Thursday, August 31, 2017



Many if not all who follow this blog know that in the past several months racism and other forms of prejudice in the discipline of medieval studies have been variously and manifoldly made evident, and fought against. The mishandling of the theme of Otherness by Leeds IMC organisers (despite the best efforts of some on the committee) were a catalyst, but not the cause. Centuries of structural racism in the field of medieval studies is the cause. We work in a field which, at least until WWII, was used in overtly and deliberately racist ways to attempt to justify European imperialism, colonialism, and attendant white supremacy. Despite the best efforts of some (even many), those legacies remain.

And it’s not just legacies or habitual whiteness in the field. The tactics of internet racism are playing out in our field, particularly in and around the Facebook Old English group (currently migrating) and the Anglo-Saxon Studies group. Harassment of medievalists of colour and their supporters by individuals within the discipline has include:
  • Banning Dorothy Kim and removing all her posts from the Old English group, including posts directly related to the focus of the group, and claiming when questioned that her account was mistaken for spam
  • Abusive language (“racist bitch”) and the dogwhistle of the racist far right including the relatively recently emerged “Stalinist”/”Maoist” (actual quotes).
  • Doxing – gathering personal information through internet searches, in this case Google and, with the intention or possibility of releasing it to others to cause harm or targeting
  • Sending emails (to more than one scholar) seeking to discredit medievalists of colour and their supporters by questioning their academic credentials and even identities
Martin Foys, the outgoing Executive Director of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists published a statement as I was beginning to draft this post, which also summarizes recent events (link here accessible if you are a member of the AS group, but variously circulating publically on Facebook if not).

In the past day some of those involved in some of the above actions have made partial apologies (it’s not always clear who was doing what, and I don’t suggest that those who have publically apologised were responsible were doing those things they have not mentioned). As a result they have been constructed by others as victims of bullying rather than as individuals facing consequences for their actions. In any case, as the ISAS statement says “apologies for individual incidences do not efface ongoing issues of systemic racism or prejudice in our worlds.”

The people who have apologised publically are a small number of those who are responsible either directly or indirectly because of lack of action. They have not been made victims by anti-racism activists, but rather hung out to dry by supporters who either will not take responsibility themselves or who fail to understand their consequences of their own actions. This ongoing harassment has taken many forms: from white-anting of scholarly credentials and authority (I can’t count how many people demanded Dorothy provide exact quotations for ‘alterity’ being a preferable term to ‘Otherness’ to the extent of refusing to even read the references she gave for themselves); to creating ad absurdum arguments (‘they want us to destroy all Celtic crosses because some white supremacists like them’); to arguing that we should empathise with the feelings of white supremacists, and allow them at our conferences ‘because they don’t go to papers anyway;’ to dismissing the fears of those who know more and are targets; and by being silent bystanders in places of privilege and safety to all of the above.

This is not a ‘there was violence on both sides’ situation any more than Charlottesville was.

The harassment tactics are familiar to anyone who has spent any time with internet trolls, but the dynamics that I’ve seen across many social media posts in the past few months remind me of things I saw studying racism in fan communities including RaceFail 09, and of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies attempts to choke off moves towards diversity in science fiction and fantasy. Both were flare ups which resulted from much broader structural and systemic habits of racist whiteness in those genres (texts and communities). Which is also what is happening in medieval studies.

The details of RaceFail 09 and the Sad/Rabid Puppies are beyond what I can cover in the length of a single blog post, but, like events in medieval studies in past months they:
  • Mainly occurred between small groups or individual who were part of much larger communities that watched on bu t did not engage
  • The larger community is in the habit of seeing itself as powerless and under threat from wider society (we are used to having to argue for our existence in the academy as a whole) and therefore oppressed
  • That wider community doesn’t recognise its own history of misogyny, homophobia, and racism (and more) well.
In that context, where we think in a defensive frame, it’s easy to see anyone who suggests that there is a problem in our field as attacking us, as an enemy to be fought not an ally and advocate for improvement.

There’s more at play, and I’m going back to the work I’ve done on fan communities here. We invest some of ourselves in our work, our professional identities as medieval studies scholars are personal as well. We are embedded, online and offline, in networks of other scholars in our field; embeddedness is one of the major concepts of sociology which in essence states that people tend to be influenced in their actions by personal connections, i.e. networks, because we tend to trust those that we know. When most people in our networks are either silent or seem to be defending our community from criticism or attack, we’re inclined to let them do it at the very least.

I speak from personal experience when I say that we don’t want to hear that the field we have invested out time, effort, thought and parts of our identities (professional and otherwise) in is structured by racism and has been since its inception. One of the first articles I wrote after completing my PhD essentially argued that Lord of the Rings (which I still love) wasn’t racist; I don’t recommend looking it up, I was wrong (for my perspective after learning what I didn’t want to know see this blog in 2014).

But just because we don’t want to hear it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

We’re scholars, we’re supposed to be better than that, to be critical, reflective, and open to new ideas. Just because something is hard isn’t a reason not to do it however. PhDs are hard and many of us have done or are doing them.

When it comes to race in particular, many of us in medieval studies are not well equipped with critical tools or knowledge. Feminism and queer theory have been making in-roads into medieval studies spaces much longer than race studies. But that only goes so far. There’s now a substantial and growing body of scholarship on race and medieval studies and medievalism (see this crowdsourced partial bibliography if you haven’t already).

Ignorance is not an excuse. Habit is not a justification. We would not accept these from our students (‘I didn’t know the assignment was due, I’m not used to coming to class’), why on earth would we accept them from ourselves?

Consider who has been positioned as ‘an outside attacker’ in past months (and years): medievalists of color and their allies. Dorothy Kim, a woman of color, has been the target of most harassment. Don’t tell me it’s because she’s the most vocal. We were on a panel together two years ago where I and another white scholar talked about race and medievalism and Dorothy didn’t. She was the only one who got trolled. It’s not just that the ideas are new and challenging, it’s that they are coming from people who are habitually understood as not belonging in medieval studies because of our field’s history of propping up and perpetuating white supremacy.

This is not a blanket condemnation or despairing wail.

Many scholars are beginning to try to engage in both their teaching and research if comments and posts on social media are anything to go by.

A year after RaceFail 09, N. K. Jemisin – who was one of the targets of harassment – wrote a post titled “Why I Think RaceFail Was The Bestest Thing Evar for SFF.” RaceFail was bitter and painful and divisive and caused harm to many people of colour, but was also, as Jemisin put “a good thing…a necessary thing” because it made change happen. I highly recommend reading Jemisin’s post in full, but the short version is that systems and structures don’t change by themselves. It takes disruption, sometimes major disruption because that’s what makes people pay attention. @medievalpoc has been thinking along the same lines about what we’re doing in medieval studies being a race fail, and abut Jemisin’s post; her take is here.

I have heard from several people in the past day that they hope medieval studies will improve because of this. I hope so too, and I think not unrealistically. Jemisin just won her second consecutive Hugo Award for best novel (the most prestigious in SFF). She was the first person of color to win one. SFF is far from perfect, but it’s more diverse (not just in terms of race) than it was even five years ago. I hope to say the same of medieval studies. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy

by Dorothy Kim

Today, medievalists have to understand that the public and our students will see us as potential white supremacists or white supremacist sympathizers because we are medievalists. The medieval western European Christian past is being weaponized by white supremacist/white nationalist/KKK/nazi extremist groups who also frequently happen to be college students. Don’t think western European medieval studies is exceptional. As Catherine Cox recently presented at MLA, ISIS/ISIL also weaponizes the idea of the pure medieval Islamic past in their recruiting rhetoric for young male Muslims. If the medieval past (globally) is being weaponized for the aims of extreme, violent supremacist groups, what are you doing, medievalists, in your classrooms? Because you are the authorities teaching medieval subjects in the classroom, you are, in fact, ideological arms dealers. So, are you going to be apathetic weapons dealers not caring how your material and tools will be used? Do you care who your buyers are in the classroom? Choose a side. Doing nothing is choosing a side. Denial is choosing a side. Using the racist dog whistle of “we must listen to both sides” is choosing a side. I am particularly struck by this last choice, since I want to know: would you also say this about ISIS/ISIL?

This is not a problem for me by the very mere fact that I am a woman of color. My actual body waves the “highly, ridiculously unlikely-to-be-a-white-supremacist” flag in the classroom (not that Asian Americans are not anti-black or marched at the Virginia riots for white supremacy, as is noted here: However, this creates a completely different set of issues for almost all medievalists (medievalists of color barely make .5%-.75% of this population). How are you signaling in your classroom that you are not upholding white supremacy when you are teaching the subject loved by white supremacists (feel free to read all the articles that discuss the love of medieval history on the part of the white supremacist who is now a poster image of the Charlottesville riot: Neutrality may have worked in a distant past when white supremacists/KKK/white nationalists/Nazis were some imagined fringe group, but that is not going to work now.

Marcia Chatelain recently wrote an excellent article about “How Universities Embolden White Nationalists” ( with excellent suggestions to college faculty on how to not embolden white nationalists in the classroom. So, this is the question I pose to our community of scholars: “Are you, as medievalists, emboldening white nationalists?” The range of white supremacy and medieval studies’ complicity in it include the following: denying the problem exists (or even that there are medievalists who are white supremacists); labeling the backlash and protestations of medievalists of color as alarmist; imagining there are two sides; deciding that you want to give sympathy to the pain of white supremacists; declaring that medieval spaces (IRL or digital) are above contemporary geopolitics; stating that conversations about white supremacy and race are ancillary and “spam”. None of these fix the problem of white supremacy in medieval studies nor make our classrooms an inclusive space for the bodies targeted by the white nationalists—your students who are BIPOC, LGBTQIA, differently abled, Muslim, Jewish, and women.

Chatelain explains in her article: “The basis of the white-nationalist anxiety is that inclusion means erasure, that they are fighting a mass invasion of outsiders into institutions that rightfully belong to whites. They inspire victimhood among their adherents by ignoring the evidence of the durability of white supremacy in the United States, including on our campuses. Most faculty, staff, and administrators abhor this thinking and ideology, but in my experience, they often tacitly endorse ideas that may help create little Richard Spencers” ( Embolden/240956?cid=wcontentgrid_hp_2). What medieval studies do you imagine is going to be erased if the field is inclusive? What is so difficult to understand that white supremacists have had a stake in medieval studies for a long time? Medieval studies is the go-to subject for white supremacists who want to uphold their belief about the “pure white” Middle Ages. Feel free to read Derek Black’s discussion of this ( So, what are you doing to overtly signal that your medieval studies class is not going to implicitly or explicitly uphold the tenets of white supremacist ideology?

In various conference (MAMO, Leeds) and digital spaces this summer, I have had numerous medievalists tell me the following: (1) We should listen to the point of view of white supremacists; (2) We should allow white supremacists at our conferences; (3) We should feel and sympathize with the pain of white supremacists; and (4) White supremacists and medieval studies are not in any way connected; and (5) White supremacy is an American problem. Many medievalists, then, are either going for full denial, using "both sides" racist dog whistles, or are insisting that it's a strictly American issue. They do so in spite of mounting evidence that demonstrates the deeply interconnected nature of medieval studies and white supremacy: from medieval cosplay (, to medieval symbols (, to the love of the medieval exhibited by the white supremacists marching in Virginia [l1] (

Let us be crystal clear here—medieval studies is intimately entwined with white supremacy and has been so for a long time. Feel free to ask historians of 19th-century Confederate history, the KKK, and the Nazis. They will produce reams of bibliography, material culture, documents, images, etc. for your perusal. Let us be even clearer on this second point: white supremacy is not fringe. This is not a peripheral, tiny subculture problem. They are mainstream—how many can we count in the White House and the current US administration right now (even if Bannon has been fired)?

A striking number of medievalists want to go for some “both sides” argument about the point of view of white supremacists and thus perform the micro-version of the “free speech” debate on college campuses. We have already seen how that has played out after #Charlottesville and how rhetorically that is a dog whistle for racism ( The whole, “I want to sympathize with white supremacists, we should listen to white supremacists, we should have them in our conference spaces,” is flat out a declaration of white supremacist sympathies at the very least, but really a declaration of your belief in white supremacy and the utter white privilege of medievalists.  Please read an academic expert on white supremacy and the issue of ethnography before you decide somehow your research in medieval studies makes you an expert in the KKK/Nazis/white nationalists/white supremacists and that these violent hate groups are just misunderstood men and women who are in pain but really just nice people ( Many of the same medievalists want to imagine this is isolated to America and not a global problem, even though white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis and other such groups proliferate in the UK, Europe, and Australasia (Golden Dawn, the French Election, Brexit and UKIP). My colleague Helen Young recently pointed me to this article among so many others that discuss antifascist action against these hate groups globally: (

Finally, realize, your BIPOC, LGBTQIA, Jewish, Muslim, differently abled, and female students are terrified of violence from white supremacists. What are you going to do to address this dynamic in your classrooms? White supremacy by inaction and thus by complicity translates into violence—in both speech and action. If you do not signal that you are not a white supremacist or address white supremacy, what do you imagine your most vulnerable students feel? They will absolutely question whether they can speak in your class with safety.

Our old-style position that objectivist neutrality is where medievalists should be no longer works, because it facilitates white supremacists/white nationalists/KKK/Nazis and their horrific deployment of the Middle Ages as we saw in Charlottesville. For several months people have been adding to this partial bibliography, “Race and Medieval Studies” (, and have been discussing in various digital groups and spaces about how to change their syllabi to address the last year of white supremacist hate. Many are frantically preparing their syllabi for the Fall semester. You really have no excuse to address whether your medieval studies is a white supremacist medieval studies or not. You also do not have a choice in whether you are part of this debate because the debate is already prevalent and public. Our students are watching and will make judgements and calls on what side you are really on. I suggest overt signaling of how you are not a white supremacist and how your medieval studies is one that does not uphold white supremacy. Neutrality is not optional.     

Dorothy Kim is a medievalist, digital humanist, feminist. She teaches medieval literature at Vassar College. 

statement of community values and expectations

by the Six Co-Bloggers of ITM

Dear friends,
If you happen to be on Facebook, we hope that you will join our lively In the Middle Community Group. It's only been running for about a week and we already have 500 members as well as some vigorous and timely discussions unfolding. We just posted the following statement of community values and expectations there for feedback. Please feel free to comment here as well, since the ethos is the same on the blog (even if the rules for screenshots and so forth must be different in this space: here things are far more public).

In the Middle [Community] is a moderated community for discussing posts from the blog In the Middle as well as related humanities concerns.

We ask all of our members to remember the ground rules of our community’s description: ITM is a feminist, anti-racist, queer affirmative and refuge making space. We repudiate white supremacist dreams of both the Middle Ages and contemporary nations. We foster visions of the past and future that privilege diversity, community and welcome over intolerance, dreams of segregation, and pervasive violence. We reject fear of difference. We reject misogyny. We reject homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia. We turn to the past to imagine better futures.

The moderators of this group (Jeffrey Cohen, Leila K. N. Ellis, Jonathan Hsy, Mary Kate Hurley, Karl Steel and Cord Whitaker) monitor postings here carefully, and ask that members observe the following rules:
  • We ask that members avoid harassment, abuse, and trolling of any kind - we understand that debate may at times be vigorous, and we encourage a diversity of opinions, approaches, and ideas about the Middle Ages (see our ethos statement above) but above all we wish to maintain a safe space for our members to discuss the issues of the field, historically, politically, and socially. 
  • We ask that our members make a good-faith effort to link their announcements and postings in the group to ongoing conversations we are having in the field.
  • We ask that members keep our discussions on this page within the ITM community: that is, we ask that members not screenshot and share conversations that take place here in other fora or groups without the permission of all involved. Likewise, we ask that members not post screenshots from other groups here without permission of the originators.

Violation of these ground rules should be reported to the moderators, listed above; we will take action based on the severity of the situation. We reserve the right to dismiss members who violate our policies.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Summer Reading: 8 Books

by J J Cohen

Can summer really be coming to its end so soon? And with an eclipse no less: what a great way to instill a sense of cosmic foreboding. Thank you, universe. Luckily my family and I depart for Maine tomorrow morning on our annual pilgrimage to reunite with New England kin for a few days. Because I have my syllabus ready to go and the GW MEMSI events scheduled and nearing readiness I can put off some of the end-of-summer worries that always seem to plague at this time of year.

I spent much of June and July away from home, mostly in the UK. I researched and wrote like crazy for the two big lectures I gave, and that meant I did not get to read as widely as I would have liked. In the fields I follow closest (medieval studies, early modern studies, environmental humanities) the number of excellent books to have appeared in the past year or so is at once exciting and daunting: I have come to realize that I will be playing an eternal game of catch-up, with my goal of getting to everything I want to read eternally receding to the horizon. Here though are a few of the books I did manage to spend some time with this summer, offered with a few thoughts on them. Warning: the reason I had many of these volumes in my possession is that they were sent to me by friends, or by university presses. The following is a selection likely based on amity and affinity rather than, say, scanning all the possibilities and with dispassion choosing a few. Still, these are books I would recommend to anyone for the good work they achieve. All the writers I am listing here also offer vibrant and compelling prose. Accomplished stylists, each writer offers the pleasures of both excellent scholarly analysis and sentences that make you nod your head in appreciation or awe.

So, in no order but that which the alphabet provides, here are eight books from the summer of 2017.

Stacy Alaimo, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times
A collection of essays composed over several years that demonstrates well something that I have long believed: Stacy Alaimo is among our most eloquent, perceptive and humane interpreters of what the Anthropocene signifies for all creatures, not just humans. I love this book's emphasis on protest as well as pleasure -- and its grounding in environmental justice as well as raced and gendered specificities. Exposed is a work that transcends its theorizations of contemporary materials. Humanists working in every period will want to read the book. The essays gathered here also give hope for change in dark times.

Joseph Campana and Scott Maisano, eds. Renaissance Posthumanism
This collection of nine essays (many of them by favorite writers of mine, including Holly Dugan, Erica Fudge, and Vin Nardizzi) sat on my shelf for far too long before I had the opportunity to read it -- and I am happy that a rainy day with no one else at home recently gave me the excuse to lose myself in its contents. The volume proves something many of us who work in non-modern pasts have long been asserting: today's critical posthumanisms are queer companions of earlier conceptions of entangled identities. Minerals, mandrakes, and monkeys are not the limners of the human so much as its vexers, guarantors that any desire for anthropocentricity will remain a mere dream. Reading through the essays was like listening in on a lively seminar. Essential issues are raised repeatedly and amplified, while the shared conversation is both coherent and bracing.

Lowell Duckert, For All Waters: Finding Ourselves in Early Modern Wetscapes
I have collaborated fairly extensively with Lowell Duckert in the past (this this this this) and have always enjoyed his paradoxically aqueous yet lambent writing style as well as his critical generosity. For All Waters displays both, finding in early modern as well as contemporary archives saturated modes of reading and living that better speak our entanglements with an active, elemental world. What also comes through on every page is conviction, optimism and the author's good heart. A book to immerse yourself within and savor.

Ursula K. Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species
I'd been fortunate enough to see Ursula Heise present work in progress from this book at several conferences, and so had been looking forward to this book eagerly. Nothing here disappoints. Against the elegiac and anthropocentric modes we reflexively adopt when framing (even within a scientific realm) species extinction, Ursula Heise urges us to rethink how we assign value to varied forms of life. Environmental justice thereby becomes multispecies justice. By emphasizing the centrality of story-telling to perception, care and conservation, she is able to shift attention to the intimacy of genre and narrative to the generation of ethical attachment and the futures of environmental thought.

Peggy McCracken, In the Skin of a Beast: Sovereignty and Animality in Medieval France
One of our foremost scholars of human-animal interrelation in the Middle Ages, Peggy McCracken offers a new way of thinking about bestial intimacy, through the skin as surface, catalyst, symbol and invitation. Desires for domination and demands for care entwine; sovereignty becomes a fraught assertion of power; subjectivity and identity become legible through surfacing more than inscription. The latter matters because unlike many critical analyses of biopolitics and sovereignty, McCracken's method emphasizes becoming over being-made, demonstrating how the animal-human nexus in medieval narratives and manuscript illustrations offers possibility for what might unfold rather than evidence for what has already been. An invigorating book that will change how I teach many medieval texts in my class this fall.

Kellie Robertson, Nature Speaks: Medieval Literature and Aristotelian Philosophy
Do not let the rather specific subtitle to this magisterial work of scholarship mislead you. Although Nature Speaks is indeed about Aristotle's influence upon the conception of nature in the late Middle Ages, the book offers a penetrating analysis of the risks and rewards of embodying nature -- especially as a figure that could be represented as possessing a human body (always a woman) and an authoritative voice. Robertson describes at length and with aplomb the intimacy of physics to fiction and nature writing to poetry. Against the disciplinary divisions which eventually robbed Nature of her voice, she details how medieval writers found ethical possibility in the centrality of the human imagination to the natural sciences. Along the way she makes a convincing argument for what a reinvigorated humanities in the present might become.

Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt (eds.), Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet
I've always wanted to be the author or editor a book published as a tête-bêche, since I love the critical possibilities such a conjoining brings. I was therefore well disposed to admire Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. The collection of essays and art offers an energetic and interdisciplinary colloquy on how to dwell on a planet we have ruined: cognizant of the violence that will continue to haunt the landscapes we inhabit, but dedicated as well to doing better (especially through being able to articulated our entanglement with other species and wider worlds). Considering that the book is broken into sections on "Ghosts" and "Monsters" (two topics dear to my heart) I did hope to see more thinking through the specificities of such figures, but they remain mostly metaphoric. Much work remains to be done on bringing monster theory into an ecological realm.

Julian Yates, Of Sheep, Oranges, and Yeast: A Multispecies Impression
This witty, dexterous and beautifully written volume follows animals, fruit and unseeable microbes as story-rich media. By detailing the genres, possibilities, and plots such varied actants enable, he grants each its ability to insinuate itself into and even co-compose narratives with humans (often scripts in which humans are relegated to playing ancillary roles). These beings write in a way that demands multimodal reading to discern -- allowing Julian to articulate an innovative critical praxis that will have profound implications across the environmental humanities. This book opens worlds, and reaffirmed for me how fortunate I feel to be its author's collaborator on a book in progress.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

White Supremacists love the Middle Ages


White supremacists love the Middle Ages. Sure #notallwhitesupremacists, and, try not to @ me (or anyone else), #notallmedievalists, but white supremacists love medieval history, and they love medievalist popular culture too.

There’s the evidence of individuals, like in these tweets.

And the refereed publications, like in this thread from @drdarkage.

But the protestations about #notallmedievalists and #notallwhitesupremacists and the defensive, fragile posturing and arguments from academics on social media in the past few months show that this still isn’t enough to convince some people.

So here are some statistics from a pilot study analysis of the website Stormfront (click here for more information from the SPLC) that I ran in mid-2016. There were more than 4.5 million posts in about 372,000 threads; about 1.2% of those threads contained the word ‘medieval’. Many of these uses are in the negative adjectival way that’s probably fairly familiar. This is from a thread on the “Stormfront Ladies Only” forum:
Feminism to me is simply making up for the horrible way that women have been treated in the past (and trust me, we would be back to being Medieval property if some people had their way)”
There are also posts like this, from a thread helpfully titled “Praise of Medieval England – A Golden Age Revisited:”
The belief that everyone was a slave during the Middle Ages is a liberal lie. Serfs were serfs, and happy that way. Lords were happy as Lords, and Kings likewise. Society was nearly flawless and prosperous in Europe and Asia under a Feudal economy and government.” 
But this kind of quote isn’t what I mean when I say that white supremacists love the Middle Ages. It’s easy to dismiss that sort of statement as historically ridiculous and in any case, it’s just another individual.

Rather than relying on quotes like this, I used a program called SentiStrength which “estimates the strength of positive and negative sentiment in short texts” to analyse how much affect was generated in Stormfront posts. SentiStrength gives a score out of 5 for positive and -5 for negative, based on the greatest strength of what are termed “emotion bearing words” used in each piece of text (this is the short, blog version, more details available on request, as they say in the classics).

I analysed: a control group of randomly selected threads; threads about the Middle Ages generally or specific medieval events from the ‘History and Revisionism’ forum; and threads on medievalist topics, mainly from the ‘Music and Entertainment’ forum. In each thread SentiStrength gave a figure for each comment/post, which I then averaged.

The threads from the control group came out with scores between 0 and -1.4,  with 7% at a neutral 0 and 93% below. This means that the background noise on Stormfront has negative affect. Perhaps not surprising given that it’s a hate forum, but since the tag-line is “White Pride, World Wide,’ you’d think they’d be happier and prouder. And they are, when they are talking about medieval history and medievalist pop culture.

The threads that at least began with a post about medieval history range from 1 to -1, with 13% positive, 20% neutral and 67% negative. Talking about medieval history made these white supremacists happier than talking about most things (from feminism to plumbing tips and recommendations for local businesses).

The threads about medievalist topics (video games, movies etc) averaged between 1 and -0.5, with 13% neutral, 47% positive, while the 40% below were less strongly negative than the equivalents in the other groups. Seeing an all-white medieval ‘past’ on a screen makes white supremacists even happier than medieval history.

Sara Ahmed writes that “love becomes a way of bonding with others in relation to an ideal;” on hate forums like Stormfront the ‘whites only’ Middle Ages are an imagined object of love that helps create bonds within a community of hate.

White supremacists love the Middle Ages because for centuries (literally) medieval history and language and literature was taught as though Europe was a ‘whites only’ space. Which it wasn’t. And, for centuries, European nations and settler colonies have been built on the idea that medieval Europe was a wellspring of ethno-national identity. The Middle Ages are the period of history that global whiteness has laid claim to and loved since the eighteenth century. They’re not going to stop unless we make them. 

Helen Young is an honorary research associate of La Trobe University and the University of Sydney. Her research interests include medievalism, critical race studies, and popular culture. Her most recent monograph is Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness (Routledge, 2016).

heritage is the stories we tell

by J J Cohen

I have written about how we use materials like stone to send to the future stories of our having been here. These stories are inevitably misheard, reconfigured, re-invented, and otherwise lived-with. That's why I described stone as our most enduring companion: not because the substance remains inert, but because it travels with us through time.

So maybe it's worth contemplating that "heritage" does not mean preserving memorials as if we could freeze story into place. Remembering the past does not mean we cannot speak its complex unfolding differently: more humanely, more justly. Germany possess no statues of Hitler or his Nazis, but numerous memorials to their victims. Sometimes it's OK to realize that a community has made a mistake and commemorated an odious way of life, or a figure whose legacy was harm. Sometimes it's OK to take down a statue because of the pain its presence causes, or because the legacy it celebrates is on second thought appalling. Sometimes it's OK to leave an empty plinth, to contemplate the violence and even hate that used to be celebrated there. Sometimes it's OK to place a different memorial atop, perhaps a testimonial to a more capacious and complicated perspective on the past, one that conveys into the present the possibility of better futures.

Above, John C. McRae's engraving of the toppling of the statue of George III in NYC July 9, 1776. The Declaration of Independence had just been read to George Washington and his troops. Soldiers as well as a group of white and black citizens decided that some histories are not worth commemorating, not at present. They rushed to Bowling Green park, and took down the toga-clad figure of the king. The statue was melted to make musket balls, but McRae used the moment to make art. He added women, children and American Indians to his version and dressed everyone in contemporary clothing. Democracy is supposed to be inclusive, not time-bound.

No statue or memorial is timeless. We too can decide what to honor, what to affirm. Heritage is not "blood and soil" (as the Nazis in Charlottesville chanted), not some unchanging inheritance that inheres in blood and in native land, but the stories we tell.

Monday, August 14, 2017

MAP-Sponsored session for ICMS 2018

by Leila K. Norako

The Medieval Association of the Pacific will be sponsoring a session focused on the significance of waterways in the cultural and literary imaginaries of the Middle Ages — a topic that may well be of interest to many of our readers, especially those working towards a global medieval studies. I've shared the full CFP below, and hope interested readers will consider sending an abstract our way!

The Medieval Association of the Pacific welcomes papers that explore the significance of medieval waterways from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Waterways were the mainstay of travel, communication, and commerce in the Middle Ages. Roots of medieval economies, landscape management, agricultural production, and settlement patterns can be traced to waterway use. Routes of migration, trade, pilgrimage, and conquest align with networks of navigable rivers, canals, and sea crossings. These culturally and geographically fluid landscapes also served as borders and conduits in religious and literary imaginaries. Papers that offer a global perspective or that explore the medieval Pacific are especially encouraged. Please submit a 300-word abstract to Miranda Wilcox ( by 15 September, 2017. 

The Medieval Association of the Pacific is an organization of university faculty, students, and independent scholars from around the Pacific Rim, including North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The Association was founded in 1966 and has a distinguished history of supporting interdisciplinary, global medieval studies.