Saturday, January 14, 2017

Medieval Studies: Rallying Cry and Affirmation

by JONATHAN HSY

My #MLA17 "hot take" for medievalists: we all have to STEP UP.

Look at what the professional organizations and most prestigious journals in earlier historical periods are doing. The Society for Classical Studies has a leadership statement against racism and its major conference featured a politically urgent plenary (had to be delivered by proxy) by a prominent scholar who is also an undocumented immigrant; the most recent issue of Shakespeare Quarterly addresses early modern race and Shakespeare reception with essays by ethnic minority academics; the Shakespeare Association of America has an annual social for Scholars of Color (and allies).* We as a discipline and a community need to unambiguously stand up against white nationalism and the abuse of the past -- especially in a field that fuels racist fantasies. Medieval studies is not just about the past; it must build a better future.


*Note also a AIA-SCS session on immigration (organized by the Committee on the Status of Women and Minority Groups) and Affiliated group for Classics and Social Justice with a CFP for 2018; the linked SAA program schedule features among other things a plenary on the "Color of Membership" but the SOC social is not yet listed.

For an AFFIRMING thread broadcasting the many things we ARE doing in medieval studies (rather than just calling out what we "oppose"), check out this public thread at BABEL Futures.

Any other efforts, schemes, affirmations, hortatory speeches, or news you'd like to share? Add to the comment thread below (it's moderated, so please be patient!)

4 comments:

JH said...

P.S. Please do check out the BABEL Futures thread (I'm already finding it so energizing)! One comment I do just want to make here to clarify why I'm framing things this way. What most deeply concerns me about medieval studies is the "ethical vacuum" that emerges when medieval professional organizations "avoid political issues." Scholarship by medievalists is doing great things (across postcolonial studies, feminism, race, medievalism, and intersections among these things), and the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship is *especially* is on target [in its leadership, governing structures, sessions, statements, and publications], but the "umbrella" public-facing orgs in medieval studies are conspicuously behind the professional organizations in earlier periods. The irony is that "the medieval" is 1. most attractive to people seeing a perceived "safe haven" from politics; and 2. most easily abused by people with racist and white nationalist obsessions.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks for this Jonathan! I shared this on FB but will place it here as well:

Having watched up close the genesis of the SAA Scholars of Color Social and the SQ issue on early modern race, among other things (inc. the MAA affirmation), it seems to me some of the best strategies for getting our organizations to articulate the field we want is (1) stand for election to the organizations we would like to change so that we can exert internal pressure (essential!); (2) realize that what seems like collective action often comes from behind the scenes, and includes a great deal of individual labor (getting everything in place for the scholars of color event, for example, before making it clear to the SAA that it would be sponsoring the event); (3) keeping in constant, firm and to the degree possible "friendly" contact with the organizations that represent us so that they act affirmatively and proactively rather than defensively and are not caught by surprise. It takes a mixture of working from the inside and (often via alliance and friendship and unrelenting pressure) the outside, especially with known contacts and advocates who can be made willing.

JH said...

@Jeffrey: Yes, an excellent point! It takes so much onstage/offstage labor to make change happen, and we have to work from both "within" structures and put pressure from "outside." I find myself so energized by the public-facing work that our classicist and early modernist colleagues are doing and I really want medieval studies, collectively, to catch up. It all takes work and constant effort -- and it is for me motivating and informative to know that that other fields can do it. One big thing we need is models and precedent. Medieval studies tends to be so respectful of authority/tradition, and being able to "point to" our professional peer organizations is one way to "keep the pressure on."

twistedapple said...

Thanks for the love, medievalist friends! I'm working on disability/mental health issues (especially in the profession) for the Classics and Social Justice group. Do you know anyone organizing around that?

--Clara Bosak-Schroeder