Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Towards a more progressive medieval studies (and a more humane humanities)

by J J Cohen

I want to share with you two recent statements published by medieval studies communities. Affirmative of widened belongings and condemnatory of recent legislative actions, they have much to say to the current state of academy and world -- and especially against a recent and deplorable proliferation of anti gay, lesbian and trans initiatives in the United States that would legalize discrimination and cruelty. These initiatives are propelled by hate. They constitute acts of violence against people already vulnerable. First, this resounding statement from the Society of Medieval Feminist Scholarship:
The Society of Medieval Feminist Scholarship joins those other communities around the globe in unequivocally deploring the anti-LGBTQIAA laws and initiatives recently instated in Indiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. SMFS utterly rejects these retrograde developments that serve to deny LGBTQIAA persons their human right to access medical and other services within a non-prejudicial environment and prevent them from using those facilities in the workplace and other public spaces with which they identify. SMFS therefore speaks out strongly against any such initiatives permitting covert, open or legal discrimination against LGBTQIAA people and threatening both their safety and wellbeing. 
As a long-standing international society of scholars working within the context of sex and gender diversity, SMFS here reasserts its commitment to valuing diversity, difference and inclusivity, and to opposing most actively any form of discrimination based on gender, gender identity, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. As such, we continue in our policy of supporting students and faculty suffering discrimination for these or other reasons, particularly those who now inadvertently find themselves subject to these abhorrent and dangerous discriminatory laws. 
As a further response, SMFS announces a new funding initiative open to our LGBTQIAA students and colleagues, streamed from sales of its new merchandise and from member donations. The SMFS Trans Feminist Fund will take immediate effect after our Advisory Board meeting at Kalamazoo, having been established to offer financial support for conference/research-trip travel and accommodation for members of the medievalist LGBTQIAA community who may wish to receive such assistance to enhance their safety and wellbeing whilst going about their academic lives.

Liz Herbert McAvoy, President
Linda E. Mitchell, Vice President
Dorothy Kim, Secretary
Vickie Larsen, Treasurer

Next, this beautiful statement from the International Society for the Study of Medievalism:
In light of the Mississippi, North Carolina, and Indiana legislatures' recent anti-LGBTQ laws and initiatives, the leadership of the International Society for the Study of Medievalism hereby publicly rejects these laws and initiatives, which allow physicians and other medical professionals to deny services to LGBTQ persons, encourage employers and school officials to prevent transgender people from using the restroom with which they identify, and privilege the belief that “sexual relations are properly reserved” to a marriage between a man and a woman.

As an international society of scholars we prize inclusiveness, diversity, and difference, and we actively oppose discrimination based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. We are resolved not to bring our annual conference or other events to these states as long as these forms of discrimination exist. We will also actively support scholars in these states who, through no fault of their own, are now subject to discriminatory laws. 
Richard Utz, President & Editor, Medievally Speaking
Karl Fugelso, Vice President & Editor, Studies in Medievalism
Amy Kaufman, Director of Conferences
E.L. Risden, Co-editor, Year's Work in Medievalism
Carol Robinson, WebMaster
These statements of humane affirmation deserve all the applause we can muster. They make clear that a society of scholars must foster and protect a diverse membership -- and must not imagine that it exists apart from nation, time and law. Knowledge is not disembodied, and yet scholarship has too often in the past pretended it is so -- sometimes out of cowardice, sometimes to avoid tough conversations, sometimes to flee from a difficult present. The humanities are engaged practice of scholarship and living or they are nothing at all.

I will close by appending our own ITM statement of values, published here in January. As I hope the statement makes clear, the four of us endorse, support, and laud the two statements above. We admire and support our colleagues who formulated them. We want the humanities to be a place where many can thrive, and where legalized violence is called out for the mode of hate it is. We abhor anti-LGBTQIAA laws and initiatives and we want a better world.
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

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