Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Don't Be Snobs, Medievalists

The Chronicle of Higher Education
August 24th, 2015

We medievalists have had a pretty good run in academe. We were admitted in the final third of the 19th century after we proved that our subject was complex (read: science-like) enough to warrant professionalized study. European nations’ desire for origins, to use the title phrase in Allen J. Frantzen’s influential book, helped expand the field into the second half of the 20th century. Even in America, although her very existence was predicated on leaving "old" Europe behind, academic work on various medieval heritages thrived to the point where every humanities department boasted at least one medieval specialist.
However, there is now a manifest discrepancy between the large number of students who request that we address their love of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and medieval-themed video and computer games on the one hand, and the decreasing number of medievalists hired to replace retiring colleagues on the other. We are no longer protected by our involvement in preserving European heritages, an involvement often joined up with primordialist, jingoist, and colonialist mentalities discredited in the Western world by the 1970s. And we are as endangered as the rest of our humanities colleagues by the advent of new areas of scholarship, the intimidating popularity of the STEM disciplines, and politically motivated cuts to the liberal arts.

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