Blog from CSM President:

In November I had the pleasure of attending a joint conference of the Atlantic Medieval Association and the Atlantic Medieval and Early Modern Group in Sackville, New Brunswick. It started out in an almost-can’t-see-to-drive downpour and ended in a glorious fall day aflame with autumn colours.

The conference is about as small as you can get, and I almost didn’t go this year because – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – I was swamped with teaching and admin. But small conferences like the AMA are so important. I attended some excellent papers, of course, and actually got the chance to make an astrolabe – Dr.  Samuel Gessner of the University of Lisbon was the keynote speaker, and the “Hands-on History of the Astrolabe” he presented was not a metaphor! (My arts-and-crafts skills are distinctly rusty, I might add.) The real value, though, was in making connections with other medievalists. Increasingly, many of us are the lone medievalists at our universities, and academic societies provide a welcome respite from the isolation and loneliness that can entail.

I was also “pricked” – to use a Middle English word – by a panel responding to the calls to action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Hitherto I had felt a bit helpless in the face of the calls: yes, we can do more as institutions to support Indigenous students; yes, we can support calls for Indigenous literatures and histories, and work on making them mainstream – but honestly, I thought, as a medievalist, there’s not much I can do in my field. Saying “Indigenous peoples were around in the Middle Ages too and so we should study Indigenous cultures from 1000-1500” seemed a bit facile, to my way of thinking (never mind that it is imposing colonizing Western European periodization on the world, and risks cultural appropriation as well).

But the panel got me thinking about the ways in which Canadian medievalists can seriously and genuinely respond to the TRC in our scholarship as well as our institutions. We talked about incorporating Indigenous knowledge practices both in our classrooms, rethinking the top-down lecture approach, and in our scholarship, applying Indigenous theories and approaches to canonical texts. We talked about ways to avoid falling into the trap of “empty words” and “rote repetition” in our acknowledgements of the Indigenous territories our universities are built upon. We talked about countering the alt-right appropriation of medieval images and medievalism. And after the conference Lauren Beck compiled and circulated a bibliography of Indigenous literary and historical theory and methods.

In the coming months I will be posting more about these kinds of topics – both ways to counter the alt-right in our classrooms, and ways of thinking about Indigenous theory in our scholarship. I’d also like to know how you are responding to the TRC, not only in your institution but in your scholarship and teaching. And any Indigenous resources you can send me would be great as well.

Featured Canadian Medievalist: James Grier (Western University)

4 Apr 2018 9:23 PM | CSM Webmaster (Administrator)

Our Featured Member this month is Dr.  James Grier, musicologist at Western University!

You’re arriving at an airport for a research trip and the border control agent asks what you do.  How do you answer?

Musicologist.  It sometimes takes a bit of explaining.  Music historian.  Oh, what instrument do you play?  To which I always reply, “The library.”

What projects are you currently working on?

A palaeographic study of the music hand of Adémar de Chabannes (my eleventh-century alter ego) is about to come out in Corpus Christianorum Autographa Medii Aevi.  Two editions with accompanying critical studies:  the Office of the Holy Trinity at Saint-Martial de Limoges in the Eleventh Century, and the Offertory in Eleventh-Century Aquitaine.  My long-range project concerns the origins of musical literacy in the Latin West.

What do you think is the best part of being a medievalist?

Aside from everything, for me, it is always about the people, many of whom are of course anonymous, but they were real people with all the passions, needs, failings, abilities and ambitions that we have.  If we can catch just a glimpse of some of those qualities by examining what they have left behind, we will be so much the richer for sharing some of their experiences.

Why did you join the CSM? What other societies do you belong to?

After holding membership in the Medieval Academy of America for over thirty years, I finally grew tired of the unprofessional way in which it was run.  I won’t bore you with the details.  CSM seemed like a much friendlier environment, and so it has proved in my short time as a member.  I also belong to the American Musicological Society and the Plainsong and Medieval Society.  For over a decade, I was a member of the Classical Association of Canada, but when they raised their membership fees precipitously, it became a luxury that I, as a lapsed classicist, could no longer justify.

Where can we find/read some of your work?

Critical edition of the music copied by Adémar de Chabannes in Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis; study of Adémar’s music The Musical World of a Medieval Monk:  Adémar de Chabannes in Eleventh-Century Aquitaine (CambridgeUP 2006).  Articles in Journal of the American Musicological Society (1988, 1992, 2003, 2013); Musica Disciplina (1990); Early Music History (1995, 2005); Plainsong and Medieval Music (1997, 2003, 2006); and, outside musicology, Revue d’Histoire des Textes (1988), Speculum (1994), Scriptorium (1997), Journal of Medieval Latin (2006); as well as various essay collections and Festschriften.  Outside the Middle Ages, I published The Critical Editing of Music (CambridgeUP 1996; Spanish translation 2008), and essays on the music of Joseph Haydn (Journal of Musicology 2010), and Frank Zappa (Acta Musicologica 2001).

Any final thoughts?

Being a medievalist is just about the best job in the world, as far as I am concerned.  I am very lucky and even more privileged to be able to pursue it.  As Leonard Boyle never tired of saying, “You’ve got to stand before these sources with humility,” a sentiment I have always attempted to honour.  Dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants indeed!


Vous arrivez à un aéroport pour un voyage de recherche et l’agent de contrôle des frontières demande ce que vous faites dans la vie. Que répondez-vous ?

Musicologue. Ça prend parfois quelques explications. Historien de la musique. Oh, de quel instrument jouez-vous ? À cette question je réponds toujours, « de la bibliothèque ».

Sur quels projets travaillez-vous en ce moment ?

Une étude paléographique de la main musicale de Adémar de Chabannes (mon alter ego du XIe siècle) paraîtra dans le Corpus Christianorum Autographa Medii Aevi. Deux éditions accompagnées d’études critiques : l’Office de la Sainte Trinité de Saint-Martial de Limoges au XIe siècle, et l’Offertoire de l’Aquitaine du XIe siècle. Mon projet à long terme porte sur les origines de l’alphabétisation musicale dans l’Occident Latin.

Qu’aimez-vous le plus dans le fait d’être médiéviste ?

En dehors du reste, pour moi, c’est que c’est au sujet d’individus, dont beaucoup sont évidemment anonymes, mais qui étaient de vraies personnes avec toutes les passions, besoins, carences, aptitudes et ambitions que nous avons. Si nous pouvons juste entrevoir quelques-unes de leurs qualités en étudiant ce qu’ils nous ont laissé, nous nous enrichissons de leurs expériences et de leur partage. 

Pourquoi êtes-vous membre de la Société canadienne des médiévistes (SCM)? À quelles autres sociétés appartenez-vous ?   

Après avoir été membre de la Medieval Academy of America depuis plus de trente ans, je me suis lassé de la manière peu professionnelle dont elle été gérée. Je vous épargne les détails. La SCM semblait être un environnement beaucoup plus convivial, ce qui s’est confirmé depuis que je suis membre – depuis peu. J’appartiens aussi à l’American Musicological Society et la Plainsong and Medieval Society. Pour plus d’une décennie, j’ai été membre de l’Association canadienne des études classiques, mais quand ils ont augmenté la cotisation abruptement, c’est un luxe que je ne pouvais plus justifier, en tant qu’ex-classiciste.

Où pouvons-nous trouver/lire certains de vos travaux ?

L’édition critique de la musique copiée par Adémar de Chabannes est dans le Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis ; l’étude de la musique de Adémar est dans  The Musical World of a Medieval Monk:  Adémar de Chabannes in Eleventh-Century Aquitaine (Cambridge UP 2006). Des articles sont parus dans le Journal of the American Musicological Society (1988, 1992, 2003, 2013) ; Musica Disciplina (1990) ; Early Music History (1995, 2005); Plainsong and Medieval Music (1997, 2003, 2006); et, en dehors de la musicologie, dans la Revue d’histoire des Textes (1988), Speculum (1994), Scriptorium (1997), Journal of Medieval Latin (2006); ainsi que dans divers ouvrages collectifs et actes de colloques. En dehors du Moyen-Age, j’ai publié The Critical Editing of Music (Cambridge UP, 1996 ; Traduction espagnole 2008) et des essais sur la musique de Joseph Haydn (Journal of Musicology, 2010) et de Frank Zappa (Acta Musicologica 2001).

Le mot de la fin ?

Être médiéviste est, pour moi, quasiment le meilleur emploi au monde. Je suis très chanceux et privilégié de pouvoir l’occuper. Comme Leonard Boyle ne se lassait pas de dire, “You’ve got to stand before these sources with humility,” ce que j’ai toujours tâché d’honorer. Des nains sur des épaules des géants, c’est bien ça !

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