October 2016's Medievalist of the Month is CSM President David Watt (University of Manitoba)!
BA, MA: University of Alberta
M.St., D.Phil: St Anne’s College, University of Oxford
You’re arriving at an airport for a research trip and the border control agent asks what you do. How do you answer?
Nervously. I always get the sense that the border control agent is going to say, incredulously, “Are you really a medievalist?” causing my sense of imposter syndrome to kick in. “You’re right,” I can see myself admitting, “I’m not smart enough to be a medievalist. I can’t believe how long it took for someone to catch me.”
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a special issue of Florilegium that focuses on Medieval Manuscripts in Canada. It is great to learn about some of the projects that are currently underway in Canada. I hope that anyone reading this might be able to send me information about their holdings or an article about a manuscript or collection. I am also working on a book called Awkwardness and Grace. It explores awkwardness as a literary as well as a social experience, focusing on what I have come to call “the long fifteenth century” (though that’s really so that I can justify including the Pearl-manuscript at one end of a study of fifteenth-century texts and Skelton at the other!).
What do you think is the best part of being a medievalist?
Frequently having to defend the value of what I do. I used to think this was a drawback, and it certainly can be. However, I have now come to think of this as an advantage. Having to explain and defend what I do to others gives me a chance to ask myself whether I value what I do. At the end of his book Juvenescence, Robert Harrison (a medievalist by training) argues that learning serves “no purpose at all, except the enhancement of life. In the human sphere learning is life, and life is learning.” As a medievalist, I have the chance to help others to enhance their lives by learning about the past. The medieval past can help us to understand the kinds of learning that persist, either because they are so enduring or because they are worth fighting for. Having to defend the value of what I do as a medievalist has helped me to understand that the purpose of learning is the enhancement of life.
Why did you join the CSM? What other societies do you belong to?
I first came to a meeting of the CSM because I wanted to stay active in the Canadian community when I was studying abroad. I stayed involved because the CSM is such a friendly, supportive, and intellectually stimulating group of people. Although I am not someone who naturally loves conferences, I thoroughly enjoy CSM meetings because I learn so much about work outside my area and because I always feel I am amongst people who support me. I am also member of the Early Book Society, the New Chaucer Society, the Medieval Academy, and the Modern Language Association.
Where can we find/read some of your work?
You can read my book, The Making of Thomas Hoccleve’s Series, or publications in The Journal of the Early Book Society, Renaissance and Reformation, and Leeds Studies in English as well as articles in Pedagogy and SMART, which both focus on teaching. You can also read my introductions and student editions of Hoccleve and Malory’s Tale of Gareth in the Broadview Anthology of British Literature.
Any final thoughts?
Whenever I talk to people—from elementary-school-aged children to university students to adults—I find that they are enthusiastic about learning about the past, especially the distant past. While many of us feel obliged to spend time defending the humanities, I would like to spend more of my time talking about the ways that we can share our love of learning about the medieval period with others. I know many Canadian medievalists are currently doing this in their classrooms or through outreach work, and I would love to hear more about it.