Assistant Professor, EMES President, and ICMS Boycott

So much has happened since I wrote “Reflections on ISAS 2017 and a Call to Action” last summer.

I gave birth on Halloween; had two MLA interviews in early January (husband and baby in tow); went on two campus visits in the second half of January (while breast pumping); and received two job offers in early February (happily weaning the human larva off my breast). For it being my fourth year on the job market (second year with PhD in hand), it couldn’t have ended any better, especially since I was only giving myself one more year on the job market if I had failed to acquire a job offer again this year. In a month, I’ll begin my life as an Assistant Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, and yes, I am happy to be a Floridian again.

This year, I’m also taking on the new role of President of the Early Middle English Society (EMES), which my friend and colleague Dorothy Kim has happily handed off to me (because no one else would take it! LOL) and which we announced in our sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS) this past May. I have just sent out my first business email to the Making Early Middle English participant list since we don’t have an official membership yet. I have a couple tasks that I have taken upon myself for this first year, and one of them is building an official member list. If you are interested in joining the EMES in an official manner, please send an inquiring email to carlathomas@fau.edu. I’ll send out a confidential survey once I have a general “membership” pool that will allow me to collect other information from you, like your preferred name, contact information, field(s) of study, preferred pronouns (optional), institutional affiliation (optional), ethno-racial identity (optional), etc.

I will also use that survey to ask members what they would like to see the EMES become in the following years, including at which conferences we should submit session proposals, what kind of second conference they would like to see (if they like the idea of another conference!), other programming or outreach we should do, etc. We have sort of done things backwards as a society. We already have the Archive of Early Middle English (thanks to the tireless work of scholars like Dorothy Kim, Scott Kleinman, and Meg Worley) well underway and the newly founded Early Middle English journal (editorial contacts: Adrienne Williams Boyarin and Simon Forde–follow the journal link for their contact info). I am not involved directly in either of these endeavors. Our society itself is still in its nascent stages, but thanks to the hard work of Dorothy Kim, we have a well-established presence at the ICMS held every May at Western Michigan University and hosted by the Medieval Institute. If you’ve been paying attention online, you’ll know that the ICMS is a complicated matter, and I will end this post with links to important pieces to contextualize my decision to boycott the conference next year, the rationale for my own boycott, and my decision for the EMES accepted panels and rejected panel that was co-sponsored with the Medievalists of Color (MOC), of which I am a member.

Before I move on to the matter of the ICMS and my choice to boycott personally, allow me quickly to mention that this year, I also plan to write by-laws for EMES, establish the society as a non-profit organization (you know, legally), start collecting dues, and begin thinking about planning a second conference. If anyone would like to volunteer to help with any of these tasks, please let me know (contact me at the email provided above). I’m more than happy to delegate, collaborate, and connive with others.

Moving on to the ICMS. This year, I submitted three proposals, knowing that they usually grant us two, and the sessions I proposed included:

1. “How to be a White Ally in Medieval Studies 101” (a workshop) – co-sponsored with the Medievalists of Color*

2. Thirteenth-Century Vernaculars (a roundtable)**
3. Conceptions of Death and Dying in Early Medieval Literature***

If you’ve kept up on social media, you’ll know that #1 was rejected while the more “traditional” panels were accepted. The idea of rehashing everything that is wrong with this is exhausting–not our single rejection in isolation but part of a larger problem based on the list of accepted panels concerning race/racism/decolonizing the field/inclusivity that I requested from Elizabeth Teviotdale in the face of all four of the proposed co-sponsored MOC panels being rejected (only the Whiteness in Medieval Studies workshop was accepted and is only sponsored by MOC). If you need a refresher or to catch up on the events that have necessitated this paragraph, please see Karl Steel’s post on ITM. Both Seeta Chaganti’s letter that announces her personal boycott based on the racialized harm the conference has done to her and other MOCs over the many years of its existence (available here) and BABEL’s letter of concern (available here) are linked in Karl’s post, too. While you’re falling down the internet rabbit hole, please take a few more minutes to also read Shamma Boyarin’s blogpost “A Farewell letter to Medieval Studies,” which I think is a good addition to the growing number of pieces asking for Medieval Studies and subfields within it to engage in much needed introspection and change (see, for example, Mary Dockray-Miller’s excellent take on Old English from May 2017 and Dorothy Kim’s call to combat white supremacy in our college classrooms from August 2017 EDIT: I failed to include M. Rambaran-Olm’s very recent and important “Anglo-Saxon Studies, Academia, and White Supremacy”! Mea culpa! And while I’m at it, take a look at Sierra Lomuto’s “White Nationalism and the Ethics of Medieval Studies” from 2016 on ITM as well).

Now that you’re all caught up (or reminded of the highlights), allow me to explain that I will be boycotting the ICMS this year in solidarity with Seeta specifically and out of personal offense and frustration with the ICMS leadership (as far as we can tell, publicly, this consists of Jana K. Schulman, Professor of English and Director of the Medieval Institute, WMU and Elizabeth C. Teviotdale, Assistant Director of the Medieval Institute, WMU). While they have responded to BABEL’s letter publicly (see here) and I remain cautiously optimistic for positive change in the future, I am not going to resubmit the “How to be a White Ally in Medieval Studies 101” proposal for consideration this year. The fact that Jana does not even address Seeta’s letter in her response to BABEL’s letter of concern, which they made a point to not only discuss but to which they also provided a link to her public letter on the MOC website, is deeply insulting and dismissive. It is also representative of the way the ICMS has treated MOCs for decades, and this treatment also extends to other vulnerable bodies, such as (but not limited to) our LGBTQIA+ colleagues.

Additionally, I had planned on pulling the EMES accepted sessions from the ICMS as an organizational boycott, but I have decided against this move for one reason and one reason only: junior scholars have always been our primary (though not only) presenters, moderators, and organizers. I have had a consistent presence at the ICMS mostly due to the Early Middle English Society sessions, and I was able to build the radically inclusive community of scholars around me that I would like all of Medieval Studies to reflect. But I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the EMES panels. The Medieval Studies that I have heard horror stories about, and about which those horror stories are still being written as I type, has never been my reality. Partially because of my white cis assumed-heterosexual privilege (I also think my height and size have something to do with it–I’ve been called “intimidating” more times than I can count), but also because I surrounded myself with the kinds of people that made me feel safe and heard: women, non-white, queer, junior and senior alike (but mostly junior), etc. At first, this was done subconsciously, like choosing to study under Haruko “Hal” Momma at NYU instead of with Charles “Charlie” Wright at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne. But then it became more deliberate, like choosing to attend the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship banquet at the ICMS instead of a reception by a more traditional learned society or press and choosing to participate as fully as I could in the EMES.

This community, this chosen family of like-minded friends and colleagues who strive to make Medieval Studies better than it is currently, is the future of our field. I believe this firmly or else I would have jumped ship a long time ago. Now, as President of this incredible burgeoning society and a newly minted Assistant Professor, I suddenly have more of a voice and institutional power than I had this time last year. You can bet I’ll be using this newfound power to the extent that I am able.

Who will step up with me?

*Description of the proposed workshop: Based on the continued success of the “Whiteness in Medieval Studies” workshops that the Medievalists of Color organized in 2017 and 2018 with over 100 participants both times, we have identified a growing need for a second related workshop. Unlike the “Whiteness in Medieval Studies” workshops, which are organized and led by medievalists of color to encourage our colleagues to reassess the field through both their pedagogy and their scholarship to make it more diverse and inclusive, medievalists of color and white allies will organize and lead this “How to” workshop. It will serve as an introduction for white faculty and graduate students on how to recognize white racial identity and privilege, accept and confront white guilt, and move beyond personal emotional reactions to engage with and support medievalists of color. In sum, the “Whiteness” workshop addresses slightly more advanced ways of advocating for and supporting medievalists of color through pedagogical, departmental, and institutional reform while this “How to” workshop will begin by defining intersectionality, rejecting the myth of the hierarchy of oppressions, and demonstrating the need for individual introspection. We will provide the tools and resources necessary for gaining self-awareness through the emotional labor white academics must do on/for/by themselves (and not at the expense of medievalists’ of color emotional labor) before they can attempt to be allies, advocates, and, hopefully, accomplices (terms that we will define in the workshop) for not only medievalists of color but also all persons of color.

**Description of the proposed roundtable: Much discussion of vernacularity, vernaculars, and multilingualism in Medieval English scholarship tends to center on the late Middle English cultural milieu of Chaucer and Gower. This panel seeks to provide an alternative view of this narrative by inviting presenters to think not only about the various vernaculars used in England in the thirteenth century—English, French, Welsh, Danish, Hebrew, and more—but also the vernaculars interacting with those in England from without and to reconsider the definition of vernacularity itself. How can we open the discourse on vernacularity in and around England so that it moves beyond the current isolated debates and bring them in conversation with one another?

***Description of the proposed panel: Poetry of the Early Middle English period is filled with debates between the soul and body, descriptions of ghastly bodily decay, and moralizations that come from beyond the grave in order to encourage medieval readers to meditate on and contemplate death and dying. For much of the literature, these meditations are meant to steer the reader to (or back onto) the Christian path, but some, like late twelfth-century poem “The Grave,” are simply short meditations on death without moralization. This panel will provide insight on these various writings from scholars working on new research on rarely studied texts.

About carlamthomas

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, and I earned my PhD from New York University and my BA and MA from Florida State University. It's good to be a Floridian again. My concentration is Early Middle English literature, language, and manuscript culture although this stretches from Old English influences to later Middle English iterations of developments in my period. I'm also an intersectional feminist, trying to inject such theory into some of my newer work as well as my activist work with the Medievalist of Color.
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4 Responses to Assistant Professor, EMES President, and ICMS Boycott

  1. anna klosowska says:

    Brava! I am not coming either. I was considering, but am firm in this to support you + other MOC. I am pretty sure my first year was 1989 🙂 (the dorms were $14/night 🙂 and what you describe about self-selected groups of mentors = 100% my experience.

  2. Sharon Goetz says:

    Congratulations on the job at FAU! Very cool.
    I’m glad that EMES continues: best wishes to you and to it.

  3. Sharon says:

    Congratulations on the job at FAU! Very cool.
    I’m glad that EMES continues: best wishes to you and to it.

  4. Pingback: Kalamazoo 2019 Can Be #TheFutureWeWant – Tales of a Wandering…

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