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In the Middle

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Updated: 2018-01-22T05:34:49.257-05:00


Medieval New Year's in Modern Philly: the Mummers, the Middle Ages, and Race


by Cord J. WhitakerThe end of one year and the beginning of a new one is the perfect time to look backward in order to think about what might be ahead. At In the Middle, we look back farther than most. Or at least we recognize that we are looking backward, and we care a whole lot that we are doing so. In this vein, I am always impressed by my hometown of Philadelphia’s ability to look back at its 18th- and 19th-century glory days. I am also impressed by its ability to mostly ignore everything that came before. Every year, the city’s New Year’s Day celebration is characterized by the Mummer’s Parade. It’s been described variously as Philadelphia’s Carnival, its Mardi Gras, the oldest extant folk festival in the United States, or (by my father) as “a parade of drunks marching down Broad Street.” It is a colorful daylong affair processing from traditionally ethnic (e.g., Italian, Polish, Swedish; with more recent African-American, Cambodian, and other communities of color) South Philadelphia north through Center City to the judges' stand at Philadelphia's Second Empire Baroque-style city hall. New Years Associations, as the participating organizations are called, work intensively for an entire year to prepare. Beginning within a week after New Year’s Day, associations decide on next year’s theme and begin to decorate costumes with massive numbers of sequins, satin, mirrors, feathers, and ostrich plumes.A string band performs on Jan. 1, 2017. Courtesy Blooms Photography.The exact materials and kinds of preparation depend on which of the five categories the association will perform and compete to win: fancies, comics, wench brigades, string bands, or fancy brigades. They process through the streets with brass bands playing traditional Mummers music or, if string bands, playing string instruments and performing sophisticated choreography. At night, the Broadway-inspired Fancy Brigades competition, with full soundtracks, powerful speakers, very sophisticated choreography, and significant tech support, takes place inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It is common for commentators during the all-day-long television coverage to bring up the parade’s 18th-century history: that George Washington took part in the New Year’s Day visiting tradition that is one of the modern parade’s roots, that organizations such as the 2nd Street Shooters New Years Brigade are so named in honor of the early American tradition of shooting your firearms in the air on New Year’s.The Mummers’ history goes back much farther than the European settling of North America, but to listen to the commentators and the Mummers themselves—many of whose families have been involved with the parade for generations—one would think that mummery was born with the United States in the 1600s and 1700s. This can be attributed to regionalism and nationalism, to be sure. When the city wants to promote its local culture and when the Mummers organization wants funding, endorsements, and media coverage, it is a more convenient story to say that mummery is an American and Philadelphian tradition. And neither of those places begins to appear in anything like their current forms until the 1600s. But mumming was alive and well in medieval Europe, and is a tradition brought over to the American colonies by Swedes, Finns, the English, and Germans, among others. It had multiple forms, from full-on plays not so different from the Corpus Christi plays well known among scholars of medieval England to the English mummery play tradition, from which the modern Philadelphian name is derived, that involves visits to houses or pubs in which smaller scale plays, often featuring St. George slaying the dragon, are mounted. The mummery plays, like the modern parade, often occur during the Christmas season. The Mummers’ largely medieval provenance is often skipped over in favor of its more modern roots or sometimes in favor of its classical origins: there is evidence that the tradition has roots in folk traditions [...]

The Year That Was


by J J CohenHappy new year, ITM readers. We hope that the twelve months ahead are filled with good things. And as to 2017 ... well, it was a year, we can say that. And we are still here. That matters. A few highlights and some personal reflection.Presciently composed in December 2016, Sierra Lomuto's insightful and essential post "White Nationalism and the Ethics of Medieval Studies" traced the intimacy of white supremacy, the academy, "the utter lack of racial consciousness in our field of Medieval Studies," and the contemporary life of medieval symbols. Here are some words that to my mind uncannily predicted exactly what was to unfold in the following months:When white nationalists turn to the Middle Ages to find a heritage for whiteness—to seek validation for their claims of white supremacy—and they do not find resistance from the scholars of that past; when this quest is celebrated and given space within our academic community, our complacency becomes complicity. We have an ethical responsibility to ensure that the knowledge we create and disseminate about the medieval past is not weaponized against people of color and marginalized communities in our own contemporary world.Not only did white nationalists not necessarily find resistance, sometimes they found themselves aided and abetted: through the disparaging of scholars of color and their insights, through endemic bothsiderism and whataboutism (no links because I am not driving traffic up to sites that monetize the manufacture of controversy and/or publish pieces that have been amply rebutted in advance: trolls have been rampant and fighting them exhausting; pushback is maybe a sign of progress but who knows). #Charlottesville made clear that the Middle Ages matter profoundly to white supremacists. Others have ridiculed and attacked Dorothy Kim for having asserted that "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" -- and that maybe we ought to do something about that fact. (Professor Kim's post, by the way, is the most accessed piece we have ever published here at ITM: so far it has been read 32,000 times. It would be difficult to make the argument that this is not a topic that is crucial and timely).Our dog Wrigley, realizing that somehow you get throughRace was rightly been the topic of the year on this blog, with substantial posts dedicated to the subject by Karl Steel, Helen Young (and here and here), Shamma Boyarin, Cord Whitaker (whom we welcomed to ITM as Blogger #6!), JJC, Jonathan Hsy, Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh, Adam Miyashiro, and especially Medievalists of Color. That's a lot. What a year. Maybe you are tired. Maybe your energy is flagging. Maybe you need a break because the calls to action are constant. That's why we are a community: so some may step in when others cannot. I wish I could predict that things will be better in the year ahead, but I see few omens of change. Well, you know what our values are. You know we continue to stand against walls. We are grateful for your company.Finally, on a personal note, this year ends with many changes in place for me. Perhaps you detected their seeds when I wrote about being restless in August: that's about when, much to my surprise, I was invited to apply for the position of Dean of Humanities at Arizona State University -- and somehow it all worked out. After many years at the George Washington University I will be departing this May. The scale of the new position is intimidating (I will oversee the directors of three schools with a combined faculty of about 400), but the possibilities exciting. Having spent my life at institutions proud of their selectivity (proud, that is, of how many people confront a closed door when they seek welcome), I am pleased to be joining an institution built upon access, affordability, invention, collaboration, experiment. Reading back on everything that has unfolded here at In the [...]

We do best when we work together


by J J Cohen

If you want to learn a little more about why I am leaving my position at GW and becoming Dean of Humanities at ASU, this piece well conveys the opportunities and my motivation.

moving on


by J J CohenLongtime readers of this blog know how much of my life in Washington DC and the George Washington University have featured here over the years, from reinventing entry level courses to teaching as learning to becoming a better teacher. With some colleagues I founded an institute here, and it's been going strong for ten years. I hope that in posts like this one my love of this city comes through: no other place in the world will ever feel so much like home.And yet sometimes, even when you love your home, you realize it is time to leave.I am happy to announce that beginning July 1 2018 I will be Dean of Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. Although I will sorely miss my students and colleagues at GW as well as my friends and neighbors here in DC, this opportunity to make a difference in public education at an institution willing to bring a serious commitment to reinvigorating the humanities was impossible to refuse. I have my work cut out for me -- but I also know that I will soon have some unparalleled resources and support for shaping a future for the humanities at a university built upon open doors and wide access. This commitment to possibility and creativity speaks very good things about ASU's dedication to leadership across fields, willingness to experiment and affirm, and commitment to collaborative modes of inquiry. I am very much looking forward to working with ASU's superb students and faculty.The official announcement is below.Cohen named dean of humanities at Arizona State UniversityMark Searle, Arizona State University’s executive vice president and university provost, has announced the appointment of a new dean of humanities at ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen will leave his post as a professor of English and the director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to join ASU on July 1, 2018.“It is a great pleasure to welcome Jeffrey to ASU,” Searle said. “His work as a leader and a scholar, and his commitment to the humanities as a discipline that can help us solve society’s greatest problems, make him a perfect fit and a welcome addition to the CLAS leadership team.”At ASU, Cohen will lead initiatives geared toward reinforcing the importance of the humanities fields. This will include broadening programming around the subject of environmental humanities, fostering a culture in which faculty are communicating their research with the wider public and laying the groundwork for a project that aims to diversify the study of the past.“One of the many reasons that I am excited about becoming the dean of humanities at ASU is that where others see a crisis, ASU – from President Crow to the leaders and faculty of the various schools – see an opportunity,” Cohen said. “This is the moment not to bewail the state of the field but to reinvigorate the study of the humanities.”Cohen brings more than two decades of teaching and interdisciplinary collaboration experience to ASU, including the founding of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at George Washington University, which brought together 22 faculty members across nine departments. He previously served as the chair of the English department at GW. His debut book, “Monster Theory: Reading Culture,” published in 1996 by the University of Minnesota Press, had significant resonance across academic disciplines and has lately been used to teach freshman composition courses. His most recent book “Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman,” won the René Wellek Prize for best book in Comparative Literature for 2017.“Hiring Jeffrey signals the importance of the humanities to the work we do here in CLAS,” Patrick Kenney, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said. “He brings a set of innovative ideas to move the field forward and make ASU a leader in the way humanities education and research can s[...]

Guest Post by Samantha Seal: "On Chaucer, Jews, and Charles Muscatine"


by Samantha Seal“But how can a Jew study Chaucer?” a professor visiting Yale asked me, a doctoral student in 2010. And that has been the question for a hundred and fifty years. Perhaps they couldn’t, perhaps Geoffrey Chaucer was the one subject sacrosanct from Jewish “intrusion.”  For Chaucer’s fame as the “Father of English Poetry” has proved at times inseparable from his successors’ claims to English blood. As the American critic John Livingston Lowes wrote, Chaucer was “himself the very thing that he begat. He is English poetry incarnate, and only two, perhaps, of all his sons outshine his fame.”[1]Race merges seamlessly into genealogy in this evaluation; Chaucer stands before his sons, each as English as the next, and glories in the exclusive aesthetics of their blood. And this filiation had space enough for critic and poet alike, for a fellowship of English blood (albeit often contained in American embodiments). Lowes himself was an American of English extraction, the Midwestern son of a Presbyterian minister who had gone east to Harvard in 1918, and would remain there, the colossus of the English department, until his retirement in 1939. Perhaps for Lowes, to share the English blood of Chaucer was to redeem any regional distinction; certainly once at Harvard, Lowes was absorbed quickly into the multigenerational male genealogy of Chaucer Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. George Lyman Kittredge, bona fide Bostonian and newly-named Gurney Professor of English at Harvard (1917), took Lowes under his paternal wing, in the same manner that Professor Francis James “Stubby” Child of Harvard had previously embraced Kittredge. Even as Chaucer supposedly begat his own English poetry, so too, the story goes, did one white literary critic after another beget his own intellectual heir, nurtured in Harvard’s historic womb. This is the history of Chaucer studies that I, a Jew, knew even before I learned it, that I intuited in all the ways that one intuits the privileges and exclusions of whiteness in the world. In America, Chaucer belonged to men with surnames that could have been called out at Concord or Lexington; in Britain, Chaucer was at the heart of an English identity inseparable from Anglo-Saxon ancestry. When John Dryden named Chaucer the “Father of English Poetry” in 1700, in fact, he did so on the principles of familial inheritance. In The Canterbury Tales, Dryden found “our fore-fathers and great grand-dames all before us, as they were in Chaucer’s days.”[2]The claims of aesthetics fade here before the power of genealogy; Father Chaucer belongs to those who can claim their progenitors among his pilgrims. After 1871, a Jew could receive a degree in British literature from a British university, but he was still excluded from the larger story of that literature, from what G.K. Chesterton called (in his 1932 biography of Chaucer) “the curious primeval kinship between England and Chaucer.”[3]Elsewhere, Chesterton wrote that it was the Jew’s desire to insert himself into European literary history that provoked anti-Semitism within the world; he mocked German Jews with German names, saying that a Jew “might as well go and live in Stratford-on-Avon and call yourself Shakespeare.”[4]The great men of English literature belonged to the sons of their race, to a vibrant racial nationalism that helped fund the nineteenth-century establishment of The Chaucer Societyand the twentieth-century enforcement in American of anti-Jewish and anti-Black university policies. It is impossible, in this sense, to separate the history of English ancestry in Chaucer studies from the history of the “Jewish Problem” in American academia. By the early 1920s, the Ivy League universities faced what they termed a “Hebrew invasion,” an influx of Jewish young men with the intellectual merits to be admitted to the most elite of institutions.[5]Moreover, the flexible racial status of th[...]

#MLA18: some ecocritical events


by J J CohenFive years ago Sharon O'Dair, Stacy Alaimo, Stephanie LeMenager and I founded the MLA Forum on Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities. We've been surprised and pleased at the success of this new community, gathering scholars across disciplines and time periods for some vibrant conversations. This year -- my last on the executive committee, and therefore my year to chair -- brings our annual gathering for a happy hour as well as what appears to me to be one of the most environmental humanities rich MLA annual meeting we have had. Here are some of the events collated; please let me know if I forgot anything. If you will be in NYC this January, we hope you will join us.Thursday January 412:00 PM Early Modern Biopolitics: Race, Nature, SexualityThis session explores the utility of biopolitics to early modern English and to early American literatures, leveraging early modern culture to retrace the genealogy of biopolitics. Topics include sixteenth-century Atlantic slavery, Restoration-era conceptions of sovereignty and race, seventeenth-century sexuality and population theory, early American racial theories of Protestant lineage, and pan-European early modern cartography.AND ALSO AT 12:00 PM: Performance, Materiality, and Ecology in Early Modern LiteratureThis session examines how early modern performance might inform ideas of agency emerging from contemporary materialist theories. Presenters explore how different categories of matter perform, considering the mineral, the vegetal, and the human outperformed by one of its parts. The presenters and audience debate how thinking about material performance can shift the conversation about agency, acting, and actants.3:30 PM  Anthropocene ReadingThis session considers how different practices of critical reading—symptomatic and surface, formalist and materialist, philological and computational—facilitate approaches to literary studies in the Anthropocene.5:15 PM Responding to ExtinctionAND ALSO AT 5:15 PM “Uncer giedd geador”: Feminist Studies in Old English7-9 PM MLA Ecocriticism & Environmental Humanities Forum Happy HourAn MLA and ASLE happy hour at 5th&Mad for anyone interested in the environmental humanities and their friends. Please come and meet some new people in the field!Friday January 512:00 PM Climate Science, Climate Narrative: Historical Perspectives1:45 PM  Teaching and Learning the Stories of Standing Rock and #noDAPLSpeakers facilitate a reflective conversation about how the dynamic stories of indigenous-led environmental justice activism at Standing Rock may be taught and learned. Participants share their engagement with Standing Rock and #noDAPL through diverse pedagogical and educational experiences, ranging from working at the Defenders of the Water School to designing university courses to collaborating on open-access resources and public curriculums.2:30 PMField trip to Newtown Creek! In tandem with the "Site Specifics" session on Sunday (see below), a group of intrepid MLAers are gathering to explore this place of beauty and toxicity. We will take public transportation and have a considerable walk so please come with a transit card and warm clothing. Email to reserve a spot; spaces are limited.Saturday January 68:30AM Early Modern Women and the EnvironmentPanelists discuss early modern women’s negotiations with built and natural environments. Topics include Vittoria Colonna’s garden at Ischia; biopolitical readings of visual and textual representations of gypsies; Ursulines’ utopian project in New France; literary garden of Lucy, Countess of Bedford, at Twickenham; and women’s manuscript recipes’ engagements with household and natural domains.12:00 PM Weak EnvironmentalismThe urgency, high stakes, and planetary scale of climate change have produced commensurately strong environmentalisms. Panelists consider th[...]

Damian Fleming on Rethinking One's Own Early Work ... and Scholarly Change


by J J Cohen

Damian Fleming has a not-to-be-missed post on "ethel sweet ethel-weard: the first scribe of the Beowulf manuscript" in which he revisits his first publication ... and prevents its emphasis on love of German culture being facilely deployed by medieval-loving white supremacists. He also suggests, quietly, that we think more seriously about the possibility that the Beowulf manuscript was composed by two women. I love especially this section, about change over time:
Since writing that paper over a decade ago I have read and reread and taught Beowulf many times. I love the poem more every time I read any portion of it, but my understanding of it has changed significantly. I no longer imagine reading Beowulf as a celebration of germanic pre-Christian culture. I read Beowulf as similar to the majority of extant Old English poetry: deeply melancholic, explicitly Christian, and critical of the pre-Christian culture it presents. In teaching Beowulf I try to guide students to see the tragic triad of women—Wealhtheow, Hildeburh, and Grendel’s mother—whose suffering epitomizes the destructive nature of the violent culture they are caught in. At the most recent Medieval Academy of America meeting, a series of panels on Feminist Approaches to Old English literature, organized by Robin Norris, Rebecca Stephenson, and Renée R. Trilling, included a paper by Stephen Yeager who presented a thoughtful reading of Beowulf as a poem written potentially for women and potentially by a woman. His reading, which drew upon the work of generations of feminist scholars before him opened my eyes to possibilities I am shocked I had never considered before, since they are so consistent with how I had already be reading the poem.
It's a beautiful piece, and well conveys how our attitudes towards our own scholarly work ought to be open to revision and reflection. Thanks for offering it, Damian.

Teaching the Canterbury Tales with online manuscripts/incunabula: a quick intro


by KARL STEELThis semester is my first time teaching the Canterbury Tales to doctoral students. To rise to their level, I decided manuscripts would be a big part of my teaching: after all, as digitization is much advanced since I myself was getting a PhD [mumble] years ago, manuscripts can, and probably should, now be a key focus to medievalist graduate training anywhere, even in the hinterlands of Manhattan.Apart from the expected Ellesmere and Hengwrt manuscripts, and the useful tools at the Norman Blake Editions of several key CT manuscripts and, as well, Manly and Rickert, here's what's undoubtedly a partial list of fully digitized Canterbury Tales manuscripts, or, at least, the ones I've found easiest to navigate:British Library, Harley ms 1758.British Library, Harley ms. 7334.Cambridge Trinity R.3.3.Cambridge Trinity R.3.15.Caxton 1476 and 1483 printings.Codex Bodmer 48.Oxford, Bodleian, Christ Church ms. 152.Oxford, Bodleian Douce 218 (Richard Pynson printing, 1491-92).Oxford, Corpus Christi College ms 198.Yale, Beinecke Library, Takamiya ms 24 (the 'Devonshire Chaucer').Yale, Beinecke Library, Takamiya ms 32 (the 'Delamare Chaucer'). If you're reading this, I trust you're already familiar with manuscript variance with the Cook's Tale or the variously omitted stanzas from the Envoy to the Clerk's Tale (or the omission of the Envoy altogether). I trust you'll want less famous examples, maybe to help you through this term, or to get you started on the next.What varies most, perhaps, is the manuscript apparatus, like section headings and divisions, which give us a sense of how this work might have been read and sorted. For example:Bodleian, Christ Church MS 152 26vThis is the Knight's Tale. How do the pieces fit together? Where the Riverside has "Explicit secunda pars / Sequitur pars tertia," and where Hengwrt 25v has "Explicit prima pars / Incipit pars secunda," Christ Church 152, 26v, has "the ordinaunce of lystys that thesyus ordaynyd" [corrected]. Does the Knight's Tale comprise abstract parts of equal weight, or is it a sequence of events? If so, whose doings are worthy of "ordaining" the divisions of the plot?Or here's the Reeve's Prologue in Corpus Christi College ms 198, 54v:Corpus Christi College ms 198, 54vOur medieval scribe has started the tale at the prologue itself ("Explicit fabula molendmain [the Miller] / here bygynneþ þe Reeues tale" -- note the mixture of Latin (Explicit) and English (bygynneþ)); an early modern reader intervenes, and writes "Prologue" in the margins. Are they comparing manuscripts? Or is it a sign of an independent interpretation? When does the Wife of Bath's Tale start? Harley 7334 89r, with a red "Narrat" in the margin.In at least one case, in Harley 7334 89r, her tale - or one of them anyway - begins after the Pardoner interrupts her, where we have a red "Narrat" in the margin. Here, then, the Wife's prologue is split between a prologue, where she does scriptural interpretation, and a tale, where she finally begins to tell us something of her "experience."Most interesting to me, however, is what the manuscripts call what the Friar does at the end of the Wife's Prologue, or first Tale, or whatever else it might be called. Here's my (crowded) slide:Is it just "words between" the Friar and Summoner? It is an "interpretation" of the Wife's tale? An "interruption"? Or is it just a neutral ending of the Wife's prologue, and the words of the Friar, following neatly? It depends! And a lot depends on it. As we all know, in their capacity for nuanced forms of emphasis, manuscripts are closer than print is to speech. We on the other side of Gutenberg have generally lost rubrication, marginalia too, or underlining, manicules, and slight enlargements, like so, from the Friar's Tale:Codex Bodmer 48 91rShould the carter be take[...]



by J J CohenDear friends,Stacy Alaimo and I have been nominated to run for the next co-presidents of ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and Environment). Please read our statements at the link below (I hope that you will agree with the ethos we try to articulate) and -- if you are an ASLE member -- please consider supporting our candidacy. Thanks! (An interesting fact: ASLE has never had a medievalist lead it.)Jeffrey Cohen (George Washington University) and Stacy Alaimo (University of Texas at Arlington)STATEMENT FROM JEFFREY COHENI am honored to run for co-president. Over the years no professional organization has meant as much to me as ASLE. Its community has long been a welcoming home, and I am eager to serve the membership, intensify our strengths, and work to ensure a vibrant future. In these times of ecological peril, I look forward to increasing the visibility of its activism as well as our ability to work in tandem with other like- minded organizations to effect social change. I have enthusiastically participated in the ASLE Mentoring Program and am especially dedicated to ensuring that emerging writers, authors and theorists are adequately supported. With Stacy Alaimo, Stephanie LeMenager and Sharon O’Dair I am a founding member of the MLA “Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities Forum”. I am committed to collaboration and believe that ASLE offers a powerful structure for scholars and artists to work across fields and disciplines. My scholarship includes a trilogy of edited collections (two co-edited with Lowell Duckert) that gather more than 50 writers thinking about the future of the environmental humanities, and attempt to bring writers together across time periods as well as disciplinary training: Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green; Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (2015); and Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking (2017). With Stephanie LeMenager I co-edited a special issue of PMLA on “Assembling the Ecological Digital Humanities” (2016). None of this work would have been possible without the inspiration of ASLE conferences (where much of it began) and its congenial community of scholars, writers, artists and thinkers. With planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton, I wrote a book on Earth (2017) for a general audience. With Julian Yates, I am currently finishing a book on the myth of Noah’s Flood and climate change. Finally, my book Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (2015) was awarded the René Wellek Prize for best book in comparative literature this year.STATEMENT FROM STACY ALAIMOI am honored to run for co-President of ASLE. The nomination provides the opportunity to give back to an organization that has long been such a vital intellectual community for me. There are few scholarly organizations with such a strong sense of community, comradery, mentorship, and shared ethical and political orientations. I became a member of ASLE soon after the organization was formed, participating in listserv discussions in the early 1990s, while writing my dissertation on topics that would become “ecocriticism, “ecocultural studies,” and “the environmental humanities.” I’ve served as the ASLE Liaison to the SLSA (the Society for Literature Science, and the Arts) from 2004-2009, organizing panels at both of their conferences to promote more cross-fertilization between environmental studies and science studies. I have also served on the Book Awards Committee and as an official Graduate Student Mentor from 2004-2008. It has been exciting to see the organization grow and the field flourish. With Jeffrey J. Cohen, Stephanie LeMenager and Sharon O’Dair I served as a founding member of the MLA “Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities Forum,” and as its first chair. At the University of Texas at Arlington, I served a[...]

Anthropocene Reading: Literary History in Geologic Times


by J J Cohen

ITM readers may be interested in this new book, Anthropocene Reading: Literary History in Geologic Times, just out from Penn State Press. Edited by Tobias Menely and Jesse Oak Taylor, this collection provides something missing from most meditations on the Anthropocene, the era during which human impress is readable on the geologic record: historical depth. Well, it provides a whole lot more than that -- every essay in this collection is really wonderful -- but Anthropocene Reading includes a medievalist (yours truly) and an early modernist (Steve Mentz). Plus it's blurbed by Jan A. Zalasiewicz, my favorite palaeobiologist/geologist. Contributing to this collection was such a pleasure: the editors were so good at forming a sense of community around the project and challenging their contributors to be at once lucid and inventive.

My essay is called "Anarky." (with a period like that) and offers a meditation on what stratigraphic reading could mean in action; what an archival unconformity might look like; how periodization is a spiral not a series of linear segments; and why the voice of Noah's wife matters as continues to cross the centuries. Riffing on the Chester Play of Noah's Flood, the essay is interrupted several times by Noah's wife "own" voice as she chooses drowning as a way of making things-to-be-lost endure.

If you are interested in the book enough to want to purchase a copy for yourself, you can reduce the price by 30% with the code TMJT17 when ordered through And no, the press doesn't pay me for saying that. Books just want to be read.

How We Read


a guest post by Kaitlin Heller and Suzanne AkbariWe’ve been thinking about how we read.About four months ago, the two of us planned to write a blogpost describing our own reading practices. Our goal was not just to share our own experiences, but to elicit responses – via comments on the blogpost, sharing the post on Facebook, tweeting it – that would allow us to learn more about the reading practices of others. We began by writing a few Facebook posts back in June to do some preliminary exploration along these lines: we learned about what kinds of books people are interested in, and we were surprised and delighted to learn about the commonplace books – some elaborately and beautifully decorated – that several of our friends and acquaintances keep. And then terrible things kept happening, all through the summer and into the fall, and it never seemed to be the right time to ask the ITM bloggers about the possibility of doing a guest post.But now the time suddenly feels right, because our collective conversations have turned toward self-care, and the care of others. We both believe that the crucial context for this undertaking is the way that reading is not only individual and private, but also communal and shared. This sharing can be actual, in real time (reading a book out loud to others, online blogging a book), or it can be virtual or imaginative, a community of readers linked by love of a particular book, or by a set of reading practices. This seems to us to be a potentially vital place for self-care and care of others, two impulses that seem to be contradictory but are in fact intimately connected.Reading practices can be part of a shared pedagogy, directed toward the ways we can begin to combat the injustice and harassment in our field and our world; we’ve been reading about the damage done by that injustice; we’ve been reading about the work of repair. As medievalists, we have been deeply moved to witness how that work of shared pedagogy is simultaneously a work of repair, as the community is forged and nurtured by the process of compilation and sharing, seen so vividly in the crowd-sourced bibliography led by Julie Orlemanski and Jonathan Hsy. This may be a moment to explore more widely the ways that our reading practices inform who we are – as individual readers, as members of a shared reading community, or members of several overlapping communities. How we read informs how we work and live. We see this as a space in which repair can happen. Below are our particular two histories of reading: one, a meditation on mental illness; the other, a consideration of time. Both are stories of loss and recuperation. We hope that by making these histories visible, by thinking about reading as self-care and as care for others, we can make a space for others to share their personal histories and practices: to be visible and validated in the ways we are all changing how we read. ---Kaitlin Heller:I’ve been a fan of the series A Song of Ice and Fire since I was a young teenager, when it first came out. I have a first edition of A Game of Thrones, signed by George R. R. Martin (and yes, I got that signature in person, trembling hands and all). When book number five came out, it was the summer of 2011, I had just passed both my Latin exams, and I was about to begin my comprehensives. I’ve been waiting for that book for at least six years, since the previous book came out in 2005; but really, it was more like eleven years, because, as all fans of the series know, books four and five were actually two halves of one whole. So I’d been waiting catch up on many of my favorite characters since before I went to college, and now I was in grad school. To put it mildly: I was excited for the book to come out.And yet, the [...]

Where do we go from here?


by HELEN YOUNGMy last post here, about racism and what I think of as ‘medievalfail’, I ended with hope because of what N.K. Jemisin had to say about similar events in science fiction and fantasy fandom (and scholarship): good came of them because the status quo doesn’t change without major disruption.The past couple of weeks have seen an extraordinary backlash against progressive moves in medieval studies, aimed initially at Professor Dorothy Kim (again. See Quod She for an account), and now a smear campaign against Professor Adam Miyashiro. Both are shocking in that the attackers have turned not to other academics for support (although social media shows there is some within our disciplines), but to right-wing outrage machines, drawing in actors with no knowledge of our fields, no allegiance to scholarly integrity, and a history of organising harassment so bad he has been permanently banned from Twitter.I’m still reminded of SFF, and I’m still hopeful because I’m reminded of SFF. In that sphere, after the initial turmoil of RaceFail09, there were – and still are – concerted backlash campaigns of harassment and abuse and attempts to ‘game’ the Hugo Awards perpetrated by groups calling themselves the ‘Sad Puppies’ and ‘Rabid Puppies.’ Their particular (although not sole) targets were women of colour (sound familiar?) who they claimed were successful because of ‘political correctness’ rather than talent. Damien Walter suggested the opposite in The Guardian last year: “I say it [the Puppies’ campaign] is to sponsor awful writers.” Although they did manage to disrupt the Hugo Awards for a few years by ‘slate stacking’ nominations, a process that was within the rules but against common practice and community ethics, they’ve lost and are becoming increasingly irrelevant. And as I wrote last time I posted, N. K. Jemisin – one of their main targets – has won the last two Hugos for best novel. So, I am hopeful.But if the various unpleasant Puppies have lost some momentum, they’ve also been actively resisted. SFF hasn’t gotten better *just* because of social media campaigns and discussions and fights, although they matter and can important ways of resisting. The disruptions are important but they don’t have lasting effects if that’s all there is. The disruptions matter because they make people, more people, pay attention and care and act.Not everyone can do the same thing to make medieval studies less racist. As Kathleen Kennedy pointed out on Twitter, 70% of medieval studies scholars are in the precariat. Not everyone is in a position to take a public stand, for many different reasons.Change happens because we make it happen, but we don’t all have to do the same things and we’re not all able to. If you’ll forgive me the swerve over into early modernity, John Milton wrote in “They also serve who only stand and wait.” We can’t all, to keep borrowing from Milton, “post o’er Land and Ocean without rest.”Many of those taking a public stand are not in a safe position to do so, and become less safe when they act and speak. White medievalists, we need to do more, we need to care about our own feelings less. We didn’t earn our privilege – that’s the whole point – and if we didn’t ask for it we’ve still benefited from it. We’re playing the game on a low difficulty setting. Being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe. We may become less safe, but we are not targets just because of who we are, by our existence.So what do we do? What can we do? I don’t have all the answers, but here are some general ideas that I’ve learned, mostly again from SFF fandom and scholarship and the collective work of many people there:Accept and acknowledge that medieval [...]

4 thoughts about vulnerability and community


by J J Cohen1. Regarding our co-authored Statement of Support for Dorothy Kim, you may find some background to what unfolded via Quod She, as well as the account published yesterday by Insider HigherEd (there is also a piece in yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education but it's behind a paywall). Here too is a Statement of Commitment from some medievalists at the University of Chicago. But to really understand the stakes of what unfolded -- and to take some wind out of the "but both sides!" argument that would posit a tenured professor is being attacked rather than an untenured scholar is being supported -- read this piece by David Perry on the actual content of Milo Y's "livelier style" and this piece by Bryan William Van Norden on what unfolded, the power imbalance, how race matters, and the potential harassment being incited against Professor Kim. That her friend Milo Y was repeatedly tagged in her Facebook posts and that Professor Fulton Brown placed an article about herself on his website are of consequence here -- and it has become clear to me that some people do not understand why.2. Did you not the sign the various letters of support for Dorothy Kim? Did you refrain from making any public statements at all? That's ok. No one ever should feel pressured to place themselves in a position of vulnerability: as the links above make clear, the risks are real. Scholars work to bring about a better field in different ways, and many of those modes are not publicly visible. Each person commits to doing the work that they can as they can, knowing their own limits and vulnerabilities. That's how community works: some of us step in to support those who need help, and know that the situation changes over time. And note that you are likely a member of a group that advocated on your behalf: New Chaucer Society, Medieval Academy of America (the trustees of which also wrote a personal letter to Professor Kim), the International Piers Plowman Society, the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. That's a powerful commitment on their part to speak out for members who may be in too vulnerable a position to do so themselves. Onwards.3. Let me share something I posted on Facebook yesterday. It's disappointing to hear that Professor Fulton Brown is now identifying me as the "mastermind" (her term) behind Dorothy Kim's writing and actions. This maneuver deprives Professor Kim of her agency, intellect, and accomplishments, and sets me up as the Jewish Svengali behind her actions, mobilizing (intentionally or not) another alt-right as well as a medieval narrative. I have never met Professor Fulton Brown and I bear her no animus (even if she will never have my respect for the actions she has undertaken against an untenured scholar of color). Everything that I have written has been not to attack Professor Fulton Brown but to support Professor Kim. Everything Dorothy Kim has written and posted and urged is hers. No one requested that she research and write what she did, and should be attributed to her genius alone. To make of Professor Kim a puppet or a pawn is demeaning. It also mistakes my own interest in Professor Fulton Brown and her career, which is zero, except when she uses her position against the vulnerable. And let me also make clear that neither I nor any other member of "In the Middle" ever contacted (and have no influence over) the New Chaucer Society, the Medieval Academy of America, the Society for Medieval Feminist Studies, or the International Piers Plowman Society. We did not compose or have any input into the the letter sent in support of Professor Kim to the U Chicago History Department (though I did share links). I also want to make clear that I did not ask anyone [...]

Recommended Reading


by J J Cohen

It's been hard to keep up with what has been unfolding. Read this please, among the most important posts the six of us have written for In the Middle. We want a more diverse Middle Ages. We want a more diverse medieval studies. We want both to be empty of white supremacy in all of its forms. We acknowledge the troubled past of our discipline and we strive together with you for a better future.

And, if you need some background, read this excellent overview on stakes and repercussions and moving forward at Quod She.


In Support of Dorothy Kim


by the ITM BloggersRachel Fulton Brown, a tenured white medieval historian at the University of Chicago, has recently used her blog to attack and disparage Professor Dorothy Kim, an untenured medievalist much her junior. The post foregrounds Dorothy Kim's body as a scholar of color (including the use of a photograph of Professor Kim lifted without attribution and published without consent) and the post belittles Professor Kim's training and intellect — that is, her license for intervening in the field's most urgent conversations. The post ends with the command that Professor Kim "Learn some fucking history." This is not normal scholarly exchange. This is unprofessional discourse by any standard. Just as disturbing is posting pictures of scholars of color to score rhetorical points or to serve the aims of doxxing and harassment. This post irresponsibly misrepresents Professor Kim's work and is woefully under-researched when it comes to both the history of the formation of the discipline (see, among other sources, the work by Professor Kim), the active and inclusive role of the Medieval Academy in the field, and the history of race and its relation to color in the Middle Ages (we have a helpful bibliography here that might serve as a start for those who wish to conduct initial work on the topic, and we highly recommend this essential post by the Medievalists of Color as well).Rachel Fulton Brown's blog post is ostensibly framed as a response to a guest post on "In the Middle" that Dorothy Kim composed recently about white supremacy and the classroom. Professor Kim's ITM post "Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy" was published with the full support of all six of us the "In the Middle" co-bloggers. Each of us looked at the post in draft and approved the final form for publication with enthusiasm. A renowned scholar of histories of medieval Christian-Jewish enmeshment, Early Middle English literary and cultural studies, critical theory, Digital Humanities (including manuscript studies, sound studies, and media theory), Dorothy Kim is a frequent guest contributor here at "In the Middle." We will continue to welcome her at this blog and do what we can to support her work.We stand with Dorothy Kim and we recognize that medieval studies is a far better field for her presence.Karl SteelLeila K. NorakoJeffrey Jerome CohenJonathan HsyCord J. WhitakerMary Kate Hurley[...]



by HELEN YOUNGMany 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 spamAbusive 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 targetingSending emails (to more than one scholar) seeking to discredit medievalists of colour and their supporters by questioning their academic credentials and even identitiesMartin 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 hereaccessible 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 m[...]

Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy


by Dorothy KimToday, 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 i[...]

statement of community values and expectations


by the Six Co-Bloggers of ITMDear 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.[...]

Summer Reading: 8 Books


by J J CohenCan 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 TimesA 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 PosthumanismThis 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 WetscapesI have collaborated fairly [...]

White Supremacists love the Middle Ages


by HELEN YOUNGWhite 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, fragileposturing 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 SentiStrengthwhich “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% posi[...]

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.

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. 



by J J CohenThis morning my expense report was rejected for not having checked a button that does not exist. This afternoon the resubmitted version was rejected for not having the documentation and notes that were in fact attached. The report was initially composed with great urgency, since the university sent several emails in ALL CAPS announcing that some of my expenses were more than thirty days old and would therefore be ESCALATED TO MY MANAGER if I did not submit them. I have no idea who that manager would be since my department chair has nothing to do with these things -- but I am also not keen to be escalated all the same. I have again submitted the report with a screen shot of the relevant page in Concur (why give a software program a name that is an ominous imperative?) and documentation that I consulted the Help Desk and was told that if such an unchecked button did exist it would be an error to check the thing for the type of expense I was recording. I pointed out that the missing documentation is the documentation that was always attached.In other words this is a normal day of me working on the GW MEMSI budget. I fully expect the report to come back again tomorrow because I did not provide a business purpose for the iced tea imbibed at a planning lunch (you think I am kidding but the business purpose of iced teas and salads are topics I have discussed with those who have rejected my reports in the past). Anyway, then this came up as a Facebook memory:So it seems that some issues are perennial. But maybe not infinite. Here is what I wrote as I shared this memory on that other social media platform:Every year at this time such thoughts recur -- and these institutional impediments are among the reasons GW MEMSI as a university-funded entity (but not as a community) is coming to an end this spring. But that's not the only reason. Ten years amounts to a very good run for the Institute. Its innovative work is in large part done (meaning, I don't want merely to replicate what we've long been doing, the default mode of an institution when it focuses upon its own existence rather than creation of new structures and possibilities). It is perhaps time to make space for other communalizing entities, here at GW or elsewhere, whatever they might be. And, in all honesty, I need a change: I cannot keep doing what I have been doing for the next ten years. I don't know what the future holds, but I acknowledge that I am restless, and I am not sure what will come next.It's been quite a summer, one that included two trips to the emergency room, once in DC and once in London. Both were the result of having been bitten by a Lyme disease bearing tick, possibly while hiking in search of the three Green Chapels in Staffordshire (who says that the life of the mind won't kill you?). The good news is that the onset of symptoms was so swift that I was on the prescribed regimen of antibodies almost immediately, so I caught the infection just about as early as possible -- and that makes my prognosis for a full recovery excellent. Yet the infection took its toll, and it's only this week that early morning runs feel invigorating rather than a danse macabre in action. I have been coming to my office every day, partly because I am dropping my daughter off nearby for Camp Shakespeare and partly because I am trying desperately to catch up on email, dissertation chapter comments, syllabus writing, GW MEMSI planning for 2017-18 ... and expense reports. T[...]

Held in his lap Deliciously: Medieval Hermits, Distracted by Cats


by KARL STEELObviously, if you like what we do, join our community. And please, if you haven't done so yet, read this guest post by Shamma Boyarin, which will give you a good sense of what we've been up to recently. This post here is comparatively, and perhaps even absolutely, frivolous.Apparently it’s International Cat Day, and, for several days, unwitting I have been researching medieval cats and the envious hermits who love them. What good fortune!You probably know that the Ancrene Wisse(early 13th century) allows anchoresses one cat: “Ye, mine leove sustren, bute yef neod ow drive ant ower meistre hit reade, ne schulen habbe na beast bute cat ane” [VIII 76-77; My dear sisters, unless need drives you and your director advises it, you must not have any animal except a single cat, 201, trans. slightly modified]. Fewer of you might know how the passage continues: anticipating the damage that cows [“kues”] might cause, it warns the anchoress of the trouble that comes when her neighbors have anything to complain of [“Ladlich thing is hit, wat Crist, hwen me maketh i tune man of ancre ahte” (It is a hateful thing, Christ knows, when men can make in town anything of about an anchor; 201, trans. slightly modified)]. And especially if any anchoresses must have animals, it advises “loki thet…hire thoht ne beo na-wiht th'ron i-festnet” (see that…their thought is in no way fastened on it).Have a cat, but beware of being too attached to it. To put this another way, even then, cats were liable to draw our love. For these reason, the eleventh-century Liber confortatorius by Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, written in England to Eve, a woman recluse, insists that “No cat, no chicken, no little animal, no irrational creature, should live with you: fleeting time should not be wasted” (Book III, Otter trans., 80). For this reason, in the fifteenth century we encounter the unfortunate Margaret, a nun tormented in purgatory, who “had a lytel hound and a lytel catte folwynge hyr, al of fyr brennynge” [61; had a little dog and a little cat following her, both of them aflame], and who would not relieved from them until the “drosse of syn” (78) is fully burned away. In the twelfth century, in his manual for rulers, Gerald of Wales includes a feline temptor of this sort in an aside about Gregory the Great. It’s written that a certain hermit had heard of the sanctity of Pope Gregory and went to see him in Rome, where he witnessed a grand procession of cardinals, clerics, and especially Gregory himself, bedecked with his imperial regalia. He returned to his place [locum suum], and wondered at night whether this glory suited humility, and then, as he slept, he heard a voice reciting this verse [hunc versum modulantem audivit]: 'Pluris habes catum quam praesul pontificatum’ [You esteem the cat more highly than the pope does the papacy]. For, as Gerald explains, this good man had a cat, which he was accustomed to play with [ludendo] after he finished his work and prayers. (Thanks Trevor Russell Smith for help here).The earliest surviving version of this story may be in Gerald; Robert Bartlett, who alerted me to it, does not list anything earlier (Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?, 199), nor have I been able to find anything earlier on my own. Despite what some claim, the cat story is not in John the Deacon’s early life (PL 75:103-6, pdf), nor in this early life from Whitby. But it does app[...]

Join the ITM Community on FB


by J J Cohen

The ITM co-bloggers are happy to announce the formation of a new Facebook group, ITM Community. A moderated space for discussing posts and comments from the blog In the Middle as well as all related humanities concerns, the group has 260+ members already and many vigorous conversations unfolding. If you are on Facebook, join us!

This forum is yours to fashion and sustain the kinds of affirmative, challenging community we need right now -- so please feel free to do with the group forum as you will. Be kind, be generous, and let's see what we can make together.