1. Who read the Manifesto?
2. Who reviewed the Manifesto?
3. Would I write a different Manifesto if I wrote it now?
4. Down with the drawbridges!
5. Up with public-facing scholarship!
It’s been a little over one year that Medievalism: A Manifesto was published as the inaugural volume in the ARC Humanities Press series PastImperfect, and it’s been a fascinating ride. My own horizon of expectations had been one of optimistic curiosity. I knew the time was right for me to publish an essailike the Manifesto, but I was (in aenigmate) aware that, when sending the manuscript off to Simon Forde, my own life and career clock was probably not entirely in sync with all the rapid developments in medieval studies and medievalism studies. That turned out to be correct. The reviewer for Medievally Speaking, for example, rightly reminded readers and me that I seemed “in some ways to be late to [my] own party. This is not unexpected—as a driving force in the study of medievalism, [Utz] has been vocal about these issues for some time, and the ideas themselves have evolved in a relatively public manner.”
Who read the Manifesto?
Thus, while I was writing from the vantage point of someone who had been engaged with the study of medieval culture over the last three decades, some of my readers, especially those whose careers began later, naturally viewed some of my recommendations as a status quo they had already reached or perhaps even left behind. While some ‘seasoned’ medievalists told me that my choice of weaving my own biography into the fabric of my sketch was a bold (“I can’t believe you put your own parents on the cover of your book!”) and epistemologically productive move, some from among the generations of younger medievalists commented on it as a nice touch, a turn they were already performing in much of their own work without the need for further encouragement. Another reason for “being late at my own game” was, of course, that I had presented some of the foundational ideas for the Manifesto as the plenary, “The Notion of the Middle Ages: Our Middle Ages, Ourselves,” at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2015, and summarized them for the Chronicle of Higher Education in “Don’t Be Snobs, Medievalists.”
Who reviewed the Manifesto?
As I reflected on these matters for this blog entry, I noticed that most of the published responses to the Manifesto so far have come from online or relatively ‘young’ journals and blogs, that except for the reviews published in Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen and Literaturen (I do hail from Germany) and Arthuriana (I am on their advisory board), most established journals (think: Clio, JEGP, Medievalia et Humanistica, Parergon, The Medieval Review, Speculum) or outlets of what some consider the current medievalist avant garde (postmedieval; In the [Medieval] Middle) did not engage with my essai. Perhaps some residual resistance against that which reeks of the extra-academic and popular; or against that which references Arendt and Dinshaw instead of Adorno and Žižek? Hard to say.
I did receive fascinating in person responses from the participants in Daniel Kline’s ICMS session in 2017. And I also received detailed and thoughtful responses from readers writing for less established and ‘popular’ outlets like The Public Medievalist, literaturkritik.de, The (Pop)Culture Medievalist, and medievalists.net. Personal appreciative e-mails came mostly from independent scholars and colleagues working at small liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities, not major research institutions. And two thirds of the published reviews and responses originated from scholars and journals outside the United States (Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Spain, Venezuela). This could mean that the Manifesto’s objectives had more relevance for colleagues outside the U.S., and for independent scholars and colleagues at small liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities. ARC Humanities Press informs me that the volume exceeded their sales expectations; I know of at least a dozen teacher-scholars who have been using the text in their classrooms; and three colleagues told me they made reference to the Manifesto in an effort to entice their administrators and tenure and promotion committees to value their efforts at public scholarship. I couldn’t be happier with these outcomes, which are also reflected in the following published responses:
“Medievalism: A Manifesto aims to do nothing less than to reform the ways in which we think about academic engagement with the Middle Ages, and with medievalism as a whole. […] [Utz presents] a fundamental, challenging, and difficult intervention aimed squarely at those who may not want to listen, and who, for that precise reason, most urgently need to do so.” – Andrew B. R. Elliott, Arthuriana
“This book—especially its final chapter, which comprises the real ‘manifesto’ of the volume—should be required reading for every medieval studies Ph.D., and taped to the door of many a public history professor.” – Paul B. Sturtevant, The Public Medievalist
“Utz is the scholar/teacher as rabble rouser, in the very best sense of the term—though some of the rabble are his own colleagues in the academy. He argues for a fresh approach to a new topic in a way that embraces not just the academy but also larger audiences with their own distinctive views of and responses to what we call the medieval.” – Kevin J. Harty, La Salle University
“Richard Utz publicó en 2017 el manifiesto del medievalismo, donde busca repensar la manera en que conectamos, desde el mundo académico, con la cultura medieval. Su objetivo último es que desde los intramuros de la academia procuremos dialogar con aquel público general que, afuera, también se interesa por el mundo medieval, aunque no primordial (o exclusivamente) desde la teoría, sino a partir de la observancia y disfrute de las manifestaciones postmedievales que recrean ese periodo histórico-cultural, como pueden ser la literatura, el cine, las series de televisión, la música…La vocación comparatista de este manifiesto no se observa solo en esta finalidad interartística e interdiscursiva que subyace a su escritura, sino también en los procesos iniciales que guiaron su inspiración.” – Laura Camino Plaza, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
“Im vorliegenden Manifest … erscheint dieses Plädoyer aber ungewohnt intensiv, und das liegt vor allem daran, dass Utz sich nicht zum vermeintlich objektiv-neutralen Kommentator emporschwingt, sondern seinen Werdegang als medievalistund medievalism-isteng mit seiner privaten Biographie verknüpft. Dabei gereicht ihm zum Vorteil, dass er auf lange Erfahrung einerseits im deutschen, andererseits im US-amerikanischen Universitätssystem und auf entsprechende Einsicht auch in beide Gesellschaften blicken kann.” – Jan Alexander von Nahl, literaturkritik.de
“Medievalism: A Manifestois well-argued, inspiring, and also timely, as its immediately sold-out first print run indicates. This book is for the scholars who need to shed their guilt over ‘cheating’ on their scholarship by indulging in fun medievalism; it’s for the grad students who need to be reminded of what inspired them to first set foot in our field; it’s for the department chairs who are wondering how to make their departments ‘more relevant’. In other words, Medievalism: A Manifesto is a must-read for anyone in our field, and a rallying cry for scholars in general to harness the power of public platforms to better society. If you need a quick read to relight your fire, this is it.” – Danièle Cybulskie, medievalists.net
Would I write a different Manifesto if I wrote it now?
All things considered, somewhat “late to my own game” I may very well have been. However, the overall reception indicates the Manifesto has been making a difference for a good number of its readers, and perhaps beyond. Would I have written it differently if I had finished it in early 2019? Absolutely! Since I submitted the manuscript in late 2016, the dramatic changes in U.S. and global politics and academe have revealed, more quickly and more powerfully than 100 years of scholarship, how deeply the practices and traditions of academic medieval studies are imbricated in the nationalism, sexism, and racism that helped anchor the study of the Middle Ages at the modern university in the second half of the nineteenth century; how the violent and discriminatory origins of these practices can come to the fore if one scratches the medievalist ‘veneer’ of Confederate statues and stained glass windows, in the U.S. as well as in other countries; and how these practices continue to prevent a comprehensive understanding of medieval culture, one broadly inclusive of non-white and non-European or minority peoples, artifacts, languages, and scholars.
Over the last two years, medievalists have been negotiating how to combat the increasingly widespread misinformation about what is and what isn’t “medieval”. Some, like Andrew Elliot (Medievalism, Politics, and Mass Media) and Paul Sturtevant (The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination) have provided sorely needed sociological and media studies approaches to our discussions; others, like Geraldine Heng (The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages), the Medievalists of Color, and numerous other individuals are doing the foundational work to fill in the scholarly lacunae left by predominantly Eurocentric approaches; and again others, and here I am thinking of the hundreds of colleagues contributing to The Public Medievalist (series on race and gender), medievalists.net, and widely read news services, magazines, and blogs, have lowered the artificial drawbridge between the academic and the so-called dilettante world and critically discuss local all forms of medievalism.
Down with the drawbridges!
This general movement toward an inclusive study of medieval culture and its afterlife is what I see growing every day. What distracts from and even discredits such inclusive and generous research are spurious accusations against some of the public forums that have historically been the most open for academic and non-academic lovers of medievalia: for Anglophone and non-Anglophone scholars; for faculty and students of all ranks and from research universities through community colleges and schools; for multiple approaches, methodologies, and theories; for traditional and new geographical, temporal, and intellectual notions; and for readings focused on class, gender, and race. These large and open forums, including especially the Kalamazoo and Leeds congresses, with their intentional efforts at keeping registration cost low and including local and regional communities, continue the promise of a true public exchange about the Middle Ages. Those who only want to congregate with colleagues who already share their own convictions, who find the ‘popular’ interest in medieval culture too uncomfortable and time-consuming, who denigrate other colleagues’ work to puff up their own, and who, if in charge, would deny non-conforming colleagues access to conferences, Facebook pages, and journals, will not make the study and engagement with medieval culture more truly democratic and diverse. I am afraid too many of them only want to replace ye olde drawbridge with a newe one, of their own making.
Up with public-facing scholarship!
Ironically, conservative (old) philologists and quasi-Rankean historians, who may not really mind for medieval studies to remain stuck within its nineteenth-century nationalist, racist, and sexist roots just as long as they don’t have to change, seem to agree with many of the most avant-garde and woke medievalists on one thing: the need to keep the academic study of the Middle Ages unsullied by the efforts of so-called dilettantes. Both of these groups feel foundationally threatened by the work of non-academic medievalists in castellology, reenactment, role-playing, digital gaming, and other presentist and/or praxis-oriented endeavors of reception. My hope is to convince the vast majority of medievalists, who have their epistemological habitat in the vast space between these two extreme positions, to bring to bear their specialist education to explain various local, regional, national, and global medievalisms to their fellow citizens and to collaborate with all those who share their own (albeit professionally sublimated) LOVE for the ‘medieval’. Such publicly engaged scholarship, as I wrote in the Manifesto, “is hard work and demands a more adventurous and entrepreneurial kind of academic than the one we have too often attracted and rewarded over the last 130 years.” The Past Imperfect book series has been instrumental at making such scholarship happen.
By Richard Utz