Reposts from ‘The Public Middle Ages’ | postmedieval FORUM

Some of my favourite quotes from the ‘Public Middle Ages’ postmedieval FORUM blogs, with bonus stream-of-consciousness notes-to-self and questions.


Source: Introduction: The Public Middle Ages | postmedieval FORUM – Holly A. Crocker

“So, then, the drive to engage non-specialist audiences is an effort to make ourselves better — can we articulate what we do in ways that non-scholars understand? — but for the purpose of enriching a common intellectual life that is no longer nourished within the boundaries of the traditional university.”


Source: Relevance | postmedieval FORUM – Marion Turner

“Medievalists know, of course, that many of the concerns of long-dead authors chime with the concerns of the present. However, it is a real problem if we give in to a view that we read literature mainly because it is relevant.”

“We read, at least in part, to train our brains to make imaginative leaps, not only because this develops empathy but also because it encourages us constantly to question assumptions; in particular, perhaps, to question the idea that any part of how we live and how we are is natural, or self-evidently superior. I am reminded here of Sherri Olson’s comment on pedagogy in the previous postmedieval forum, that “strangeness should be interesting, not repellant” (Olson, 2013)”

“It is through the sensitive affirmation of difference that we can gain a greater purchase on the past and on the present. We have to keep making this case in public discussions as well as more specialist conversations; we need to find accessible ways of articulating difference. “Impact” is a key word in research assessment in the UK, but to have impact on varied publics our work should not focus only on the appealing argument of sameness and relevance; we should never give up on the value of affirming historical (and other kinds of) difference.”


Source: A Social Media Strategy for Medievalists (Seven Theses) | postmedieval FORUM – Brantley L Bryant

“Scholarship is an open-world video game — our tools and techniques are the spells we use to manipulate that world: concordances, archive searches, indices, and other grimoires […] Unlike stage magicians, we have everything to gain from giving our tricks away.”

“Sci-fi ships gain speed by shooting themselves along the curve of a big planet’s gravity. Social medievalists too can slingshot off news events and pop-cultural planets to enhance their visibility and reach” see also: Jonathan Jones for The Guardian, “Nicki Minaj and the ancient art of men having sex with statues”.

“To take best advantage, social medievalists will need to move at the rapid pace of the news cycle, and scholarly organizations will need to plan for this kind of speed alongside the slower timeline of journals and conferences. Importantly, this point applies only to news items that have relatively neutral political valence. The issue of the ethics, methods, and time scale of providing a medievalist perspective on tragedies and conflicts is a much more complicated one. As an academic enterprise, social medievalist outreach must always keep ethical concerns central as we strive for visibility and reach.”

I will write some further thoughts on these points soon… lots to consider here.

“Anachronism instantly conveys the complicated inextricability of post- and premodern. Punning the present against the past spreads enthusiasm not just for the past itself but for the passions involved in studying it and the tricks of the mind that we play on ourselves as we negotiate a present that is not simple but rather “a field in which varying kinds of temporalities get lived out” (Dinshaw, 2012, 137).”

“Current fan culture is not without its many flaws and problems, but it can provide medievalists with new ideas about community building and knowledge production”

Also/ but surely this is nothing new? Consider ‘fan culture’ and the culture of antiquaries’ clubs in eighteenth-nineteenth century England? How has that continued to shape our scholarly work now? Is it acknowledged? We allowed this ‘amateaur’ intervention, how to we continue to embrace/ or ‘fix’ such shaping now? Do we need to? I’m sure someone must’ve written on this…

A useful footnote! Pretty sure I need a sentence like this somewhere in my introduction…
“1. This statement makes an artificial distinction between “academic/scholarly medievalists,” on one side, meaning those whose professional livelihood is tied to conventional academia, and “broader publics,” on the other. This distinction, of course, does not hold when applied to most real-life situations, and medievalist social media outreach is one way to encourage the most equitable and productive exploration of that distinction’s collapse. The fragility of the academic/popular medievalist divide has been explored by many scholars; to name just a few: Gail Ashton, Daniel T. Kline, Thomas Prendergast, Stephanie Trigg, and Richard Utz. For a notable recent work that questions the boundaries of “professional” scholarship, see Dinshaw (2012).”


Source: The Digital Middle Ages | postmedieval FORUM – Kathleen E Kennedy

“Copies are one of the ways in which texts function. Unlike digital copies, medieval texts both proliferated and changed with every copy… Never before in the history of humanity has so much text been closed behind copyright, patent, and DRM walls.”


Source: There is No Public Middle Ages, There is No Public History | postmedieval FORUM – Matthew Gabriele

“I’d suggest that my status as a public medievalist, or at least my public engagement with the past — medieval or otherwise — has simply to do with my status as a citizen and my status as a ghost-hunter.”

“There is no Public Middle Ages, there is no Public History, because they’re both everywhere. It’s a truism (or should be) to say that the past was, is, and always will be a construction of the present.”

“[Medievalists are ghost-hunters. Our] focus, rightly, should be on the ghosts themselves — who they were in their lifetimes but also how they’ve passed through time and reemerged into ours — rather than where those ghosts manifest themselves.”

“engage the [publics] we already belong to. This means that we can, and should, engage the themes and ideas of the Middle Ages as often as possible, whether they appear on Twitter, on Facebook, in the news, in an academic journal, or in the classroom.”


Source: Public Medievalism and the Common Life | postmedieval FORUM – Bruce Holsinger

“Academics are ever attuned to the dangers of “vulgar” popularization, as Josiah Ober put it some years ago in regard to classical scholarship and public writing (Ober, 1996, 86)”

“It’s important to recognize, then, how many different forms and modes public medievalism can take. We might consider in this regard the history of amateur medievalism traced by Carolyn Dinshaw in How Soon Is Now? (Dinshaw, 2012), which reveals a fascinating series of more or less public engagements on the part of amateur scholars pursuing medievalism as an avocation rather than as part of a professional career. ”

“Fiction, like blogging, certain forms of experimental scholarship, and other emergent modes of para-academic expression, provides an immediate and refreshing escape from the traditional genres and forms of academic writing, which can often be frustrating, alienating, and dysfunctional even for its ablest practitioners (see the wonderful observations in Akbari and Gillespie, 2015). ”

“There are some down sides to the public Middle Ages, of course. Not all or even most subjects we pursue as medievalists merit public translation, nor should they need public justification to ground their claims to importance and worth. ” My emphasis. I think this is important to remember. Whilst I love to participate in, dream up, and read about public engagement projects, and believe that facilitating engagement with Anglo-Saxon stories outside of the university is vital work, I would also hate for this work to be privileged above other forms of research and knowledge sharing. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake, for the sake of other researchers,  for the most niche interests, is something to defend. This blog focuses mainly on ‘public’ projects, so I thought I needed to put this little disclaimer in, if it need be said at all 🙂


Source: Unsticking Time | postmedieval FORUM – Leila K. Norako

I love love love that Norako starts her section with this Vonnegut quote: it’s underlined in my own copy of Slaughterhouse 5 🙂

“All moments past, present, and future always have existed, always will exist. . . . It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five”

“I believe that we can learn a lot about why a film like American Sniper, for instance, is simultaneously so polarizing and so popular by tracing the narrative mechanics of that film back to medieval romances that also insist on Christian triumphalism (Norako, 2015). That kind of work can help dismantle the notion that our sensibilities and appetites are inevitably more evolved. To say that racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance are medieval is to say that such things do not exist in the now, and that kind of relegation, as many have argued already, is a dangerous and damaging practice. Consider, for instance, the ever-pejorative use of the term “medieval” in popular discourse. We use it to refer to the barbaric, the alien, the profoundly not-Us… These kinds of rhetorical moves seek to create comfortable, but ever-artificial, distance between us and the things we would rather not be. Put differently, they comfort by allowing participants to assume positions of superiority that are, more often than not, more fiction than fact. ”

Is the work of a public medievalist to always ‘rescue’ medieval from misuse? Can the medieval work in other ways apart from ‘same as self’ – ‘totally other’?

“We can and should account for differences (of temporality, culture, socio-political particulars, religion, etc.) when we approach a different culture or age, but we also need to avoid the tempting assumption that we are immune to similar, if not identical, impulses.”


Source: The Disorientation of Writing as a Public Medievalist | postmedieval FORUM – David Perry

“When I write about disability and police violence, for example, I am informed by academics in criminology and disability studies (and other fields), but I know I am not a part of either field. I am a journalist, writing to as big an audience as I can muster. I just hope that academics in those fields will deem me a competent interlocutor. ”

“I am deeply aware of the rich citation history I am circumventing with a few choice sentences or links.”
Being an academic and writing for the mass media… is this a competing pair of practices?

“The challenges of public writing are real. The answer, though, is for more people to do more writing, rather than to let these challenges silence.”

“I would encourage all medievalists to look for ways to speak to wider audiences. Not only does it serve a public good, but it also forces you to reformulate your own understanding. It’s hard to encapsulate complex academic discourses in brief, publicly-accessible statements. It’s also necessary and ultimately can lead to new questions, new arguments, better scholarship.”

Although, “people will wonder why you aren’t spending more time on applying for grants, writing a book, revising a traditional article.”, he advocates for sustained public engagement to ‘count’ more towards teaching, research, hiring, and grant rubrics.


More sustained reflection to come!


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