Plentiful Pretties: The Met Goes (Partially) Open Access

Sound the alarm! Correction: sound the Open Access alarm! The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA), a bastion of art and collecting since its foundation in 1870, has made all photographs of its public-domain works completely open access (i.e. licensed under CC0 1.0). This means that we "now have more than 375,000 images of artworks from [the Met's] collection to use, share, and remix—without restriction." The culturally-and-aesthetically-important-photograph-free-sharing-dance-party commences in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

The Met's Collections database is easy to navigate, too. What I really like is the ability to search only for images in the public domain - a limiting criterion which still throws up over 200,000 juicy results as of today. You can also get granular, and filter according to various things, including geographical location, era in which the item was produced, and type of object.

Screenshot of  The Met's Collection database , 15 February 2017. 

Screenshot of The Met's Collection database, 15 February 2017. 

Have I said I love it yet? Well, I love it. And not just because it provides endless hours of procrastinating-educational entertainment as I search random terms. (Completely unrelatedly, I can now reliably inform you, dear reader(s), that there are 121 results for "unicorn", 90 results for "shiny", and 77 results for "pretty".) By making a significant amount of their collection fully (and gloriously) Open Access, the Met allows for researchers working on them to use them with somewhat wild abandon - be that in blogposts, conference presentations, publications, or teaching. This means, at least in theory, that artefacts held by the Met will be studied more and more intensively, and ultimately reach a broader audience. That audience is not limited to academics or those working directly on the Met's stuff.

Going Open Access in this manner, with such a high volume of material, sends a clear signal - these items, and the photographs taken of them, are not "owned" exclusively by the museum. Sure, the Met houses these objects and took on the job of photographing, catologing, preserving them. But, the Met's purpose is not (or should not be) to "possess" the collections - greedily hoarde history's most important bits and bobs, shielding them when necessary from the public's overly vulgar view. Rather, the museum must open itself up fully to the public gaze, whenever possible.

The collections are "collectible" precisely because they are of wide socio-cultural significance, and thus they "belong" to everyone. This is emphatically the case when the photographed objects themselves are already in the public domain. (Frankly, I'm pro Open Access for everything, all the time - but that's a topic for another time.) Although I'm not an expert in museum studies or the politics of collecting, I am aware that museums are certainly not apolitical spaces.* Museums are powerful ideological machines, telling us, for example, what is worthy of display and study, what is "OK" to appropriate and from which cultures. So, my high-pitched excitement for the Met's decision is tempered by this context, which makes me somewhat wary to applaud an institution for doing something they should really have already been doing. But it is, nevertheless, nice to see an institution really thinking through the way they live up to their overarching mission effectively in the current digital age. In 2015, the Met's Trustees updated their mission statement to include the following proclamation:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art collects, studies, conserves, and presents significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas.

By going Open Access, the Met are certainly making strides to facilitate ever more fertile "connections" between their collections and the public. 

What have I felt the most connected to during my preliminary dive into the database? Jewellery. Big, shiny, old jewellery. This probably comes as no surprise to those of you who've met me and my ever-expanding collection of ginormous costume necklaces. And so, as a palate cleanser after that rapid foray into museum ethics -- and just because I CAN, now that the photographs of the following pretties are available to me -- I present to you, in no particular order, my top five pieces of Open Access jewellery the Met has to offer: 

Necklace. Details as at  1.  License:  CC0 1.0 

Necklace. Details as at 1. License: CC0 1.0 

1. Necklace

  • Date: 1840s
  • Culture: European
  • Medium: gold, emeralds, diamonds
  • Credit Line: Gift of Polaire Weissman, 1986
  • Accession Number: 1986.331.3a, b

 

 

 

 

Pendant with a Triton Riding a Unicorn-like Sea Creature. Details as at  2  .  License:  CC0 1.0

Pendant with a Triton Riding a Unicorn-like Sea Creature. Details as at 2. License: CC0 1.0

2. Pendant with a Triton Riding a Unicorn-like Sea Creature

  • Designer: Reinhold Vasters (German, Erkelenz 1827–1909 Aachen)
  • Date: ca. 1870–95
  • Culture: probably German or French
  • Medium: Baroque pearl mounted with enameled gold set with pearls, emeralds and rubies and with pendent pearls
  • Dimensions: Height: 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold and Platinum
  • Credit Line: The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
  • Accession Number: 1982.60.382

 

 

.Jeweled Bracelet (one of pair) Details as at  3  .  License:  CC0 1.0

.Jeweled Bracelet (one of pair) Details as at 3. License: CC0 1.0

3. Jeweled Bracelet (one of pair)

  • Date: 500–700
  • Geography: Made in probably Constantinople
  • Culture: Byzantine
  • Medium: Gold, silver, pearls, amethyst, sapphire, glass, quartz
  • Dimensions: Overall: 1 1/2 x 3 1/4 in. (3.8 x 8.2 cm) strap: 7/8 x 7 11/16 in. (2.3 x 19.5 cm) bezel: 1 5/16 in. (3.4 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold
  • Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
  • Accession Number: 17.190.1671

 

Pendant in the form of a hand. Details as at  4  .  License:  CC0 1.0

Pendant in the form of a hand. Details as at 4. License: CC0 1.0

4. Pendant in the form of a hand

  • Date: first half 17th century
  • Culture: possibly Spanish
  • Medium: Rock crystal, with enameled gold mount set with emeralds
  • Dimensions: Height: 2 5/8 in. (6.7 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold and Platinum
  • Credit Line: The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
  • Accession Number: 1982.60.394
     

 

 

Cluster Brooch with Letters Spelling "Amor". Details as at 5 .  License:  CC0 1.0

Cluster Brooch with Letters Spelling "Amor". Details as at 5. License: CC0 1.0

5. Cluster Brooch with Letters Spelling "Amor"

  • Date: mid-15th century
  • Culture: French
  • Medium: Gold, pearl, emerald, silver pin
  • Dimensions: Overall: 1 1/8 x 15/16 x 9/16 in. (2.9 x 2.4 x 1.4 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold
  • Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1957
  • Accession Number: 57.26.1

 

 

 

* If you're interested in the politics of museums, collecting, and exhibiting, see for starters:

Karp, Ivan, and Stephen Lavine (eds.), Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Washington, USA: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991) (Google books; the essay 'Culture and Representation' by Karp available as a pdf here)

Macdonald, Sharon (ed.), The Politics of Display: Museums, Science, Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1998) (Google books; chapter 1 by Macdonald, 'Exhibitions of Power and Powers of Exhibition: An Introduction to the Politics of Display' available as a pdf here )

Hero Researcher of the Week: Michael John Goodman & the "Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive"

Michael John Goodman is my hero researcher of the week. Why? I have just discovered Goodman's Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive (VISA), created during his time as an English Lit PhD at Cardiff University. Launched in 2016, the VISA is an open access digital repository of illustrations accompanying the four most important Victorian editions of Shakespeare's Complete Works

Bust of William Shakespeare (Parian porcelain, 1830–70).  The Metropolitan Museum of Art , accession number 47.90.154. License: CC0 1.0.

Bust of William Shakespeare (Parian porcelain, 1830–70). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 47.90.154. License: CC0 1.0.

  • The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere / Edited by Charles Knight. Published: London: Virtue & Co., [1839–42?]

  • The Works of Shakspere / Revised from the best Authorities / With a Memoir, and Essay on his Genius / By Barry Cornwall / Also Annotations and Introductory Remarks on the Plays by Many Distinguished Writers / Illustrated with Engravings on Wood, From Designs / By Kenny Meadows. Published: London: William S. Orr and Co, 1846.

  • The Works of Shakespeare / Edited by Howard Staunton / The Illustrations by John Gilbert / Engraved by the Dalziel Brothers. Published: London: George Routledge and Sons, 1865-67. 3 Volumes.

  • The Plays of William Shakespeare / Edited and Annotated by Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke / Illustrated by H. C. Selous / With Thirty-five Full Page Wood Engravings after Frank Dicksee, RA., H. M. Paget, A. Hopkins, R. W.S., and others / And Thirty-five Photogravure Plates / Special Edition. Published: London, Paris and Melbourne: Cassell & Company, Limited [1864–68?]. 35 Parts.

I am also awarding the project this month's "Amazing Research That I'm Really Glad I Didn't Have to Physically Do" trophy too. As per Cardiff University's coverage of the project:

Using Photoshop to isolate the illustrations, Michael single-handedly scanned more than 3,000 illustrations from hard copies of the play collections, thoroughly tagging each image, making the archive a long and labour-intensive project.

The hard work paid off, given that one of the brilliant things about the archive is its' supremely thorough be-taggedness. That is: Goodman has meticulously tagged each image, so you can productively search using various categories -- motif tags, specific plays, characters, genre, and illustrator/edition. In other words, it is consciously designed to be a useful resource for other researchers and Shakespeare enthusiasts, rather than a digital output that is more or less useful only for the researcher's own work or as a CV bolt-on. 

"tangent mill" - Bruce Fingerhood. Via  Flickr . License:  CC BY 2.0 .

"tangent mill" - Bruce Fingerhood. Via Flickr. License: CC BY 2.0.

Tangentially, if you have a small pot of cash and/or the coding skills to get my exhaustive database of narrative motifs and textual inter-connections in the Holy Women of Liège corpus, get in touch! It saddens me deeply that the database, a product of months of work and submitted as an appendix to my PhD thesis, languishes as an Excel file visible only to me and my PhD examiners.

 

 

Anyhow, back to Shakespearean Victoriana. Why create an archive of these illustrations? Well, they shed light on the way in which Victorian readers of Shakespeare were encouraged to visualise elements of the plays. In this way, they allow us a glimpse of popularly circulating "visions" of Shakespearean works, i.e. a kind of specifically Victorian re-imagining of plays' fixtures without changing the source text itself. Further, the VISA lets us see how coherent the Shakespearean corpus is in terms of a set of ever-recurring concepts and narrative constructs. As Goodman notes

The database emphasizes that there really is a ‘Shakespeare Universe’ where different motifs, ideas and themes recur. [...] By being able to visualize Shakespeare’s plays in this way, we can appreciate how the plays are like a hall of mirrors — they reflect certain ideas back to each other.

For instance, the "clowns and jesters" tag is associated with 110 illustrations, reflecting the importance of the fool character in Shakespeare's plays. (For a brief overview of Shakespeare's most famous fools, see this sketch from the Oxford University Press blog.)

"On the bat's back", illustrated by William Harvey. From  The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere  / Edited by Charles Knight / Comedies, Vol. II. Published: London: Virtue & Co., [1839–42?]. Available online at the  Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive , curated by Michael John Goodman.

"On the bat's back", illustrated by William Harvey. From The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere / Edited by Charles Knight / Comedies, Vol. II. Published: London: Virtue & Co., [1839–42?]. Available online at the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive, curated by Michael John Goodman.

But I'm not overly keen on clowns, myself, so I haven't drilled down into those illustrations too deeply. Instead, I clicked enthusiastically on the "bats" tag, and so I leave you with my favourite "bat"-ty illustration, which is a depiction of the sprite Ariel "on the bat's back" by William Harvey, affixed above the "Introductory notice" in the Knight edition of The Tempest.

The image is drawn from Ariel's song in Act V, sc. 1 (ll. 98-104), when the sprite sings in anticipation of his liberation from servitude to his master, the sorcerer Prospero: 

Where the bee sucks, there suck I.
In a cowslip’s bell I lie.
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bow.
 

May we all have such liberating flights towards joy, eh? With or without the bat. 

CfP: Sponsored Panel on “Gendered Experiences of Pain” at International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo (MI, USA), 2017

With apologies for cross-posting! Please feel free to share this CfP with all relevant parties.

Panel title: “Everybody’s (Gender) Hurts: Gendered Experiences of Pain”
 

Sponsored by: Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship
Conference: International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, (MI, USA), 11-14 May, 2017

"Pain has a face..." by duncan c. Via  Flickr

"Pain has a face..." by duncan c. Via Flickr

Following Elaine Scarry’s (1985) seminal work The Body in Pain, researchers from various disciplines have productively studied pain as a physical phenomenon with wide-ranging emotional and socio-cultural effects (e.g. Boddice 2014; Cohen et al 2012; Davies 2014; Morris 1991; Moscoso 2012).  Academics and scientist-clinicians have demonstrated that the experience of pain is highly gendered (see e.g. Bendelow 1993; Bernardes et al 2014; Hoffmann and Tarzian 2001). For example, the severity of women’s pain is often less readily accepted by medics. Women in pain are more likely to be dismissed as attention-seeking or suffering from psycho-somatic conditions than men. Painful conditions that affect many women, such as endometriosis, are woefully under-studied. 

Medievalists have also analysed pain, including its’ gendered dimension, elucidating a specifically medieval construction of physical distress (see e.g. Cohen 1995, 2000, 2010; Easton 2002; Mills 2005; Mowbray, 2009). In particular, Caroline Walker Bynum’s ground-breaking feminist scholarship (see e.g. 1988, 1992) has shown the specific ways in which medieval holy women harnessed ascetic suffering as forms of empowering worship praxes. 

"Pain" by Kasia Ferguson. Via  Flickr

"Pain" by Kasia Ferguson. Via Flickr

This panel will examine the gendered experience of pain in the medieval period, engaging with, and moving beyond, the limited context of holy women established by Bynum. It will dissect the ways in which men and women experienced -- or were understood to experience -- pain differerently, to elucidate the wider framework of gender-specific suffering in the period. The subjective experiences of medieval men and women in pain will be unearthed, allowing their marginalised voices to add context and further urgency to contemporary debates about inadequate medical care for modern men and women in pain. 

 

Relevant questions for this session include: 

  • How are the pains of  “women’s complaints” -- including menstruation and childbirth -- depicted, and understood in the medieval era? Are other forms of physical discomfort coded as predominantly feminine - even if they have no direct biological link to womanhood? Are there similar “male” forms of pain?
  • How are men and women socialised differently to understand, to contextualise, and ultimately to experience their pain? How do men and women express their pain? And share their pain with those around them? Are specific patterns of lexis, imagery, or metaphor routinely used by either men and women, or both?
  • What differences can we observe between the ways in which men and women in pain are treated by medical practitioners, the religious community, and their families? What was the contemporary rationale for classifying and treating men and women’s pain differently?
  • As a counterpoint: what similarities are there in the treatment of pain for men and women? Does the pain experience ever unite suffering men and women as a cohesive group, a group in which pain -- and not gender -- is the most important identity marker? 
"pain" by Chris Frewin. Via  Flickr

"pain" by Chris Frewin. Via Flickr

If you’re interested in speaking on this panel, please submit the following documents to the panel organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] qmul.ac.uk), by 15 September 2016:

  1. One-page abstract
  2. Completed Participant Information Form (downloadable in .pdf and Word format from the Conference website).

 

N.B. Conference regulations stipulate that speakers may only present on one panel each year at Kalamazoo. As such, we cannot consider papers from individuals who have already submitted abstract proposals to other sessions at the conference. Nevertheless, if a paper submission is not selected for the “Gendered Experiences of Pain” panel, we will forward the submission to the Conference organisers for potential inclusion in a General Session.

CfP: Sponsored Panel on "Trans and Genderqueer Sanctity" at International Medieval Congress, Leeds (UK), 2017

With apologies for cross-posting! Please feel free to share this CfP with all relevant parties.

"Joan of Arc, light alteration" by Anne Petersen (2008). Via  Flickr .

"Joan of Arc, light alteration" by Anne Petersen (2008). Via Flickr.

Panel title: “Hagiography Beyond Gender Essentialism: Trans and Genderqueer Sanctity”

Sponsored by: Hagiography Society

Conference: International Medieval Congress, Leeds (UK), 3-6 July 2017

 

Far too often, modern cultural commentators – and unabashed misogynists –  refer to the medieval era as a nostalgic time of ossified gender roles. That was when “men were men, women were women, and everyone knew their place”, after all. Medievalists have long fought back against this cliché, including undertaking important work in contextualising pre-modern hagiography in terms of gender and sexuality. 

Hagiography is all too often assumed to be a place where gender essentialism festers, complete with claustrophobic gender roles. See, for example, the importance of virginity for holy women; (avoidance of) rape as a central motif for female martyrs; the male power-base of the Church; God and His son as exemplars of male superiority; etc. Yet, in the early 1980s, Caroline Walker Bynum showed that Jesus was, in fact, “mother” in much medieval spiritual thought. Numerous other scholars have since shown that saints routinely challenged, more or less explicitly, the options offered to them by the gender binary. 

"Joan of Arc at the coronation of King Charles VII at Reims cathedral" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1854). Via  Wikimedia Commons

"Joan of Arc at the coronation of King Charles VII at Reims cathedral" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1854). Via Wikimedia Commons

Saints could, and did, cross-dress; live as a gender other to which they were assigned at birth; and modulate their identity by blending traits traditionally coded as male and female. Despite their potentially transgressive behaviours, not all of these saints have been shoved into the historical dustbin of obscurity. Transgender activist Leslie Feinberg, for instance, called upon Joan of Arc as a powerful example of historical transgendered experience with the publication of Transgender Warriors in the mid-1990s. This panel seeks to develop the important work of these scholarly forebears, directly responding to the vital discussion of “Otherness” which is the special topic strand of the International Medieval Congress 2017.

Relevant questions for this session include: 
•    What do narratives of holy men and women blurring – or outright challenging – the notion of a stable gender binary show us about pre-modern sanctity? What do such narratives contribute to the ongoing cultural conversations about modern non-binary identities? And the battle being waged for human rights for all individuals, no matter their gender identity? Can pre-modern hagiography be a potent political instrument to combat modern transphobia?
•    What kind of reception did transgender and/or genderqueer holy individuals and their texts receive – theologically, practically, and in contemporary devotion? 
•    Is gender subsidiary to holiness as a category of difference for saintly individuals? 
•    As scholars, is our focus on gender(s) and binary gendered difference the most useful hermeneutic for productive interrogations of hagiography? 
•    Can we even meaningfully apply our modern categorisations of gendered experience to the pre-modern era?

 

If you’re interested in speaking on this panel, please submit an abstract of roughly 250-300 words to the panel organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] qmul.ac.uk), by 1 August 2016.


N.B. Conference regulations stipulate that speakers may only present on one panel each year at Leeds. As such, we cannot consider papers from individuals who have already submitted abstract proposals to other sessions at the conference.

Seeking Second Life Christians for Research Study

Are you a Christian Second Life user? Have you engaged in some form of religious worship online in the past 6 months? I would like to talk to you!

 

•    My name is Alicia Spencer-Hall and I am a researcher in the French Department at Queen Mary, University of London (UK). I am conducting a study into the religious practice online and offline. I want to find out how Christian Second Life Residents worship both within Second Life and offline in the real world. I also want to hear how Residents understand their worship practices in their own words, and what role they think their avatars have in worship.

Screenshot of the researcher's SL avatar from the 2011 study, "Pixelated Prayers 1"

Screenshot of the researcher's SL avatar from the 2011 study, "Pixelated Prayers 1"

•    I am looking for volunteers for 45 minutes interviews, to be conducted in Second Life over IM (Instant Messenger) in private. All volunteers need to be over 18, self-identify as Christian and have engaged in some form of religious worship online (any activity you find to be meaningfully spiritual) in the past 6 months. 

•    This study is a follow-up of an earlier study undertaken by the researchers in 2011, “Pixelated Prayers 1”. We are very appreciative to participants in this earlier study. However, in order to not double up on responses, individuals who took part in the 2011 study are not eligible to take part in this study.

•    The only personal data I will be collecting is: age, sex, offline country of residence, religious beliefs and behaviour (online and offline) and Second Life username. I will NOT be collecting any other identifiers such as your offline name, address etc. Please be reassured that all interviews will be completely confidential, and all research data will be maintained under the British Data Protection Act of 1998. Your Second Life username will NEVER be revealed in the research findings report(s).

•    Participation in this study is completely voluntary and you will be able to pull out of the study at any time, without any disadvantage, if at a later point you do not wish to complete the study.

•    Please also read my Information Sheet (below) for more details on this study.

•    Please feel free to email me at a.spencer-hall [AT] qmul.ac.uk if you have any questions or queries, and/or wish to join this study. Equally, please feel free to get in touch in Second Life with my avatar for this study, “pixelpray”. 

•    This study has been approved by Queen Mary, University of London (Ethics of Research Committee Ref: QMERC2015/77 ).

 

QMUL stamp.png

CfP: "Nonhumans & Politics" - International Conference on Non-Anthropocentric Perspectives on Politics (Hannover, Germany; 22-23 January 2016)

With apologies for cross-posting! Please feel free to share this CfP with all relevant parties.

"étude des 10-proportions de l'esprit humain . . (v² ! g)" by Jef Safi. Via  Flickr

"étude des 10-proportions de l'esprit humain . . (v² ! g)" by Jef Safi. Via Flickr

In the last two decades non-anthropocentric theories – whether posthumanist, neo-materialist or transhumanist – have attracted growing attention from scholars in a wide range of fields. Despite their interdisciplinary output, the question of the relation between non- anthropocentric theories and the concept of politics has been to a large extent evaded. This is somewhat understandable considering that the concept of politics is a highly anthropocentric term that sits uneasily with non-anthropocentric ontologies.

The conference’s aim is to investigate the juncture of nonhumans and politics:

"étude des 10-proportions de l'esprit humain . . (z¹ / p)" by Jef Safi. Via  Flickr

"étude des 10-proportions de l'esprit humain . . (z¹ / p)" by Jef Safi. Via Flickr

  • What does it mean to talk about politics in respect to nonhumans?
  • Who/what is the ‘subject’ of posthumanism, of animal rights, of environmental politics, of technological advancement (particularly in case of Artificial Intelligence)?
  • If the path in thinking ‘nonhuman politics’ through ‘subject’ and thus through ‘political subject’ is counterproductive then what are the alternatives?
"étude des 10-proportions de l'esprit humain . . (z¹ / p)" by Jef Safi. Via  Flickr

"étude des 10-proportions de l'esprit humain . . (z¹ / p)" by Jef Safi. Via Flickr

One of the key interests of this conference is then to investigate if the notion of 'nonhuman politics’ – whether viewed from ecological, animal studies, neo-materialist, transhumanist or posthumanist perspective – is conceptually possible and what would this imply on a practical level:

  • What would the conditions of possibility of such ‘nonhuman politics’ be?
  • What theoretical requirements would need to be fulfilled in order to be able to propose such a concept and fully explore its potential?
  • Perhaps a certain amount of anthropocentrism is in this case unavoidable. And if that is the case then the question to be posed is to what extent are we willing to accept a limited form of anthropocentrism and basing on what grounds? 

This conference does not expect to come up with definitive answers to these questions but rather explore these issues in more detail.

That is also why the conference welcomes contributions from scholars working in various fields of non-anthropocentric theories that wish to engage with the juncture of politics and nonhumans: Ecology, Environmental Studies, Animal Studies, Transhumanism, Posthumanism, Neo-materialism, Philosophy of Technology, Cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence, Literary Theory, Literature, Visual and Performative Arts etc. It wishes to consider how ‘politics’ and ‘political subjects’ are conceptualized across different non-anthropocentric fields. The main purpose of this conference is then to bring together scholars interested in investigating the diverse ways of conceptualizing politics.

The conference will take place on 22–23 January 2016 at the Forschungsinstitut für Philosophie in Hannover, Germany.

Please send your proposals (of no more than 500 words) as well as a brief biographical note (100 words) to Dr. Iwona Janicka at iwona.janicka[at]cantab.net by 15th October 2015 with the subject line: Nonhumans and Politics_Abstract_Your Name. Notifications will be sent out by 1st November 2015. Papers should not exceed 20 minutes in length and should be held in English.

CfP: Panel on "Holy Celebrity" at International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo (USA), 2016

With apologies for cross-posting! Please feel free to share this CfP with all relevant parties.

Panel title: “Holy Celebrity: Saints and/as Social and Economic Capital” – sponsored by the International Hagiography Society

Conference: International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo (USA), 12-16 May 2016

Organisers: Alicia Spencer-Hall (Queen Mary, University of London) and Barbara E Zimbalist (University of Texas at El Paso)

"La última cena" by Juan Felipe Rubio. Via  Flickr

"La última cena" by Juan Felipe Rubio. Via Flickr

Scholars have often commented on the link between sanctity and celebrity. Both the saint and the celebrity are elevated above the everyday, with identities carefully crafted by cultural producers to respond to the needs and desires of an audience, region, or temporality. Sacralisation/celebrification entails a series of processes which (re)formulate a subject into a product fit for social, political, and economic consumption. Yet sanctity/celebrity is not simply exploitative, but  enjoyable and perhaps even empowering. What does it really mean to be a medieval celebrity? How does celebrity intersect with sanctity? What does such a categorization add to the study of hagiography? Can fame resonate on both a social and spiritual level, and how does the medieval idea of fame generate, overlap with, and inform contemporary discourses of fame, celebrity, and sanctity?

Relevant topics for this session include:

  • Saints as commercial products and/or economic agents
  • The construction of Sanctity and Communal Identity
  • Audience reaction(s) to a saint and textual reception
  • Power dynamics between celebrity/saint and star-maker/confessor or hagiographer/cleric/scribe
  • The social function of celebrity/sanctity
  • Film theory’s contribution to the study of sanctity more generally


If you’re interested in speaking on this panel, please submit an abstract of roughly 250-300 words and a Participant Information Form (PIF), which can be found at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/index.html#PIF.  

Deadline for submissions: 1 September 2015. Please email your abstract and PIF to the panel organisers, Alicia Spencer-Hall (aspencerhall [at] gmail.com) and Barbara E. Zimbalist (bezimbalist [at] utep.edu). 


CfP: “Pre-modern Disabilities: Ambiguous Bodies, Texts, and Meanings” - Panel at SFS 2016

Panel title: “Pre-modern Disabilities: Ambiguous Bodies, Texts, and Meanings”

ConferenceSociety for French Studies 57th Annual Conference, University of Glasgow, 27-29 June 2016

Organiser: Alicia Spencer-Hall, French Dept., Queen Mary, University of London

In the last decade or so, pre-modern disability studies has emerged as a productive and important field of enquiry for scholars from a host of disciplines, including literary studies, history and sociology. The fallacy of any monolithic form of disability has been incisively critiqued by academics unpacking the specific historical context(s) of pre-modern narratives which feature disabled bodies. This represents a welcome dismantling of a paradigm of disability which continues to influence discussions of modern disability, whether these discussions take place in the academy or in the mass media and public consciousness. 

Illustration of medieval sign language, from Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 1449, 118v. Via  @KarlSteel  on  Twitter

Illustration of medieval sign language, from Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 1449, 118v. Via @KarlSteel on Twitter

The meaning accorded to being disabled by dominant society, and by the individuals living with disabilities themselves, is not fixed. Rather, what a given impairment “says about” a subject shifts according to multiple factors: gender, ethnicity, socio-cultural situation, historical moment and so on. Narratives showing disabled bodies, the attitudes of others to such marked bodies, and the disabled subject’s own intellectual and affective stance to his/her body, are not inert or solely reflective of “real life”. Rather, such narratives work to shape identities of those to which they speak, giving the disabled and non-disabled alike ways in which they might formulate a response to impairment in their lives. 

Impairment demands a response, as disability demonstrates the precariousness of “whole” or “normal(ised)” bodies. The non-disabled must thus take a stance in relation to the destabilising potentiality that the impaired body represents to abled society and culture. Often times, though certainly not always, responses fall between othering of the disabled body, enacting distance, or a fetishisation of the disabled body, a closeness which titillates because it is transgressive.  Reactions to disability are ambiguous just as much as disability itself represents an ambiguous state, defined by a host of socio-cultural, ideological, and historical factors. 

Disabled knight, from  Arthurian Romances , New Haven (CT), Beinecke MS 229 (ca. 1275-1300). Via  @DamienKempf  on  Twitter

Disabled knight, from Arthurian Romances, New Haven (CT), Beinecke MS 229 (ca. 1275-1300). Via @DamienKempf on Twitter

This panel brings methodological and theoretical approaches from pre-modern disability scholarship into the French context. “French”, in this case, refers to both geographical area (i.e. France as a region) and linguistic identity (i.e. francophone texts produced outside of France). How do French pre-modern texts deal with disability? Can we discern a specific approach to disability used by French authors, or in francophone texts? What kinds of meanings are given to disabled bodies? What kind of language is used to describe disabled bodies, and how does this language mould reader responses? What kind of narratives are offered to the disabled, and why? 

Relevant topics for this session include:
•    Differences between pre-modern and contemporary understanding of disabilities
•    Linguistic choices for denoting disabilities, and the ways in which such choices shape readers’ attitudes, in both modern and pre-modern periods
•    Reactions of readers to disabled characters in narratives, and reactions of those around a disabled character in the text
•    Social constructions of disability and their contexts, including permutations relating to specific locales, politics, ideologies
•    Differences between interpretations of disabilities in religious (e.g. saints) and more secular (e.g. wounded knights) frameworks
•    Differences in depictions of invisible and visible impairments
•    The ways in which French pre-modern texts can contribute to developing the field of pre-modern disability studies

 

If you’re interested in speaking on this panel, please submit an abstract of roughly 250-300 words and a brief bio, containing your postal address. Deadline for submissions: 1 September 2015. Please email your abstract and bio to the panel organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] qmul.ac.uk).

Some Thoughts on #s406 at #IMC2015 - Medievalists, Public Engagement & Budgy Smugglers

I didn't really need a warm welcome: they had me at "free coffee"

I didn't really need a warm welcome: they had me at "free coffee"

Last week, I was at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds. It’s one of the foremost conferences on all things medieval, with thousands of scholars in attendance. One of the best things about such big area-specific shindigs is the variety of panels on offer: not just research-focussed stuff, but also organised discussions about the business of academia, how to be a medievalist going forward. On the first day of the conference , I went to a round table (session #406) on the role of public engagement – or “public intellectualism” – for medievalists. It’s a topic I’m obviously interested in – after all, you’re reading this on my medieval-monikered blog, and I tweet fairly regularly these days. The panel gave me a lot of food for thought, and I’ve been pecking out some thoughts over the past few days.

            Firstly, let me say that the speakers - Matthew Gabriele, Andrew James Johnston, and Erik Kwakkel – had a lot of useful, practical counsel to offer. I live-tweeted what I consider to be their key soundbites, so check out my feed from if you’re interested in my perspective, or check out the Storify of tweets about the panel curated by Peter Konieczny, editor of Medievalists.net. All three speakers are “public intellectuals” in various ways (and in different geographical contexts), and outlined their own approaches to entering into dialogue with non-specialist audiences, whether in print, online, or radio. What I want to blog about today is a brief run-down of the speakers’ insights, alongside some fairly problematic issues brought to light in our discussions about the troublesome us/them nature of public engagement, and by the make-up of the panel itself (three well-established white male academics).

            Gabriele urged us to consider the existing publics that we all have, including colleagues and readers of articles. All research, when published, is “public” – thus we are all, already, “public intellectuals”. Instead of trying to link contemporary news to anything and everything medieval, Gabriele advocated that we stick to talking about what we are really passionate about in the medieval universe, and then connect that to relevant modern events. His research centres on unpacking the relationship between religion and violence in the Middle Ages, and the cultural role of nostalgia and memory – themes clearly resonant with recent debates in the US about the deeply problematic Confederate flag. I also appreciated his explanation of his rationale to become more public-focussed. Gabriele is based at Virginia Tech, and after the heinous massacre there in 2007, he felt compelled to step up and refute any claims of “medieval” culture supporting contemporary violent, racist ideologies. As experts in our field, we have an ethical responsibility to push back against those trying to manipulate a spurious fantasy of the “Middle Ages” to bolster their own destructive urges. Indeed, Dorothy Kim raised this point well in the Q&A session after the talks proper. 

         If memory serves correctly, Kim was responding to some enervating – but ultimately useful, I concede – remarks from Johnston. Johnston raised my hackles a bit when he prodded the audience to question if medievalists really have anything to offer to contemporary public discourse anyhow. For him, the question is not how to become a (better) public medievalist, but whether to be one in the first place. My internal response: “YES OF COURSE WE SODDING WELL SHOULD!” Nevertheless, the hackle-raising was – and is – productive. This is a question of massive significance, and a means to situate oneself personally within the discipline. I became irritated because I so stridently believe that we have a duty to share research with our varied and dynamic publics and to learn from them as much as we purport to relay gems of medieval relevance. And the vehemence of my internal shouty voice needs to be matched by a willingness to do the damn work of engaging cogently, efficiently and non-patronisingly with those outside of our lovely academic echo chambers. There’s certainly more work needed on this, not least from myself. I’m inspired by vocal members of the audience who pointed out the need for academics to engage with audiences not normally tapped by intellectuals as potential readership. The ensuing debate amongst attendees highlighted class issues to do with the ways in which “public academics” define their target audience(s), who we deem “worthy” of “our” knowledge, and the entrenched power dynamics at play. See, for example, the following tweets:

 

            Kwakkel had a slick series of slides, which showed off his digital chops very well, including lots of hard data about his impact in the wider world – follower numbers, clicks, page impression and the like. Indeed, Kwakkel has over thirteen thousand Twitter followers, and a well-respected popular blog about medieval books. He underscored the need to be strategic about engagement online. Figure out your curated persona – who you want to be in the digital world, what you want to comment on, and to whom you want to speak. Give it time, up to a year of blogging and/or tweeting, and then reassess how your energies are paying off (or not), to evolve your plan of digital attack. Think clearly about making your stuff accessible and enticing: that means flashy pictures, a “sexy” hook, and no-faff explanations of key jargon. Entering into conversations with non-experts does not mean you need to dilute your intellectual content, but present it in more transparent and welcoming terms. In response to attendees’ questioning the ways in which a “public medievalist” might talk to audience(s) not traditionally accessed by, say, an academic-ish blog on medieval stuff, Kwakkel noted that there is a “trickle down” effect, i.e. journal content (hardcore intellectual work) migrates downwards, via blogs, vlogs, radio, and the like, to tabloid fare (the fluffiest version of research findings). I think this top/down hierarchy - stated by Kwakkel as an objective, monolithic system, is actually pretty harmful and utterly subjective to boot:

 

Helen Young also pointed out, quite rightly, that this model is out-dated:

 

            Johnston professed a dislike, or at the very least unease, with the term “public intellectual” himself. (And he maintains he will never have a Twitter account, hence lack of a hyperlink for his name.) He writes fairly regularly for a liberal left-wing newspaper in Germany, and features on radio programmes about almost all things British. He “smuggle[s] the medieval” in to a wide swathe of topics that he is asked to comment upon, thereby flagging the period to the public whenever possible. For example, the recent christening of Princess Charlotte can be parlayed into a conversation about medieval dynastic politics, inheritance, kingship and so forth. The word “smuggle” set off all manner of odd lightning bolts of association for me:

Brian Yap - Le Tour de Disneyland. Via  Flickr .

Brian Yap - Le Tour de Disneyland. Via Flickr.

  1. Enid Blyton-esque tales of bearded smugglers lugging booty in from every Cornish cove.
  2. Muggles, the non-magickals of the Harry Potter universe.
  3. Budgy smugglers, Australian slang for ultra-tight men’s swimming briefs, suggesting that the wearer has some form of small bird shoved down the crotch – for some examples (sans hunky wearer), see here.

Somehow, I think all three of these admittedly random associative pings flesh out my thoughts on the panel more generally. Bear with me.

  1. I have extraordinarily limited knowledge of the historical and contextual facts of Cornish smuggling enterprises. Literally all I know is taken from Enid Blyton or dodgy Sunday afternoon black and white films. However, what occurs to me in these kinds of narratives is that the smugglers’ contraband tends to contribute fairly significantly to the local community. For example, smugglers might bring in goods for the black market, or simply introduce more money into circulation so the small local economy keeps going. That is to say that the medieval booty we, as “public intellectuals”, "smuggle" actually has real consequences for our localities, and has valuable impact.
  2. Muggles are the “not-haves” and the “them” to the all-powerful magic “us” of Hogwarts alums. The vibrant and dynamic world of magic has to be hidden from the Muggles at all costs – otherwise, they’d ruin it, destroy it, or just completely freak out. Much of the discourse about “public intellectuals” posits a similar dynamic between “us” medievalist know-it-alls and “them”, the befuddled ignorant masses. We can’t really show them what we do, because they just won’t get it – or they’ll somehow break it.
  3. As an item of apparel, budgy smugglers are technically donned to cover up the genitals. But, of course, a swatch of tight tight Lycra does little to shield our eyes – and sensibilities – from the “horror” of the male anatomy. Instead, it draws our attention to it, like a giant neon sign saying “ahoy matey, here’s a penis!” The round table, for me, basically smuggled the budgy of gendered and racial privilege when operating in public spaces as a professional academic. Basically, the manner in which the panel did not meaningfully – if at all – address the significant and specific challenges to public engagement faced by those not represented on the panel, i.e. non-male non-white individuals, the more glaringly obvious the problem of representation and the effect of various kinds of privilege became.
You know it's a big conference when there's conference merch available...

You know it's a big conference when there's conference merch available...

            For most of #s406, I couldn’t help metaphorically staring at the deeply gendered budgy before me, being uncomfortably covered up by calls for “making your research accessible” and “just getting out there”.  “Getting out there” professionally online and in public spaces is demonstrably harder for women and people of colour. I am acutely conscious as I write this that I operate in the world as a white cisgender heterosexual subject, with all the privileges this position entails. I cannot speak for the experiences of those without my intersecting privileges; I can listen attentively, educate myself, and act as a strident ally. What I can speak to is inhabiting a female body, and the evidence of misogyny as standard in the patriarchal framework. For example, witness the harassment female Guardian writers recount in this video:

Or what about Gamergate - the rampant misogynist attacks on game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu, and feminist video-game scholar Anita Sarkeesian? I do not want to be doxxed, stalked, threatened with rape or murder, or subject to torrents of abuse simply for doing my professional business of medievalism online. How do we address that as academics? As people? How do we protect ourselves? But also push back against such vileness too? These topics were apparently pretty much taboo in #s406.

            One of the principal aims of the session, presumably, was to encourage academics to foray outside of traditional institutional spaces, i.e. for members of the audience to be inspired to identify in some way with the speakers and move to emulate their public engagement. Yet, #s406 was a #manel – and an all-white #manel, at that. The vast majority of the audience were not represented by those at the speakers’ table and could not smuggle any budgies, i.e. were non-white and/or non-male. Granted, there was a female moderator, Sanne Frequin, and a female academic, Alice Johnston, had been slated to speak, but had to withdraw at the last minute. So it was not designed to be an all-white-male affair, but voila, that’s what we got. Speaking first, Gabriele started the shebang off well, noting his experiences online/in public were inevitably shaped by his intersecting privileges as a Caucasian cisgender heterosexual man. I was impressed, anticipating more dissection of practical approaches to challenges faced by academics of different identities, perhaps in the Q&A. Alas, this was not to be the case.

            An audience member, Rachel Moss, asked the million dollar question. To paraphrase: how do we do “public medievalism” successfully – and safely – if we don’t look like the speakers? Ross was seemingly ignored; the question went unanswered. A short while later, the question was asked again by Courtney Barajas:

The moderator, Frequin, shut the question down, commenting that the purpose of the session was not to “harass” the presenters. This was unfortunate and deeply frustrating. I don’t think the questions posed were harassing or argumentative at all, though the issue is difficult certainly. I can’t definitively speak for the audience as a whole, but for what it’s worth, I do not believe that we expected any “perfect” answers, nor any kind of apology by the presenters themselves for the iniquities of privilege, representation and public response. I think, mainly, we wanted an acknowledgement of this patently obvious issue, and some discussion as to what to do about it. I certainly did. Some of us expressed our frustration on Twitter:

            Audience members, myself included, had been live-tweeting the session, and our tweeting ramped up in response to the session’s swerve around the representation question. From shortly after 7 pm, #s406 was the number one trending hashtag on Twitter in the UK:

This surge in hashtag usage represents one of the wins of the session overall for me: passionate and informed analysis of the very real challenges of public engagement for some; the sharing of perspectives and personal responses; the coalescing of a supportive community. Through interaction with #medievaltwitter online – both those in the room with me, and those geographically dislocated – I felt seen and heard. In response to a lack of models with which I could identify and the panel’s frustrating silence, I found a whole host of online companions who just, well, got it – and get it on an ongoing basis. To loop back to the session’s topic: it is because of a set of active “public medievalists” that I feel more represented in the academy, that I feel seen, heard and felt as a female academic. This is invaluable work.

Bonus: to sign a pledge promising to actively avoid participating in #manels, click here. My thanks to Dorothy Kim, who tweeted about the pledge.

[Edited on 15/07/15 to fix some typos and nonsensical overuse of "problematic" in one sentence.]