Monday, October 4, 2010

Loss of language programs

Hello all,

I am posting this at the request of MEARCSTAPA boardmember Kat Tracy. As a New Yorker (pay not attention to my current address), I am particularly saddened to see this national trend appearing in the SUNY system. I post this here in the interest of disseminating this information as widely as possible, so please pass the URL on to colleagues.


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Today the seven members of the French faculty at SUNY--Albany (all tenured) were informed that by presidential decision, ostensibly for budgetary reasons, the French program has been "deactivated" at all levels (BA, MA, PhD), as have BA programs in Russian and Italian. The only foreign language program unaffected is Spanish. The primary criterion used in making the decision was undergrad majors-to-faculty ratio. We were told that tenured faculty in French, Russian, and Italian will be kept on long enough for our students to finish their degrees--meaning three years at the outside. Senoir faculty are being encouraged to take early retirement. The rest of us are being urged to "pursue our careers elsewhere," as our Provost put it.

Needless to say, the decision is personally devastating to those of us affected, but it is also symptomatic of the ongoing devaluation of foreign-language and other humanities program in universities across the United States. I'm writing to ask for your help in spreading the word
about this decision as widely as possible and in generating as much negative media publicity as possible against SUNY--Albany and the SUNY system in its entirety.

There is much background to add about how this decision was reached and implemented, too much for me to explain fully here. Suffice it to say that the disappearance of French, Italian, and Russian has resulted from an almost complete lack of leadership at the Albany campus and in the SUNY system. Our president, a former state pension fund manager, holds an MBA as his highest degree, has never held a college or university teaching position, and has never engaged in any kind of scholarship.

More disturbing still, due process was not followed in the decision-making process. The affected programs were not consulted or given the opportunity to propose money-saving reforms. Our Dean and Provost simply hand-selected an advisory committee to rubber stamp the president's decision. The legalities of the situation remain to be discussed with our union, UUP, but in the meantime I welcome any advice you may have.

Brett Bowles
Associate Professor of French Studies

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paper Submissions, KZoo 2011

Below are the submissions for our Kalamazoo sessions in 2011. Shaping up to be an excellent crop, and it will be very hard to choose between them!

A Man With No Name: Disguise and Identity in the Tale of Outlaws

Lisa LeBlanc, Anna Maria College

Outlaws were considered the “other” in medieval society. Often referred to as bearing wolves’ heads, they lost their possessions, had no protection under the law and, in the early middle ages, could be killed with impunity, as a wolf could. In the outlaw tales of the Middle Ages, the main characters lost their positions in society and, in the case of outlaws from the upper class, their titles.

This otherness allows for flexibility of identity, and one characteristic of the outlaw tale is the use of disguise. In some cases, the characters borrow the identity of lower class laborers, even a prostitute. In others, the identity goes beyond occupation to physically changing one’s appearance or taking on a false name.

That the disguise motif appears often in outlaw tales is logical since the condemnation of someone as an outlaw essentially deprived the individual of identity as a citizen of the country. This paper will explore the slippery nature of identity in outlaw tales, looking at the interrelation of legal loss of identity as well as the creation of new, temporary identities by the outlaws.


Cyborgs in Shining Armor: Post-Human Knighthood in Medieval Romance

Rodger Wilkie, St. Thomas University

Cyborgs have been defined by Clynes and Kline as “self-regulating man-machine systems,” by Haraway as “the figure born of the interface of automaton and autonomy,” and by Hess as “any identity between machine and human or any conflation of the machine/human boundary.” What these definitions have in common is the configuration of the biological and the technological into a single system. Given the language of these and other definitions, it is not surprising that most discussions of cyborgs have focused upon periods post-dating the middle ages—periods in which the terms “machine” and, more basically “technology,” have been understood largely in contexts relevant to the industrial and post-industrial periods. And yet this quintessentially post-human figure is useful in understanding the relationship of the armored knight of medieval romance to the arms that he bears, and the role that these arms play in constructing a heroic identity.

The proposed paper will therefore discuss the armored knight of medieval Arthurian romance—specifically Perceval in Chretien’s Conte Du Graal, Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Lancelot in Malory’s Morte D’Arthure—in the context of cyborg theory, and will argue that the hero of chivalric romance is in fact a cyborg. It will address Perceval’s changing understanding of arms in relation to knighthood, Gawain’s relationship to his armaments in preparation for his encounter with the Green Knight, and the role of armor in containing the instability embodied by Lancelot. The paper will then explore some interpretive possibilities offered by treating the romance hero as a cyborg, such as considering the hero as simultaneously agent and tool, viewing the hero as a figure straddling the human/machine border, and therefore understanding heroic identity as distributed across both biological and technological components, i.e. as partially prosthetic.


Dr. Larissa “Kat” Tracy, Longwood University

Title: ‘For Our dere Ladyes sake’: Bringing the Outlaw in from the Forest—Robin Hood, Marian, and Normative National Identity

Few outlaw tales are as popular or as persistent as the legend of Robin Hood that has made its way from fifteenth-century ballads to modern blockbuster films. Within this long tradition, Robin Hood is often associated with the fair Maid Marian, his love, his paramour, his inspiration; but in the earlier tradition of the outlaw tales, Maid Marian does not exist, Robin’s singular devotion, like that of King Arthur and Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is to the Virgin Mary. It is this association that normalizes Robin in the ballads and places him in an exalted, nationalist position—contrary to his construction as a border walker and outlaw. For fifteenth-century audiences, Robin’s devotion to Mary makes him a mainstream hero, on par with Arthurian tradition, and contradicts his marginal status that has been celebrated in modern popular culture. After the Reformation, in order to bring Robin in line with English concerns of national identity, the Virgin Mary is transformed in the early-modern period into a secular lover, Maid Marian. Through Robin’s devotion to, first the Virgin Mary, and then her secularized successor, Marian, the famous outlaw is presented to medieval and early-modern audiences not as a figure of liminality and transgression but as a normative construction of national and religious identity.


Monster, Hero, Outlaw: Reading Grettis saga through Beowulf

Joyce Tally Lionarons and Melissa Pankake, Ursinus College

The similarities between the monster fights in Beowulf and Grettis saga have been noted—and contested—by scholars for over a hundred and fifty years. Most have chosen to use Grettis saga to illuminate portions of Beowulf; the possible analogue has been employed tentatively to clarify the exact nature of Grendel’s mere, the details of Beowulf’s youth, and even the cause of his death. But what happens if we turn the lens around and try to use the massive library of Beowulf scholarship to illuminate Grettis saga? In this paper, we will not seek to prove that Grettir’s story is related to that of Beowulf and Grendel, but to discover how we can read Grettir under the assumption that he is related to the themes of monstrosity and exile which Beowulf and Grendel exemplify. The fact that Grettir is comparable both to Beowulf (as a hero) and Grendel (as a monster) points to the inverted, ambiguous place he occupies in the saga. When we examine the relationship between men and monsters in the two texts, a shared tradition emerges in which a Christian society dealing with its pagan past must alienate its monster hunters and identify them with what they fight. Like Beowulf, Grettis saga is concerned with the social situations and psychological qualities that can make monsters out of heroic men.


On the Formulation of a Plan: The Rhetoric of the Devil's Revenge in Genesis B

R. A. Burley, Boston College

After his fall from grace in the Old English Genesis B, the Devil finds himself exiled to Hell, brooding on his failure and plotting his revenge. Utterly powerless and chained in the pit, he still manages to cause the Fall of humankind. This paper argues that it is because of the rhetorical sophistication of his two speeches – especially his second, beginning at line 356 – that this is made possible. Through his eloquence, as defined by his use of larger rhetorical patterns, an exiled yet powerful Devil is created: one who is able to affect the course of events on Earth from his confinement beyond the borders of our world. In this way, then, the first outlaw and outsider becomes the very cause of unlawfulness and exile in humanity.


Loquelam animali dederas: St. Christopher and Definitions of Humanity in the Ninth and Tenth-Century

Melanie Kourbage, U. of Mass. Amherst

Today, St. Christopher is known as the kind-hearted giant who transported pilgrims over a river. Christopher’s identity as a cynocephalus, a dog-headed giant, was excised from his legend sometime between the late tenth and early thirteenth century. By the time Jacob de Voragine recorded Christopher’s tale in the Legenda Aurea in the late thirteenth century, few traces of Christopher’s cynocephalism remained. Though his cult could never boast of many shrines in Western Europe, the dog-headed version of St. Christopher achieved some popularity in the ninth and tenth centuries. No fewer than three hagiographical passiones, an anonymous prose passio from Fulda, a verse passio by Walther Speyer, and another anonymous verse passio, date from this period. The interest in Christopher stems from the usefulness of his legend in contemporary debates over the nature of humanity. Carolingians repeatedly asked: if the exotic races to the east exist, are they human? Did all races of men have souls, and if so, did the Christian west have an obligation to preach the gospels to them? In an age in which foreign invaders could seem less than human, these questions were timely and essential. For many scholars, cynocephali provided a convenient topic for discussing definitions of humanity. The passio Christophori contained in Cod. Vindobonensis 550 must be read in the context of contemporary discussion on the exotic races, as the anonymous hagiographer used this passio to comment humorously on the ontological questions of humanity and the folly of empty rhetoric.


Leslie Spitz-Edson, No Title Submitted

Along with the valkyrie, the berserker is one of the best-known "monsters" of the Viking Age. Unlike the valkyrie, however, who was most likely a construction of the male imagination (Jenny Jochens), the berserker seems to have been "real" – real enough, anyhow, to have been, at the beginning of the 11th century, forbidden by Jarl Erik of Lade to conduct certain activities that would "disturb the peace." (Grettis saga). According to early sources the berserker was a warrior and a shape-shifter who could morph into a bear or bear-like creature without warning, enter into an insensible, trancelike state, and rage with a lethal battle-lust that could be directed at friend or foe alike. While in this condition the berserker's superhuman strength and imperviousness to fear and pain made him an asset on the battlefield.

The connection with bears, which may have been attained during some sort of initiatory rite, bestowed upon these warriors superhuman strength and a unique position in the social order - after all the bear was the largest, most feared predator in the northern forests. However, the bear has other associations in the cultures of northern Europe, associations that tie it not only to combat, predation and death in this world, but also to fertility, rebirth and the supernatural. An exploration of these associations suggests that, while he was quite likely a liminal and somewhat unwelcome creature vis-à-vis society as a whole (particularly by the end of the Viking era), the special role that the berserker played can be seen as a key to the spirituality of the violent Viking age – a spirituality that, by the time of Jarl Erik's prohibition, was being swiftly disavowed.


Sandra Ballif Straubhaar, University of Texas at Austin

To Kiss or Not to Kiss: The Polysemic Finngálkn in the Legendary Sagas

Two ambiguous female figures in the late-medieval Icelandic legendary sagas are called finngálkn -- a rare word for a fabulous monster which has come down into modern Icelandic as a designation for "centaur," but seems originally to divide up into pieces meaning "Finnish/Lappish" (i.e., exotic, foreign) and "frightful thing." In both cases the finngálkn has some human body parts and some beastly ones (fangs, a tail and talons in one case; hooves, a tail and a horse's snout in the other). Both of these female monsters can crossbreed with humans, since one has already done it -- she is the mother of a particularly nasty, hero-threatening antagonist -- and one will become the major love-interest for the saga's hero. This second beast-monster, the more benign of the two, also bears gifts -- notably a powerful sword intended for the hero, which he has already foreseen in a dream; but, as it turns out, he must kiss her horsey lips before she will part with it. The hero and the finngálkn then have a poetic conversation wherein the hero worries that his human lips will stick fast to her equine ones; but, as it turns out, they don't, and the prize weapon is his.

I intend to compare and contrast the two legendary saga narratives -- one from Örvar-Odds saga and one from Hjálmþés saga -- with an eye toward their respective presentations of the finngálkn. Was the original saga audience meant to assume that such beast-monsters were common in foreign lands of adventure and quest, or would they simply construe them as fabulous elements in a fantastic story? Were these figures possibly meant to be construed as ordinary human women under magical spells? Questions like these, and others, will be the focus of my presentation.


Andrew Salzmann, Boston College
Banishing the Monstrous: The Efficacy of the Sign of the Cross in Jacob de Voraigne’s Golden Legend and the Semiotics of Edmond Ortigues

Jacobus de Voraigne’s Golden Legend recounts many standard examples of Christian belief in the cross and resurrection of Christ overcoming malicious supernatural forces: Such exorcisms, healings, and spiritual victories are consonant with similar accounts in the Gospel narratives, and to see such achievements continued in the lives of the saints would delight, but not surprise, the medieval reader. However, The Golden Legend also recounts a few examples in which saints invoke the cross to neutralize threats to the natural worldly order: Living and breathing animal (or humanoid) monsters. While it would not be surprising that the God of Abraham and Isaac, the almighty God who struck down the Canaanites, could cast down similarly physical foes, the accounts of the Golden Legend depict victory over the monstrous as the work of the saint and the sign of the cross, not as a direct divine intervention. De Voraigne worked with received texts to craft his Golden Legend, and some degree of acceptance of the veracity of these texts was a pre-requisite for his project; nonetheless, de Voraigne still must have found these received stories of the cross’s power over the natural world probable for some reason. This paper is dedicated to uncovering the logic by which the cross promotes and defends the natural, and not only the supernatural, order.
French philosopher and theorist Edmond Ortigues (1917-2005) has influenced a generation of psychologists, anthropologists, historians, and—particularly through the work of Louis-Marie Chauvet—theologians. Ortigues’ Le discours et le symbole (1962) postulated that the difference between sign and symbol is that the sign refers to some referent other than itself, whereas the symbol “introduc[es] us into an order to which it itself belongs.” Thus, a Soviet ruble which has ceased to function as a sign—an item which referred to a socially-established value of purchasing power—may still nonetheless function as a symbol: In the hands of someone familiar with the entire complex of Soviet imagery and meaning, the coin—its words, its designs—allows the now-distant Soviet world to reassert itself to its view and allows its viewer to re-enter that world.
If we realize that for de Voraigne’s work and for the texts and authors upon which de Voraigne’s accounts of saints vanquishing worldly monsters drew Christianity had become completely normative, then it is not surprising that a Christian symbol such as the sign of the cross—which owes its functioning to its ability to draw those acquainted with its meaning into the symbolic order of Christianity—would become efficacious in the expulsion or neutralization of the monstrous in the natural order. While classically entrance into the cross and resurrection of Christ through Christian symbols was efficacious in countering the supernaturally demonic, the more the Christian order is aligned with the natural order the more an appeal to Christian symbols to effect and restore the Christian symbolic order would believable effect and restore the natural order itself. The more strongly Christianity is identified with the standard natural order, the more efficacious the cross would become in banishing deviations from that natural order.
One might wonder whether Christian symbols would retain this expulsionary power in the face of the naturally monstrous today. In light of a growing exposure to and appreciation of “the Other” in its modern history, it is my hope that, faced with the frighteningly but this-worldly “Other,” Christian symbols will have lost—or out grown—this “protective” or punitive power.


Julie Bieber, The University of Delaware
Monstrous Spaces: The Fairies of Sir Orfeo on the Edge of the Medieval World

Using J.B. Friedman’s classification of the monstrous races and Michael Camille’s discussion of medieval marginalia, this paper will discuss the fairy world and its location in the romance of Sir Orfeo. The paper argues that the realm of fairies, and the realm of the monstrous, can be considered a liminal space that offers commentary on human society because of its unique position. The fairy world is also defined by the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century debates over the physical placement of purgatory and other mystical spaces. Monsters are always located on the edges of the world in medieval maps, and the fairies of Sir Orfeo also live somewhere between the human world and the spiritual world. The placement of the fairy world exposes both social and folkloric concerns with the placement of the “other.” Because of Sir Orfeo’s folkloric motifs, the text draws heavily upon Celtic and Welsh literary depictions of the otherworld. The fairy world in Sir Orfeo contains the residual, Welsh idea of the “not-world,” separate yet near human society. Like the marginal images that decorate the texts of many medieval manuscripts, fairyland is close enough that it can provide commentary on the human civilization, yet far enough away that it is located on the “edges” of the known. Monsters exist to break down the boundaries of what is human, so the place where monsters exist can also break down the boundaries between “here” and “far away.” The fairyland of Sir Orfeo is a unique space in Middle English literature because of its near-yet-far location situated on the periphery of human consciousness.


Kristin Noone
University of California, Riverside

Robin Hood and the Irish Knife: Outlaws, Monstrosity, and (Literal) Defacement

In the fifteenth-century ballad "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne," Robin uses an "Iryssh knife" to enact gruesome vengeance on his foe: “Robin pulled forth an Irish kniffe/and nicked Sir Guy in the face,/that hee was never on a woman borne/cold tell who Sir Guy was.” The “Irish knife,” the only weapon specifically identified in the ballad as having a foreign origin, is the weapon used to literally deface Sir Guy’s corpse Though not the weapon that directly kills Sir Guy, it is this foreign weapon that eliminates his identity, suggesting concerns about foreignness and outsiders that enter even into the idyllic greenwood space: this is a monstrous act, one that strips away human appearance and flesh. The Irish knife, unlike the unmarked sword that Robin uses to actually kill his adversary, stands out here as a more powerful weapon, carried by the outlaw against English knighthood (Robin, the forest-dweller, defeating the man referred to as Sir Guy twice in the four-line stanza describing the defacement). Throughout the ballad, the Irish knife acts as a weapon against human identity and human constructed authority, and introduces an anxiety about the monstrous nature of the foreigner, which becomes powerfully linked with the world of the outlaw in the heart of the England, the wild greenwood.


Beth Sutherland
Infinite Deferral and Endless Adventure: Mandeville’s Travels Down the Via Negativa

Few critics have attempted to read Mandeville’s Travels as a theological project—as a map to God. I propose that, despite the spectacle coursing throughout the narrative, the text assumes a paradoxically apophatic attitude towards discovery.
The Other has long dominated Mandevillean scholarship, but a closer look at the text suggests that the most shocking thing about travel is the perpetually ‘new’ worlds behind the Other. Far more tantalizing than the spectacle of Travels is that which the author tells us he cannot tell us. Our explorer-subject subtly weaves allusions to inaccessible lands into a larger tale of wondrous sights and adventure. Whether a city cloaked in darkness, a place beyond the forbidding Gravelly Sea, an island of even larger giants beyond a land of ‘smaller’ giants, or Paradise itself—unreachable locations pepper Mandeville’s Travels. One might counter that this unknowability gets balanced by the concretization of holiness in Jerusalem itself. Each of the holy sites/objects, however, relies on empty space for its significance—such as the Sepulcher, the Ark, and imprints left in the ground by holy bodies. Paralleling the impenetrability of lands on the brink of Mandeville’s world, the center itself offers no direct conduit to Truth. These inaccessible places and hollow spaces call for an invocation of negative theological thought, even allowing us to read Travels as itself a theological project. This paper makes use of the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius, the Cloud-poet, and Jacques Derrida to flesh out the nature of Mandeville’s apophasis.


“Men and Monsters: Who’s Who in the Late Medieval ‘Fortress of Faith’”
Brooke Falk, Rutgers University

In the medieval Christian mind, clear distinctions among non-Christians often failed to exist. “Others,” including but not limited to Jews and Muslims, shared ugly physiognomies, visual manifestations of their social deviance as imagined by Christians. The perceived malignancy of non-Christians transformed them into a monstrous species. The “Fortress of Faith,” a Latin Franciscan text of around 1460 drew on this phenomenon explicitly linking the actions and appearances of heretics, Jews, Muslims and demons through both word and image. The “Fortress of Faith,” or Fortalitium fidei, and its subsequent copies intentionally conflated and dehumanized non-Christians and encouraged their expulsion from Christendom. This paper uses the “Fortress of Faith” to explore the medieval boundaries between humans and non-humans in relation to religion and race.

The text records a scathing list of crimes allegedly committed against the Church by its enemies. Three discrete volumes address heretics, Jews and Muslims, while a final volume is devoted to demons. Images of a fortress under siege punctuate the text and allegorically represent Christianity’s daily struggle to defend itself against the unfaithful. This message was received with widespread popularity due to contemporary Christian zeal and the work’s emergence at the pivotal moment when manuscripts and printed books were simultaneously produced. The various methods of production yielded variety in imagery, but both painted illuminations and colored woodcuts effectively convey the universal threat that non-Christians seemingly posed against Christian society. Most manuscript illuminations depict one enemy attacking the castle, but human and demon gestures indicate equally violent physical assaults. Woodcuts present the enemies in a single image; heretics attempt to uproot the fortress as their cohort outsiders observe. Both types of images and the text of the “Fortress of Faith” present non-Christians as demonic creatures of Christian destruction, blurring the biological distinction between medieval man and monster.

Valerie Gramling
University of Massachusetts Amherst

“If anyone should slay this animal, would he be called a homicide?”:
Giraldus Cambrensis and the Werewolves of Ossory

In Giraldus Cambrensis’ The Topography of Ireland, he tells of a priest who is asked to give last rites to a woman in the guise of a wolf, the result of a curse placed on her people by Saint Natalis (every seven years, a man and a woman of Ossory must agree to become wolves; should they survive, they can then be transformed back while others take their place). Considering these transformed creatures, Cambrensis asks if they are more animal or human since they retain their reason despite their bestial appearances. This tension between inner and outer identity is common to many werewolf stories, yet Cambrensis emphasizes the border between those identities by allowing the she-wolf’s skin to be pulled back, revealing the woman within, and then refitted to its original shape. Through this act of undressing and redressing, Cambrensis suggests that her bestial appearance does not touch or alter the human within, yet a later confession by the he-wolf that his nation is sinful and deserving of punishment challenges an easy distinction between inner and outer appearances.
In this presentation, I use Cambrensis’ werewolf story and the somatic anxieties it raises to consider the role of skin in defining and delineating the nature of a creature whether human or beast. Comparing this story with other contemporary werewolf tales, I look at how the medieval werewolf was constructed and the frequent role that clothing or skin played in its conception. Finally, I engage with Cambrensis’ question “If anyone should slay this animal, would he be called a homicide?” Though Cambrensis responds by suggesting the question should remain unanswered, I consider the implications of his werewolf’s hybridity, and how its removable skin can be read as both a border separating beast from human as well as a covering that encompasses both.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Open Letter to MAA

An Open Letter to MAA:

As the executive committee of MEARCSTAPA, an organization with more than fifty members, focused on the study of monstrosity in the Middle Ages, we wish to speak out both against the recent group of laws passed in Arizona (primarily the now-infamous SB SB1070, but also HB HB2281 banning the teaching of ethnic studies and also the AZ Department of Education's new move to bar teachers with "heavy accents" from teaching English). We also wish to voice our opposition to the Medieval Academy's refusal to relocate the conference from Tempe, despite these offensive laws. We draw the name for our organization from the Old English for "Border-Walker," a term used to confer monstrosity on Grendel and his mother. We are troubled by the intensification of the rhetoric that is applied to the peoples living on both sides of our own borders, and on the rampant use of terms to dehumanize these people ("illegals," "aliens," "anchor-babies," etc.).

We specialize, as a group, in the study of the construction of otherness, and our collective examination of history shows all too clearly the tangible, bodily effects that this process inevitably has. Once a group of people has been repeatedly depicted as not quite human, their mistreatment is to be expected. We cannot stand silently while these acts occur, as to do so would be, through our silence, to voice our implicit consent. The history of assaults on Jews, Muslims, Africans, Indians, women, and on, throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, begins in each case with dehumanizing language and laws.

Despite an understanding of the financial ramifications that a full boycott might have had on MAA, we feel that matters of conscience are of greater significance. We also feel that the numbers of the recent poll have been misinterpreted, and their presentation misleading. That 32.7% of poor academics were willing to to give money to NOT attend a conference, in order to voice their solidarity in opposition to the blatant racism of these laws, speaks to the depth of their conviction. This is quite a high number, and probably overlaps with the 42% who voted to cancel the meeting altogether. Three-quarters of those who voted to cancel are willing to put their money where their mouths are, and that certainly should count for something. We are in a very homogenous field, and this collective action taken by MAA reinforces this. MAA had an opportunity to send a message to students interested in the field that the medievalist community is inclusive and welcoming. Instead, it has sent the opposite message. For a strong letter on this, see "The General's" guest post on Quod She.

What is at issue both in these laws and in the responses to them is perception. Otherness -- monstrosity, even -- is, of course, entirely a matter of perception: The idea that anyone "looks like an immigrant," or than there is anyone who does not speak with "a heavy accent" is rooted in the idea that the perspective (or appearance or accent) of the dominant group is not a perspective, at all. But so, too, all of the good intentions of those who argue that attendance of the meeting in AZ is the more helpful, ethical choice does not impact the perception of those who see this as an expression of unconcern with the rights of minorities.

If the Medieval Academy of America persist in holding the conference in Arizona, we the executive committee will boycott the meeting, and those of us currently members will withdraw our membership in the Academy, though we shall do so with regret, as we find the Academy's meetings to be excellent venues for the discussion of scholarship. With this letter, we voice our solidarity with those members of medievalist community in Arizona who have spoken out so eloquently about the need for this boycott. We will encourage our membership to do the same.

Asa Simon Mittman, Chico State
Jeff Massey, Molloy College
Larissa Tracy, Longwood University
Derek Newman-Stille, Trent University
Renee Ward, Wilfrid Laurier University

The following MEARCSTAPA members also asked to be added as signatory:

Frances Auld, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk Co.
Robyn Cadwallader, Flinders University
Jeffrey J Cohen, George Washington University
Jill Frederick, Minnesota State University, Moorhead
Spyridon Gkounis, Ionian University, Corfu
Ana Grinberg, University of California, San Diego
Diane Heath, University of Kent
Marcus Hensel, University of Oregon
Norman Hinton, University of Illinois-Springfield
Eileen A. Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Lisa LeBlanc, Anna Maria College
Dana M. Oswald, University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Karl Steel, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Debra Higgs Strickland, University of Glasgow
Kevin Teo, University of Calgary
Rodger Wilkie, St. Thomas University
Mary Williams, San Jose State University
Diane Wolfthal, Rice University
Aimeric Vacher, International School of Geneva

Note: This letter was forwarded to the Councillors of the Medieval Academy of America. Elizabeth (Peggy) Brown, Fellow and Former President of MAA replied to us as follows:

Dear Asa, Jeff, Larissa, Derek, and Renee,
Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking message, which at your request I am sending to all members of the Council of the Academy, voting and non-voting. I know I speak for them all in expressing gratitude for the time and effort you invested in writing your statement, in posting it on your website, and in sending it to us. Likewise, I know I speak for them in expressing our hope that you will reconsider your decision to resign from the Academy.
The members of the Executive Committee knew that the decision which was reached was bound to be controversial, given the different opinions expressed through the poll. We made the decision for the reasons we expressed in our announcement. The decision did not encourage, discourage, or mandate attendance. To attend or not to attend is a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. For members, the decision will not involve a financial penalty, as it would have done for the Academy had the Executive Committee canceled the meeting. Subsequent to the announcement of the decision on 3 August, the Executive Committee has learned that by MA statute, a quorum of the Council can be present through telephone conference.
Again, thank you for setting forth the views of your members and for sending them to us.
With every good wish, Peggy

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Different Visions

The "Monstrosity" issue of Different Visions is now live! Guest-edited by Debra Higgs Strickland and me, it contains articles by Susan M. Kim (co-authored with me), Dana Oswald, Rosalyn Saunders, Suzanne Lewis, and Debra. It is free and open access, so you should all check it out! This grew out of a MEARCSTAPA session at Leeds, and is a great result of our collective work!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

KZoo 2011 CFP

The 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Kalamazoo, MI (as ever)
May 12-15, 2011

Panel 1:
Outlaws, Outliers, and Outsiders

This panel explores the intersection of myth and reality, of boundaries and borders between this world, other worlds and their inhabitants. From tales of outlaws exiled by law to those who lurk on the boundaries of "civilization," this panel welcomes papers on all manner of outsiders in any genre.

Panel 2:
Prehuman, Nonhuman, Posthuman: Monsters in the Middle Ages

This panel explores the concept of monstrosity in the Middle Ages, as well as connections between understandings of the monstrous in the medieval and all subsequent periods. Submissions are welcome on all aspects of the monstrous in all fields of study from the medieval to modern medievalism.

Send abstracts via email to:

Renee Ward

Monday, July 5, 2010

Leeds Business Meeting

To the folks going to Leeds: MEARCSTAPA (link below for the uninitiated) will host its annual "business" meeting at the Stables Pub on Monday evening, following our pair of sessions:

Exploring the Monstrous, I: Constructions of Identity:
Monday 12 July 2010: 14.15-15.45
Exploring the Monstrous, II: Geographies of the
Monday 12 July 2010: 16.30-18.00

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

babel conference CFP

Laurynn Lowe and I are interested in putting together a panel for the 1st Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group, details here. babel is a sort-of sister organization to MEARCSTAPA, and I am sure many of you have already seen their excellent first publication, postmedieval.

The conference is:
after the end: medieval studies, the humanities, and the post-catastrophe 4-6 November 2010 University of Texas at Austin

Following Jeffery Jerome Cohen's meditation on stones and Susan Signe Morrison's call for a /fecopoet[h]ics/ in the inaugural edition of /Post/medieval/, this panel is an exploration the boundaries of the inanimate. How do we understand the inanimate objects that make up our world as (1) stones, bridging the gap between our frailty and their seeming eternity, as (2) waste products to be eliminated from consciousness, or finally as (3) tools, whose existence would seem predicated upon the use of man? In what ways does our relationship with things define our relationship with ourselves and others? How do we define the inanimate objects in our environment, and how does this definition in turn restrict or expand our understanding of the human? How might the brass horse in the "Squire's Tale" or the Mechanical Turk be understood as bridging the boundary between the inanimate and animal studies or orientalists perspectives? How might Graham Harman's Tool-being be understood in terms of the speaking objects in the Book of Exeter or the Dream of the Rood? If things are simply part of the architecture of our environment, invisible if functioning correctly, why then do tools come to have voices? If an object is only genuinely visible to us when broken, why does the fantasy of magical objects persist in romances and epics? Finally, how can these examples from medieval literature shed light on our present relationships with things?

As of now, this panel is open ideas. While it is possible, of course, to follow a traditional format in which 3 papers are presented, we could also take advantage of the freedom granted by the BABEL conference to host a selection of speakers who would read one the other panelists paper prior to the panel, and come prepared to discuss.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The 2009 issue of Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies is now available!.

The theme of this year's volume was 'Monsters and Monstrosities in the Middle Ages'. We are delighted to offer all our readers three diverse articles and three book reviews on essential works relating to this topic.

To celebrate the fifth issue of Hortulus and to help maintain our website, we are pleased to announce the launch of print copies of all five volumes of the journal. These may be purchased on Lulu.

Many thanks from all the staff at Hortulus.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SEMA Session Proposal 2010

Here is our session proposal for SEMA. Thanks to Kat Tracy for organizing and thanks to our members for these great paper proposals!

SEMA Session Proposal 2010

Session Title: Dead and Loving it in the Middle Ages: The Walking, Talking Dead and Undead

Session Sponsor: MEARCSTAPA

Organizer/Presider: Larissa Tracy, Longwood University


The Gates on the Fringes: Sicily and Ireland as Doorways to the Underworld

Ana Grinberg, University of California, San Diego,

In this paper I will further explore Le Goff’s treatment about the location of the purgatory in Ireland and Sicily, mentioned in his The Birth of Purgatory, mainly looking into sources for “Saint Patrick’s Purgatory” and the legend of King Arthur’s palace in Mt. Etna. I find that these gates into the underworld are not only of “considerable importance” (Le Goff 198), I would also claim that they are the fringes of a geographical construction of the western Christian world. This spatial conception, related to medieval mappae mundi as ideological depiction of the surrounding world, enables a definition of “European-ness” as opposed to multiple Others. Sicily and Ireland were territory to pagans and/or heathens sharing a history of invasion by the Normans. Why do these places refer to groups of dead or undead? How are those groups related to peripheries?

“I’m Not Dead Yet”: Patterns of Victim Agency in Medieval Literature

Melissa Ridley Elmes, The Carlbrook School

Secular medieval literature often incorporates scenes in which corrupt, tyrannical, or power-hungry individuals or groups, usually of the ruling classes, inflict pain and death upon their predominantly socially and politically inferior victims. Despite vastly differing origins and purposes in the presentation and propagation of violence, there is a discernible pattern concerning the evolution of its portrayal in texts as regards victim’s agency. As Britain develops from a loose confederation of various pagan societies into a unified feudal state ruled by a powerful Christian nobility, the voice of minority groups frequently victimized as a result of conquest and assimilation – pagans, women, children, and Jews – is limited more and more, until such victims are without agency and at the mercy of a nobility increasingly distanced from their violent reality. In this paper, I examine the shift from pagan to Christian constructions of the victim of violence in medieval British texts, focusing on the presence – or lack thereof – of victim’s agency in the face of violence.

Speaking For, To, and Via the Dead in Tudor England

Thea Cervone, University of Southern California

Even as the Reformation developed and peaked, establishing a dialogue with the dead, or with other powers for the sake of the dead, remained important in many facets of religion, literature, and academic thought during the Tudor era. Henry VII intended to translate the remains of Henry VI to his newly-constructed chapel at Westminster so that the two might lie together in death, communing and communicating both inside and outside the grave. Henry VIII’s ban on Purgatory changed ritual behavior but not attitudes toward the dead and their ability to speak, or listen. Ludwig Lavater wrote, in the 1560s, that spirits communicated to the living by way of God’s will, and Satan’s behest. As such, they could not be ignored. Other Reformers disagreed, stating that funerary monuments provided the living with all they needed for successful communication with the dead. John Donne, who designed his own funerary monument—and hung a sketch of it in his study—perhaps agreed. His poetry reveals his desire to speak to his future readers not merely through his poetry, but by way of his disinterred remains. This paper will examine these and other situations in which communication with the dead, and for their sake, emerges as a profound but ironic reaction to the banning of the Doctrine of Purgatory, and the system of intercession and avowery that revolved around patron saints.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Session proposals for KZoo 2011

Hello all! Here are three proposals for KZoo 2011, ask very kindly put together by Renee Ward, after some discussions. (And props to her for the wonderful neologism of terato-sexuality!) Comments welcome, but the must come in quickly. Send any comments to the MEARCSTAPA list

Panel Suggestion 1:
Outlaws, Outliers, and Outsiders

This panel explores the intersection of myth and reality, of boundaries and borders between this world, other worlds and their inhabitants. From tales of outlaws exiled by law to those who lurk on the boundaries of "civilization," this panel welcomes papers on all manner of outsiders in any genre.

Panel Suggestion 2:
All Sexed Up: Monstrosity, Gender, and Sexuality

This panel explores the relationships between monstrosity, gender, and sexuality in medieval art, literature, and culture. Submissions are welcome that discuss issues of gender confusion, androgyny, gender transgressions (such as cross-dressing) and transformation (real or metaphoric), and other examples of terato-sexuality in the Middle Ages.

Panel Suggestion 3:
Prehuman, Nonhuman, Posthuman: Monsters in the Middle Ages

This panel explores the concept of monstrosity in the Middle Ages, as well as connections between understandings of the monstrous in the medieval and all subsequent periods. Submissions are welcome on all aspects of the monstrous in all fields of study from the medieval to modern medievalism.

Monday, May 10, 2010

CFP MEARCSTAPA Session at the Southeastern Medieval Association

Hello everyone!

This is a Call for Papers for a MEARCSTAPA Session at the Southeastern Medieval Association, November 18-20, 2010 in Roanoke, VA.

This year's conference is sponsored and hosted by a number of brilliant universities in the area, so it will be a fabulous conference.

Check out the details here:

The MEARCSTAPA session is titled:

Dead and Loving it in the Middle Ages: The Walking, Talking Dead and Undead.

We have one fabulous paper already, and I need two more for a full set. So if you have an abstract for a paper on the dead, the undead, the silent dead, the noisy dead, the annoying dead, death, disease... anything, well deadly (or undeadly), please send it to me by May 25.

Again, please send abstracts to me: by May 25.

Please include your name and affiliation, paper title and a short (250 words) abstract.

Thanks very much! I look forward to hearing from you all.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

MAP 2010 wrap up

Marcus Hensel and I joined forces to co-sponsor two MEARCSTAPA sessions at the Medieval Association of the Pacific meeting, hosted by the University of the Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Our two sessions served as brackets for the whole conference, with the one in the first time slot and the other in the last.

Both sessions were strong successes (though we were sorry that a family tragedy prevented Heather Bamford from joining us). The first session, "Silences and Gaps: The Missing Monsters," was therefore composed of Laurynn Lowe and myself, chaired by Marcus. Laurynn spoke on "Re-Membering Monsters: The Nature of Traits in Wolfram’s Parzival," and I delivered "Maps without Monsters," and used a bit of our extra time to briefly demonstrate the prototype of the Digital Mappaemundi project.

The second session was "Naming, Knowing and Remembering Monsters," chaired by me and having the following papers: "Can the Monster Speak?: Silence and the Grendelkin’s Status as Monsters," by Marcus, "The Monstrous and Modified Heroism in Beowulf," by John Hill and finally "Wulfstan’s Werewolf," Joyce Lionarons.

Both sessions were well attended and featured lively, productive and positive Q&As afterward. In both cases, we could have gone on for well more time than was allotted for the sessions. Many thanks to the participants and attendees! I hope that we can add MAP to our regular slate of conferences for MEARCSTAPA sessions! Now, we lope onward, down the misty slopes, toward KZoo and then Leeds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hortulus Monsters CFP

Please find attached the call for papers for the 2009 edition of Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies. Our upcoming issue will be devoted to representations and interpretations of monsters and monstrosities in art, chronicles, letters, literature, and music from the Middle Ages. It would be appreciated if you would post this information on your blog and forward it to any interested students etc. Further information is available at here.

Please contact me with any questions or inquires,
Many thanks,
Grace Windsor, co-editor.