Progress … doesn’t always look like progress (a post [mostly] on research and publication)

I imagine that everyone who reads this blog has at least a passing familiarity with academia–perhaps you are a student, or the parent of a student, in college or graduate school, or a fellow professor or other member of the university world. At the very least, you probably know that professors are required to engage in the “three pillars” of academic labor: teaching, research, and service. Whereas teaching and service are immediately visible, sometimes–especially in the modern academy–progress in terms of research and publication looks decidedly invisible, until you sit down to examine it.

Traditionally, the typical tenure-track professor teaches what’s called a 2-2 or a 2-3/ 3-2 or even 3-3 course load–meaning, 2 or 3 courses per academic term, or a total of 4-6 courses per academic year. In universities with graduate programs, at least one of those courses will be at the graduate level. Within the “teaching” category,  professors are also responsible for advising students and serving on honors and graduate thesis and doctoral dissertation committees. As I have noted elsewhere in this blog, in my experience first as a secondary/high school teacher and now as a college professor, putting together college-level courses takes more time and effort and requires more planning; online courses, even more than that (which, if you had told me was the case when I taught high school, I would have dismissed as Not Even Possible, because high school English teachers work their butts off.) The reason professors, particularly at research institutions, historically have had 2-2 or 3-2 or 3-3 teaching loads rather than the 6-10 courses per year we often see at the high school level,  is to ensure they have the time to produce and write up research for publication. It’s still a significant chunk of time teaching, but there is room in the work-week for research and writing, especially if you were smart and took on just enough service activity–a committee or task force or two–to show you were a team player and a good citizen.

I, and most of the professors I know, do not teach a 2-2 or a 3-2 courseload. It’s becoming more typical, particularly at schools with less funding and schools that brand themselves as teaching universities, to teach a 4-4. I have taught a 5-4 for the past two years. I am not complaining about teaching so many classes; I think it’s clear even with a passing glance through this blog that I love teaching, I consider it the highest form of service to the nation and the global community, and there are few things I’d rather do than stand in front of a group of students who want to be there and watch their minds at work on some interpretive problem or line of inquiry I’ve posed them to grapple with.

What I will say, however, is that when you teach that heavy a courseload, it takes it out of you physically, mentally, and emotionally. I go home some nights and just fall into bed. It’s rare for me to accept an invitation to do something extra during the week, even rarer on weekends. I need that time to recharge myself, to grade student work, and to prepare for the next round of classes. I am most certainly not alone in this. If you know professors, or are related to them, you have probably noticed that they tend to go more or less radio-silent on you from the end of August through December; to have a little burst of social activity from December through the first week of January, and then to disappear almost entirely from your life from about late February through May. They’re “in the trenches”–teaching, grading, advising, mentoring, writing recommendations, serving on committees and task forces, presenting their research at conferences ….. and …. writing and publishing (?)

Maybe professors with less-heavy teaching loads don’t question that last bit; maybe their scholarly productivity is more visible to them, but I swear, sometimes it seems like I am not doing any research and writing. I sneak it in, here and there, a few hours a week, or even a whole morning or afternoon, if I am very, very lucky; no hours some weeks; sometimes, no research or writing happens for ten days or more. I see my students learning, I see the progress in their thinking and writing, I see their grades amassing in the gradbook; I attend the committee meetings and see the minutes written up, sometimes see the product of that service being put to use–teaching and service are concrete and visible to me. But research and publication–sometimes they’re just so invisible in the bigger scheme of things. And it’s frustrating. But … is it real? Or is the relative invisibility of my research and publication work more a product of my imagination than a reality?

I recently took stock of my research agenda, trying to figure out why I haven’t gotten very far. A senior scholar with whom I am friends was surprised: “You are hugely productive for someone who just got her PhD LAST YEAR!”

Really? Then why does it feel like I’m not producing anything?

So, I reflected on it a bit, and I came up with some points that I need to bear in mind, and that I thought it might be helpful for other junior scholars struggling with balancing teaching/research/service to think about as well.

First: you are actually doing so much more than you think that you are. To prove this to myself, I made a list of the publishing projects I am actively working on or have committed to working on. At the present time, in various stages of actual development, I have two monographs, four edited collections, and five articles and book chapters, with two further articles currently under review.

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That’s a lot.

Why doesn’t it feel like very much?

There are a few reasons, I think, that I didn’t notice how productive I actually have been and am being in terms of research and publication. First, of course, is that I’m fitting these projects in here and there, as I can, because on my teaching load I can’t give them large or even regular chunks of time–so, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting very far. But, as Paul Silvia notes in How To Write a Lot, doing a little bit here and there on a regular basis actually produces a lot of scholarship–if you just wrote one page per day, you’d have 365 pages of manuscript in a year. That’s progress!

Second, I’m always thinking about one or more of these projects–so it always feels like I’m not working on them because I am thinking about working on them–yet, by thinking about them, I am actually working on them; they’re on the “back burner” getting some intellectual attention, if not actual, physical butt-in-the-chair writing attention. When I do sit down to work on something, I typically find I’ve resolved a problem I was having in the writing up of an idea, and that resolution paves the way for a better and more productive writing session when it does happen. That is, I’m working out the logistics of an argument or project regularly, leaving the writing time for actual drafting and revision. That’s progress.

Third–academic publishing moves slowly. A typical article’s trajectory is submit, wait 3-6 months for editorial response, revise and resubmit, wait another 3-6 months for another response — it takes on average a year from initial submission to press to publish an article in the humanities, with some journals taking 2-3 years dependent upon their backlog–and that is if the article is accepted as a revise-and-resubmit. Some articles take longer than that. Some articles require substantial rewriting. Some articles are scrapped and begun over again from scratch. Some articles are abandoned entirely because they just aren’t going to work. So, once you have submitted an article for review, suddenly you’re not doing anything with it; suddenly, you’re just sitting around waiting, and nothing happens (or, it feels that way, even though you’re still teaching, working on other research things, doing service….) Article limbo makes it hard to feel like you are getting anywhere. So, this past summer I revised and submitted two articles for review. That’s a productive summer. But it doesn’t feel productive because I’ve not had a response on them yet, because nothing is budging on my CV, they’re just “under review.” I need to learn that that is completely okay, and that “under review” is progress.

And if articles move slowly–books can move even more slowly. The edited collection I started working on in late 2014 is just coming out this November, and it was a smooth process with no bumps in the road during production. It just takes time to publish a scholarly book, and there’s nothing to be done about it. There’s a reason people on the tenure track get 6 (7, but really 6) years to get their first book under contract and in press. Typically, your dissertation is the seed of your first book, but sometimes that isn’t as straightforward a transformation as it was supposed to be, sometimes you have to conduct a lot more research and rewrite substantial portions of it, sometimes you scrap the dissertation, taking out an article or two and starting over on a different project, entirely. If it took you between 1-3 years to write the dissertation as a graduate student possibly teaching 1-2 courses a term, it’s going to take at least that long to prepare a monograph for submission as a professor teaching 2-4 (in my case, 5) courses a term. And in my case, my dissertation is turning out to be two books, so I had to begin by dismantling it entirely and planning and beginning work on an entirely new chapter for the first one. On the plus side, I have a lot of good work to do; but of course, it doesn’t feel like I have any time. Yet, in the year since I graduated, (after taking the first six months off entirely to get some distance from the project) I’ve separated the seeds of Book One from the seeds of Book Two, identified the materials I need to consult to expand and develop both books, revised Book One’s introduction and first chapter, and begun work on the new chapter to be added to it. That’s a substantial amount of work to have completed on a book project. That’s progress.

Could I be doing more? Sure. If I taught a 2-2 or a 3-2, or had a course release or a semester sabbatical for research, if I had more time to devote to it, I might get more research done; more of my work might be polished and sent off sooner to publishers and journal editors. But I would still run into the pipeline issue described above, and it would still sometimes feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere. What does progress look like, when it comes to research and publishing? It’s most visible when you are holding the published material in your hands, when you move an entry from “under review” into a publishing category on your CV–but sometimes, you have to look harder. Sometimes progress doesn’t look (or feel) like progress–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

What about you? How do you handle concerns that you might not be productive enough as a scholar, especially if you teach heavier courseloads? What are your strategies for maintaining scholarly productivity?

 

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AY 2017-2018 Begins: Here Are Some Behind-the-Scenes Glimpses into the Making of an Online Course.

I’ve been radio-silent on this blog for over a month now, and that’s because I became an Auntie for the first time at the end of July (yay!!!), we got the page proofs for Melusine’s Footprint (yay!!!), and I was putting together my 15-week online course on “Medieval Afterlives: Modern Receptions of the Medieval,” an upper-division literature and culture course that looks at representative medieval texts, traces their afterlives into the popular cultural imagination, and then considers how they influence modern high fantasy by reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

I’ve written before about things to consider when designing an online course for the first time. The last pointer I gave in that post was to have some videos, so your students could get an idea of the person behind the course they are taking. Of course, even though we regularly perform in front of classes, most professors are not used to being filmed. It took me several takes to get usable footage to post to the course site; here are a few of the bloopers, for your amusement.

All in all, it took me forty hours to load the course onto our Canvas platform, and probably about 20 more hours to film and get the videos uploaded to Youtube to link to the course, and to complete the Powerpoints and reference lists. It was definitely a labor of love, and all I can do now that I’ve hit “Publish” on the course is to hope my students enjoy taking it as much as I (mostly) enjoyed putting it together. Fingers crossed!

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Writing a Book Review (Or: What the Book Review Genre *Is* and–More Importantly–What it is *Not*)

For many early-stage career scholars, especially graduate students, book reviews are among the earliest publication opportunities presented–and if we are being honest, as with teaching Freshman Composition and other introductory-level courses, this practice is probably deeply backwards because in both cases, experience and the knowledge acquired during one’s career are significant factors in how successfully and effectively one is able to engage with the task at hand. This is not to say that a new teacher or scholar can’t successfully teach composition and Intro to Literature, or write a book review–a patently false notion–but rather, that because of the stakes involved for those for whom you are working, these are deceptively tough spaces from which to begin constructing your identity as teacher or scholar.

Book reviews are currently on my mind, as I’ve recently completed two of my own and also been appointed the Co-Book Reviews editor for Medieval Feminist Forum, A Journal of Gender and Sexuality. This blog entry, inspired by recent discussions among some of my colleagues following a set of poorly-executed book reviews, discusses the book review as a genre, highlights the tripartite stakes of the book review–for you, as its author, for the author of the reviewed book, and for the review’s readership–and shares some things to consider as you undertake this (often very public) act of professional service, including a list of expressions and statements to avoid using.

What a Book Review *Is*

In its most basic sense, the book review is a brief critical discussion of a book, written by a reader with knowledge of the book’s subject matter, to evaluate and summarize the book’s contents, scholarly importance, and intellectual value for the greater readership. It is an important–really, an essential–service to scholarship, because (as I’ve already established in earlier posts on this blog) you simply cannot read *everything* that is published and related to your research. Book reviews should be written in such a way that their readers can skim the review and know from its contents whether or not they need to read the full book. The reviewer should merely situate the book in the critical discussion it forms a part of, with impartial critical summary of its contents and value. Good book reviews perform this work within an average of 1,000 words, with a modicum of personal sentiment or opinion involved.

So, as a basic format: Introduce the book generally in 1-2 sentences, including author’s credentials; summarize its argument (one paragraph, with minimal quotes as needed), summarize its contents in a paragraph or so; describe how it compares to other recent books in the field–style, scope, methodology, what makes it different, important, significant, and so forth–in no more than two paragraphs, provide a list of the kinds of readers who will find the book most useful and why (1-2 sentences), and end with a brief summative declaration of your overall reception of the book as a scholar (1-2 sentences). The End.

What a Book Review is *Not*

In general, you should save your personal opinion and taste (“well I liked it, so I give it three stars, really interesting! But it could have used a tad more zip in the prose style….”) for your Goodreads review. You have likely been selected to complete the book review in large part thanks to your interest and/or expertise in the subject matter, but once that selection has been made, the task turns from being interested in it on a personal level, to writing about it on a professional level. The opinions you offer need to be based on the book, itself, not on your reaction to it–that is, on its critical usefulness and impportance, rather than on whether you enjoyed it, or liked it, or thought it was interesting–and every  evaluative statement included in a book review needs to be supported with a concrete critical reason for it. This shift to critical disinterest is an important one to make mentally.

Corollary to not using it as a personal journaling space for what you liked and didn’t like about a given book, the book review is not a full-on attack on the authority, expertise, writing style, or any other aspect of the author. It is fine, and important, to note any real deficiencies or concerns with the material in the book–if there is factually incorrect information, for example, or if the author has not engaged with scholarship that genuinely should have been consulted for the book’s subject matter (that is, if the scholar is writing about, say, Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, but does not cite or discuss Mauss’s work) , or if there is a genuine omission in or scholarly concern with an argument. But if  you simply disagree with the author, or if the author’s thesis contradicts something you are publishing or hope to publish, or if you think the author should have written x, instead of y or z–the book review is not the appropriate venue to address these concerns. You are evaluating the book in front of you–not the book you think the author should have written, and not the book in relation to your own work.

Some scholars regard the book review as a gatekeeping activity, and use it as an opportunity to place their stamp of approval (or not) on a given work of scholarship and/or the scholar who produced it. Throughout the twentieth century, famously scathing book reviews were routinely published. Certain scholars took one another to task, sometimes deservedly so and sometimes over the slightest of concerns (and sometimes, in the most extreme cases, over things not even related to the book currently under review), engaging in heated rivalries and demonstrating their academic prowess in a one-upmanship game that essentially became a journal-sanctioned form of public flyting. Regretably, there are still reviewers who seem to believe that the best review is the one that rips a book and its author to shreds (although fortunately, there are fewer book reviews editors allowing such reviews to make it into print). This is an abuse of the book review genre, and participating in such behavior does not make you appear to be a better scholar (and, in fact, can have negative consequences for you, as I note below).

The Stakes of the Book Review

For you, if you are a graduate student or an early-stage scholar writing a book review, this is often among your first steps into professional publishing. Being asked to review a book is a sign that your advisor, or a journal editor you have met, feels you have demonstrated enough authority on a subject to be taken as someone who can expertly evaluate a scholarly study of that subject–how exciting! If you write a good, balanced review, chances are good you’ll be asked to review again. If your review is overly dismissive or critical and the tone arrogant, or if your review omits key information about the book or demonstrates a lack of understanding of the book’s subject or argument–well, that’s in printed circulation for all to read. Remember, every field is smaller than you think it is. One of the pitfalls of being a graduate student or early-stage scholar asked to do a book review is that if you negatively review a senior scholar’s work, it’s going to be noticed and discussed, if by no one else than that senior scholar. There can be serious and lasting consequences, particularly when those are the scholars most likely to be sitting on editorial boards for journals and book series. Although seemingly minor in comparison to the article or monograph, then, it’s important to remember that the book review is a publication that, for better or worse, will help to shape where you sit in your overall field–either positively, or negatively. So the stakes are pretty high, and this is one reason we’re counseled not to do too many book reviews as junior scholars–it’s more important and beneficial to be known for our own work, than for how we have evaluated the work of others. We’re also typically more sensitive to how we write about others’ work when we’ve been through peer review as authors, ourselves. And we need to be–because…..

For the Book’s Author, the stakes of every published review are enormous, and you have got to be aware of and sensitive to that fact or you should simply not do book reviews. Scholars who have not yet obtained a full-time position are often depending on the reception of that first book to secure one; scholars on the tenure track rely on the book for tenure and promotion, or promotion from Associate to Full Professor. Well-received books pave the way for myriad professional awards and honors. Poorly evaluated books can halt or even end a career. For you, this may be “just a book revieww,” “just a line on your CV”–but for the author, this is the part of the scholarly process over which one holds least control, yet which has in some cases the most profound effect on a career. What you write not only impacts the author’s career, it can also influence how and what other scholars read, because…..

For the Review’s Readership, the stakes are still moderate. Although they are not directly impacted by what you have written in the way that the book’s author will be, your readers are influenced by it in terms of whether and how to read a given book. Remember, I’ve called this work of book reviewing “academic service” and it is. As I mentioned earlier, no one can read all of the books and articles that are published in any given year, much less across the span of several years. Scholars rely on book reviews as a sort of “clearinghouse of new ideas” and typically skim and scan the reviews section of every new journal issue to keep an eye out for things they need to read. If your review is not succinct, comprehensive, and accurate–if, for instance, you are too prolix or your prose is too dense and people can’t easily skim your review, or if a book deals with a particular subject you neglect to mention, or if the author makes an argument you have misconstrued–it’s not helpful in this kind of work. A poorly written review can lead to a book’s not being consulted when, in fact, it should be, which in turn affects scholarship in a bigger way.

So, the best way to go about this work of reviewing is to remember that it’s never “just a book review” –there are stakes for everyone involved. You’re engaging in an act of scholarly service that has real consequence; take that responsibility to heart and perform it ethically, or not at all.

Things To Consider When Writing a Book Review

Before you get started: It’s hard to learn the skill of being critical without being negatively critical. While many graduate students write reviews as part of their coursework, the nature of those reviews-as-assignment is to teach you how to locate and evaluate sources, and we are often trained to spot the issues with a given critical text moreso than to evaluate the whole. We are also writing for a professor’s approval, so dependent upon the professor in question, we may be trained to be more or less eagle-eyed in our criticism, or we may misunderstand the genre because of what we think the professor is asking for rather than what is actually required. Unlearning any such errors in thinking about the book review is a key step towards writing them ourselves. The best way to unlearn errors in thinking about the book review, is to read good ones and take note of how they’re structured. Don’t write a book review until you have read enough of them to know what a good one looks like.

Beyond that, there are some other things that as an early-stage scholar you should think about in terms of writing book reviews:

    1. If you know the person who wrote the book, you should probably avoid reviewing it. Don’t begin your publishing career critically evaluating the scholarship of people you are friendly with. Even if it is a good review, there’s going to be some strangeness there (particularly if you are still a graduate student and the other person is a professor already) and if it’s not a good review, it can hinder collegiality and collaboration  (remember again, the world of academia is small–the people you review may later be outside readers for your own work, or on editorial boards, or in charge of conferences and speaker series, or tenure file reviewers–you don’t need a book review on your CV badly enough to damage those relationships).
    2. If you are not genuinely engaged with a particular subject in ongoing critical and scholarly fashion–it’s not a subject you have personally researched and/or published on–don’t agree to review a book on it. Being “interested” in a subject isn’t a good reason to do a book review, it’s a good reason to go to the library and check the book out. You should only agree to write a review because you are qualified to evaluate the book’s critical value and importance, never because you have wanted to but not yet had the chance to read up on a particular subject. Your opinion on a book in a field you have not engaged with yet is not helpful to the people who are actively researching in that field, and won’t be helpful to the book’s author. It’s your responsibility to be ethical and only select books you’re qualified to review.
    3. If you receive the book and find that you cannot review it fairly, or write anything positive about it, return the book and decline to write the review. This is completely acceptable as long as you don’t have to do it too often, and book editors, authors, and readers, alike, (and, frankly, your Future Self as well) would prefer that you decline to review it than that you excoriate it in print. If your book review is not helpful to the author and the reader, then it’s not a good review, period. A good rule of thumb here is: don’t publish anything you would be embarrassed to discuss publicly with the people involved. Better yet: never write anything about someone else’s work that you would not be okay with hearing about your own scholarship.
    4. If you receive a review copy and find that you are too busy to review it in timely fashion, return the book and decline the review. This one is an ongoing issue for book review editors–they receive books to be reviewed, send out a list of those books, compile a list of scholars who show interest in reviewing the book–sometimes in the case of a popular or highly-regarded author, many scholars wanting the same one–decide who’s reviewing each book, and send the books accordingly. The typical turnaround time for a book review is 3 months. After this point, book reviews editors may send out reminders. Some scholars sit on books for up to a year. Some scholars never actually get around to reviewing the book. While book reviews editors should at that point demand the return of the book, by that point the book is also now an older publication, and the review is less helpful to the author and readership. Many scholars agree to do them because the great perk of the book review is that you get to keep the book. But, if you don’t then complete the review in timely fashion, you are engaging in an unethical practice that is detrimental to the field. Eventually, you’ll stop being asked to review books.
    5. Make sure that you follow the format provided to you by the book reviews editor when you are drafting your review. It’s your responsibility to adhere to editorial guidelines, and although they rarely do so, the book reviews editor does have the discretionary right to reject your review on the grounds that it does not follow those guidelines. Book reviews editors–especially those working for major field publications–routinely field 30-100 or more titles per year, and most are professors with their own workload in addition to this position. It’s a big job to keep track of all of those books, then collect and edit all of the reviews. The least you can do is your part to make that task easier by just following directions. If you make their job easier by doing your part correctly, book review editors are likely to return to you with requests to complete reviews because they know they can depend on you.

Things You Should Never Write in a Book Review

You can be critical without being negative, dismissive, or downright savage, and if you can’t, don’t write book reviews. Here are some expressions and turns of phrase that are immediate signals that you either don’t understand the genre, are engaging unethically in the genre, or are being unnecessarily vicious in your review. They should not appear in a scholarly book review in any form. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

In my opinion……

I think/ believe/ feel……

in my experience…..

In my work I…. as opposed to this author I’m reviewing, who…..

My scholarship shows that this author is wrong because…..

The author fails to understand that…..

It’s clear the author doesn’t know (hasn’t read, etc)…..

If the author had read X, they would know…..

The author should read/ needs to read….

The author should cite/ needs to cite.….

X is a superior work to the present one…….

Readers will find the present book inferior to [earlier work]…..

The argument is patently false [because I say so] ….

The argument is fatally flawed [because I say so] ….

There is no merit to this argument…..

The argument should be/ would be better if…..

It’s a shame/ regrettable that the author did not…..

If only the author had…..

One wishes the author had/would…..

I do not recommend this book to anyone…..

I will certainly not be using this book in my own classes…..

This book needs serious revision to be taken seriously.….

The glaring omission of [x, y, z] renders this book insignificant……

One wishes the author had not published this book….

One wishes the editors had paid more attention during the publishing process…..

This book has little/ no critical importance……

This book has little/no value…..

There is nothing worth considering in this book…..

There is no reason for this book to exist……

Further Reading

I hope this has been a helpful discussion of the book review, and that it is clear that I take the book review seriously as a genre, and the book reviewer seriously as someone performing an important and consequential act of public service to the profession.

Here are some other web resources to consult as you begin writing book reviews (Please note I am only providing these as resources and do not endorse any of them personally):

A discussion on “Reviewing a Bad Book” at Chronicle Vitae: https://chroniclevitae.com/groups/on-writing/reviewing-a-bad-book

An essay on writing academic book reviews at Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2015/03/27/essay-writing-academic-book-reviews

A blog post by Stephanie Wright on “Writing Book Reviews During Your PhD: Is Honest the Best Policy?” http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/pubs-and-publications/2016/05/13/writing-book-reviews-phd-honesty-best-policy/

Thesis Whisperer, “Book review: Writing For Peer-Reviewed Journals”: https://thesiswhisperer.com/2015/03/11/book-review-writing-for-peer-reviewed-journals/

A Scribendi article on “Writing Negative Book Reviews”: https://www.scribendi.com/advice/book_reviews.en.html

Purdue OWL guide to writing a book review: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/704/1/

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Posted in Academia, New Faculty Experiences, Research and Scholarship, Uncategorized, writing in graduate school | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Little Glimpse Into What I’ve Been Working On….

So, in addition to teaching an online course and sleeping in (!!) this summer, I’ve been hard at work revising portions of my first monograph. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely closer to what I was hoping it would develop into. Close enough, that I feel comfortable sharing a tiny snippet. What follows is an excerpt from the introductory matter that offers a good general summary of the thinking that is going into this project. Hope you enjoy it!

[…] As I will show, all acts of violence conducted at a feast can be read as desperate acts, but we must be careful not to mischaracterize them as senseless or uncontrolled—as what the modern world calls, “crimes of passion”—solely because they are committed out of desperation. These acts are classifiable as desperate only because they are performed as a last possible means of getting the attention of those for whom the violence is intended and/or performed. The role of the feast as a spectacle itself ensures that any violent deed performed at the feast is calculated to draw attention—that is, to serve as a counter-spectacle to the feast—and this is an intentional choice on the part of the perpetrator of that violence. The feast is chosen as the scene for the violent deed because it is the surest place at which the most witnesses possible will be present, in addition to being a convenient gathering space for the perpetrator and his or her victims. Far from being senseless and uncontrolled crimes of passion, these violent altercations are calculated to have maximum, spectacular effect. They are done to be witnessed, in support of their doers’ goals of drawing attention to, and forcing a resolution to, a particular issue or conflict which is nearly always tied to a slight of personal honor or to a greater instance of actual or perceived injustice that has not been, and perhaps cannot be, satisfactorily redressed by any other means. When the governing systems by which a society operates are not sufficient to address the personal concerns and conflicts of its members—when, for instance, there is no real or perceived legal means by which one might achieve a sense of justice—the individual will take any opportunity presented to achieve some measure of justice for him- or herself. As this study illustrates, medieval writers understood the feast to be a highly ordered, carefully orchestrated event following prescribed rules of etiquette, and therefore the literary feast–like its historical counterpart, which I discuss in this introduction–serves as an ideal scene for locating unexpected violent outbursts that draw our attention to various unaddressed issues that we then must examine, understand, and critique.

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Teaching an online class for the first time: things to consider

I am by no means an expert in distance/online education, and I would never claim to be one. But after having taught my second online course in two different university settings this past June, I do have a couple of pointers for the first-timer to be aware of while developing and delivering an online course.

First, your CYA pointer: check to see if your university has a manual or workshop for online instructors, and make sure you make use of any such aids, if for no other reason than that, if things go awry for whatever reason, you can demonstrate that it is not because you did not follow the regulations your university has imposed upon online instructors. Some particular points you need to be certain of before your course begins: whether you’re required to take attendance or authenticate student participation in your class and if so, how; whether you’re required to hold posted virtual office hours or you can simply tell your students to contact you via email with questions; what the required workload is for online students in order to fulfill Higher Learning Commission or other accreditation requirements; what the policies and procedures are for allowing students to override attendance caps or take the course at a different level (i.e. taking a 200-level course at the 300 level and so forth), reporting students who never log into the class, dealing with students who plagiarize or otherwise cheat on assignments, and so forth–sometimes handling such situations can differ for online courses in comparison to on-the-ground ones.

Second: There are a lot of instructors who develop their online course week by week, rather than having the entire course available to their students up front. I highly recommend that you upload and publish the entirety of your course at the beginning, rather than doing it in a piece-meal fashion as the course rolls out; if you don’t want the students to have access to every assignment from Day One, you can always use the adaptive release controls in your learning platform (Blackboard and Canvas both offer it) but there are several good reasons for having it done and uploaded. First, without the pressure of thinking up readings and assignments, quizzes, and so forth while the course is running you can devote your time to assessing student work without feeling pressed for time throughout the duration of the course (and have the time needed to troubleshoot any issues that arise). Second, most students taking an online course are doing so because of the flexibility an online course affords; they want (and sometimes need) the ability to “work at their own pace.” I know some professors who create the entire course on a do-it-yourself pace and just open it and let the students go. I like a little more collaboration with my students and I also don’t want to end up with fifteen assignment sets to assess on the last day of the course, so I do require my students to complete all of a given week’s work by 11:59 p.m. Sunday of each week–but they are welcome to work ahead once a week’s assignments are completed. That’s a nice compromise that gives them flexibility without sacrificing your sanity as the instructor–but to offer it, the whole class needs to be up and running from day one. It takes a lot of effort up-front to make that happen–my online courses have taken on average 40 hours to build from scratch, counting shooting and uploading videos, writing quizzes and assignments, and developing and organizing the modules–but it also ensures a much smoother experience both in teaching and taking the course once it opens.

Along those lines, some professors open their course to students for viewing, or to complete introductory materials like posting videos & taking syllabus quizzes, etc., up to a week before the actual course begins. This practice can be especially helpful for students who have travel plans or other potential time conflicts like work and family obligations to contend with. I would check with your university to make sure doing so doesn’t violate any policies about online coursework, but if it isn’t a violation of any policy I think this is a good idea, and it’s one I intend to make use of in future online teaching.

Third: I know that one of the things people like about online teaching is that they often don’t have to grade as much, but have a mix of automatic assignments, like the quizzes you can set up to grade themselves, and assignments you actually have to read and score. Make sure that the assignments you have to read and score allow you to offer the students individual and personalized feedback on their work. It’s probably true that a lot of students don’t care about the comments and just want the grade, but there are also a lot of students who really do want the professor’s feedback on their work. Err on the side of offering that feedback whenever possible, and make it clear and evidence-based. In Canvas, I use the Speedgrader function, read the students’ document, and then actually cut and paste specific quotes from the student’s work to support the comments I’m making, so they can clearly see the examples of what I think is particularly good, or needs improvement, in the work they are doing for me. It doesn’t take as long to do this online as it does on paper. Regular ongoing assessment matters in an online course, because it is the only means students have of gauging how they are doing–they don’t have the benefit of face-to-face contact and conversations that happen during on-the-ground courses. Don’t sit on grades, and don’t leave them wondering whether you think they are doing okay. Give them good, solid, meaningful feedback in the form of comments on at least one assignment per week (preferably much more than that).

Fourth: Look, this is an online class and students have access to the entire Internet at all times while taking it. Think carefully about the assignments you are asking your students to complete–do you REALLY want to assign a 3-5 page essay on a canned topic that pretty much every professor in your field will ask students to write on, and make them upload it through Turnitin.com, and spend hours scrutinizing percentage matches? Or do you want to know that the students have been exposed to the information you want them to have and can use it to demonstrate their understanding of the course objectives? If you ask them for definitions, they’re going to copy-and-paste those definitions from some website. If you ask them for commentary on a specific symbol or metaphor, they’re going to locate that on a website and cut and paste it in. We KNOW this. So, if you can’t beat them, join them. Get more creative with your assignments, and have them use the Internet freely as a tool to complete the work rather than a crutch to get through it. Some ideas: have them complete textual archives (students have to locate images that are NOT book illustrations or movie stills for a particular text’s film adaptation, which they associate with a given text, and write a paragraph explaining why they chose that image–interpretation work); have them choose a significant quote, explain why they chose it, and post that to a discussion board, and then read through these and choose someone else’s quote to respond to in a video response–critical response work; ask them to locate 3-5 websites online that would be helpful to other students in understanding the week’s assignments and post them with an explanation for what, specifically, they think is helpful about each one (annotated bibliography-style work); have them complete a weekly synthesis paper in which they have to pull together the course reading(s), and assignments they have done for the week, any videos or lecture notes you posted, and any other information they got from the Internet and synthesize those into a 2-3 page summary of the week’s subject matter, with bibliography of all sources included. These kinds of assignments are open to a full range of internet assistance, but are also unique to your course in terms of the texts or other content being covered–students will have a very hard time plagiarizing them–and in my experience, students typically don’t, because they think these kinds of assignments are interesting and they want to do them.

Fifth: I mentioned videos. You should have some. Even if it is just a brief, 3-5 minute introduction to the course, students like to see who you are, to put a face to the name, and to feel like there is actually a person on the other side of the computer. For my online summer course this past June, I had an Introductory video discussing the requirements for online learning and how to use Canvas for my class, one offering a general overview of the course subject matter and learning objectives, and one each introducing in very broad strokes each of the major time periods and literary movements we covered–8-9 videos, ranging between 3-12 minutes each. If you don’t want to post a video of yourself, then focus the camera on a Powerpoint you’ve created, or on a photograph or pet or something–but give the students some idea of the live person behind the course syllabus, even if it is only your voice. And have them record and upload introductory videos of themselves as well–these do not have to be shared with other students, but they’re helpful in letting you know a little about the people you are teaching, and humanizing the online experience a little.

Those are my beginning pointers for teaching an online course for the first time. If you’ve taught online before and have other ideas or suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

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CFP: MEARCSTAPA at the Mid-America Medieval Association Conference

Here’s another fun CFP for your consideration…. come play in Kansas City, MO this September!

CFP: “Examining Contagion”

MEARCSTAPA-sponsored panel at Mid-America Medieval Association annual conference, Saturday, September 16, 2017, at University of Missouri-Kansas City

Session organizer: Melissa Ridley Elmes, Lindenwood University

Session presider: Melissa Ridley Elmes

Dysentery, Typhoid Fever, Smallpox, Influenza, Ergotism, Leprosy, Plague. Contagious practices such as witchcraft and heterodox religions. Such monstrous diseases and practices were unpredictable, virulent, recurrent, and seemingly uncontainable throughout the medieval period. In keeping with this year’s MAMA conference theme of “networks” MEARCSTAPA (Monsters: The Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology Through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application) invites papers from any discipline for a panel on the subject of contagion, broadly construed. Papers might consider contagion as monster, or monster as contagion; networks of thought about contagion; networks of literary texts and/or images featuring contagion; medieval medical approaches to contagion, lay- and religious approaches to contagion, how contagion influenced communities, the relationship between witchcraft and disease, witchcraft and/as contagion, heterodox practices and/as contagion, how those afflicted with disease might see themselves or be seen as monstrous, and similar. Please send 250-word abstracts and a brief bio to Melissa Elmes (MElmes@lindenwood.edu) by May 30, 2017.

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Why Academic Conferences Matter

I’ve just returned home from my annual pilgrimage to the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (colloquially known as “the ‘Zoo”). As always, the  four-day conference was at once all-too-brief (so many people I didn’t get to see or spend much time with!) and a test of stamina (up at 7:00 for a quick breakfast; panels, sessions, and meetings all day; dinner with colleagues and societies each night; late-night collegial get-togethers until the wee hours; lather-rinse-repeat.) And as always, I leave physically exhausted, but intellectually recharged. I am fortunate that my own home institution offers me (limited) funding, making it possible for me to attend and benefit from academic conferences. Many critics of academia level the charge that scholars spend too much time at conferences and not enough time in the classroom, and many colleges and universities that are not in the top research profiles don’t adequately fund their professors (some don’t fund them at all) to attend such events. These criticisms and reluctances to fund scholarly conference activity fail to take into account how important the academic conference truly is to professors. Every professor, whether employed full- or part-time, should at least be funded to attend one conference per year in his, her, or their field/ discipline, and here’s (in part) why, broken down into the major categories higher education uses to evaluate professorial competence.

Teaching. Attending conferences can offer significant positive returns in the classroom; to wit:

It helps us rededicate ourselves to the work we do in the classroom. Yes, paradoxically, attending these conferences away from our home institutions actually can recharge our enthusiasm for teaching. In particular, those with heavy teaching loads–4/4 and 5/5–often don’t teach in their own area of expertise as much as they would like (in some cases, at all). When you’ve dedicated a good portion of your adult life acquiring expertise in a particular subject area, that’s what you really want to be doing. When instead you are teaching a slate of introductory subject courses, it can become discouraging, and your passion for teaching anything can become diminished. When it gets to that point, it’s hard to muster enthusiasm for your teaching, and that in turn affects your performance and your students’ experience in the classroom. When you can step away from the teaching and enter a professional arena where your own scholarly interests are foregrounded and you are taken seriously and understood for having them, it makes a huge difference in morale. I know some scholars for whom this annual pilgrimage makes all the difference–it’s something to look forward to after a long academic year, and it offers that little surge of positive scholarly and collegial energy they need to keep going.

It gives us ideas for how to incorporate our subject into our classes. In my field, medieval studies, it is rare that a conference, or even a two-day symposium, doesn’t offer at least one or two roundtables, panels, or other types of sessions devoted to pedagogy. I have both participated on these panels myself, and attended them, and they always jump-start some pedagogical innovation in my own classes. Even attending paper panels can sometimes yield exciting new classroom ideas, and of course when professors gather together over coffee or dinner, the conversation often turns to teaching as well. In my own experience, some of my most successful classroom practices and assignments have derived from the discussions I’ve had with colleagues both formally and informally at conferences–among them using Twitter to help my students learn to condense sometimes quite-intricate thought into bite-sized, manageable writing; the Chaucerian Miscellany that my entire Chaucer class last term reports as the best assignment they’ve ever done for a class; and the Arthurian create-a-knight assignment that helps my introductory students form a personal connection with the subject matter for my Global Arthurian Legend course. This year, in a panel on female friendship on which I participated, Carissa Harris of Temple University presented on 15th- and 16th-century “Ale-Wife” poems. I’m not sure if I just forgot they existed or if I’ve never read these poems before, but they certainly form an important (and entertaining!) bridge from the medieval to the early modern period regarding the “women’s question” that is at the heart of reading clusters in many of my classes, and I will be incorporating at least one of them into my summer online Brit Lit I survey as a link from the Wife of Bath’s Tale to the later poems by such women as Aemelia Lanyer. These poems are slightly more accessible in tone for a student readership than the later ones, and I think will help ease that transition very well.

It offers us a glimpse into what other professors are doing. Teaching is–or at the very least, should be–a collaborative, academy-wide affair. When we stay put in our own home institutions and never interact with or see other professors from other institutions in action, we become more limited and contained, more insular, in our scholarly approaches. Seeing what other people are doing, working with, and thinking about yanks us out of our comfort zones and patterns and shows us other ways, sometimes better ways, of engaging with our subject matters, fields, and disciplines. We often subtly shift the way we approach classroom practices in response to what others are doing, recalibrating our own teaching to align with that of other professors we respect and admire; and in this way, our own institution can remain abreast of the larger pedagogical approach of the academy in our particular field, through our adaptation of what we experience at each conference. It’s essentially a self-regulating system, moderated by and through each participant. In order for that to happen … we all must at sme point participate. Colleges and universities that don’t send their professors to conferences risk falling behind the trends pedagogically.

Research and Publication. Attending conferences is essential for research purposes; to wit:

It offers us the primary platform from which we develop and are judged by our peers as scholars. The reputation of any given professor rests on how his, her, or their work is received by the discipline. That reputation is developed through exposure, and it is upon that reputation that job security rests. If professors must rely solely on publications to engineer their academic reputation, the simple reality is that it can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to develop a strong presence within the 6 years or so before one goes up for tenure (in the case of full professors) and even more so for those who are juggling the pressures of part-time, adjunct work with the pressure to be respected scholars in their field and excellent teachers in their employing institutions. When we present our work at conferences, it’s heard and considered by the immediate audience in our panel; but we also discuss the papers we give and have heard throughout the conference period at various points–over coffee or during the reception; during dinner; between sessions; after hours. In turn, we’ll often run into scholars who were not at our panels but who “heard your paper was excellent; would you send me a copy?” From such moments, incrementally, our research interests and approaches are disseminated. Then, too, it is at conferences that many publication opportunities arise; at business meetings, journals decide on special topics issues based on what’s trending; if your paper is among those offered on such a topic at a given conference, the editor may ask you to send it in for consideration; many conferences publish proceedings; many ideas for edited collections or co-authored books begin as or are generated by the response to conference panels; sometimes acquisitions editors attend panels or their eye is caught by a paper topic in the program, and they contact the presenter to discuss a possible monograph. It’s much easier, and faster, to find a venue for publishing your work through your interactions at a conference than it is to send it out cold to a journal; both approaches are necessary in order for scholars to become visible in their fields.

It ensures that we are abreast of and participating in the most recent developments and shifts in our field. Although open-access digital publishing, blogging, social media, and other quick-access platforms are slowly changing how we receive information about current scholarly questions and interests in our field, the academic journal and monograph are still the most prevalent forms of scholarly dissemination. If we bear in mind that it can take anywhere from six months to several years for work to come out from the time it is accepted to the time it is published, then we are aware that this means there is a significant lag in terms of the material that is being published, and what is currently being examined and worked on. Conferences provide a bridge for that lag, keeping scholars “in the loop” in terms of the direction a given subject field is taking; and often, working collaboratively in panels and business meetings, scholarly groups and colleagues can jump-start new projects that build on what they are seeing at a given conference, ensuring that academia remains a vibrant, living body of inquiry. Professors who attend conferences benefit enormously from being involved in this process first-hand, and through them, their home institutions stay current in terms of scholarship. While this work certainly can and does occur through correspondence and other such means, it is really at the conferences that we see it hapening “in real time.” This keeps us–and our colleges and universities–visible in current scholarly activity.

It gives us new ideas for new research projects and publications. It can be hard to come up with ideas for new projects on your own, especially if you face a heavy workload at your home institution that leaves little time for thinking, reading, and writing. The range of scholarship and formal and informal discussion of ideas (and the book exhibit!) at academic conferences offers a wealth of inspiration to draw from; it’s rare that we don’t walk away with at least one new project germinated.

As a side note–Research also affects the student experience, and is in many ways integral to the pedagogical (and, by association, economic) concerns of colleges and universities. Students benefit from their professors’ visibility in current research activity both because their professors are aware of and bringing into the classroom the most current approaches to a given field, and because their institutions are recognized as staying on top of things, rather than falling behind in scholarly reputation by not participating in such endeavors, which are at the heart of the academy–you can’t teach without content; there’s no point in teaching content that’s out-of-date and not immediately useful and relevant to your students. Schools with strong or, at the very least, visible research profiles attract and retain more students. Every school should at least send each professor to one conference per year as an investment in itself for this, if for no other reason.)

Service and Collegiality. Attending conferences provides unique opportunities for scholars to participate more fully in the academiy; to wit:

It is most often at conferences that organizations decide upon scholarly focus areas, new officers and editors. The business meetings of many academic organizations are where they decide which conferences they will host a presence at and what panel topics they will sponsor; call for nominations and hold elections for new officers and advisory board members; and call for nominations, appoint, or elect new editors for their journals. Scholars involved in these various activities are often those who are most active in, and on top of (even, in some ways, responsible for) developments in their fields. In turn, such scholars are valuable to their home institutions because they raise the home institution’s reputation within the academy. This visiblity and reputation, in turn, attracts students (who will then stay if their professors are good teachers; their professors will be better teachers if they are on top of recent scholarship in the field and have good morale because they feel supported and valued….. it’s all connected.)

It is often at conferences that scholars invite other scholars to guest-lecture or serve as plenary speakers at other events. If a professor is in a position to plan a special speaker series, or runs an institute or program that features speakers, or can bring guest speakers into his, her, or their classes, conferences provide an important opportunity to make contacts towards such ventures. Attending panels and sessions, and even in casual discussion of current, ongoing, and future projects, allows us to determine whose work is significant or important for a given speaker series, plenary for an upcoming conference or symposium we are hosting, or guest-lecturing in a class. This activity, in turn, continues the work of sustaining a dynamic, interactive, and collaborative academy from which scholars and their students, alike, stand to benefit–which in turn, reflects well upon the host institutions that support and sponsor it.

Perhaps most importantly, it is at conferences that more senior, experienced scholars can mentor and support the newer ones. Many organizations offer graduate student and junior faculty mentoring at conferences–opportunities to learn about teaching, research, service, and administration from more experienced professors, and opportunities to make contacts that can support one’s development as a scholar and teacher in a given field. Such experiences foster academic collegiality and a sense of responsibility towards one’s discipline and profession. Mentoring at conferences offers junior faculty the chance to interact with established scholars, who in turn can introduce them to people they may want or need to meet–people who work in their subject area, editors of journals, scholars looking for contributors to publications. They are a means by which we can support newer members of the profession, particularly when they are in more tenuous positions–graduate students, non-permanent faculty members, independent schlars trying to gain an academic position–by listening to and responding to their concerns, offering advice and encouragement, and keeping them connected to their chosen field. They can also prevent junior faculty from making sometimes costly mistakes in their development as scholars and towards tenure or permanent faculty status. It is in mentoring junior faculty–not only at home institutions, but also at conferences and more broadly across the academy–that professors stand the best chance of promoting decent academic manners, excellence in research and scholarship, effective and ethical teaching, and the importance of what we do. In turn, it is in professorial activity and behavior that any given college or university’s standing rests.

Academic Conferences: they matter.

We’re not just sitting around sipping Mai Tais; we’re creating and sustaining the academy, itself. Every professor, regardless of rank, should have a seat at that table, and every institution should invest in that outcome. As a medievalist, I’ll end with a Piers Plowman analogy for how academic institutions might think about funding conference activity:

Do Well: funding for every faculty member regardless of status, for one conference per year.

Do Better: funding for two conferences per year (the major national conference in their field and one smaller, discipline-specific one) for every faculty member regardless of status.

Do Best: funding for three conferences (the major national conference in their field, one smaller disciplinary conference, and one international conference) for every faculty member regardless of status.

 

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Call For Papers: Outlaws at SEMA!

CFP: Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, November 15-18, 2017, Charleston, SC

IARHS–sponsored panel: “Cities of Gold, Forests of Green:  Sacred and Profane Spaces in Outlaw Tales”

Session organizers: Melissa Ridley Elmes and Sherron Lux

Session Presider: Sherron Lux

A traditional reading of outlaw tales might classify them as antithetical to the concept of the biblical city of gold designated for those saved by God’s grace, viewing the outlaws as irredeemable sinners and the forests they inhabit as the liminal spaces where demons and fairies abound. Outlaw tales are typically viewed as more profane than sacred in nature. The International Association of Robin Hood Studies invites papers that go beyond such a view, to consider in more nuanced fashion the relationship between sacred and profane, or between characters and either concept, in the city and/or forest spaces of premodern outlaw tales or in outlaw narratives in the tradition of medievalism. Papers for this session might (re)consider the anticlerical attitudes of medieval and early modern Robin Hood narratives, or Robin’s or other of the merry men’s relationship to the sacred; how outlaws like Hereward and Gamelyn negotiate city/manor spaces; the tensions between the sacred and profane in city spaces; the forest as sacred or profane space; the relationship between ecocriticism, the sacred, and the profane in outlaw tales, or similar, not forgetting that churches, priories or abbeys, and graves are found in both city and forest, and can be sites of events both sacred and profane.

Please send a brief bio and abstract of 300 words to Melissa Ridley Elmes at MElmes@lindenwood.edu and Sherron Lux at sherron.lux@sjcd.edu by June 5, 2017.

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Call For Papers: Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship at the Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, 2017

CFP: Panel proposal for the Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, Charleston, SC, November 15-18, 2017

Panel Title: “Gender and Holy City/Spaces”

Panel Sponsor: The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship

Panel Organizers: Melissa Ridley Elmes and Amy Vines

Panel Chair: Melissa Ridley Elmes
The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship seeks 15-20 minute papers that consider the theme of “Gender and Holy City/Spaces” in its myriad aspects. Papers might explore the juxtaposition of enclosure versus uncircumscribed movement – i.e., we think a lot about gender (women) and holy spaces as enclosed spaces (the anchorhold), but Margery Kempe was peripatetic and very often in an urban space. Papers might also consider questions such as, “Can urban spaces be read as a kind of “enclosed” space?”; “Can more traditionally “secular” enclosure (as, for instance, with the Temple of Love which the jealous husband places right outside the wife’s bedroom in Marie de France’s Guigemar) also be read as a kind of holy space of sorts?”; “How might cities/holy spaces conceived, described, explored, and/or explained in medieval dream visions reflect, challenge, or reconsider questions of gender?” We encourage papers that think expansively about enclosure and creatively about the concept of “holy” space.
200/300-word abstracts and brief bio to anvines@uncg.edu and MElmes@lindenwood.edu by June 2, 2017.

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Three calls for papers for Celtic panels at the 2018 Modern Language Association convention

Hello, all! I promise to write a nice long chatty post as soon as I’ve gotten through midterms. Meanwhile, I’ve been busy finishing up several projects and working on some collaborations. Here’s one of those collaborations–a set of three calls for papers from the MLA Celtic Studies forum executive committee for the 2018 convention. If you work in Celtic subjects, please consider submitting an abstract to one of these sessions, and feel free to share widely with anyone you think might be interested as well!

~Melle

Three Celtic CFPs for the MLA Convention, New York, 4-7 January 2018

Abstract deadlines March 15, 2017

1. “A Better Brit Lit Survey: Celtic, Norse and Teaching a Multicultural North Atlantic” (Roundtable)

We warmly invite proposals for brief 6-8 minute presentations from teacher-scholars working in any time-period for a dynamic roundtable discussion on incorporating Celtic and Norse voices in the British Literature survey, and the practical, political and disciplinary issues involved in teaching a Multicultural North Atlantic. How can a multicultural Brit Lit Survey be used to address current issues regarding racism, xenophobia and right-wing nationalism? What has the role of the anthology industry been in shaping the voices that are canonized (or not) as “British Literature”? What can consideration of the Viking Diaspora and the Celtic presence in the British Isles bring to an understanding of what British literature is, and how it has always been multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic? What are some of the obstacles to be negotiated? What might “best practices” look like? Participants might address: how “Brit Lit” has been defined, and how we might intervene to re-conceptualize it to include Celtic and Norse contributions and highlight an early, foundational multiculturalism; strategies for incorporating Celtic or Norse sources, perhaps in terms of specific textual or thematic pairings of laments, runic inscriptions, heroic narratives or material cultural elements; the employment of popular films, graphic novels, television series, etc.; logistics including how to approach language and translation; how to advertise courses (to students and colleagues) to best capitalize on the fact that Vikings and Celts sell extremely well; how to use a “Better Brit Lit Survey” as a gateway to further study of Celtic and Norse literature and culture, past and present; and how a more fully inclusive Brit Lit Survey can advance an appreciation of and further work on a multicultural North Atlantic world.

It is our hope that speakers and audience participants will include those with some background in Celtic and Norse literatures, languages, and/or culture, as well as teacher-scholars who have little or no formal training in Celtic or Norse Studies but who are invested in a multicultural North Atlantic and have (or want to) include Celtic and Norse materials in a Brit Lit course.

Please submit a proposal of ca. 150 words for a presentation of 6-8 minutes to Amy Mulligan (amullig2@nd.edu) and Lindy Brady (lindy.brady@gmail.com) by 15 March.

2. Celtic Feasting and Feuding

This panel will explore the concepts of food and violence, and the interconnectivity of these concepts, in Celtic literatures and lore.

Feasts in our narrative traditions tend to be extravagant and symbolically rich cultural, political, and social affairs–and they are often intricately linked with violence. Beyond the inherent violence of slaughtering, dismembering, and cooking the animals to be eaten, feasting halls also provide both explicit and implicit opportunities for violence by collecting many people together, each for individual reasons and bringing his or her emotions into the space to interact with those of others. A banquet that takes place in a royal, chiefly, or fairy hall is thus likely to be as fraught with tension as it is lavish. It may mark the resolution of a feud, or be the vehicle for commencing one. The ever-present danger of violence at the feast may also be Otherworldly, requiring the guarding of the senses as carefully as the body.

We warmly invite proposals for 20-minute presentations that explore the subjects of violence and feasting in texts ranging from the medieval period to modern folklore. Proposals of c.150 words should be submitted to MLA Celtic at celticfeasting@gmail.com and Amy Mulligan (amullig2@nd.edu) by March 15.

3. Mewn Dau Gae / Between Two Fields: No State of Security in Medieval North Atlantic Studies (Co-sponsored by the MLA Old English and Celtic Forums)

In early medieval elegiac poetry, exile and pilgrimage were very close. The exile, excluded from safety and society, was driven to the margins and borders, isolated and fugitive. The pilgrim was unmoored from worldly life, alone and seeking knowledge, training, or divine truth. These states of unbelonging were precarious and perilous, as well as productive. The ethnic, linguistic, scholarly, and social insecurity of the exsul or peregrinus opened opportunities and new ways of thinking. As Waldo Williams makes clear in his great poem, “Mewn Dau Gae.”, from these interstitial spaces the new, even the poetic, arises:

And on the silent sea-floor of these fields,
his people stroll. Somewhere between them,
through them, around them, there is a new voice
rising …

The statelessness, insecurity, and instability of the shifting zones of contact and crisis in the medieval North Atlantic produced provocative new generic forms, scholarly work, and poetic modes, which in turn can illuminate how and what the field means and might mean in the twenty-first century. We welcome 300-word proposals for presentations of scholarly research and critical analysis on pre-modern Celtic and Anglo Saxon literatures; these analyses should be rooted in the primary medieval texts and contexts and come to bear on current preconceived ideas and institutional formations of the field, specifically, and the place and role of the humanities in our current states of insecurity, more broadly.

Please submit a 250-word proposal for a presentation of no more than 15-20 minutes to Matt Hussey (mhussey@sfu.ca) and Amy Mulligan (Amy.Mulligan.22@nd.edu) by 15 March 2017.

 

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