Category: academia

Quick question for you all: Would you be interested in reading stuff I’ve written on art history? Not the usual stuff I post here with short commentaries, the heavy, reference and footnote infested academic work. 

I would love to hear what you think about this. 

Thanks! 

By virtue of its subject matter as constructed over its history, medieval studies has a legacy of fortifying structural racism and other engines to silence the marginalized.

Throughout the development of humanities curricula, the contributions of medieval disciplines have often undergirded white supremacy. Many historical fields and disciplines chose at earlier moments to re-examine their canons (sometimes participating in what we know as the “culture wars”).

Medieval studies — despite the the intervention of earlier critics who always wanted to see it become more open — continued for much of its past to provide justification for white Western anchors to narratives of literary, historical, and cultural greatness. Even when we studied non-Western objects and histories as medievalists, we tended to presuppose the primacy of whiteness in our modes of thought and analysis, too often unchallenged, in the field’s history, by engagement with critical discourses questioning that presupposition.

And as with all white supremacist projects, that supremacy hid itself in plain sight, shaping not only the field’s content but also, for non-white and white scholars alike, its professional culture, normalizing imbalances in access to visibility and voice.

As we increasingly call out – in all spheres of our lives – the realities of structural racism and other bias, medieval studies has experienced dramatic friction. Some medievalists are recognizing, or finally finding the voice to say, that the systemic bias on which the field has historically depended is one reason why we have never all participated in it freely or equally. Other medievalists corner themselves into denying the existence of systemic bias, or feigning incomprehension of it, in order to defend a curricular, research, and professional culture to which they are attached. […]

Medieval studies is the future because our field is old enough to be young. Let us then take up the charge of its brave early-career members.

They remind us that enduring patterns of harassment and racism make academic freedom a mere myth for some; they assert that positions of misogyny, ethnonationalism, xenophobia, homo- and transphobia, and other biases are not legitimate positions in any conversation because they make freedom for all within the conversation impossible.

Let our old field be the ideal home for those recognitions, one that rejuvenates their force.

My first time at the International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS), Kalamazoo, was bittersweet.

I had been told about the book exhibits and what to do to reserve the books I wanted. I had been told about the dance and how fun it would be.

I was told about the singing and drinking and of ducklings walking around campus, but I was not prepared for the racism.

I was not prepared to be constantly asked why I was at the conference, why I studied Icelandic literature when I was Puerto Rican. I was not prepared to tell a stranger that there was no need to congratulate me for being the first Puerto Rican medievalist because I was 100% sure I was not.

I was not prepared to be the only person of color in every single panel I attended. I remember recounting my experience to one of my professors and wondering out loud if I was meant to be a medievalist. It seemed to me that the attendees at ICMS were not convinced that I should. My professor gave me the best answer for me at that moment. “Fuck them and do what you want, you don’t owe them anything.”

It’s been over a decade since my first Kzoo, but the congress continues to be a hostile environment for marginalized academics. I would like to ask what many medievalists of color have been asking our colleagues and the institutions that represent us.

What has academia lost? What have we lost by allowing racism to hurt people of color? How many talented professionals in various fields have we lost because of racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, etc.? For one, we lose the scholarship of those who never return, as Dr. Mary Rambaran-Olm’s essay “Anglo-Saxon Studies, Academia and White Supremacy” demonstrates.

Imagine how many gifted but marginalized scholars have fallen to the wayside.

It has become very clear to many of us working in the field, especially over the past few years, that there is a strong and continuing strain of people who value the “Middle Ages” as a golden age of White European Christianity, and who turn to knowledge created by Medieval Studies to support their views.

Moreover it has become apparent that there are scholars who have a stake in promoting this view as well. Even medievalists who do not explicitly support this position have been tacitly complicit, creating the possibility of their own scholarship being misused in supporting such views. So now there is another battle over this field/discipline/concentration: its goal is to disprove any historical basis for viewing the Middle Ages as a White Supremacist Wet Dream, and it is also engaged in transforming the field so that it no longer supports the kind of scholarship that can be used, wittingly or unwittingly, as fodder for White Supremacist notions of the past.

This is an important battle that matters now more than ever. Even if we entered the field not expecting to fight them, even if we do not think of ourselves or our work as “political” or “engaged”—we must now. I have been inspired by some of the great writing that some are putting out there, in an effort to make a change and a difference. So why then am I saying that I’m leaving “medieval studies”?

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Portrait of Francis Williams, Scholar of Jamaica

European School (c. 1745)

Oil on Canvas, 66 x 50.1 cm.

There were conventions in representing scholarly men, and the artist has
used several of them here. Williams is shown as a scholar in his
book-lined study, with a globe of the world, and a celestial globe on
the table. Dividers and other instruments are also strewn on the table.
All this indicates that he has studied astronomy, mathematics and
geography. 

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Damn it, they are on to us. 

Medievalists of Color
(MoC) is a professional organization of a diverse group of scholars
working across the disciplines in Medieval Studies.  We are graduate
students, independent scholars, and tenure-track and non-tenure track
faculty of all ranks from adjunct and lecturer to full professor. Among
us are scholars based in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and
Europe. As people of color, we share a collective socio-political
identity that draws its strength from the varied backgrounds and
experiences of its members.  We represent the power of difference.

FEATURED LESSON RESOURCE PAGE: Race, Racism and the Middle Ages:

[Source]

Inspiration for the development of this lesson page comes from
recent events in the academic world.  There is a rift growing among
medieval scholars and scholars of medievalism, as the below materials
demonstrate.

 While this rift has been developing for quite some time,
with periodic rumblings of small-scale quakes, in recent years, these
rumblings have grown louder, and this year the quakes have shaken the
very foundation of the academy, as the below letters and petitions
attest. 

Scholars who have questioned and fought against racist views
and racist portrayals of medieval history and literature have risked and
received both public and private attacks.  Such attacks have often been
malicious and have ranged from being highly unprofessional to extremely
personal (including doxxing and trolling),
and these attacks have come from non-academic individuals, as well as
fellow scholars who have reacted strongly against attempts at fighting
racist thinking within the medieval academy.

Lesson Resource Page

Life Goals – Italian Olive Name:

“Learn Some F*cking History” – EIDOLON:

This kind of claim — that knowledge and expertise about European history
and the history of scholarship is the ultimate antidote to white
supremacist appropriation — is used often in Classics as well.

Unfortunately, it’s based on faulty premises. The
underlying assumption of that claim is that white supremacist use of
European history is essentially a failure of knowledge and education,
when in fact it is an ideologically driven choice. No amount of data and
evidence for ethnic diversity will ever convince these people that
Europe in the medieval period comprised anything other than white
crusaders screaming “Deus vult!”

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