One of the most amazing things about this year’s Kalamazoo–and there are always so many amazing things–was how many sessions were about practical issues. Teaching, forming community, protecting one another, making ourselves vulnerable to help those who really need it. Very much how to be a medievalist now, rather than pure medieval studies per se. Of course, there were tons of fascinating sessions that revolved around medieval content, but we are particularly excited by this shift of engagement in our field. We’d like to keep encouraging these kinds of workshop-model sessions since our time together is so short and so vital, and we now have so many digital platforms for sharing our content-driven academic work.
Before delving into a summary of our participation this year, I want to comment on a serious error we made and need to own up to. During the much-needed workshop on whiteness in medieval studies, we tweeted a photo of the crowd and neglected to take it down after the no-tweeting announcement was made. Since then, we’ve deleted the photo from all of our platforms, and published apologies wherever we can. We’ve apologized directly to the panelists as well. We’ve also written to the ICMS to ask them to add a check box for Twitter approval to the PIF, which doesn’t change anything about the mistake we made this year, but might help others in the future. We encourage anyone to reach out to us with concrete suggestions about how we can do better going forward.
So, on to the summary:
Bright and early at 8:30 on Sunday, our roundtable session Teaching Medieval Studies with/without Objects and Collections brought together a variety of medievalists exploring various approaches to teaching. The session was co-sponsored with TEAMS (Teaching Association for Medieval Studies), and Danielle B. Joyner served as Presider.
Art historian Jennifer Borland got things started with “Architectural Medievalism and Undergraduate Research: Learning about Two Pasts through One Building.” She described two new research projects she is developing, that are geared toward getting more humanities representation in two undergraduate research programs at her university, Oklahoma State University. Each project uses a local instance of medievalism to explore both the medieval past and more recent Oklahoma history: a hybrid stained-glass window at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, and a no-longer-extant medievalist building on her campus. Kelly Gibson, a historian at the University of Dallas, spoke about using objects and images in her medieval history courses in “Objects in the Medieval History Classroom.” Gibson uses a wide variety of digital and analogue sources including an online atlas for mapping projects, in-class scribal work with quills, and a class potluck focused around medieval recipes. Next, Katharine W. Jager, who teaches English at the University of Houston–Downtown, spoke about the two-day undergraduate research workshop she and a librarian developed in “Making Multimodal Miscellanies at a Public, Urban, Minority-Serving Institution.” Intended to introduce undergraduates to both the physical and historical aspects of medieval books, the workshop offered students a way to incorporate their personal experiences and knowledges into the creation of a new, multimodal textual object. Finally, Anna Siebach-Larsen, who is the Manuscripts Librarian for the Rossell Hope Robbins Library at the University of Rochester, discussed “The Use, Disuse, and Abuse of Objects: Some Thoughts on Libraries and Pedagogy.” Siebach-Larsen explored some of the ways that she is working to engage more faculty and students to use her libraries resources, which are historically underused. Faculty have not always been easy to engage, in part because they thought it was necessary for students to know Latin in order to benefit from these resources. By developing creative assignments that can be incorporated easily by faculty, she is convincing more professors of the value of these collections.
The short presentations were followed by a robust and engaging conversation that offered more specifics on some of the projects outlined in the talks, as well as additional ideas for how to make these approaches applicable to one’s own teaching. It was especially valuable that the speakers represented a wide range of disciplines and perspectives – Art History, History, English, and Special Collections – and they also work at a wide range of educational institutions from across the country; institutions that do not have access to large collections of medieval objects or manuscripts. It seems that everyone at the session left with a smorgasbord of new ideas for how to use objects or their reproductions in their classes. This session seemed to be in dialogue with a wide range of sessions at the Congress this year that were focused on teaching, outreach, and digital resources.
Some of the resources mentioned:
Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations: https://darmc.harvard.edu/
Rare Books School: https://rarebookschool.org/
Resources on St. Gall plan: http://www.stgallplan.org/index.html
Making an astrolabe: http://www.astrolabeproject.com/
Geometry and Cathedral Planning Through Experiential Learning:
We also sponsored How to Engage Now: Medieval Studies and Public Discourse, organized by Luke Fidler and Nancy Thompson. They brought together a range of different topics to consider several of the different ways that scholars are currently engaging with the world beyond the university classroom.
Marian Bleeke started things off with “Craftivism as Public Medievalism: Re-Constructing Medieval Textile Work,” in which she described her current public-art project. Although Marian is an art historian by profession, she practices a variety of textile crafts and uses that activity in activist venues. For this session, she described a craftivist project that uses embroidered reproductions of manuscript marginalia to challenge stereotypical notions of medieval women’s textile work. We’re looking forward to a summary of the project later in the summer or fall. Look out for that, either here or on Marian’s own blog.
After that, Amy Goodwin, Professor of English at Randolph-Macon College, bravely joined our merry band of visual arts folks and gave a really neat paper called “All the Chaucer That’s Fit to Print.” Her paper examined trends in the ways in which Chaucer is referenced in a news media that addresses a variety of audiences with varying levels of experience within and without the American academy. We then heard from Peter Konieczny, who founded medievalists.net together with Sandra Alvarez. Peter is also editor at Medieval Warfare magazine. His talk, Turning Academic Articles into Web and Magazine Articles, gave us great insight into the challenges and successes he’s had with these platforms. Naturally, we in the MC are concerned about many of the ways this particular brand of public scholarship might be used and we hope to continue having productive conversations with Peter about those issues.
We concluded the session with an inspiring talk by Eileen Joy of punctum books. Eileen’s talk was titled Fuck This Shit: How Can You Not Say Something?, and she has graciously agreed to including the link to a youtube video of the talk here on our website. She also posted a version of the talk on Facebook, which you can find here. Passionately describing the links between academic life, public discourse, and activism, she asked, “how do we want to live, how are we living, and how will we thrive, and not just survive?” By way of answer, Eileen reminded us that we all need to take risks and speak up, and that there are no fully safe spaces, but that we must always work to achieve them. With Eileen, we in the Material Collective hope that you, dear reader, will continue to take those risks with us.
Eileen set the tone for our discussion, which was fruitful and collegial, and we anticipate using some of the ideas raised there to plan for our sessions for next year.
For the full video, click here: https://youtu.be/0jOKMjuPjlU
And speaking of planning sessions (and other things)…we’re always on the lookout for folks who might want to get involved. Please reach out to us with ideas, and if you attend Kalamazoo regularly, come to our Business Meeting and help us plan!