New Academic Book Series: Hagiography Beyond Tradition with Amsterdam University Press

If you follow me on Twitter, you might be vaguely aware of some mysterious messages from me over the past few months, suggesting some sort of clandestine publishing hook-up scenario. Time for the big reveal. I now have the distinct pleasure of announcing details of a new book series at Amsterdam University Press: Hagiography Beyond Tradition (HBT). Full disclosure: I'm the Series Editor, and a rabid fangirl of the kind of scholarship we're going to showcase in the series. 

Hagiography Beyond Tradition series image, digital collage by James Kerr. Mary Magdalene photobombs the Virgin Mary taking a selfie on a smartphone.

Hagiography Beyond Tradition series image, digital collage by James Kerr. Mary Magdalene photobombs the Virgin Mary taking a selfie on a smartphone.

HBT provides a home for cutting-edge scholarship on medieval saints and sanctity, combining rigorous attention to historical context with heuristics drawn from modern critical theories. The series seeks to publish incisive, impactful, and broadly interdisciplinary work. What’s more, HBT aims explicitly to foreground the work of innovative early-career researchers and put them on equal terms with more established senior academics. This is a publication space carved out to show what the best of what our field can achieve. Bring us your most audacious, most stimulating, most challenging hagiographical scholarship - work which brings your brain joy, done to the highest quality, grasping fully context and nuance - and we will do the rest. 

The series’ vital statistics are collected below, and full details can be found online here.

 

If you have any questions or queries about the series generally, the proposal process, or working with the Press, email our deeply excellent Acquisitions Editor, Shannon Cunningham at S.Cunningham [at] aup.nl.

I'm also very happy to talk through ideas for publications, chat about academic fit, and so forth - so if you want to learn more, don't hesitate to drop me a line at a.spencer-hall [at] qmul.ac.uk. Lets take hagiographical scholarship to the next level together. 

Series Details

  • Proposals for monographs and cohesive edited collections are welcome.
  • Expected word count of final publication: 70,000-110,000.
  • All publications will be in English.
  • Geographical scope: all of medieval Christendom, including Byzantium.
  • Chronological scope: ca. 500-1500.
  • Series Editor: Alicia Spencer- Hall (Queen Mary, University of London).
  • Editorial Board: Bill Burgwinkle (University of Cambridge); Martha Newman (University of Texas); Sarah Salih (King’s College London); Anna Taylor (University of Massachusetts).
  • Acquisitions Editor (at Amsterdam University Press): Shannon Cunningham.
  • Complementary to the Hagiography Society’s existing series, Sanctity in Global Perspective, which concentrates on comparative rather than more theoretical studies. We very much hope for cross-fertilisation whenever possible between the two series.

Series Abstract

The study of sanctity in medieval Europe is starting to elicit cutting-edge, innovative and genuinely interdisciplinary scholarship that destabilizes what people have conventionally considered to be hagiography. This is demonstrated in the topic range of panels sponsored by the Hagiography Society at recent landmark medievalist conferences. While hagiography has traditionally been understood only in religious terms, recent scholarship moves beyond such frameworks to consider alternate ways of identifying and representing exemplary people. So doing, such research emphasises modern cultural analogies and resonances with medieval figures.

It is not enough, however, to approach saints’ lives with a “sexy” modern framework. The best scholarship is rooted in analytical rigour, close attention to context(s), and a keen awareness of the potential pitfalls of anachronism, all the while accepting that anachronism can often be productive. This series provides a home for the kind of work that negotiates that border between the traditional and the contemporary and encourages scholarship enhanced by interventions drawn from celebrity studies, trans studies, crip theory, animal and monster studies, the history of senses and the emotions, media studies, and beyond. Rather than considering hagiography as a single genre, the series is open to expanding the ways in which we imagine how people come to be offered for veneration, as well as the media and genres in which they are fashioned, represented, and celebrated.

Hagiography Beyond Tradition series flyer. To download as .pdf go to: http://www.aup.nl/wosmedia/5678/hagiography_beyond_tradition.pdf. Please feel free to share widely! 

Hagiography Beyond Tradition series flyer. To download as .pdf go to: http://www.aup.nl/wosmedia/5678/hagiography_beyond_tradition.pdf. Please feel free to share widely! 

Medieval Saints and Modern Screens - Out this October

The Amsterdam University Press (AUP) catalogue has just arrived, featuring books that will appear this autumn, Most thrillingly, my book (mah booke) is nestled in the catalogue pages - just check out p. 12, I write nonchalantly. The catalogue is stuffed with so many gems, it's rather dizzying to be in such fine company.  And it's immensely satisfying to see that my first book is not just a figment of my fevered imagination, but is in fact really real and will be a tangible (stroke-able) book object in just a few months' time. This October, then, will be the end of an era. I first started work on stuff that's ended up in the book way back in 2010, at the start of my PhD. Seven years' thinking, give or take, have coalesced into the niftily portable format of an academic monograph. At some point, I will probably post a precis of the book, a summary of my key arguments or such like. But until then, I am basking in the glorious fact of its done-ness, and simply sharing the first proof of the endeavour with the AUP catalogue below. Enjoy!

Goodnight Menses: Period Realities & the Big Bad Wolf of PMS

1945 Illustrated Ad, Chi-Ches-Ters Pills for Relieving Pain from Menstrual Cramps. First published in  The Family Circle  magazine, November 9, 1945, Vol. 27, No. 18. Via  Classic Film/Flickr .

1945 Illustrated Ad, Chi-Ches-Ters Pills for Relieving Pain from Menstrual Cramps. First published in The Family Circle magazine, November 9, 1945, Vol. 27, No. 18. Via Classic Film/Flickr.

Last week, I shared a video in which Penny Higgs, Australian reality-TV contestant, threw down some real talk about the lack of attention given to women’s period pain. As a complement, may I present to you Goodnight Menses, written by Sami Main and illustrated by Dan Meth, which was posted to Buzzfeed in April 2015. Main and Meth’s digital work is a deliciously tart riff on Margaret Wise Brown 1947 children’s book Goodnight Moon.  

Brown’s famous work memorialises an anthropomorphic bunny’s bedtime ritual of saying ‘goodnight’ to all the artefacts in his room, and then the evening itself, the ‘stars’, the ‘air’, and finally the ‘noises everywhere’. (For a .pdf of the non-illustrated text, posted by the Early Childhood Lab at Stephen F. Austin State University, click here.) Every object to which the bunny wishes ‘goodnight’, then, is a part of his intimate – and fairly quotidian – experience. The text works as a catalogue of the landscape inhabited by the sleepy bunny, the routine contours of his life. The bunny’s words are a protective incantation: a means of reassuring himself, and also the objects, that they can reciprocally let go, close their (even inanimate) eyes and drift to sleep. This ‘goodnight-ing’ is an ending, surely, but also a ritual which suggests a perhaps interminable repetition – the ‘goodnights’ only end on that very un-good night when the bunny, or his subjects, are irrevocably absent. 

The delight, and impact, of Goodnight Menses is its skillful leveraging of these layers of Brown’s original work. Instead of the bunny’s childhood bedroom, the scene now is a woman’s ‘great dim room’, a glum space in which our sleepy protagonist endures her period. The text opens with a catalogue of the objects which populate the woman’s space, including analgesics, comfortable clothes, TV to binge-watch the pain away, and junk food:

In the great dim room
There was a beanbag chair
And a jar of Nutella
And a picture of
A goddess jumping over her moon.
And there were two little wolves sitting on stools
And three little Doritos
And a bag of Cheetos
And a little bottle of Midol
And an iPhone with a missed call
And a laptop and some sweatpants and a small old lamp
And a dent in the bed from where you rolled around with cramps.

Though not every woman will have these specific items in their menstruation survival kit, they are familiar enough items to operate as generalize-able categories. I read ‘Cheetos’, I nod, I think of my preferred salt and vinegar crisps. The text’s anonymous protagonist functions as a proxy for all menarcheal women. As Goodnight Moon allows us to envision the particularities of the bunny’s room (read: everyday existence), Goodnight Menses throws into relief the often unpleasant commonplaces of female life once a month. The text’s humour is drawn, at least partially, from the mundanity of the experience and the implicit familiarity of the tableau. Our collective coping mechanisms are on display. Therein, the enchantment of the ‘goodnight’ refrain: the ‘monthly visitor’ will stay only for a few days. With enough ‘goodnights' (stand-ins for 'goodbyes’), maybe you can speed its leave. But remember, the period is a repeat customer, it will be back. And, as with the bunny’s farewells in Goodnight Moon, that anticipation of interminable repeat casts its pall over Goodnight Menses

'mask' by Luisa Uribe. Via  Flickr.

'mask' by Luisa Uribe. Via Flickr.

Beyond the concrete items – ‘Midol’, ‘Doritos’, ‘iPhone’ – we encounter ‘two little wolves’, menacing embodiments of a hormonally frayed emotional state. PMS in lupine form, reminiscent of the fairy-tale staple of the Big Bad Wolf. In Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf swallows grandmother whole, dressing up in her clothes to fool, if only for a short while, a somewhat naïve Riding Hood. Goodnight Menses’ ‘two little wolves’, then, can pounce at any time to a woman in the ‘dim little room’ of menstruation. The space is not all bad though. For one thing, it’s a room of one’s own, in terms of lack of human co-habitants at least. And there’s that picture of the ‘goddess jumping over her moon’: a serene representation of the goddess of menstruation, traditionally tied to the lunar cycle, and a main-stay of New Age pro-period imagery. Embrace your goddess within! Jump over the moon with me! Do femininity! So the goddess, then, can be a two-edged sword. A positive affirmation of the ‘right-ness’ of menstruation; an irritating tone-deaf elision of real pain and discomfort. What’s more, the upbeat menstrual goddess meets her match in the sinfully female Biblical Eve, and it’s Eve that closes the text:

Goodnight Eve, for this original sin.
Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere.

Eve and her ‘original sin’, symbolized graphically in her monthly ‘curse’, are just part of the status quo of a misogynist patriarchal culture – ‘noises everywhere’ – which categorises women’s bodies as abnormal, evil, or disgusting simply for behaving as biology intended.

Ultimately, Riding Hood too joins her grandmother in the pit of the Wolf’s stomach. The Wolf is superficially the agent of their demise. Yet he is also, symbolically at least, agent of their (re)birth. When a rescuer slices open the Wolf’s belly, both women fall out of his stomach alive. Goodnight Menses’ ‘two little wolves’ represent the hormonal component of menstruation, broadly speaking. Saying ‘goodnight’ definitively to these wolves would entail splitting them open, generating two alternate forms of womanhood – pre-menarcheal (Riding Hood) or post-menopausal (grandmother). Note, then, that we never say ‘goodnight’ to the wolves in the text, not directly:

Goodnight room
Goodnight moon
Goodnight goddess jumping over the moon
Goodnight bloating
And the two little wolves.

Letting go of the ‘wolves’ is hard to do, a grudging appendix to other menstrual attributes to which we are more than glad to bid farewell, relegated to the next line. Wrapped up with the ‘wolves’, we see potential elements of adulthood and independence:

'Flow' by Eugenia Loli. Via  Flickr .

'Flow' by Eugenia Loli. Via Flickr.

And goodnight missed call.
[…]
and goodnight Cheez Whiz.
[…]
and goodnight marathon of Breaking Bad.
[…]
and goodnight to the lamp.

It’s good to be a grown-up some times. You get to stay up as late as you want. Decide what you eat for dinner, no matter how unhealthy. Develop an independent social life, sex life. What happens when there are no more missed calls on the iPhone? When you’re no longer in demand, or viewed as sexually desirable? This is aging womanhood writ large, and it is not a particularly attractive prospect. So, goodnight menses, goodnight but hopefully not goodbye for good.