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.

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Call for Congress 2019 - Discussion Session

17 Dec 2018 8:14 PM | Kathy Cawsey (Administrator)

CALL FOR PARTICIPATION

Racism in Medieval Studies: Problems and Solutions

A Discussion Session at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Medievalists

Since the summer of 2017 it has become profoundly clear that the discipline of medieval studies has a racism problem. In July of that year, attendees at the International Medieval Congress brought attention to the fact that in spite of panels on topics such as diversity and otherness, medieval studies as a whole was fairly homogenous, and in terms of tone, at times, outright racist. In August, the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia showed us that symbols from the medieval world were being coopted and used to support white supremacist agendas. Work by Medievalists of Color, the Public Medievalist’s series on Race, Racism and the Middle Ages, along with the with the work of scholars such as Geraldine Heng and Dorothy Kim, showed us that traditional ways of teaching medieval history and literature could homogenize and whiten the diversity found in the medieval world and that the academy itself was not equally welcoming for all scholars. In this era, with hate speech and hate crimes on the rise, medieval studies is trying to reorient itself to be more inclusive: in what we research and teach and in who is called on to research and teach it. It is in this context that this call for participation is situated.

The planned discussion session is aimed at exploring problems and solutions to combat this two-pronged issue of racism in medieval studies. The format of the session is a short series of 5-minute presentations of problems, questions or potential solutions, and then a wider group discussion that will encompass everyone in the room.  If you are interested in offering a five minute presentation, please email Donna Trembinski at dtrembin@stfx.ca with your name and topic of interest.  We’d like to include as many concerns, ideas and voices as possible.   

 

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