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Destroy All Monsters: An Urgency

Joshua Roberts, “A group of counter-protesters march against members of white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia,” originally published in Priscilla Alvarez, “A State of Emergency in Charlottesville,” The Atlantic(August 12, 2017)

In a large crowd, a young white man holds a homemade sign. Beneath the raised fist of the Black Lives Matter movement, it reads: “DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.” This photograph was taken at the Unite the Right rally, which brought together neo-Nazis, white nationalists, the Klu Klux Klan, and other hate groups in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was purportedly the largest white supremacist rally in the United States in decades.

12 August 2017, the date this photo was taken, seemed like a moment for monsters. The United States convulsed as white supremacist groups marched through the streets bearing torches and shouting Nazi-era slogans of hate (“Blood and soil!” “Jews will not replace us!”). Though monsters have been around as long as humans, since they define us by stalking our borders and mirroring our traits, there are times when monsters seem particularly potent, prevalent, even necessary. The man with the “DESTROY ALL MONSTERS” sign was one of the marchers who came to defy the torch-bearing mob, and his sign said more about this moment than he might have known.

In hipster fashion, he seems to have taken his slogan from Ishirō Honda’s eighth sequel to Godzilla, released in 1968, in which the monsters from previous kaijū films (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and others) attack cities through the world under the command of scientists who are, in turn, under mind control by hostile aliens. This slogan, then, is a fitting response to the sense that American cities are being attacked by an outside force yet this is not an alien invasion. The Unite the Right marchers are American citizens, and, despite the foreign origins of many of their symbols, they are part of a long-standing American history of hate groups.

The fascist marchers in Charlottesville and those who sympathize with them are participating in one of the oldest—and most pernicious—of human impulses, to define themselves through the exclusion of others, to raise their sense of self-worth through the insult of, denunciation of, and outright assault on and murder of other individuals and groups. This role is one of the central functions that monsters serve across time: monster-making is exclusionary, and monsters bear the seeds of that exclusion within themselves. No doubt, monsters are fun—tremendous, city-smashing, fire-breathing, shape-shifting, boundary-pushing, messy, sexy, crazy fun. But if you only see the fun, you miss a great deal of the importance of monsters and the power we grant them to shape our societies. As St. Augustine of Hippo tells us, these monsters demonstrate so much we can learn from; they bear substantial meaning.

The trouble with the counter-protester’s slogan is that we can never destroy all monsters. Anyone familiar with monster narratives, from Grendel to Godzilla, knows that there is always a sequel, always a Return Of, aBride Of, aSon Of…Always a Godzilla Raids Again. Surely, it has seemed that the Nazis were thoroughly and absolutely defeated, yet the Unite the Right marchers wore and waved swastikas, gave the Nazi salute, shouted “heil” this and “heil” that. A poisonous ideology that seemed long dead shambled back to life. Of course, monster movies have long literalized this fear in a seemingly endless series of Nazi zombie movies.

They return because we are all one another’s monsters: inside everymonster lurks a human being. Peel back the mouldering swastika, fur, or slime, and there we are. This is because all monsters are human creations. We therefore owe them our care and attention. That care and attention will be rewarded—because monsters perform important work for us, policing our boundaries, defining our norms through their transgressions. Through their bodies, words, and deeds, monsters show us ourselves.

In assembling this collection, we celebrate monster theorists, monster stories, and the monsters they unleash or attempt to contain. We have organized the readings into two volumes: Classic Readings on Monster Theory and Primary Sources on Monsters. Our first volume introduces the most important modern theorists of the monstrous and some allied theorists whose ideas enrich Monster Theory—from J.R.R. Tolkien to Edward Said. Our second volume collects some of the most influential and indicative monster narratives from the West—from the Epic of Gilgameshto Slender Man. Together, they form a reasonably coherent set of materials, allowing us to witness the consistent, multi-millennium strategies the West has deployed to disempower and dehumanize a range of groups and individuals. The readings in volume two are all primary sources—fictional, religious, scientific, or historical texts. Images play a prominent role as well, unusual in a source reader like this, because many monsters are highly visual or known primarily through their appearance.

Some of the “monsters” we have assembled throughout these two volumes are nightmare creations of unadulterated malice. Others prove to be downright sympathetic. In the end, it is not horns, fangs, or claws that make a being monstrous, but the purpose for which they are used. Ishirō Honda’s Destroy All Monsters [SPOILER ALERT!] has an ironic twist: it is the monsters, led by Godzilla, who ultimately save humanity. They are scorned, feared, and attacked by the world’s powers, but want only to return to their peaceful island of Monsterland. The world needs its monsters—and its monster stories. This is the impetus for our collection. Whether the monsters are deadly enemies or unlikely saviors, their stories are essential to our understanding of the world, and our place within it.

by Asa Simon Mittman and Marcus Hensel

Meet Danièle Cybulskie!

In my work as a writer (at Medievalists.net and elsewhere), my goal has always been to be a bridge between people interested in history and the scholarship that will answer their questions. Rather than being the foremost expert on any one subject, my aim is to whet peoples’ appetites, and then point them in the direction of the experts.

In late November of last year, I was brought onboard at Arc Humanities Press, giving me the chance to explore another way in which I could connect people to great historical scholarship. Although I’d been involved with publishing from the other side of the press, I’d never been part of the process behind the scenes. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure acquisitions was going to be for me, but then I realized it tapped right into that connective nature that’s always been a part of my historical DNA.

At Arc, I look for authors to contribute to a couple of series involving subjects close to my heart: Curation Development, Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities, and European Medieval Battlefields. With both of these series, I get to find people working on cutting-edge heritage and digital humanities projects that are bringing the Middle Ages to people in all sorts of new and innovative ways. As a person who’s spent a decade dedicated to reaching out to the public, being involved in spreading the word about new ways to use museums, galleries, archives, and heritage sites to draw a diverse crowd of people into history is continually inspiring.

Right now, I’m creating a new series that explores the periphery of medieval military action: all the interesting stuff that was a huge part of the everyday life of thousands of soldiers. Things like where did people build their latrines? What kind of field medicine did they use? What was it like to be a soldier in between battles? The aim is to get a clearer picture of the people actually involved in the battles, and what it was like to be in their shoes. Getting the right scholars together to explore this in book form for the betterment of the academic community and the wider community is an exciting prospect. Beyond the enjoyment of helping scholars reach a wider readership, learning more about this fascinating stuff is a reward in itself.

In the future, I’m looking at developing another new series that looks at the Americas during the time period we think of as medieval in Europe in order to make it easier to look at this moment in history on a global scale. Helping to create more resources, especially for a new generation of students who will (hopefully) see history in global terms is, in my mind, a goal worth striving for. There are so many scholars doing such excellent work, and so many avenues to explore that the possibilities are endless.

For a girl who wants to get more people talking about interesting stuff, finding myself at Arc turned out to be a good fit. I welcome any opportunity to expand the conversation, and if you’re interested in working with me to do the same through publishing your work at Arc, please drop me an email, or take a minute to say hello this week at Kalamazoo!

By Daniele Cybulskie

Arc Humanities Reference
Arc Impact
Collection Development, Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities
European Medieval Battlefields

Writing Medieval Imagery in Today’s Politics

There were two reactions that I would often get, one following the other, from colleagues and friends asking what Medieval Imagery in Today’s Politics was all about. The first reaction was a nod and uncertainty. After all, how could the Middle Ages have any real impact on political discourse in 2018? The second reaction would come after I would say something along the lines of, “Did you see the runes on the shields of the white supremacists at Charlottesville?” That was the light bulb; right, that does seem worth investigating. Such extremists as the ones at Charlottesville last summer defend and validate their white identity by turning to perceptions of “heritage” and “traditions,” and my book for Past Imperfect starts from that faulty connection between past and present. MITP (Medieval Imagery in Today’s Politics) examines how the past is manipulated for political purchase and tries to serve as an introduction to political medievalism for any reader, both specialist and non-specialist alike, who hopes to get a foothold on the subject.

One of the core arguments of the book is that the medieval in popular culture and political discourse is in a state of eternal return, serving the ideological needs of whomever wields it. In a sense, this is the true nature of the medieval in political discourse: the period shapeshifts depending on the wielder. I suppose this is the way with any deployments of history in the service of a present political need. What makes the deployment of the medieval in political discourse today so disturbing is the way that it is used to bolster and legitimize ideas about communal, racial, and ethnic identity.

That rhetoric of white heritage and identity formed the project’s foundations as I set out writing, but it is only one aspect of the book, which starts with extremism but ultimately tries to show how such extremist rhetoric is not isolated and is not even idiosyncratic, emanating from decades, and perhaps centuries, of mainstream right-wing thought in the academy and politics. That more mainstream discourse too is studied in MITP, from mid-twentieth century American academics anxious to give the U.S. medieval European roots, back to the thought of Edmund Burke in the late-eighteenth century, whose work informed later conservative scholarship. Other political medievalisms today are also studied, such as the deployment of the term “feudal” to describe crony capitalism, as well as the increasing successes of right-wing political parties in Europe whose members sometimes turn to the medieval to bolster their anti-immigrant, xenophobic views and policies. One of my goals for the book is that it serves as an introduction and a rallying call for further study, analysis, and dismantling of white supremacist views of the Middle Ages as a time of white community and solidarity. I hope that it spurs medievalist scholars to continue to think seriously about the history and nature of our field, and that it encourages non-specialists to have a think about how their ideas about the past serve to shape and inform their political opinions. I hope for everyone to think about how historical narratives can influence ideals and principles.

The shortform nature of the Past Imperfect series serves this particular subject well, I think. It was certainly challenging, especially during the planning and research stage, to figure out precisely how to do justice to the topic in about a hundred pages. But as I drafted the work, I came to appreciate the form, and I encourage other writers working in this shorter format to see it not as a limitation but as a feature. As scholars, embarking on a new line of inquiry can be simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating, as we see in front of us the gulf of information that must be digested. The Past Imperfect series serves as a relief for those just starting out on a new line of inquiry or for anyone interested in getting a handle on the fundamentals of a particular problem. I hope that MITP productively serves both audiences.

By Daniel Wollenberg

Writing The Peace of God

Depending on which historians you read, the Peace of God was either one of the most important movements of the entire middle ages … or not a movement at all, and not all that important. It may have been sparked by an expectation that the approaching Millennium of Christ’s Incarnation and Passion demanded the total reform of church and society … or its millenarian overtones were nothing but traditional ecclesiastical rhetoric. It may have signalled the entry of the “common people” onto the political stage … unless that, too, was just conventional rhetoric for an ecclesiastical ideal of social unity. It was either a response to a sudden surge of warfare and violence by members of a newly empowered local aristocracy … or there was no sudden surge of violence at all and the new aristocracy was basically the old aristocracy. It has been seen as something utterly unprecedented in European history … and as nothing but a renewed deployment of old legislation and patterns of government. 

One reason for such divergent interpretations is that most scholars who have studied the Peace of God specialize on the decades when it first appeared and most quickly developed — the late 10th and early 11th centuries, in France. And most tend to be specialists on one particular type of source or one particular aspect of society (bishops, monasticism, church canons, hagiography, political power and institutions, church reform). But my career has been a bit odd. As a graduate student I worked mostly on 12th– and 13th-century ecclesiastical and secular legal procedures in France. Yet I published my first book on 10th– and 11th-century French rituals. After twenty years of work and retooling, I published my next book on 9th– and 10th-century West Frankish (i.e., proto-French) politics, charters, and historiography. And though most people probably think of me as primarily a political historian, I think of myself as someone who works on the intersections between religion and political power, and I actually do more reading on monasticism than on any else. 

That’s why when ARC approached me about writing this book I accepted immediately. I wanted to write a book on the Peace of God that would do equal justice to its pre-history in the 9th century and its prolongation in the 12th. I wanted to understand what in the Peace was secular, what episcopal, and what monastic. I wanted a chance to study for myself what in the Peace was new and what was different. 

I tend to write for myself. I try not to care too much whether others like what I write. If it satisfies me, I’m happy. And I’m really very happy with this book, because I accomplished exactly what I set out to do. I especially love the Conclusion. 

Of course, I’ll be even happier if others also like it.

Incidentally, if you’re curious, the dedication-epigraph reads, literally: “These are small pieces of jade and pearl.” It’s from “The Rhapsody of the Goddess of the Luo River” by Cao Zhi (192–232 CE). If you knew my wife, you’d understand. I hope it applies to the book, too. 

By Geoffrey Koziol

Writing The Transformation of the Roman West

The invitation to deliver a Plenary Lecture at the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo in 2016 set me thinking about how to tackle what I had come to regard as the major problem in late antique and early medieval studies. How can we bring together the excellent, but very divergent, scholarship of recent years? On the one hand there has been wonderful work on the socio-religious history of the period, spearheaded by Peter Brown, and on the other there have been major studies of socio-economic and political changes, where the contributions of Chris Wickham and Michael McCormick are just the tip of an iceberg. The solution that I chose to follow was to find a way to quantify religious change, and to set the figures that I came up with against other figures: numbers of barbarians, the size of the Roman army and of the imperial bureaucracy. That the number of barbarians was comparatively low was no surprise. The arguments of Walter Goffart have made everyone look carefully at the scale of migrations, although, of course, the current migration crisis in the Mediterranean has brought home the reality of people on the move. But with regard to the figures for the Church the result was a surprise even to me, despite the fact that I had been looking at the ecclesiastical accumulation of property for ten years or more, and had already argued in 2013 that around a third of the property of Western Europe was in ecclesiastical hands by the end of the seventh century. It had not struck me, however, that one might be able to estimate the number of clergy in the immediately post-Roman World, and even when I delivered the plenary at Kalamazoo I had still not realised the full extent of the documentation available. The task would have been extremely difficult before the publication of the Prosopographie chrétienne du bas empire, but I was also lucky enough to make contact with a project on priests in the late-antique/early-medieval world which is being run by Robert Wiśniewski in Warsaw. The fact that the resulting figures are directly comparable to the figures that have been advanced for the late Roman army allowed me to describe Late Antiquity as a period which saw a change from a secular society dominated by the Roman army and its needs

to an ecclesiastical society dominated by the Christian Church. When I showed a draft of my work to Chris Wickham he described the change that I had identified as ‘ecclesiasticisation’. Although the resulting book does deal with the barbarian migrations, it is essentially concerned with what the Roman World looked like in 300 and what the Western European World looked like in 600. I was concerned to characterise the change over those three centuries, rather than to explain it, although of course comments on the barbarians, on the actions of some ecclesiastics, as well as on the emperors and the senatorial aristocracy hint at some elements of an explanation. The barbarians themselves were not numerous enough to cause the massive changes that took place in Late Antiquity, although the failure of the imperial leadership to deal with them was a major issue. The reactions of churchmen to the general crisis of the period, and the impact they had on the population at large, which have been central to Peter Brown’s work over the last twenty year, are clearly central. But there is obviously a good deal more work to be done. For a start, I would argue that we need to add precision to our understanding of the ecclesiastical accumulation of wealth. Exactly when did gifts of land to the Church become more important than gifts of treasure? What impact did this have? It is worth remembering that an aristocrat could easily replenish his moveable wealth from property while he still possessed enormous estates. Did the Church’s accumulation of property have an impact on how land was exploited? In some regions the answer is unquestionably

 

‘yes’, but can we generalise? And there is a further question that is becoming ever more pressing, and which I only referred to in passing. What was the impact of the Justinianic Plague? The work which is being spearheaded in part by Michael McCormick is putting the Plague firmly on the map, as Kyle Harper’s recent study has made abundantly clear. But we need to look carefully at the chronology. The Plague is a development of the 540s. How much had changed already before it hit the Mediterranean? Most of the barbarians were already settled in Western Europe or North Africa by that time. Of the major groups of incomers only the Lombards had yet to find their place in the world. I don’t doubt that the impact of the Plague was massive, but had the shift from endowing the Church with property rather than treasure already taken place, or is it primarily a shift of the late sixth century? And if so, is the change a reaction to a situation that was taken by some as apocalyptic? Here we hit a major evidential problem, because the charter record, which allows us to quantify property, only becomes significant in the seventh century, whereas references to treasure can be found throughout the corpus of Church writing in the fifth century. That, I would suggest, is the problem that most needs addressing. But I hope that the initial conclusions of this short book at least demonstrate that we have to combine what have hitherto been separate socio-religious and socio-economic areas of study, because only by combining the different approaches can we fully get to grips with what appears to be the major change in Late Antiquity.

By Ian Wood

What’s going on with university pension schemes in the United Kingdom?

What’s going on over there?

So far, academic staff (lecturers, researchers, librarians, curators, IT staff, technicians, administrative staff) at about 68 universities in the United Kingdom–pretty much every university incorporated before 1992–have been on job action for a total of fourteen days in February and March.  In between strikes, they are working to rule, and are now planning a big strike to hit during final examinations in the late spring, targeted at each institution to hit the largest number of students taking examinations and the time at which assessments are most often due.  It’s a massive engagement.  Almost more interesting than the strike itself has been the huge presence on social media.  Academic staff all over the UK are tweeting constantly, building wikis, filing freedom of information requests, researching details about opposition activity and posting them to Facebook, and sending information in large bits and bytes to each other.  Their biggest issue now on this front is consolidating all these masses of material.

What is the main issue?  Well, the touchpaper is a rather complicated question of the riskiness of the pension scheme.  It’s a pooled scheme with all the members, administered by the University Superannuation Scheme (USS).  Government regulations on the financial risk of possible pension liabilities mean that recently an evaluation of the USS suggested it was at the outer edge of acceptable risk, and could be in a deficit situation going forward, especially if some of the member institutions were to fail.  The other member institutions would have to pick up the pension obligations of those employed by any failed post-secondary institutions (called the “last man standing” issue). Individual institutions were asked if they found this amount of risk acceptable, and some of them (possibly 42%) said no.  The USS and Universities United Kingdom (UUK, the overarching body) decided to impose draconian changes to the plan in order to reduce the risk, and the result has been extensive negotiations, strikes, occupations by students (twenty different institutions as of 15 March 2018) in support of the academic staff, massive amounts of anger and outrage, and and the usual chaotic failures of governance and accountability.  Some universities are not on strike because they could not get enough members out to vote, others could have made strides to resolve the problem except that arcane procedural rules prevented debate, and some vice-chancellors have demonstrated leadership and accountability–but the majority have not. The University and College Union (UCU) seems sporadically to be at the negotiating table with the UUK, after a proposed settlement was rejected with contumely earlier this week by academic staff.

What is the real issue here?

Many issues are in play.  The pent-up anger that has a lot of academic staff out carrying signs does not necessarily reflect a deep understanding of the apparent problem: the pension regulations, the end of the final salary option, investment de-risking, a gradual shift from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans.  More importantly, academic staff at most universities in the UK feel disrespected, ignored, not consulted, not treated with the dignity that is appropriate.  And they are certainly right.  But more fundamentally, many of them are speaking about the issue as part of the corporatization of the university, the commodification of higher education, the loss of the post-secondary institution as a place of informed debate and open discussion.  And that is also appropriate.  Anger has being built up over a period of years, over the great rise in tuition fees (and the absolute lack of any concomitant resources put into teaching and learning), the great rise in compensation for vice-chancellors and the almost nonexistent salary improvement for academic staff, the rampant casualization of academic labour, and so forth.

But from my perspective as a medievalist the issue is really a deeper one.  The pension plan which was already altered significantly in 2014 (with effect in 2016) with its generous employer contributions (something around 17%) was to my way of thinking a legacy of the days when being an academic in a post-secondary institution was truly a lifelong commitment.  Retired members still supervised students, gave lectures, offered advice, served on some committees, turned out for all major celebratory events, and generally continued their involvement with the institution to which they had devoted their lives.  Some might indeed move away or retire elsewhere, or bop about the world, but the home college, the place of collegial and collegiate life, would always be there.  Hundreds of years ago a retiring fellow would simply close the doors of his (always “his”) rooms more often, and would expect to stay in those rooms up to and briefly after death.  Burial in the college cloisters would then take place, so that the fellow and tutor remained on site, albeit no longer to be consulted directly.  Admittedly, longevity was not advanced, and most fellows would die at what would today be well before retirement age (recollecting that Bismarck set a retirement age at which the German government expected the vast majority of the citizenry would be dead, and the shift in life expectancy has not sufficiently altered that age).  But the notion of a lifelong post as a lecturer and researcher in a university, a universitas, a guild of one’s fellows: that notion remains active, though perhaps not as consciously as it once was.

How does this really connect to the medieval university?

For me the connection is threefold.  First, the idea of a strong and continuing pension, a defined benefit pension which members of academic staff could count on for their old age, proffered a genuine reason to accept a lower salary, higher workload, and perhaps other complications of the UK university world.  It was a secure and settled option, and it offered academic staff the opportunity of paying no attention to this matter because it was settled and secure.  Peace of mind, and the time to focus on research and on teaching are in some ways priceless benefits.  The pension plan that was in place at UK universities was a very large piece of a social safety net.  Its inception must have been the strong duty of care for members that went back to the foundation of many colleges and universities before and just after the Black Death in Europe in the fourteenth century.  Although this particular incarnation of the pension plan dates only to 1974, when the pooled system established itself as a way to look after all academic staff in the UK (at 68 institutions but 350 employers), the idea inhered that institutions of higher education owed a duty of care through life and death to their academic staff, who settled in their jobs in their 20’s and remained in them until their 80’s or later, well after their working life was technically over at 65 or 67.

Second, the university remains for many a world of the “monkish ideal of contemplation.”  One of the most interesting things in the social media blitz going on is the extent to which individuals do not know that they are already well down the road towards a defined contribution pension scheme, and the current issue is more about how to rebalance the scheme so that the actuaries find the risk more tolerable, not about whether to be on this scheme on not.  So much printers’ ink, so many blogs and so very many lengthy conversations about the sellout of the university to the corporate world, and yet academic staff still, at a profoundly fundamental level, expect to be left alone to do their work.  Moreover, largely, they are.  Elements of control and bureaucratization are arriving, more every decade, but the basic system of teaching students, perhaps with PowerPoint rather than a lecture, and assessing student work and assigning grades at the end of the course or the year or the program: this remains remarkably the same.  The basic undergraduate degree has remained largely the same for many centuries, involving study for a few years to learn the basic elements and processes of a discipline, and taking examinations at the end of the course. So also does the system of doing research.  I have colleagues who have taught the same course on the same day of the week at the same time for their entire academic careers, and yet it does not seem to occur to them that this is a rare blessing.  Their lives have a pattern and a predictability that makes them rather like the medieval monks who taught Donatus at 7 a.m., perhaps making way for the friar who taught canon law at 10 a.m..

Still not convincing.  Is there a more tangible connection than this notion about how academics still live in an ivory tower and keep at this vocation to the last minute of their lives?

Well, my third and strongest connection is the role of Oxbridge, Oxford and Cambridge, in the brouhaha.  Some, though by no means all, of the colleges at these two universities have pretty deep pockets, having been in existence for more than eight hundred years.  They have been jittery about the pension fund before, and have contemplated ways to exit the scheme.  However, both universities (after some procedural fun and games, admittedly) reversed themselves, and Cambridge in particular has been establishing the high moral ground, with tweets and letters to the editor of The Times by its relatively new (and Canadian!) vice-chancellor.  In his letter to the editor, Stephen Toope argues: “reducing students to mere consumers makes sense only if the value of universities is simply economic. That would be a fundamental error. Universities have helped successive generations to achieve their potential in these places of breathtaking discovery and disruptive insight” (Letter to the Editor, The Times, published 16 March 2018).

The Oxford and Cambridge colleges are not wrong to feel concern about the “last man standing” provisions, since the principal concern of their governing bodies (which, unlike North American universities, include predominantly the academic fellows of the colleges) has to be the continued existence of the colleges.  There is no question but that the UCU and USS are taking advantage of Oxbridge, as their documents often refer to the Oxford and Cambridge colleges somewhat obliquely.  Take, for example, this point: “The deficit remains within the affordable means of the scheme’s 350-plus sponsoring employers – including the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country – to recover, over time.”  This reference to “the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country” is an obvious ploy to indicate that all will be well because there are deep pockets in the scheme.  Moreover, the distinction between the 68 universities and the reference here to 350 employers clearly cuts apart the colleges inside universities from the universities themselves.  In the early days of the strike action, much time was spent excoriating the fact that the employers expressing concern with the risk element including specific Oxbridge colleges, which were counted as if separate entities from the university.  And yet, the colleges are not directly involved in the whole strike, since the pension scheme is for all academic staff, through their university appointments.  It’s all a bit confusing, with Oxford and Cambridge being used both to allay fears about the future viability about the scheme, and to raise fears about whether the plan is sustainable.  The medieval universities cannot win in the modern media blitz.  Toope’s interventions, initially positive, faded to platitudes in a meeting with students who had been occupying his central administration building at Cambridge, and the scholars of Oxford and Cambridge are stepping forward to make strong arguments.  Compare, for example, Nicola Headlam, who is part of an Urban Transformations project funded through the School of Anthropology at Oxford. She is among the more indefatigable tweeters, and she argues in a tweet @networknicola on 7 March that: “[t]he debate on pensions is also a debate on restoring academic democracy, restoring academic community, restoring academic honour and restoring goodwill.”  The great medieval doctors of learning–Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, and Bonaventura–would all have approved entirely.

Any conclusions?

In his brilliant little book, The Rise of Universities, Charles Homer Haskins argues that in the Middle Ages the theologians and professors of canon law rose to bishoprics and appointments as cardinals, describing them as “all the great array of doctors angelic, invincible, irrefragable, seraphic, subtle, and universal” (68), and describing the medieval university as “the great age of professorial control” when “in a quite remarkable degree, the university was self-governing as well as self-respecting” (68-69).  (He has a few pointed remarks about boards of trustees and state intervention in universities in the present day of 1923.) Haskins’ strong views point to a deep and continuing tradition about the autonomy and centrality of the role of academic staff in the university today.  Despite all the changes and modernizations to the university, the fundamental interaction remains that of a teacher and a student learning together.  Anything that jeopardizes that interaction occasions extensive commentary and complaint.  Some might think that strikes are a modern invention as a way to re-establish a better balance of academic staff as decision-makers.  But, the first strike over university autonomy was at Paris in 1200, the second in 1229.  Striking at universities is a venerable tradition.

A note on my sources

The reference to the “monkish ideal of contemplation” comes from Ian Angus, Loves the Questions: University Education and Enlightenment (Winnipeg: ARP Books, 2009), p. 44.  Angus constructs a model of seven ideas of the university: the classical humanistic tradition, the modern research and teaching university, the public university, the multiversity, the democratic university (an ideal from the 60’s which inspired Angus), the corporate university and the network university (the emerging new form).  Readily available as a digitized book on the internet is the gem, Charles H. Haskins, The Rise of Universities (New York: Henry Holt, 1923); the lectures were originally given as the Colver Lectures at Brown University in 1923.  For background and information on the current issues in the United Kingdom I am particularly indebted to the queen of information, Alison Roberts, Curator for European and Early Prehistoric Collections in the Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

By M.J. Toswell, University of Western Ontario, and author of Today’s Medieval University 

Curating Coconuts

Monty Python and the Holy Grail begins by insisting on the impossibility of coconuts in medieval England, and we all love the scene. But this comic insistence that coconut cups could never have existed in medieval English and European homes extends to their curation in museums today, and museums are one of the only ways most people will ever engage medieval scholarship. Museums struggle to categorize coconut cups, and the almost total absence of scholarly research on medieval trade goods like coconuts adds to the challenge facing museums.

In these conditions, museums make do with traditional truisms that are really myths. Echoing Monty Python, many exhibits highlight the strangeness of the coconuts. The Art Institute of Chicago calls them “curios” suitable for curiosity cabinets, as does the Walters Museum. The Met emphasizes the weirdness of coconuts in Europe, even during the global colonial period when European ships sailed all over the world. The stories museums tend to tell about European coconuts simply reinforce the most people’s perspectives, as today coconut cups do seem like strange curios. Retelling the same old myths does not educate anyone. Instead these stories continue to present the medieval past as though Europe was detached from the rest of the world. Researchers must see past Python’s jokes and begin to investigate material culture. Curators must use this research to demonstrate that non-European objects and people existed in medieval Europe. To put it simply, all museum-goers are part of medieval history, and our exhibits can and should reflect that fact.

The scholarly sort of activism involved in highlighting the presence of non-European objects and people in medieval Europe sits squarely within the mission of museums. The blog People of Color in European Art History focuses on the depiction of premodern people of color in European painting and book illumination. The blog fills a gap. As the author says, “the focus of this blog is to showcase works of art from European history that feature People of Color. All too often, these works go unseen in museums, Art History classes, online galleries, and other venues.” Even NPR has noted that “the perspective of racial identity is an afterthought…in major museum curations.”

NCO208952 The Columbus, or Pallisade Cup, 1492 (see also 355575 and 355578) by English School, (15th century); Courtesy of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford; English, out of copyright

People of Color in European Art History is not a museum or a history book, and it is not alone in demonstrating popular enthusiasm for the cultural complexity of the Middle Ages. The Philadelphia Renaissance Faire’s insistence on a plausible (if fictionalized) diverse historical narrative is another example of this. There is great interest among both scholars and the general public in learning more about the diversity of the premodern world. Medieval European coconuts offer an excellent opportunity to highlight the interactions of Europe with the rest of the world centuries before the “Age of Discovery.”

Perhaps coconut history proves that medieval people were better than we are today at imagining ways to communicate across languages, religions, and countries (Ganim and Legassie, Cosmopolitanism and the Middle Ages, 3). But perhaps that is our fault as researchers and curators. Museums are wracked by budget cuts, without the staffing or space to expand exhibitions, or the time even to update current signage. University researchers are likewise trapped in endless work. But as the stakes get higher and higher, surely we hang together or we hang separately. In collaboration, then, we must find ways to articulate the European Middle Ages’ delight in its connections with the wider world.
Coconuts may be part of the answer.

By Kathleen Kennedy

Advice from a Medievalist Working in Publishing

Hwæt! It’s a medievalist … in publishing!

Yes, it’s true. My name is Sarah Kelley Brish, and I am a medievalist. What’s more, I’m a medievalist employed in a job directly related to my degree! Gasp, shock, disbelief!

That’s a common response from people when they hear what my degree is in. Just as often, I get asked, “What on earth does someone do with a degree in that?

This really is a great question. What do I do with my degree? I have a pretty cool job: I work as a desk editor for Medieval Institute Publications at Western Michigan University, and also for ARC Humanities Press.

I bet you’re wondering, “What does a desk editor do?” Well, I get to read a lot of fascinating works on a variety of medieval (and sometimes other academic) topics. There are books (monographs), collections of essays, journals, and various other types of materials that I get to help prepare for publication. What kind of prep work gets done? The biggest thing that I do is proofread and make notes on things that really stand out – typos, missing dates or page numbers, inconsistent formatting – things that need to be added or corrected by the author(s) before the copyeditor can give the volume a really thorough cleaning. Each publisher has a special set of guidelines, style guides for the technical term, which authors need to follow when they submit a volume for publication. I go over each volume I receive to check that the authors have indeed followed the guidelines, and I make notes where things don’t follow the guide. After I make all my notes, the volume is returned to the author so that the formatting and other minor issues are corrected so things are up to snuff before the copyeditor works on it. This may not seem like a critical job to some, but it really is a useful step in the editing process that can save time and effort.

So, how did such an intriguing career opportunity come about? While I was studying at the Medieval Institute, I was able to forge relationships with those who worked and studied at the Medieval Institute and Medieval Institute Publications, and through them I was able to make connections with others in the world of academic publishing. Making connections at the university, and the International Congress on Medieval Studies, was invaluable in achieving this opportunity.

If working for a university press is something that might interest you, I’d like to offer some words of advice: Look at a few different style guides, especially Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) Style Guide. You don’t have to be an expert at them, but get familiar with them and learn how to use them. Also, ask for help. You may be afraid of asking too many questions at the beginning, but, in my opinion, it is much better to ask many questions and learn from them. Take the feedback you get from each editing job and use it to improve your methods and knowledge.

I’d like to offer a little bit of personal advice as well: Don’t be afraid to start something, or fret yourself into inaction. These things are very easy to do, and it creates a vicious cycle. The best thing you can do is try. Jump right into a project, ask for feedback. Learn how you can improve, and carry on. Enjoy the opportunity each project offers – some will be to work with very interesting material, others to learn something new about the style guide for a particular volume. (This is constant! The CMS is like an ever-evolving puzzle, with something new to discover every time you work with it.)

I really enjoy what I do. I get to work from home, in my own space and on my own time. Even though I work apart from many of my colleagues at the universities and publishers, I get to work with some really great people. I also get to read a variety of fascinating material. My first-ever project was to work with a volume on Anglo-Saxon law codes! Talk about some kind of excitement! And how about learning that a scholar whose work you read during your own studies is putting out another volume, and you get to help get it published?! Honestly, there is some fangirling (for me, at least…) that goes on at times (behind the scenes, of course – professionalism is always key!).

And with the recent fascination with medievalism in the media, I can be extra useful in trivia games. “Yeah, I knew Thor’s hammer’s name before it was cool.”

By Sarah Brish

Developing a Press Website

In the Spring of 2015, Medieval Institute Publications brought me on to work on various IT projects. One of those was the creation of a new website to represent the consortium of Medieval Institute Publications, Arc Humanities Press, and Amsterdam University Press. Since we wanted a highly customizable platform for the site that could adapt to our changing needs, we went with the Content Management System (CMS) WordPress. Many people are familiar with the basic version of WordPress through the free blogging service at WordPress.com. However, hosting your own installation of WordPress gives you access to the full functionality of WordPress. This gave us the freedom to do the variety of things that you see on the site today.

Design
There was an Arc Humanities Press site hosted on Weebly prior to the creation of the consortium site. This became the template for our new website. Whereas WordPress gives developers more freedom than platforms like SquareSpace, Wix, and Weebly, it requires a little more technical skill to produce a professional looking website. To make design quicker, we use the Visual Composer plugin. Plugins are like apps for WordPress which extend its functionality. The plugin makes it easy to create great looking page layouts with little to no coding knowledge.

Fine-tuning of the website’s design is done using CSS code. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) instruct browser on how to display the bare-bones of a website. CSS is a fairly easy language to learn and provides a lot of control over the appearance of a website.

Responsive Design
If you are reading this, there is a high possibility that you are on a smartphone or tablet. Up to forty percent of visitors to this site do so through a mobile device. Developing a website that is easy to use and looks professional across a myriad of screen sizes is an important concern for modern web-design. Our website theme was designed to be responsive, but the way it rendered our product catalog made browsing book titles on a phone difficult. To deal with this we use the WPTouch Pro plugin to implement a special mobile theme whenever someone visits on a phone.Each browser has a User-Agent which indicates the browser, operating system, and device the browser is running on. Websites use these to determine how a site is rendered. This makes it easier to browse our website and look through the product catalog on phones.

Ecommerce
As a press, we want to sell books. We use the popular e-commerce plugin WooCommerce to manage and display the titles on our website. One of the biggest challenges for the site is that WooCommerce was not designed with book sales in mind. It is further complicated by the fact that we don’t sell the books on the site. Rather, our website directs buyers to our distribution partners ISD and NBN. These needs are dealt with using a few plugins as well as some custom PHP code.

Currently, we don’t have an automated process to export ONIX data to the website. The data must be exported, processed, and then uploaded to the website. This process is time-consuming so we are looking at options for a more direct solution in the future.

Encryption: HTTPS
The Internet can be a dangerous place and we want to make sure that you are safe when you visit our site. Sites that have encryption show “https” before their domain name rather than “http.” Modern browsers also generally show a green padlock next to the url to let you know that the encryption is working properly. Not only does HTTPS keep anyone from snooping on what you are viewing on our site, it gives you confidence that someone hasn’t switched out anything as the data travels between the server and your computer.

Analytics: Yes, We Are Watching You
We use Google Analytics to track visitors to our website. This gives us statistics about where people visit from and what pages they are viewing. Google Analytics doesn’t track IP Addresses, the equivalent of a mailing address for your computer, meaning that everyone is anonymous. Analytics allow us to determine if a particular page or product is popular or if a new interest in MIP–Arc books has appeared somewhere in the world. So whether you are from Goiânia, Brazil to Auckland, New Zealand, Beijing to London, thanks for visiting us.

By Caleb Molstad

 

 

 

 

Writing for The Past Imperfect series: A How-To Guide to the Easy Life

How did you figure out the format of a 30,000-word book?

So I had it easy. I wrote a 50,000-word book in 2014 and discovered that I really loved focusing in and writing an introduction and three chapters.  It seemed to me that the field of medieval studies really needed to get on board with shorter and edgier books, and I went to Leeds to pitch the idea.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Simon Forde had already set up such a series and given it the brilliant title of The Past Imperfect.  So instead of trying to argue for a series with shorter books I found myself being asked what ideas I had for a book in the series.

Okay, so how did you figure out the topic?

That was the second way I had it easy.  I’ve been teaching a first-year introduction to medieval studies at University of Western Ontario for the past five years, and it’s been a tricky experience.  All the introductory texts available to me and written in the last couple of decades have a real lurch towards history, and our program at Western is explicitly interdisciplinary.  From the beginning I wanted to look at institutions, culture, ideas, art, literature, and especially religion, in addition to history.  So, the only solution that I could think of was to use freely available online websites.  This proved easy for some topics, such as manuscripts and their making, and tricky for others.  Websites for the crusades are too detailed or too polemic, and those for the early history of Islam are too polemic or too general, or both.  As a result I found myself digging into various older textbooks and scholarly works, and uploading single chapters here and there. I did a lot of scanning.

I felt strongly that one topic I should cover was the start of universities, which turned out to be rather tricky.  If you are avoiding Wikipedia, and I am, you have to pick individual universities to get a few squibs of information about their foundations.  The wonderful Fordham website put together over twenty years ago and still useful though gradually decaying, has some useful early statutes.  But the story of the founding of the universities has to be teased out, or I have to assign the whole class Charles Homer Haskins’ brilliant little book The Rise of the Universities from a wonky online scan that they won’t like at all, just for three hours of class discussion.  I had a similar problem with medievalism, which has a lot of fairly detailed analyses of specific texts but not so much in terms of introductory explanations and simple applications.  As a result, it occurred to me that combining the two, and researching the modern incarnation of the medieval university would be a good idea.  And it was.

What advice do you have for the actual research and writing of a Past Imperfect volume?

On the specifics of producing a provocative and edgy short-form publication I have the following pieces of advice:

look aslant at our subject, and think about some simple and provocative questions to set you off.  What was childhood really like?  (There was an article in a national Canadian newspaper in February that actually spent the first half on Philippe Ariès’ completely discredited theories about how parents did not love their children.)  Did Robin Hood exist?  There are lots of solid scholarly works on this now, but the last helpful general study was a long time ago.  Why are medieval numismatics important?  My students spent an avid hour in January this year investigating medieval coins, and thinking about how coinage would work in the multi-coinage world of the Middle Ages;

Write for an audience that is not scholarly: your grandmother, your first-year student, your brother-in-law, the general and engaged public that we all think we usually write for but really do not;

Figure out how to keep your focus very very tight on this project.  I did it by working and writing only on this project for a set period of time, and pushing everything (and I do mean everything) aside until it was done;

Don’t give too many papers on the project, as you will have too much material; I gave one paper at a very preliminary stage, when it was most useful to me, and after the book was submitted I gave a public talk on the subject and realized how much fun it was to talk about, which confirmed my sense that this kind of project is genuinely a public good;

Keep writing.  Don’t stop.  You need to break through the desire to be a graduate student and write a footnote once every fifty words or so.  Have faith that you know what you’re talking about and just talk about it.  You can put in very occasional footnotes, but if your prose normally bristles with annotations, you may have to take heroic measures or you may not be suited to doing this.  Which brings up the next point:

The tough one: think hard about whether you are really suited to kind of project.  I have a colleague who agreed in December to write four thousand words on one text he has known and loved for thirty years, for an encyclopedia-style volume.  Had he sat down on the day he agreed and written four thousand words (okay, maybe over the weekend), he would have had the job done, and he would have had the references he needed for the job at the tip of his brain.  However, he decided the only way to do the project was to work at the text for several weeks, then to read and reread every piece of criticism that had ever been written about the text, and then to read all the theoretical models that might be important for thinking about this text.  By the time he had done all that, he was prepped for fifty or ninety thousand words, but four thousand was completely impossible for him.  It took him several more months to shed all that extra knowledge and write the short piece as requested.  If you would experience the same urge to read and reread everything, the likelihood that you would be similarly paralyzed would be high.  If you could survive experiencing the urge to do all that and manage to curtail your scholarly desires, then perhaps you could do this project.

Any concluding thoughts?

I really had it easy on this project.  I picked a topic that we all know about, but that we do not necessarily really know about, and I got to investigate it from the lens of medievalism, which gave me a line to drive right through the argument. This allowed my focus to be fierce and clear.  And I produced the first book that my mother and my brothers and my aunts have read, and even my sister-in-law’s mother demanded a copy.  Since my previous total of books that I have written that were read by my family was zero, zilch, and bupkus, this is already a win.  Sadly, I do have to report that they tell me that this looks kind of easy and they could do it too.  So I had it easy, but apparently I made it look easy too.

by M.J. Toswell, University of Western Ontario, Canada