Medieval Studies: Definitions, Debates, and the Parameters of the Field

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Image by Mikel Jaso. Published in New York Times, May 5, 2019, here.

 

Yesterday’s front-page article in the print edition of New York Times bore the headline “Symbols of Past Used by Right Upset Scholars.” That the online version’s header is “Medieval Scholars Joust with White Nationalists. And One Another” is a rhetorical shift worth questioning.

The article’s many directions are equally fascinating:

*the culture of the International Congress on Medieval Studies;

*demographics of the field of European Medievalism;

*narratives of the Anglo-Saxon race—roots, routes, and modernity—in Europe and the US;

*critical theory, feminist critique of power and patriarchy, and decolonizing a field;

*apolitical scholarship as an ideal;

*the Medievalists of Color group;

*white privilege and white fragility;

*Facebook fights and the resource of social media;

*white nationalism and white chauvinism—past and present;

*overhauling the academic conference submission process;

*the Belle da Costa Greene Award (est. 2018) and passing for white.

The Times reporter Jennifer Schuessler runs through these topics differently. She conveys the complexity of terrain in some passages and displays her amusement with the debates in others. “A field increasingly torn by vitriolic spats and racial politics”—anchorage text on the jump page in the print edition—sadly demonstrates the limited way in which Schuessler and the editor who worked with her on this piece see things.

There’s nothing easy about change in twenty-first century academia: it’s well- communicated in the letters accompanying the article—634 of them at present count. They’re worth a look.

This year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies Conference opens in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Thurs., May 9. The next day, May 10, is the anniversary of Greene’s death.

 

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Belle da Costa Greene. Photo by Clarence White. Published on Pinterest.

Da Costa Greene (born Dec. 13, 1879/1883 in Alexandria Virginia; died May 10, 1950 in New York) was elected of fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 1939. A librarian at Princeton and later for J. P. Morgan, Greene was the director of the Pierpont Morgan Library from 1924 to 1928.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: Jacqueline Francis

Writer, educator, curator, arts consultant, and occasional artist in San Francisco, California. Follow me on Twitter @JackieFrancisSF and Instagram--jackiefrancissf

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