We in the Material Collective have been watching the recent events on medieval social media with careful attention.
The 10 of us in the Core Committee have been trying to find a way to contribute constructively to the situation. Some of this has been done in private correspondence, in part because this is where we felt we could be most effective in our support. But also, to be perfectly honest, some of us were also nervous for both personal and professional reasons. Most of us are part of potentially vulnerable groups, in one way or another. We watched what some of our more senior colleagues were capable of, and truly felt bullied into not stepping forward. But, our organization has always been about standing up for what we believe is right, and we feel it is extremely important to support a junior colleague, who is also a person of color, and so, as a Collective and as individuals, we have done what we can to boost others’ signals wherever possible. In this case, we believe that the right thing is to listen without defensiveness. If someone feels bullied–for any reason–the right response is to ask how can we correct the behavior and/or what can we do to help? That’s what we would tell our children to do.
The descent into cyberbullying by Rachel Fulton Brown represents a profound failure of professional ethics and is the most important thing to address here. Fulton Brown’s blogpost is also deeply flawed in its scholarship, particularly in how it glosses over the complex history of medieval stained glass. This isn’t simply a matter of pointing out that Fulton Brown needs to learn some art history, but of showing how poor scholarship lends itself to unethical uses. Marian Bleeke has written an eloquent explanation of that issue on her own blog, and so we direct you there for further discussion.
In addition, we offer the following resources that in one way or another address issues of race and racism in the study of medieval art.
Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography – this moderated, open-source document has grown to become an fantastically rich and valuable resource, but it can also be hard to work through. For scholarship specifically within art history, we particularly recommend:
- Image of the Black in Western Art book series
- Madeline H. Caviness, “From the Self-Invention of the Whiteman in the Thirteenth Century to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” Different Visions: A Journal of New Perspectives in Medieval Art, Issue 1 (2008).
- Debra Strickland, Saracens, Demons, & Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton, 2002).
- Patton, Pamela A. Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016).
- Patton, Pamela A. “An Ethiopian-Headed Serpent in the Cantigas de Santa María: Sin, Sex, and Color in Late Medieval Castile.” Gesta 55.2 (2016): 213-38.
- Pamela Patton A. Art of Estrangement: Redefining Jews in Reconquest Spain (Penn State University Press, 2012).
- Elisa Foster, “Out of Egypt: Inventing the Black Madonna in Image and Text,” Studies in Iconography 37 (2016): 1-32
- People of Color in European Art history Tumblr and this interesting article on it.