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In the Middle

peace love & the middle ages

Updated: 2018-04-22T06:20:47.727-04:00


2018 Paxson Grant Winners!


BABEL is delighted to announce the four winners of the 2018 James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds, generously co-sponsored by punctum books. The Paxson Grant supports scholars’ participation in the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. This year’s winners are (in alphabetical order)·      Micah Goodrich (University of Connecticut), to present “Piers Plowman’s Limbs” in the session Social Justice in the Piers Plowman Tradition·      M. Breann Leake (University of Connecticut), to present “Authorizing White Identity through the Voice of the Snotera Engla Ðeode Lareow” in the session A Feminist Renaissance in Anglo-Saxon Studies I: Interdisciplinary/Extramuraland “Authority and Advocacy in the Medieval Studies Classroom” in the session “Advocacy and Resistance” ·      Rachel McNellis (Case Western Reserve University), to present “A Labyrinthine Puzzle: Musical, Textual, and Visual Discourse in En la maison Dedalus” in the session Manuscript (Trans)formations: Transmission and Reception·      Murrielle Michaud (Wilfrid Laurier University), to present “Woman Resurrected: The Lives and Deaths of Christina the Astonishing in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 114” in the session Holy Women Breaking Bonds: Roles, Gender, AuthorityCheck the ICMS program for presentation times and locations. We received many, many strong applications this year, and the difficult decision among them was made by a committee of five judges: Heather Blatt (English, Florida International University), Joshua Eyler (Center for Teaching Excellence, Rice University), Shirin Fozi (History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh), Nicole Lopez-Jantzen (Social Sciences, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY), and Mo Pareles (English, University  of British Columbia). Many thanks to these scholars for generously sharing their time and expertise.We’d also like to thank the many donors who contributed to last year’s BABEL fundraiser. They – together with punctum books – made this year’s grants possible! Be on the look out for a new fundraising initiative from BABEL that will be kicking off this summer….Please join us for a reception at #Kzoo2018, co-sponsored by BABEL and the Material Collective, where the winners of the Paxson grants will be recognized. It will be a fun happy hour on Thursday, May 10, at 5:15 pm in Fetzer 1045 – and everyone is invited!Finally – BABEL is looking forward to sponsoring our annual evening at Bell’s Brewery, which will take place on Friday, May 11, starting at 9 pm. PLEASE NOTE: there will be somewhat fewer free drinks this year than the previous ones; we have $500 worth of drink-tickets reserved for non-tenure track / contingent faculty, graduate students, and self-identified members of the academic precariat. Come by circa 9pm to get yours! And of course, EVERYONE is welcome & encouraged to enjoy the evening.(post composed by Julie Orlemanski and happily published here at her request)[...]

"I regret that our response must be disappointing."


by J J Cohen

"Of Giants reads like a hastily written dissertation hastily rewritten soon after graduation.  It might have been better in its original form -- or at least less sloppy ... The book contradicts its own generalizations with gay abandon ... His carelessness about his own ideas is echoed in a carelessness about the ideas of others ... What then is even the purpose of the book? It does not offer new scholarship (Cohen is in fact scrupulous in giving credit to scholars and critics  whose work he depends upon). It does not theorize a new function or significance for giants. It does not offer new readings of either canonical or underrated medieval texts. It does not set itself up as answering any question I can remember here at the end of the reading experience. I was continually wondering why it existed ... I'll attach a page or two of my eleven pages of quibbles as a sample." 

The two dense pages of quibbles that follow range from complaints about the "deranged reference system" to wondering how metaphors generated around discussion of AIDS could possibly have anything to say to the Middle Ages to the declaration that "'envalue' is a horrid neologism" to insisting that xenophobia and racism cannot apply to medieval imaginings of Ethiopians or other Africans because "they are not living in close contact" to anyone in Europe to the exclamation that the work "makes no sense!"

And thus Cornell University Press rejected my future book Of Giants with a typewritten, four page reader's report. I was working as an adjunct at the time and was close to giving up on an academic career. This manuscript review nearly finished me. But I decided to give the market one more chance, and a year later was moving to Washington DC to begin a new life as an assistant professor at George Washington University. Oh the memories you find when you are purging files in your house in preparation for moving.

(This post is offered to anyone who has ever had a nasty peer review of their work. Remind yourself: we are in good company.)

Ayanna Thompson to be next director of ACMRS


by J J Cohen

I am delighted to share some exciting news with ITM readers.

Ayanna Thompson will be the next Director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU. She will be joining the English Department within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this summer.

Ayanna Thompson is currently a Phi Beta Kappa distinguished visiting scholar and the Vice-President of the Shakespeare Association of America, where (among many other things) she has introduced a successful initiative for providing a network of mentors for scholars of color. She came to GWU five years ago from ASU, so this is her return home. Ayanna Thompson has been at the very heart of GW MEMSI -- as well as a frequent teaching partner and collaborator. I am so happy to have our work together continue: she as director of ACMRS, me as dean of humanities. The future of the past is bright.



a guest post by @LeVostreGC Goode Friendes and Readers of Yn The Middel and readeres and scolers and teacheres and studentes arounde the globe of the Erthe, Yt doth fill my litel herte wyth gret happinesse to invyte yow to the fifthe yeare of a moost blisful and plesinge celebracioun. On the first daye of Aprille, lat us make tyme to take joye yn alle langages that are yclept ‘old,’ or ‘middel,’ or ‘auncient,’ or ‘archaic,’ or, alas, even ‘dead.’ Thys feest ys yclept ‘Whan That Aprille Day.’ For thys yeare yt ys: 'Whan That Aprille Day 18.' Forget nat the "-le" yn Aprille. #WhanThatAprilleDay18Ich do invyte yow to joyne me and manye othir goode folk yn a celebracioun across the entyre globe of the erthe. Yn thys celebracioun we shal reade of oold bokes yn sondrye oold tonges. We shal singe olde songes. We shal playe olde playes. Eny oold tonge will do, and eny maner of readinge. Al thogh thys holidaye dyd start wyth my writinge on blog and twytter yn Middel Englisshe, yet let that nat limit yn no waye the reache and capaciousnesse of thys growinge holidaye. All are welcome that come wyth love and understandinge to all. All are welcome that looke to the studye of the past nat to proppe up dustye tradiciouns but to builde a bettir and just and peaceful and lovinge future. We shal make merrye yn the magical dreamscape of 'social media,' and eke, yf ye kan do yt, yn the material plane of the 'real worlde' as wel. Ye maye, paraventure, wisshe to reade from the beginning of my Tales of Caunterburye, but ye maye also wisshe to reade of eny oothir boke or texte or scroll or manuscript that ye love. Ye maye even reade the poetrye of John Gower yf that ys yower thinge. What are sum wayes to celebrate Whan That Aprille Daye?Gentil frendes, yf yt wolde plese yow to celebrate Whan That Aprille Daye 2018, ye koude do eny of the followinge. Be sure to use the hasshe-tagge #WhanThatAprilleDay18 on yower poostes of twytter and facebooke and blogge.•  Counte downe to Whan That Aprille Daye wyth postes and readinges.•  Maken a video of yowerself readinge (or singinge! or actinge!) and share yt on the grete webbe of the internette. •  Planne a partye at yower classroome or hous to celebrate oolde langages, and poost pictures to the ynternette.•  Read auncient langages to yower catte, and the catte shal be moost mirthful. •  Make sum maner of cake or pastrye wyth oold wordes upon yt, and feest upon yt wyth good folke and share pictures of yower festivitee. (And yet beware the catte that shal seke to eaten of the icinge yn the hours of derkenesse bifor the celebracioun.) •  Yf ye be bold, ye maye wisshe to share yower readinge yn publique, yn a slam of poesye or a nighte of open mic. (Bringe the catte?)•  Yf ye worke wyth an organisatioun or scole, ye maye wisshe to plan sum maner of event, large or smal, to share writinge yn oold langages. (Policy for cattes at eventes?) •  And for maximum Aprillenesse, marke all tweetes and poostes wyth the hashtagge #WhanThatAprilleDay18 – remember the ‘Whan’ and ‘Aprille.’What ys the poynte of Whan That Aprille Daye?Ower mission ys to celebrate al the langages that have come bifor, and alle their joyes and sorrowes and richesse.Ower mission ys to remynde folk of the beautye and grete lovelinesse of studyinge the wordes of the past. And thys ys for all wordes, of all tonges, and no tonge ys bettir than eny othir and all are belovid of all. And eke ower mission ys to bringe to mynde the importaunce of supportinge the scolership and labour that doth bringe thes wordes to us. To remynde folk to support the techinge of paleographye and of archival werke and eek, ywis, the techinge of thes oold langages. To remynde folk of the gret blisse and joye of research libraryes and the gret wysdam and expertyse of the libraryans that care for them across the centuryes. To call to mynde the fundinge of the humanityes, the which[...]

Putting Iberia in the Middle


by SHAMMA BOYARIN[editorial note from Karl Steel: Boyarin responds to Leahy's posts here and here; for an earlier guest post by Boyarin, see his "Decentering Medieval Studies," here, which provided the title for a roundtable moderated yesterday by Jennifer Alberghini, featuring Anna Akasoy, who also spoke last night at the Graduate Center on medieval Arabic falconry treatises, and Hyunhee Park, whose Mapping the Chinese and Islamic Worlds looks essential).And now Shamma:--------------------Jewish tradition distinguishes (broadly) between t'o types of arguments: arguments that are not “for the sake of heaven”, where one or both sides are debating for the sake of their own reputation or just out of spite, and those that are “for the sake of heaven” where both sides are looking towards a common goal and are arguing in good faith with the aim of getting closer to understanding or achieving this goal. I see this exchange as an example of the second kind of argument. While I fully believe that the intentions of both Chad Leahy’s post of (Feb 25) Dear Fellow Iberianists where are we? ( and the editorial board of ITM in running it were good, and while I obviously support the broader context in which this conversation is happening I would like to explain why myself and other Iberianists might take exception. To quote the Andalusi poet and Philosopher Judah Ha-Levi- ניתך מרציה ועמלך גיר מרצי- which means “your intentions are welcome, but your deeds are not welcome”.  Further, while Chad has somewhat responded to some of the pushback against his first post in his second post (see here:, I feel it’s important to articulate this pushback in a more thorough fashion than had been expressed till now on various social media, both because Chad’s second post makes it clear that such a response was needed, and, perhaps more importnatly in order to make this to be a more inclusive conversation- to give non-Iberianists more context and resources to look at this issue. I first want to begin with why having ITM host this particular post felt troubling to me and some of my colleagues. It is a well-established fact that in North America anything related to England dominates medieval studies. The majority of jobs, and majority of panels at big conferences (and small specialized conferences) etc. all revolve around England in some way. This of course has understandable reasons, and on some level, makes sense. But because of this, for those of us working in other areas, our topics, interests, areas of expertise, and struggles are often sidelined, marginalized and invisible. ITM, which is run entirely by scholars whose area of expertise is England, and which is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the important online voices in medieval studies cannot be seen as separated from this reality. I understand that both the editors of ITM and Chad Leahy are aware of this- and that that is why he wished to publish his post in this influential venue, and that the regular contributors of ITM saw this as an opportunity to use the platform ITM has to create the space that in my previous paragraph I argue that we have been fighting for. I also immediately understood that both parties, the author and editors of ITM, viewed this piece as being in line with the active discussion that took place on ITM earlier this summer about similar topics (and to which I contributed as well). But, there is a big difference: all of those earlier pieces were aimed at medieval studies as a whole, even when someone was writing from their specific subfield, the idea was to think about ways in which we all can be part of a general conversation that improves the field as a whole. In that context using ITM as a platform made sense: its centrality to the field was its strength and made conversation [...]

Dear Fellow Iberianists: Where Are We? -- Part Two


This is the second installment of a three-part series begun on Sunday, February 25, 2018. Part One appears here.On ‘Medieval Iberia,’ Why We Should Make the Tent Bigger,and What We Have to Say about Raceby Chad LeahyTitle page from Jacobo Uziel's David: poema heroico (Venice, 1624), courtesy of the Biblioteca Generale della Custodia di Terra Santa (Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Jerusalem). Photo by the author.In a previous post, I suggested that those of us working on Medieval Iberia could be doing more right now to publicly position our field against hate. This second post moves in two parts. Part I: Preliminary comments in response to some of the reactions that my initial post has generated, laying out a case for embracing a shared sense of common purpose. Part II: Thoughts on our particular disciplinary response to the very specific question of Iberian Studies and race in the 21st century United States. (If you have time only to skim this admittedly super long post, please take a look at least at points 1 and 2 at the very end, and especially the call for contributions to Race and Medieval Iberian Studies:A Partial Bibliography).I: Why We Should Make the Tent Bigger I’d like to start with what I think is an essential clarification. By suggesting in my previous post that we should do more, I absolutely did not intend to imply that some of us aren’t already engaged in public work, nor that the decolonizing of Iberian Studies broadly isn’t something that many of us care about. The #HereAreTheIberianists hashtag, courtesy of S.J. Pearce (one of many clearly engaged scholars who I cited with admiration in my last piece), stands as a handsome way to showcase the important work already being done. I think it would be phenomenal if this hashtag could work as a sort of repository of such work, particularly to show the strength of our valuable contributions to a broader audience. As several folks have pointed out, these efforts appear in a variety of media, in a range of languages, and spread across diverse national and local geographies. It’s next to impossible for any one person to keep tabs on all the work, both ‘scholarly’ and ‘public,’ going on in such a range of forums. But I think it would be genuinely beautiful if this hashtag could help us to collectively front this body of work as, precisely, a body of work, evincing the specific strength of Iberianist contributions (writ large) to the broader fight. I would suggest that by exposing such contributions to a wider group of people with allied interests, maybe we can also encourage more dialogue and scholarly interaction across the wide range of disciplinary positions implicated here, both within and outside Iberian or Hispanic Studies. This last argument leads me to a related point. Another set of observations prompted by my initial post revolves, precisely, around how we delimit proper disciplinary spaces. Most acutely: what is proper to ‘Anglo’ scholarship versus ‘Iberian’ scholarship, in what spaces does such work make sense, and, ultimately, what institutions or groups are endowed with the authority to make judgements about such matters? I’ll confess I know really far less than I should about the full range of worlds and experiences implicated in Anglo-centric fields, but regarding Iberia, I would like to make explicit something all of us know very well (and this is not intended to be patronizing to Iberianists, but rather to suggest the complications at play here for those less familiar with our fields): We are not, and never have been, a coherent discipline, but rather a constellation of allied fields that approach Iberia through a range of diverse languages, geographies, identities, and political spaces. (For a quick introduction to some of these issues, check out Jean Dangler’s piece in diacritics). For example, what do the proto-imperial endeavors of Aragón a[...]

your effort did not go unnoticed


by J J Cohen

Hi everyone,

I'm sharing here an image of a letter that arrived in my office early in the week, an anonymous letter sent through the mail by one of my students, thanking me for a practice that has become automatic: talking on the first day of class about the right of every student to mental wellness. As I go over the details of the syllabus each semester, I linger upon the university resources that I have collected for them, and speak a bit about how even though college is supposed to the "best time of your life!" it is in fact a difficult period of transition and transformation during which many young men and women experience anxiety, depression, and other challenges to mental well being. I have been making this little speech for the past few years, ever since my son as a freshman grappled with panic attacks and anxiety -- and allowed me to talk about it in public so that other people his age would know they are not alone. He's pretty amazing.

I have been surprised and, when I think about it, deeply pleased that sharing this image catalyzed a helpful and intense discussion on Twitter (where it was retweeted and liked at what seemed to me an amazing scale) and Facebook (where Shit Academics Say shared it to quite a response) about college and mental wellness: follow those two links and read through the comments students and teachers have been making in response. I did not expect to hear back from a student about how simply speaking about these issues -- gently articulating that they are not abnormal and that every student has a right to thrive and to care for themselves -- made such a deep impression. I have found over the years that it is often the small, unguarded personal things we say in the classroom that stick, not the brilliant close readings or the magnificent PowerPoint driven lectures. So if this note encourages more teachers to speak about mental wellness on day one of class, I will feel like more good has been released into the world.

So thank you, anonymous student. You make me so very happy -- and I wish you all the best.

On Courtly Love and Toxic Masculinity


By Leila K. NorakoOne of the ways I encourage my students to see the relevance and importance of what we do in a medieval literature classroom is to take opportunities to look at what we have inherited from that time period. I am, as a result, always on the lookout for ways to make seemingly arcane concepts like courtly love more accessible and immediately relevant to undergraduates, many of whom will have never encountered them prior to taking my class.In the course I’m currently teaching (a 10-week survey of medieval and early modern English literature), I pivot from Old English literature to High and Late Medieval English lit by way of a lesson spent mainly on Marie de France’s Bisclavret. To help students understand the relational dynamics in the text, I’ve found I need to spend a bit of time explaining the concept of courtly love. We go through the salient details, and students tend to remark simultaneously on the seeming alienness of the concept but, almost always, tend to notice that there are certain parallels/holdovers in contemporary culture (i.e. the idea that a man has to pursue and be persistent in winning a woman, and that in doing so he betters himself). Over the past few years though, especially in light of the growing awareness (and seeming popularity) of "Men’s Rights Activism" and, more broadly, the toxic masculinity that courses its way through mainstream American culture, I’ve felt more and more compelled to drive home to students the underbelly of the courtly love paradigm, and how we can still see aspects of that paradigm in our culture today.To make this point, I read the following poem to the students, explaining that it was written by Bernard de Ventadorn (1135-1194), an influential troubadour poet:Bernat de Ventadorn en un cançoner: BnF ms. 12473 fol. 15v, cançoner K "Can vei la lauzeta mover"When I see the lark beat his wingsfor joy against the sun's ray,until he forgets to fly and plummets down,for the sheer delight which goes to his heart,alas, great envy comes to meof those whom I see filled with happiness,and I marvel that my heartdoes not instantly melt from desire.Alas, I thought I knew so much about love,and really I know so little,for I cannot keep myself from loving herfrom whom I shall have no favor.She has stolen from me my heart, myself,herself, and all the world.When she took herself from me, she left me nothingbut desire and a longing heart.Never have I been in control of myselfor even belonged to myself from the hourthat she let me gaze into her eyes—that mirror that pleases me so greatly.Mirror, since I saw myself reflected in you,deep sighs have been killing me.I have lost myself, just ashandsome Narcissus lost himself in the fountain.I despair of women,no more will I trust them,and just as I used to defend them,now I shall denounce them.Since I see that none aids meagainst her who destroys and confounds me,I fear and distrust them allfor I know well they are all alike.In this my lady certainly shows herselfto be a woman, and for it I reproach her,for she wants not that which one ought to want,and what is forbidden, she does.I have fallen out of favorand have behaved like the fool on the bridge;and I don't know why it happenedexcept because I tried to climb too high.Mercy is lost, in truth,though I never received it,for she who should possess it mosthas none, so where shall I seek it?Ah, one who sees her would scarcely guessthat she just leaves this passionate wretch(who will have no good without her)to die, and gives no aid.Since with my lady neither prayers nor mercynor my rights avail me,and since she is not pleasedthat I love her, I will never speak of it to her again.Thus I part from her, and leave;she has killed me, and by death I respond,since she does not retain me, I depart,wretched, into exile, I don't know where.Tristan, you will have nothing[...]

2018 James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds


by BABEL WORKING GROUP2018 James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds:Applications Welcome!The time is upon us! We are now welcoming applications for the James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds, initiated by a generous gift from a former student of Jim's at the University of Florida, Mead Bowen, and sponsored by the BABEL Working Group. The grant was specifically established to aid scholars to travel to the International Congress on Medieval Studies, held each May at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In brief, for those scholars who have had a paper accepted by the Congress, but for whom travel to the Congress presents a financial hardship (due, especially, to lack of institutional and other support), we have established this grant in memory of Jim Paxson, and, more pointedly, for persons presenting on topics that would have been dear to him, whom many of you will remember as an important person in the support and development of theoretical medieval studies through his role as an associate editor for so many years at Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. This year, we will make FOUR AWARDS of $450 each. Please see below for the full description of the Travel Grant, and note that the deadline for applications is MARCH 31, with a decision to be made no later than APRIL 12 (and monies to be disbursed prior to the conference itself). Applications will be reviewed by a diverse and interdisciplinary committee of five scholars. The 2018 James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds The BABEL Working Group invites applications for the 2018 James J. Paxson Memorial Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds, available for presenters at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, held each spring at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Michigan). This grant honors the late Prof. Paxson, an energetic and creative scholar who was particularly devoted to exploring medieval allegory, Piers Plowman, the relations between literature and science, medieval drama, and the works of Chaucer. He produced the important monograph The Poetics of Personification (Cambridge, 1994) and authored an extensive body of articles on a variety of literary and other subjects, while also helping to steer and edit the journal Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies (a journal that has been vital to the development of theoretical medieval studies) through its formative and later years. His enthusiasm for research was surpassed only by his commitment to his students. He mentored countless men and women at the University of Toronto, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and the University of Florida, and he regularly encouraged them to present their findings at academic conferences. Yet he often lacked the funding necessary to present his own work at the conferences he urged his students to attend, and it disheartens us to think that, had he been able to do so, we might have learned something more of the work he was conducting before his passing, and more of us might have received the gift of his encyclopedic knowledge, boundless enthusiasm, and love for teaching. Prof. Paxson was also warmly supportive of the BABEL Working Group at a time when they needed such encouragement, and he was known for his helpful encouragement of those just starting out in the field. Through the James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant, we hope to extend the encouragement he freely gave and the funding he deserved to scholars who wish to honor his legacy of kindness, erudition, and commitment to both expanding our knowledge of the medieval world and also embracing new ideas. Four grants of $450 each will be awarded to help defray travel costs[...]

Confederate Monuments and the Cura pastoralis


Image: Martin Kraft ( CC BY-SA 3.0via Wikimedia Commons[image description: photo of Silent Sam statue, with protesters]by SEETA CHAGANTIIn a recent emailto UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, an anonymous group of senior faculty state that unless the administration agrees to remove a Confederate statue (known as “Silent Sam”) by March 1, the faculty sending the email will do it themselves. One can admire their missive for a number of reasons, including their commitment to direct action and their explicit, and correct, charge that the statue sends students, faculty, and staff of color the message that they are unwelcome and undervalued on the campus. But one aspect of this exchange that struck my medievalist ear with particular force is the invocation of “pastoral care,” in both the email and their subsequent press release, to describe the faculty’s understanding of their mission regarding students. Thinking about the resonances of this phrase in the context of the early Middle Ages revealed to me the strong tie between the antiracist act of removing this statue and a less tangible, but also crucial, imperative. This imperative is to render complicated ideas broadly accessible, so much so as to challenge the hierarchies by which such ideas are disseminated, in any fight for racial and social justice.Book 1 of Gregory the Great’s sixth-century Cura pastoralis, or Liber regulae pastoralis (Book of Pastoral Rule), speaks not simply about the care of the flock but also about authority itself. The treatise describes the care of souls as governance, the weight of governing (regimen, Chapter 1; pondus regiminis, Chapter 3), and in doing so sounds uncannily pointed and prescient in our current moment. Gregory remarks on the importance of acquiring appropriate learning before assuming authority (Chapter 1) and of practicing what one preaches when in a position of authority (Chapter 2). He warns that many minds will not be equal to the distractions (Chapter 4) that offices of authority place before one. Furthermore, a leader might be puffed up (tumidus, Chapter 4) or experience a misguided sense of deservingness (Chapter 9). And Gregory acknowledges the importance of feeling reluctance to serve as an authority due to one’s own humility but doing so anyway from a sense of duty (Chapter 7), rather than greedily seeking power. In other words, for a critical account of the pitfalls of governance that anticipates, by over a millennium, exactly the kind of leadership to which we are now subjected, see Book 1 of the Liber.But I’m not that interested here in giving airtime to the specific problem of Trump through Gregory the Great, or in analyzing Gregory’s attitude toward dominion itself. I am interested in the reception of Gregory’s cura pastoralis in the English Middle Ages and how that reception extends the implications of the pastoral care that the UNC faculty enact. In the late ninth century, King Alfred translated Gregory the Great’s Latin words about pastoral care into English, along with other works of religious and philosophical learning. Alfred’s response to Gregory’s work shows us that the critical stance toward an expression of authority, as well as the duty to attend to the flock (both accomplished by taking down the statue), must connect to the work of making difficult, subtle, and complicated ideas accessible to everyone. In a preface to the translation of Gregory’s text, Alfred observes that learning has decayed in England because Latin literacy has declined (afeallen wæs). Alfred declares it his mission to promote learning and wisdom by translating important works into English, for many know how to read English writing (monige cuðon Englisc gewrit arædan). His preface specifies that he will send a [...]

Dear Fellow Iberianists: Where Are We?


Cover image, Dario Fernández-Morera, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (2016)by Chad LeahyThis is the first of three posts by Chad Leahy on Iberianism in today's medieval studies.Dear reader of ITM: you don’t need me to tell you that an awful lot has been happening in Medieval Studies. I’d wager that most of us can rattle off a list of 2016-2017 highlights that might include #femfog, Leeds IMC, the Brown vs. Kimcontroversy,Charlottesville, and #AltCrusade17. And even if we aren’t publicly engaged in responding to this moment, I’d guess most of us are at least aware of the work of disciplinary awakening swirling around us: Work to acknowledge and redress the complicity of our silence. Work to reclaim Medieval Studies from the medievalist fantasies of white supremacists and misogynists. Work to confront the disciplinary practices and ideologies of exclusion that mark our past and present for people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups.You know this already. In fact, the gesture of signaling the moment-ness of the moment is becoming almost routine. So routine that I fear the gesture itself threatens to be replaced by the meta-cliché of complaining about it.For you, dear reader, let me offer that you are already aware of all of this in part because you are not an Iberianist. Maybe you work on Late Medieval England or Anglo-Saxons, Old Norse or Normans, Gaul or the Franks, Celts or the Crusader States. But Iberia? My question: where are all the Iberianists and Hispanists? What is behind our thundering absence from these conversations?I think there are a number of ways we might respond to this question, but in what follows, I’d like to entertain just one theory. Maybe we aren’t experiencing the aforementioned moment-ness of the moment in quite the same way as some of our disciplinary cousins simply because we feel that we’ve already been engaged in this sort of business for years, toreando in this plaza at least since 1948, when Américo Castro published España en su historia. (See this overview if you aren’t familiar).As Nadia Altschul suggested almost a decade ago, Medieval Iberia is “enmeshed in midcoloniality. In contrast to other language-based disciplines, the existence of a so-called ‘multicultural’ Middle Ages is neither counterintuitive nor new within Ibero-Medievalism” (“The future of postcolonial approaches to medieval Iberian Studies” 9). We understand racial, cultural, and confessional complexity to be basic to our field, and long decades of interpretative struggle over those fundamentals have always served as unvarnished referenda on the political and ideological struggles of the present. Whether as a means of decentering Eurocentric historiography or imagining an alternative to the horrors of the Holocaust or refracting anxieties over contemporary extremism, the War on Terror, and Islamophobia or negotiating the essentializing politics of Spanishness under Franco, we’re accustomed to seeing Medieval Iberia as a tool to think through some pretty big, relevant problems. (And this, even though we often default to a position of problematic neutrality that sometimes borders on “criminal non-intervention,” as Simon Doubleday has argued).So, is it just that we don’t consider more recent developments–especially those surrounding inclusion, violence, race, and nation–to be a disciplinary novelty?  Even if the answer is yes–and I’m not sure it is–I would like to suggest that this shouldn’t exonerate us from remaining engaged. On the contrary, our passivity here has real consequences that we have an obligation to take seriously.Let me offer just one example of what I mean: why did the publication of Fernández-Morera’s rabidly polemical The Myth of the Andalusian Par[...]

Slow Thinking and Swift Action


by J J Cohen

Last autumn I was elected co-president (wth Stacy Alaimo) of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, the oldest and largest environmental humanities organization. I'm happy to serve a community that means so much to me.

Stacy and I recently composed a Message from the Presidents for the ASLE website. I'm copying it here because it means so much to me. If you feel inspired, please consider joining ASLE, a supportive and vibrant collective of artists and scholars.

ASLE is where slow thinking (scholarly and artistic research and writing) meets swift action (we cannot truly be environmental humanists unless we are willing to become environmental activists). We study, write, compose and create because we care about issues like biodiversity, environmental justice, survival in a time of endemic precarity and global catastrophe, and the effects of climate change on humans and nonhumans alike. These concerns have long histories, and we believe that we can look to the past to imagine alternative futures. We do not have easy solutions to the problems that face us, but we do have faith that widened community is our best way forward.

ASLE has long offered a vital intellectual community: there are few scholarly organizations that possess so strong sense of camaraderie, mentorship, and shared ethical and political orientations. It has been exciting to see the organization grow and the field flourish over the years, becoming more inclusive in its membership and more capacious in its ambit. We want you to find in ASLE a refuge and a welcoming home. In these times of ecological peril, we look forward to increasing our public visibility as well as working with like-minded organizations to effect social change. Please join us as we intensify our strengths and ensure ASLE’s vibrant future.

Antiracist Medievalisms: Lessons from Chinese Exclusion


by JONATHAN HSY [Early Chinese American voices (left to right): Wong Chin Foo, Yan Phou Lee, and Edith Maude Eaton / Sui Sin Far.]Racist appropriation of the Middle Ages is a disturbing aspect of contemporary culture. Among the most notorious recent examples are the use of medieval iconographyby white nationalists and related displays at (neo) Nazi rallies. As a Chinese American I’m acutely aware of the role that toxic forms of medievalism have played in a long history of discrimination and violence. One particularly painful aspect of such history is the era of Chinese exclusion: a decades-long period when legislation denied Chinese immigrants in the US (and Canada) full rights of citizenship, and anti-Chinese riots were enabled by a toxic mix of nativist and xenophobic medievalism. As Illustrating Chinese Exclusion reveals, dehumanizing caricatures of the unassimilable “Chinaman” with slanted eyes and long “pigtail” were often contrasted with idealized exemplars of (Christian) white masculinity; moreover, such propaganda gleefully exploited “medieval” imagery to appeal to a popular audience (e.g., Thomas Nast’s political cartoons “Pacific Chivalry” and “Martyrdom of St Crispin”).Toxic medievalism (medieval-ism referring to popular fantasies of a medieval past) was not just pervasive in visual media.[1] Such toxicity infused the political rhetoric of “Yellow Peril.” In the words of US Senator James G. Blaine, front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination: “The question is [whether] the Anglo-Saxon race will possess the Pacific Slope or the Mongolians will possess it.”[2] Elsewhere, Blaine asserted that states such as California can “[maintain] a vast population of Anglo-Saxon freemen, if we do not surrender it to Chinese coolies.”[3] Throughout the 1880’s, anti-Chinese riots were orchestrated by members of the Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, a group that deployed medieval iconography and nativist nostalgia to provoke violence and expulsion (and as early as 1870, a trade union styled the Knights of Saint Crispin held mass meetings in San Francisco and other cities decrying “coolie labor”).[4] To make matters worse, “progressive” reform movements in Chinatowns—whether led by white women or by white men—exploited missionary discourses of social uplift and moral crusade to assert the superiority of Western civilization over “barbarous” Asian influences.[5]The Chinese Exclusion era is one vivid example of how nativist appropriations of “medieval” imagery and discourse can fuel animus against immigrant communities across North America (and immigrant diasporas around the globe). Rather than write another piece lamenting the “abuse” or “misuse” of a medieval past, I consider the targets of toxic medievalism. How did Chinese Americans transform a hostile sociopolitical environment? What strategies did they employ to resistdiscrimination?In the following sketches, I explore how early Chinese Americans created space for antiracist medievalism.[6] Not only did people of Chinese ancestry turn “medieval” tropes and rhetoric against their contemporary detractors, but they also found affirming possibilities to assert a shared humanity and to claim cultural belonging.[7]Chinese American Voices[Closing of a handwritten letter by Wong Ar Chong – entire letter here]One way to address toxic chivalry was simply to rebuke it directly.In an eloquent letter addressed to civil rights advocate William Lloyd Garrison, Chinese immigrant and Boston tea merchant Wong Ar Chong was an early voice from within the Chinese American community expressing opposition to nativism. In 1878, Denis Kearney—himself an (Irish Catholic) immigrant—[...]

Touching the Past (Again) @ GWU


by J J CohenAll ITM readers who live near DC or would an excuse to travel to DC are cordially invited to an event that celebrates the tenth and final year of the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute by re-running our inaugural symposium. Information is below. You must register to attend: there is no charge, and we provide you with all kinds of delicious food and drink.Touching the Past (Again)March 2 & 3The Hotel Lombardy2019 Pennsylvania Ave NWWashington DCDear friends,Help us to celebrates TEN years of the flourishing of GW MEMSI by rethinking and revisiting our very first event, the inaugural symposium called Touching the Past. Though in profound ways 2008 seems like a different world at this vantage, the Institute remains steadfast in its foundational belief that possible futures are to be found in encountering the past anew. With an emphasis on advent and touch (widely construed: physical, emotional, cross-species, intertemporal), the symposium hopes to engender lively conversation -- and look forwards and back at once. The event includes some of the original presenters as well as many new voices.All are welcome, but please register HERE if you intend to come. Registration is essential to having sufficient catering.The complete program is below. Presentation abstracts may be found here.Friday March 21:30 PMFeelCarolyn Dinshaw (New York University): Doing Medieval Sex Work in the 21st Century: John/Eleanor Rykener and the Last of the CockettesJulian Yates (University of Delaware): StingErica Fudge (University of Strathclyde): Leaning Up Against the Flank of a CowModerated by Alexa Alice Joubin3:00 PMCoffee3:30 PMGraspJoe Moshenska (University of Cambridge): Touching the Past, Playing the PastAnthony Bale (Birkbeck, University of London): Being Margery KempeEllen MacKay (University of Chicago): A History of Future Shocks: Jonah, Jamestown, and The Tempest's PreenactmentsModerated by Lowell Duckert5:00 PMCocktail break6:00 PMLight dinner and revelrySaturday March 39:30 AMBreakfast  (included for all registrants)10:30 AMPressDorothy Kim (Vassar College): The Jew, The Ethiopian, and St. MargaretSteve Mentz (St John's University and the Bookfish) : How to Act Human in the AnthropocenePeggy McCracken (University of Michigan): Cold Stone, Warm Flesh: Pygmalion’s TouchModerated by Jonathan Hsy12:00 PMLunch (included for all registrants)1:30 PMHoldStephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne): Sense of Touch: Absolutely SimilarJesús Rodríguez Velasco (Columbia University): The Soul as a Time MachineCord Whitaker (Wellesley College): Touching the Past in the Harlem Middle AgesModerated by Holly Dugan3:00 PMCoffee3:30 PMLet GoClosing discussion and charting of futures, with all panelists, moderators, organizers ... and you.4:30 PMProsecco, chocolate and strawberries to celebrate ten years of GW MEMSIRegister for the symposium HERE.Pictures used in this program are borrowed from the Dear Photograph project. Complete information (including photographers and background stories) may be found here.[...]

On The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales


by Leila K. NorakoAs I’m sure a lot of you have already heard, the wonderful OpenAccess Companion to the Canterbury Tales (OACCT) is now live, and provides a rich array of entry-level essays focused both on the tales themselves and the cultural contexts in which Chaucer wrote them. I have been looking forward to its release for some time now: I had the pleasure of incorporating many of the articles (when they were undergoing their open access review phase) last year in my first-ever Chaucer course, and found myself profoundly grateful throughout the term for the OACCT’s existence. I was determined, for instance, to provide my students (the vast majority of which had never encountered Chaucer before) with a robust sampling of secondary readings, but I was also eager to seek out texts that would be immediately accessible to a group of students who were new to Middle English, late medieval English literature and culture, and Chaucer himself. The essays offered in this open-access volume filled exactly that need. They challenged the students in productive ways, but also enabled them to dive into the tales and make meaning out of them with greater confidence than they otherwise might have had. In addition to being beautifully pitched for an entry-level audience, the OACCT is also conscientiously inclusive in its range of scholarly contributors: over half of the contributors are women, several medievalists of color contributed essays, and several early career and contingent scholars are included alongside more established scholars in the field. As a result, students have access through the OACCT to a wide range of perspectives on Chaucer and his writings, and this range also makes the task of making a Chaucer course an inclusive one even easier. For instance, given that Chaucer classes, by their very nature, are focused on a “single dead white guy,” I was determined to make sure that at least 75% of the scholarship I included on the syllabus was written by women, and that I included as many scholars of color as possible. The OACCT’s offerings were instrumental in this regard given the number of women who contributed, and this resource, in tandem with the Global Chaucers project (which steered me to other wonderful creative works and articles penned by scholars of color), allowed me to come close to meeting those goals. Granted, in a 10-week course on Chaucer, there was simply no way to require that students read a Canterbury Tale plus 2-3 secondary readings for each class, especially since I asked students to read each of the selected tales in the original Middle English. My solution was to require that each student commit to reading and leading a discussion on two of the required secondary readings. While students appreciated the challenge of reading articles by Carolyn Dinshaw, Glen Burger, and others, they regularly praised the OACCT articles for their combination of rich information and accessibility. Several students retroactively consulted OACCT articles that they hadn’t been required to read for their research and creative projects, and many sought them out for support as they prepared for class. I was consistently amazed by the way my students deepened their abilities to discuss the tales we read (especially since none of them had studied Chaucer or Middle English literature prior to this class), and the OACCT played a tremendous part in the development of that confidence and enthusiasm. In short, I cannot recommend incorporating the OACCT articles into your Chaucer and Medieval Literature syllabi enough. They worked beautifully for my group of mostly non-majors, and I found myself tremendously grateful to the author[...]

Krista Ratcliffe: On access and excellence as reciprocal goals


by J J Cohen

English is one of the three schools I will be overseeing at ASU come July when I start my new job as Dean of Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It's big (one of the largest in the US), capacious in the expertise it gathers, and filled with talent. The department is also housed in a beautiful new building.

I have already been enjoying working with the department chair, Krista Ratcliffe. If you read the short news clip and interview linked here, you'll see why.

Oh, and in not unrelated news have you heard the news that humanities graduates are gainfully employed and happy? And that against the shortsighted political demand that colleges concentrate on vocational training "the humanities must be about more than jobs and compensation ... we need to prepare students for all of the principal domains of adult life"?

Congratulations Bonnie Wheeler, Monica Green and Emily Steiner


In the Middle congratulated three wonderful medievalists for their recent CARA awards: Bonnie Wheeler (celebrated previously on this blog) for the Robert L. Kindrick-CARA Award for Outstanding Service to Medieval Studies and Monica Green and Emily Steiner for the CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching. Well done and well deserved. These three scholars have had a profoundly good impact upon medieval studies and deserve as much celebrating as possible.

Veer Ecology A Companion for Environmental Thinking


by J J CohenITM readers might find this newly published book that Lowell Duckert and I co-edited to be of interest: Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking.Packed with essays (31 contributors!) and jumbo sized (518 pages!), the volume is also affordably priced: $27 for the paperback, $21 for the Kindle version. Purchasing the book also helps to support the future ambitions of a not for profit university press that has been nurturing projects that reshape (among other things) the environmental humanities landscape for quite some time. Believe it or not this is the seventh project I've completed with the University of Minnesota Press, and there's a reason: they push the boundaries of what the contemporary humanities can undertake and support their authors in a way that is rare.Veer Ecology brings to a close the informal trilogy instigated by Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green and continued in Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. The range of disciplines is wider and the creativity upped. You'll find many familiar names in the Table of Contents as well as work by scholars you might not have thought of as ecocritics. We also attempted a more capacious than usual span of time periods. Complete information is below. If you do decide to grab a copy of the book ... please let me know what you think of it. Lowell and I have never tackled so ambitious a project before, and were surprised to find what a joy it was to foster the conversation that the book contains.DescriptionThe words most commonly associated with the environmental movement—save, recycle, reuse, protect, regulate, restore—describe what we can do to help the environment, but few suggest how we might transform ourselves to better navigate the sudden turns of the late Anthropocene. Which words can help us to veer conceptually along with drastic environmental flux? Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert asked thirty brilliant thinkers to each propose one verb that stresses the forceful potential of inquiry, weather, biomes, apprehensions, and desires to swerve and sheer. Each term is accompanied by a concise essay contextualizing its meaning in times of resource depletion, environmental degradation, and global climate change.Some verbs are closely tied to natural processes: compost, saturate, seep, rain, shade, sediment, vegetate, environ. Many are vaguely unsettling: drown, unmoor, obsolesce, power down, haunt. Others are enigmatic or counterintuitive: curl, globalize, commodify, ape, whirl. And while several verbs pertain to human affect and action—love, represent, behold, wait, try, attune, play, remember, decorate, tend, hope—a primary goal of Veer Ecology is to decenter the human. Indeed, each of the essays speaks to a heightened sense of possibility, awakening our imaginations and inviting us to think the world anew from radically different perspectives. A groundbreaking guide for the twenty-first century, Veer Ecology foregrounds the risks and potentialities of living on—and with—an alarmingly dynamic planet.ContentsForewordCheryll GlotfeltyIntroduction: Welcome to the WhirledJeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell DuckertVegetateCatriona SandilandsGlobalizeJesse Oak TaylorCommodifyTobias MenelyPower DownJoseph CampanaObsolesceMargaret RondaDecorateDaniel C. RemeinRememberCord WhitakerRepresentJulian YatesCompostSerpil OppermannAttuneTimothy MortonSedimentStephanie LeMenagerEnvironVin NardizziShadeBrian ThillTryLowell DuckertRainMick SmithDrownJeffrey Jerome CohenHauntColl ThrushSeepSteve MentzSaturateLaura OgdenBeholdSerenella IovinoWaitChristophe[...]

Adam J. Goldwyn, Byzantine Ecocriticism


by J J Cohen

Among the many benefits of the slow de-centering of Europe when it comes to the study of the Middle Ages -- so that even when a project concentrates upon a single geography, the flows of people and animals and goods and even weather that connected it to a wider world must be better accounted for -- is that medievalists are reading more broadly than they used to. A major contribution to expanding shared conversation, especially around the topics foregrounded by the environmental humanities, is Adam J. Goldwyn's brilliant new book Byzantine Ecocriticism: Women, Nature, and Power in the Medieval Greek Romance.

Here is the back cover synopsis (which perhaps does not convey how capacious the ambit of the volume is):
Byzantine Ecocriticism: Women, Nature, and Power in the Medieval Greek Romance applies literary ecocriticism to the imaginative fiction of the Greek world from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. Through analyses of hunting, gardening, bride-stealing, and warfare, Byzantine Ecocriticism exposes the attitudes and behaviors that justified human control over women, nature, and animals; the means by which such control was exerted; and the anxieties surrounding its limits. Adam Goldwyn thus demonstrates the ways in which intersectional ecocriticism, feminism, and posthumanism can be applied to medieval texts, and illustrates how the legacies of medieval and Byzantine environmental practice and ideology continue to be relevant to contemporary ecological and environmental concerns.
And here is my blurb for the book. I was very happy to endorse Goldwyn's work.
Lucid, compelling, and immensely learned, Byzantine Ecocriticism advances multiple fields at once: medieval studies, the environmental humanities, and critical animal studies. Examining with great brio materials that have yet to have been interpreted within a frame that underscores the agency of the nonhuman, this book is a needed addition to the growing body scholarship on the complexities of nature in the Middle Ages.
Anyone working on medieval ecocriticism will want to read this book. It is too expensive, as Palgrave books nearly always are (even the Kindle version is way overpriced) -- but this would be a good to have your library order on your behalf.

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 t[...]

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 Universi[...]

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 academ[...]

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 So[...]

#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 wi[...]