) for at least engaging with the criticism she is facing and making some efforts to understand. (Meanwhile the stridently masculinist Allen J. Frantzen did not engage any of his critics and un-friended people on Facebook after his viewpoints started circulating. ‪#‎GYB‬)

3. INVITE unexpected voices into conversations. This applies to conference sessions, seminars, blogs, scholarly collections and journals. Nominate many kinds of people to your leadership structures, advisory groups, editorial boards, conference organizing groups. (On that note, check out this GREAT wide-ranging slate of candidates for the BABEL Steering Committee. If you consider yourself a BABEL-er, vote by Friday!)

4. SUPPORT the work (scholarship and labor, physical and affective) of marginalized people in your social spheres. The meaning of “marginalized” or “minority” differs from context to context, but in any case build structures to support people who find themselves “outside the advantaged majority.” Do not amplify the voices of toxic people and do not help to advance the careers of people who are jerks.

5. MORE DISCOURSE, not less. When toxic views are published, especially by established scholars who hold positions of power, we should all be willing to respond to such discourse with more of our own. The conversations this week were not just about “individuals” but their blogging as symptoms of much broader structural and cultural issues we need to address for the sake of our field and our society more broadly. I’m glad that men and women (such as Peter Buchanan and Carla Jardim) offered timely, thoughtful, and forceful blog posts in response to Frantzen. Both humor and earnest critique can be powerful weapons.

6. MORE ALLIES. We need more white people to address white supremacy and white fragility (thanks for instance to Monika Otter and Suzanne Edwards on the SFMS thread and thanks to Jeffrey Cohen for the strong response on twitter and through this posting here on ITM calling out Frantzen on his scholarly and public misogyny, and thanks to Karl Steel for his post on ITM earlier this morning). We need more men (gay/queer and straight) to speak out against misogyny. We need more white women to point out problems with mainstream feminism. Rhetoric “lands” differently depending on who is speaking, and at times allies can do really important work.

7. RECOGNIZE that there’s a lot of energy/time/labor involved in responding to and educating people whenever this sort of thing happens. It really should not just be the “usual suspects” chiming in when these sorts of things happen and having the burden of educating people. Senior scholars should be able to educate themselves.

8. EXAMINE your own behavior and practices. If you receive criticism for your rhetoric or behavior, think about how to meaningfully change how you do things in the future (this could apply to the classroom, conferences, personal interactions, online communication, etc.).

9. USE YOUR AWESOME POWERS for good. Make medieval studies (and the world) more open, aware, inclusive.

10. DECIDE today what you can do to transform the profession and the world. It might be scholarship, serving on a committee, organizing a conference, curating a conversation, mentoring a student/colleague. If we want medieval studies to thrive, then we are all in this together.

"Not back then they weren't": still more on medieval "whiteness"


EDIT: several days on. It's come to my attention that perhaps some people have not quite understood what this post is doing. Let me make my claims as clear as possible.
1. the transhistorical existence of a category called "white people" is a fiction
2. the invention of that fiction - roughly speaking, over the course of the seventeenth century - with all the legal and ideological support that accompanied and enabled it, also accompanied - not incidentally - the massive, systematic exposure of millions of Africans and African-descended people to rape by these "white people."
3. Therefore, any claim that "white people" are, for example, the heroes in the history of anti-rape advocacy is an appalling error.


I'd call this post White Skin, White Mask if the title hadn't already been taken many times. Before you go any further, if you haven't already, read Jonathan Hsy's MLA roundup, and also Eileen Joy's breathtaking farewell to ITM post.

We've posted often on racial fantasies here (a lot! here's a sample: here, here, here [from 2006], herehere, here, and here). And in one of my favorite writing experiences, Jeffrey and I co-wrote a review essay on several medieval books on cultural encounters, medievalism, and race.

And here I go again, probably not for the last time.

A couple years ago, while teaching Gerald of Wales’ History and Topography of Ireland, one of my students asked, “Why’s he so nasty about the Irish? Aren’t they the same race?” My reply: “Not back then they weren’t.” What a perfect hook that was for class discussion!

The student meant “white.” Any reader of this blog knows how much work we have done to resist the mistaken idea of a “white” Middle Ages. To be sure, many medieval writers found it useful to believe that dark skin was ugly, even diabolical. Some found it melancholic (as the word literally means “black bile”), a point you might read alongside Drew Daniel's book.

But not infrequently, they believed similarly negative things about light skin. Certainly, “white as snow” was one standard description of beautiful women, whether Saracen or Christian. Countering that, we can add "pale as a Jew": the early fifteenth-century Canarian, an inadvertently mock epic about the attempted conquest of the Canary Islands, includes a catechism for the Canary Islanders, explaining that Jews were distinguished by being “descoulourez” by fear: they were pale, in other words, excessively light-skinned. M. Lindsey Kaplan’s “The Jewish Body in Black and White in Medieval and Early Modern England” (Philological Quarterly 2013) observes that late medieval antisemitism quite often described Jews as melancholic, as “naturally timid” (44, quoting from a 14th-century Parisian quodlibet), and therefore as naturally “livid,” an uncertain color, like lead, that could be black, blue, or pale.

"first white woman": Icelandic theater photo.
Thanks Dan Remein for sending it to me.
And although modern racists since the later nineteenth century have made much of the supposed whiteness of the Norse in Vinland some thousand years ago, the Vinland sagas themselves don’t think of this encounter between the Norse and the “Skraelings” as an encounter of white and, say, “red.” As my students and I regularly discover, whatever so-called "white" America's interest in these sagas, they actually and primarily concern the thirteenth-century Icelandic difficulty with their own religious heritage: how is it possible to praise one's pagan ancestors? As for the “Skraelings,” one of the sagas describes a their leader as “tall and handsome [vænn],” which is precisely the same language the sagas as a whole use to describe any martial hero, Icelandic or otherwise. The Vinland sagas say that the rest of the "Skraelings" have tangled hair and enormous eyes and are – presumably apart from the leader – “ugly” [illiligir], and either “dark” (svartir) or “pale” (folleit), without, that is, any obvious singularly distinctive hair or skin color, though they are still marked as somehow different.

Furthermore, neither of the Vinland sagas offers a homogeneous ‘Eurocentric’ identity reducible to whiteness. Eric the Red’s Saga has among its Norse a German explorer, and the Greenland Saga two Scots, differentiated from the text’s norm, as in common in medieval texts, through culinary and cultural differences: the German knows grapes and wine, while the Scots, wearing what the texts think of as strange Scottish clothing, are fast runners, swifter than deer.

The paragraph above, and the last sentences of the previous one, come from my article “Bad Heritage: The American Viking Fantasy, from the Nineteenth Century to Now,” intended for a non-medievalist audience, and, knock on wood, coming out later this year. I’ll quote one more paragraph as a teaser, and as a rebuke of this eminent University of Chicago medieval historian:
Modern fans of the Vikings speak of them as representing the “organic unity of a race” (Else Christiansen, qtd in Gardell, “Wolf Age Pagans” 386) and offer up “Scandinavians and the Scandinavian culture as ancient and therefore pure” (Blaagaard 11). But without a single pre-Christian Norse religion (indeed, without a pre-Christian Norse religion entirely free of Christian influences), there is no “pure” and ancient “folkway” that can be contrasted with Christianity, modernity, cosmopolitanism, and all the other presumptive faults of modernity. No single origin is available. While the medieval Norse were no less free of racist taxonomies and anxieties than any other medieval group, their chief concerns were not with the modern category of whiteness, not least of all because they did not think of skin color as the primary racial determiner (for example). Claims of “ancestral roots” purport to be historical claims, but they lack the appreciation for heterogeneity and constantly shifting, interacting cultures, riven by internal disputes and negotiations, necessary for any truly historical analysis. Fascination with the seafaring exploits of Vikings, when attached exclusively to the Vikings, remain provincial: from the North Sea to the Indian Ocean, Norse, Croat, Swahili, Persian, and Chinese sailors all found new success in the ninth century (Sindbaek). In short, the love of Vikings [or for that matter “white people”] is obviously a love of a fantasized past rather than a love of history. In its more and less benign forms, modern amateur Viking enthusiasm should collapse when it encounters these facts. Yet it persists, of course, which means, finally, we must examine what the Viking fantasy does for its adherents.

EDIT: a couple hours later, I need to address one more point. The post I linked to above makes claims about the centrality of medieval "white" people, and especially "white men," to anti-rape advocacy and anti-rape legislation, without discussing, say, the approval of the rape of peasant women in Andrew the Chaplain's De arte honeste amandi (often translated as The Art of Courtly Love):
And if you should, by some chance, fall in love with some of their women [i.e., peasant women], be careful to puff them up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient place, do not hesitate to take what you seek and to embrace them by force (Perry trans., 150)
The key term in the title is honeste, a word of perhaps uncertain meaning, but which might be read with reference to this; do not ignore the real limits of Andrew's arguments.

But we can also think of this argument in the context of America, one of whose founding crimes is its profiting from the systematic, massive rape of enslaved people from Africa or of African ancestry. Any account of anti-rape advocacy in America must have, for example, Ida B. Wells at its center; it should read  Saidiya Hartman's "Venus in Two Acts," or the helpless horror about witnessing rape in Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative. It should understand that Virginia profited enormously from the sale of enslaved children down south, which meant, of course, that so-called white men were selling their own children. Any account of anti-slave advocacy that seeks to racialize that history should read as much, if not more of, Thomas Thistlewood's diary as can be stood.

So-called white people do have a central role in the history of anti-rape advocacy, and that role has been, since the invention of white people, by and large, the enemy.