The past couple of months in medieval studies: a reading list pulled from my phone

Here’s a quick post gathering together some of the online outpouring of exciting pieces of writing that have catalysed, reported or critiqued the debates and changes currently afoot in the world of (academic) medieval studies. They focus on issues of race, racism, far-right extremism and the geographies of contemporary medieval studies. All have been published in recent weeks, although it almost goes without saying that they are among the latest in a much longer line of contributions (here’s a pivotal one allied to a pivotal event – please click through on all three things below the Contents subtitle). Don’t worry too much if you feel like you’re playing catch-up – in some of the pieces listed below you’ll find links to important earlier contributions to the debates.

Please be aware this is far from a comprehensive reading list; it’s merely an annotated list of the tabs I’ve kept open on Safari on my phone with a view to sharing eventually in one way or another. Some readers may be familiar with most (or maybe even all) of the following items already, but I’m doing this in particular for folks who don’t do social media – or at least don’t make a habit of checking things regularly – and are interested in medieval studies but perhaps aren’t keyed-in to its latest developments. I hope that the abiding impression is one of a field experiencing a challenging but thrilling and long-overdue period of self-reflection, inspiration from new disciplines, sometimes impassioned debate, and most of all the early stages of a shift towards genuine change for the better in many aspects.

EDIT: It was pretty remiss of me to publish this initially without any statement thanking the authors of the following works for the time and effort they put into writing them. I laboured enough with writing the opening and closing paragraphs of this post, so I really do applaud each and every one of the authors for the length and quality of their pieces. 

Medievalists of Colour, ‘On Race and Medieval Studies’ – Let’s begin with the most important piece; a collective statement ‘that advocates for a more inclusive, productive, and world-improving medieval studies’. Vital reading, and the roadmap to the future of the field.

Jeffrey J. Cohen, ‘On Pushback, Progress and Promise’ – A concise, encouraging contribution stressing that change has occurred and will continue to progress despite resistance from certain quarters.

J. Clara Chan, ‘Medievalists, Recoiling From White Supremacy, Try to Diversify the Field’ – A very important report distilling the main points of controversy arising from this year’s Leeds IMC, as well as more generally the major issues at stake.

Brandon Hawk, ‘Diversifying SASLC’ – a long read but a really decent pulling-together of a lot of the key issues, including a wealth of links to other relevant stuff online.

David M. Perry, ‘White supremacists love Vikings. But they’ve got history all wrong’ – If one of the main reasons for why medieval studies has found itself in its present state of reflection and change (still) needs explaining to anyone, this article should do the trick.

Otávio Luiz Vieira Pinto, ‘Peripheries of the Middle Ages’ – A timely insight into the lives and work of medievalists in South America and other regions away from the geographical centres of contemporary medieval studies.

drdarkage, ‘a thread w/ research on medievalism & white supremacy’ – A phenomenal tweeted thread-cum-list linking a lot of essential reading (some of which may be among the pieces listed here, but with a host of ace additional items).

Daniel Remein, “ISAS should probably change its name” – A paper from this year’s K’zoo ICMS that gained renewed relevance in the run up to the biennial meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS) held very recently in Honolulu, Hawai’i. I guess the subject matter of my research makes me an “Anglo-Saxonist”, but I have major problems with the label and consequently I strive to avoid using it at all costs, so a lot of this paper is music to my ears.

Adam Miyashiro, ‘Decolonizing Anglo-Saxon Studies: A Response to ISAS in Honolulu’ – A for the most part spot-on critique written and published in the run-up to ISAS 2017 in Honolulu, about its poor approach to issues of racism and colonialism in view of its Hawaiian location. Read the comments too.

Mateusz Fafinski, ‘The Obama Moment of Anglo-Saxon Studies’ – A ‘straight out of the oven take’ on the changes happening to ISAS agreed/announced at the end of its recent biennial meeting. Slightly hyperbolic, but understandable given the circumstances in which it was written.

Thomas Bredehoft, “Anglo-Saxonists” – Something of a counterpoint, written by an eminent Germanic philologist. Given the subject matter “Anglo-Saxonist/-ism” is a disciplinary umbrella term that encompasses much more than language, this blog mentions “Germanic purity” a little too often for my tastes; such a concept is acceptable from a philological perspective but is deeply problematic in terms of archaeology, for example. Indeed, one of the impressions I’m left with from reading this post and some of the stuff coming out of the ISAS conference is that the label “Anglo-Saxonist” isn’t being treated as applying to all those scholars who study the period, with archaeology/archaeologists in particular largely overlooked.

I could attempt to synthesise the implications of all of the above, but I’d rather each reader has their own look through the pieces and draw their own conclusions. (I’ll say a bit more of substance as to my own views in my next post.) Things continue to move apace, with new pieces taking things forward appearing frequently. I especially recommend checking in on the In The Middle site on a regular basis (there’s so much more to read than the couple of pieces I’ve linked). Also, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, make some time to read through the brilliant (and ongoing) series of essays in the ‘Race, Racism and the Middle Ages’ strand on The Public Medievalist website. Medieval studies as a whole (as hard as it is to group it together thus) is rarely at the vanguard of the latest shift changes in thinking/praxis/behaviours, so to have all this happening right now and in such an exciting and dynamic way is really something. Don’t bet against this being the first of a number of posts of this type I put together in the coming months.

PS. In the order in which I received them, thanks to Jonathan Hsy, Patrick Day, James Harland, and Dorothy Kim for the suggestions of corrections/improvements to earlier versions of the blog. If you spot anything else that needs amending or adding, let me know!

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About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Being organised, Conference, internet, News, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The past couple of months in medieval studies: a reading list pulled from my phone

  1. Patrick Day says:

    A quick note on your comments about Bredehoft’s article:

    “Something of a counterpoint, this blog mentions “Germanic purity” too often for my tastes, which might be acceptable from a philological perspective but is deeply problematic in terms of archaeology.”

    I would just like to point out that Tom is first and foremost a philologist and metricist and not an archaeologist, so that certainly colors his view of Germanic or Anglo-Saxon “exceptionalism.” He also works in the area of medieval antiquarianism and reception where these terms are often bandied about by our scholarly forbears themselves.

    Otherwise–thanks for the list; it’s good to have it all in one place!

    • Thanks for this, Patrick.

      Rereading my annotation, it does presuppose that the reader has already read Tom’s piece (or flicks back to my blog straight after reading it), or else knows of his disciplinary background through other means. This being so, the slightly narrow focus of his discussion insofar as it doesn’t really deal with archaeology or history and the continued applicability/acceptability of the relevant terminology to those fields of study would/should be apparent. For those reading my bit first (and in a worst case scenario not clicking through to Tom’s piece), there is a chance they could be left with an unfair impression of what he’s arguing.

      I’ll alter my wording to clarify his background and the particular area/s he talks about in the blog.

      Thanks again!

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