Statement of Solidarity

As an international organization dedicated to studying the reception of medieval culture in postmedieval times, we have been observing with increasing concern the appropriation of medieval imagery, objects, and tropes by white supremacists and nationalists. Now, as we witness the recent targeted online harassment of fellow medievalist and activist Dorothy Kim, we declare our collective resolve to counteract racism and white supremacism in all its forms and to defend the rights of contingent and untenured faculty, especially those from marginalized populations.

Please read and consider adding your signature to each of the following:

  1. An Open Letter to the Department of History, University of Chicago & Signature Page
  2. IPPS statement in support of Dorothy Kim (Piers Plowman Society)
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CFP for ISSM at Sewanee

Medieval Laws and Lawlessness: Modern Reception (The Forty-Fourth Annual Sewanee Medieval Colloquium, April 13-14, 2018, The University of the South, Sewanee, TN)

Organizer: International Society for the Study of Medievalism (Usha Vishnuvajjala, American University (ukv630@gmail.com))

Medieval English laws continue to exert a strong influence on legal culture in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the entire Anglo-American world today. For example, in the recent Supreme Court case Wrenn vs. District of Columbia, the District’s argument drew on the 1328 Statute of Northampton and the way it was interpreted in the seventeenth century. Similarly, in 2012, three originalist New Hampshire legislators proposed that all legislation in the state addressing individual rights and liberties be based upon direct reference to the 1215 Magna Carta. And in 2015, there was a serious effort to establish a new law against “high treason” on the 1351 Treason Act established during the reign of Edward III.

At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, public perception that the Middle Ages were a violent and lawless time persists, as evidenced by the frequent descriptions of terrorist groups and other violent non-state actors as “medieval,” something medieval scholar Eric Weiskott has documented on twitter (@ericweiskott). The supposed lawlessness of the Middle Ages is often used to excuse the violence, especially the violence against women, in media perceived as medievalist, such as Game of Thrones.

This panel seeks papers that engage with some aspect of the continuity or discontinuity between medieval laws and modern reception of those laws. In addition, it encourages case studies from other countries in which positive reference to medieval law is extremely rare (France, Italy, Germany, for example). Speakers may examine the uses or eschewal of medieval laws in post-medieval societies, or consider popular perceptions of medieval legal systems, or the lack thereof, in post-medieval culture.

Comment: Richard Utz, Georgia Institute of Technology

Please submit an abstract (approx. 250 words) and brief c.v., via the colloquium website (http://medievalcolloquium.sewanee.edu), no later than 26 October 2017. Completed papers, including notes, will be due no later than 13 March 2018.

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Medievalists Respond to Charlottesville

In light of the recent events in the United States, most recently the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the undersigned community of medievalists condemns the appropriation of any item or idea or material in the service of white supremacy. In addition, we condemn the abuse of colleagues, particularly colleagues of color, who have spoken publicly against this misuse of history.

As scholars of the medieval world we are disturbed by the use of a nostalgic but inaccurate myth of the Middle Ages by racist movements in the United States. By using imagined medieval symbols, or names drawn from medieval terminology, they create a fantasy of a pure, white Europe that bears no relationship to reality. This fantasy not only hurts people in the present, it also distorts the past. Medieval Europe was diverse religiously, culturally, and ethnically, and medieval Europe was not the entire medieval world. Scholars disagree about the motivations of the Crusades—or, indeed, whether the idea of “crusade” is a medieval one or came later—but it is clear that racial purity was not primary among them.

Contemporary white nationalists are not the first Americans to have turned nostalgic views of the medieval period to racist purposes. It is, in fact, deeply ironic that the Klan’s ideas of medieval knighthood were used to harass immigrants who practiced the forms of Christianity most directly connected with the medieval church. Institutions of scholarship must acknowledge their own participation in the creation of interpretations of the Middle Ages (and other periods) that served these narratives. Where we do find bigotry, intolerance, hate, and fear of “the other” in the past—and the Middle Ages certainly had their share—we must recognize it for what it is and read it in its context, rather than replicating it.

The medieval Christian culture of Europe is indeed a worthy object of study, in fact a necessary one. Medieval Studies must be broader than just Europe and just Christianity, however, because to limit our object of study in such a way gives an arbitrary and false picture of the past. We see a medieval world that was as varied as the modern one. It included horrific violence, some of it committed in the name of religion; it included feats of bravery, justice, harmony, and love, some of them also in the name of religion. It included movement of people, goods, and ideas over long distances and across geographical, linguistic, and religious boundaries. There is much to be learned from studying the period, whether we choose to focus on one community and text or on wider interactions. What we will not find is the origin of a pure and supreme white race.

Every generation of scholars creates its own interpretations of the past. Such interpretations must be judged by how well they explain the writings, art, and artifacts that have come down to us. As a field we are dedicated to scholarly inquiry. As the new semester approaches at many institutions, we invite those of you who have the opportunity to join us. Take a class or attend a public lecture on medieval history, literature, art, music. Learn about this vibrant and varied world, instead of simply being appalled by some racist caricature of it. See for yourself what lessons it holds for the modern world.

The Medieval Academy of America
The Gender and Medieval Studies Group
The International Arthurian Society-North American Branch
The International Piers Plowman Society
The International Society of Anglo-Saxonists
The International Society for the Study of Medievalism
The New Chaucer Society
The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship

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2018 Conference Plans

We are excited to announce that the 2018 International Conference on Medievalism will be hosted by Ann Howey at Brock University in Fall 2018. Brock is located in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, in the heart of the Niagara region, only an hour away from the Buffalo airport or the Toronto airport. The Niagara Region is known for historic sites, a thriving wine industry, and, of course, Niagara Falls! Just think: you could combine the ISSM conference with your honeymoon! What could be better?

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ISSM at Kalamazoo

ISSM is now seeking papers for three sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 10-13, 2018. Please see our calls for papers below for details. For more information about the conference itself, please visit the Congress website.

  1. Medievalism, Racism, and the Academy: A joint round table with Medievalists of Color (MOC)

Students often come to Medieval Studies through video games, fantasy novels, tabletop D&D, movies, and other popular medievalisms. But this can present a skewed picture of the Middle Ages as racially homogenous. Unfortunately, some traditional approaches to teaching Medieval Studies can perpetuate this problem. Following recent ISSM sessions on race, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia, and building on professional conversations launched at this year’s MOC workshop on Whiteness in Medieval Studies, our round table will consider how medievalism encountered both within and outside the classroom or embedded in academic structures might propagate racial bias. Participants might critique existing structures and/or offer suggestions for how research, teaching, administration, and academic social structures in both Medieval Studies and Medievalism Studies can be transformed to address these issues. Possible topics could include: diversity and the medieval curriculum, racial discourses in contemporary geopolitics or popular media, ethnonationalism and alt-right discourses on college campuses, medievalism and Islamophobia, the shifting demographics of medievalist scholars or enthusiasts, etc. Please send abstracts for papers of no more than ten minutes to Amy S. Kaufman (skaufmana at gmail) by September 1, 2017.

  1. The New “Dark Ages”

The “Dark Ages” are back in the news, or at least the term is: the label has been applied to everything from the increasing erosion of women’s rights across the globe to the dystopian television worlds of The Handmaid’s Tale and Into the Badlands. Many people seem afraid that the world is inevitably returning to a “medieval” past of patriarchy, superstition, religious homogeny, censorship, and even monarchy. Medievalists, meanwhile, leap at these dim portraits of the Middle Ages to defend it from oversimplification. But sometimes, we dispel popular misconceptions without addressing continuities between the present and the past. For this panel, we’re seeking both papers that trace strong connections between the worst aspects of the Middle Ages and our possible futures and papers that interrogate contemporary anxieties and illusions about the past in light of real medieval history, literature, science, and art. Please send abstracts to Amy S. Kaufman (skaufmana at gmail) by September 1, 2017.

  1. King Arthur 2017: A Round Table

Reviews have poured in for Guy Ritchie’s 2017 King Arthur, and some of them are pretty scathing. Chief among audience complaints is the film’s lack of authenticity: the story deviates so radically from medieval literature that Arthurian legend is barely recognizable. However, authenticity has always been a problematic way to evaluate Arthurian retellings. Sometimes called the “original fan-fiction,” medieval Arthurian legend is always revised and recreated to fit the political or cultural needs of a given period. And in fact, Ritchie’s film has been much better received among scholars of the Middle Ages. Participants in this round table will discuss the 2017 cinematic King Arthur and might answer some of the following questions: How do Ritchie’s changes fit into the canon of Arthurian revisions? How does the 2017 film inform meta-theoretical questions of authenticity surrounding Arthur himself? What do Ritchie’s changes tell us about our own cultural moment? Please send abstracts for papers of no more than ten minutes to Amy S. Kaufman (skaufmana at gmail) by September 1, 2017.

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CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Studies in Medievalism

By blatantly concentrating on constructs, medievalism studies may seem to avoid the problems of defining an authentic Middle Ages. But what do such studies presume about that middle ages or any other? About the studies’ medievalist subjects? About the medievalist subjects’ constructs of the Middle Ages? When it comes to authenticity, how do medievalism studies relate to the Middle Ages? To medievalism? To (other) postmedievalism? To neomedievalism? Studies in Medievalism, a peer-reviewed print and on-line publication, is seeking 3,000-word (including notes) essays on these questions, as well as 6,000 to 12,000-word (including notes) articles on any postmedieval responses to the Middle Ages. Please send all submissions in English and Word to Karl Fugelso (kfugelso@towson.edu) by August 1, 2017. CLICK HERE for the Style Sheet.

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