SEMA 2019

This past weekend I was a participant in the annual conference of the Southeastern Medieval Association (SEMA), held this year on the campus of UNC-Greensboro. Despite living in the southeast I had never attended before, and I was glad that I did – it was fun like Kalamazoo, albeit on a smaller scale. As ever it is with conferences, it was good to see old friends and to make new ones, and to learn new and interesting things in the sessions. The two plenary speakers, Sonja Drimmer and Holly Crocker, were especially good. 

I have reproduced, from the conference program, notice of my session, which was held at 8:30 on Saturday morning. To my surprise, this session turned out to be somewhat controversial. The main criticisms, which started Friday afternoon on Twitter (i.e., before the panel had even been held), focussed on the identities of the participants. In a general sense, it was asserted, any discussion of Charlottesville ought to have included non-white panelists, and in a specific sense, some of the people on the panel were deemed bad people. I don’t know if I was included in this august group, but Richard Utz certainly was (for his defense of the idea that medieval studies doesn’t have to be explicitly political), and presider Dan Franke even more so. I had known about Franke’s open letter to the Medieval Academy last year, but what really upset people, I discover, was his defense of Rachel Fulton Brown back in 2017 (a stance he has since modified). It’s not that this action was in any sort of bad faith, it’s just that, according to one Tweeter, Franke’s essay “went to RFB’s blog, and from there to the white supremacist web in entirely predictable ways…. [Even] if Franke didn’t INTEND to support white supremacy, the IMPACT of his writing doesn’t change… We must take care how we use our academic authority – which does matter and have impact – towards justice or towards hate.” Another person even claimed that he would not attend a conference featuring such a panel. 

What to say about all this?

First off, I think that it’s somewhat rude to criticize a panel before it has even taken place. Why not attend the panel, hear what people have to say, and respond to that? Critiques based on identity leave me cold. I am a systematizer, not an empathizer, and it might be self-serving, but I believe that this is how academia ought to be arranged. You’ve heard it before, and I agree, that “great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” Among its many other problems, social media has encouraged a small-minded focus on people. We academics are supposed to be able to consider ideas independent of the identities of their sponsors, and I find these ad hominem attacks especially ironic given the regular denunciations of “prestige culture” one reads on Twitter. What is all this concern about who is cool and who is uncool, if not a form of prestige culture? 

As for people’s racial identities, all I can say is that every other speaker I heard at this conference was white, in a general reflection of the demographics of the field. Even white people have occasionally interesting things to say, and when it comes to denouncing white supremacy, it especially behooves white people to do so! And demanding creative control over a panel (especially from a distance!) is presumptuous. I would say that if anyone objects to Panel 45, they are always free to organize their own panels. 

Finally, I disagree with the notion that one must at all times watch what one says, lest the wrong people take solace from it. On the contrary, one should fearlessly speak the truth as one sees it! Preemptive self-censorship (“crimestop” in Newspeak) is not a habit that an academic should get into, I should think for obvious reasons. I’m old enough to remember Ari Fleisher’s admonition that “all Americans should watch what they say,” and how strenuously (and rightly) academics objected to this. As a colleague says, every historian’s motto should be “fiat historia ruat caelum.” 

(And anyway, unlike most of his critics, Dan Franke was actually at Charlottesville, as a counter-protester!)

I’m pleased to say that panel went well. To be clear: all the panelists, and the presider, took a firm stand against white nationalism. In turn:

• Richard Utz spoke about the value of deliberation in one’s activism. Since Charlottesville, some medievalists have slowed down, while others continue to demand instant change. Outrage has an essential place, but when the same energy is directed towards every little thing, it loses its legitimacy and its efficacy.

• Ilana Krug spoke about our role as teachers, because it is on campus that white nationalists are recruiting, and we need to equip our students with the means to resist their efforts. It is important to unmask such groups as Identity Evropa (now rebranded as the American Identity Movement) and Vanguard America, to challenge their claims head-on. Insofar as these groups idealize the Middle Ages in the service of their ideology, we medievalists must passionately defend the truth about them. 

• I spoke about the importance of getting things right. If it’s important to fight against white nationalism, and the misappropriation of the Middle Ages in the service of white nationalism, then it’s worth getting our facts straight. The truth will eventually come out, and if it is revealed that we have been in the habit of making things up, it will undo whatever good we have attempted to do. (I used the example of St. Maurice’s black eagle as an example of a widespread but false misconception that spread in the wake of Charlottesville.) 

• Laura Morreale praised the work of medievalists of color. She acknowledged that she can’t understand racism at first hand, but only as a thought experiment. Structural inequities in the field are pervasive, however: many practicing medievalists are stuck in the adjunct pool, with no hope of ever receiving tenure or even stable employment and benefits. They’re forgotten, unseen, and “less than,” and if we don’t deal with this pervasive problem, other activism is won’t amount to much.

The discussion afterwards was stimulating and fruitful. The room was packed, and everyone was on their best behavior (no insults, shouting, crying, throwing things, etc.). I thought that Dan Franke was especially graceful. I was glad for this reaction on Twitter:

I just left that panel, which was productive and interesting (though the composition of the panel was an obvious problem). It concluded with pleas from many that we, as medievalists, all work together to combat the actions of white supremacists…

Alas, not everyone agreed:

Only Krug discussed racism and hers was the only paper about trying to prevent fascists from radicalizing students at predominantly white institutions. Utz & Good focused on countering “extremism” from scholars of color. Morreale talked about being an independent scholar.

No, as noted above, Utz countered unfocused, promiscuous outrage from everyone, and Good countered false narratives, as being counterproductive to real antiracist work. The correct response is: thanks, that’s absolutely right! But “countering extremism” has now become the party line, apparently:

I’m sorry… countering extremism from scholars of color? And people have the audacity to say that some of these people were being genuine. Having said that, Krug sounded like she had some good points.

The original Tweeter criticized me in particular:

It is disorientating to try to stay calm (so you aren’t labeled as hysterical or angry) and respond to what feels like an alternate reality where the objectionable part of Charlottesville is Medieval POC tweeting about St Maurice.

Well, I thank you for your self-control. I appreciate it! All I can say is that I write what I know, and I never claimed that the @MedievalPOC tweet about St. Maurice was the only objectionable part of the Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville. 

I thought that was the end of it, but on Wednesday a strange comment on the SEMA Facebook page appeared:

after the panel… while I was updating some work in the hallway, I was distressed to overhear conversations among the panelists which were in no way civil; medievalists of color were repeatedly attacked, personally, and dismissed academically, and the nastiness of these hallway conversations was severe enough that I asked one group to please move along and eventually left the area altogether. I regret that I did not confront anyone directly. Obviously, I have no right to critique anyone’s personal conversations, but these were very public and such nastiness does not improve conditions for anyone in medieval studies, and they render calls for “civility” sadly ironic.

All I can say is that this did not happen. I assume the author is referring to me, Krug, and Franke, who were discussing the panel and the state of the field in general. But we were not loud, we were not “repeatedly and personally” attacking anyone, and no one ever asked us to “move along.” This is practically libelous! And it represents a novel development for me: if there is nothing objectionable about the panel as such, you can move to criticizing private conversations in the hall afterwards. (I suppose that in the near future, at conferences, we’ll all have to wear body cameras that record all interactions, so that we can prove that we’ve stayed on the right side of the conference code of conduct.)

Anyway, I was pleased to read a recent opinion piece in Time by Matt Gabriele and Mary Rambaran-Olm, two of the wokest medievalists in the game. They warn that we must be “on guard against false narratives about the medieval period,” since:

Fascism thrives on false narratives, particularly those that involve misleading origin myths and manipulation of terminology and symbols to reinforce hate. That makes it essential that we get the past right, especially when false narratives are used to justify so much anti-democratic politics in today’s world.

Of course, it’s not just fascism that thrives on false narratives. Furthermore, one must always be on guard against tendentiously identifying opinions that one disagrees with as “false” and opinions that one agrees with as “true.” But I am actually glad to see the appearance of these words. It wasn’t too long ago that academics avoided them, on the principle that there is no such thing as truth, only competing narratives of power, which in practice often meant that you could just make things up, as long as your heart was in the right place. But no, you can’t just make things up! We need to get them right! Selah. 

UPDATE: Dan Franke comments at his blog. He also writes, regarding his alleged abetting of white supremacy: “I don’t have any records of my AHA post being shared beyond Rachel’s blog and a few shares on Facebook. Unless I missed something, it was never shared on 4chan or 8chan. It was shared on Reddit where it got no traction. I can’t remember whether Milo shared it on his blog or not, but I have this sense that if so it didn’t gain much traction because Milo’s followers were generally not interested in the kind of conversation that Carol Symes and I were having. So I’ve never understood this line of attack, on evidentiary grounds.”

Toronto Flaggery

I enjoyed a great weekend in Toronto, where I participated in the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada’s Study Day with a talk on symbols of Newfoundland (drawn in part from previous posts on this blog). It was nice of my parents to come in from Port Hope for the day. 

Photo: Robert Walsh.

In keeping with one of the themes of this blog, I took some photographs of flags that I saw.

This is the interior of the “Great Hall” of Union Station, which features a display of all the provincial flags of Canada.

Flag of Toronto, flying on University Avenue. This flag dates from 1974 and was the flag of the old City of Toronto proper, i.e. one of the constituent cities of Metropolitan Toronto, which included East York, North York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, and York. With the abolition of these cities in 1998, the flag of the one part became the flag of all the parts, since the 1999 grant of arms to the amalgamated City of Toronto did not include a flag. The design references the distinctive architecture of Toronto City Hall.

Flying from the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park, the flags of Ontario, Canada, and Legislative Assembly, which consists of the arms of Ontario with crossed maces and an embattled bordure. This was granted back in 1992 and was somewhat controversial, if I recall correctly, since generally legislatures get badges, not full coats of arms. Plus, it seems that the actual flag granted to the Ontario Legislature was supposed to be square, not rectangular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoyed a nice dinner at the Royal Canadian Military Institute, where the flags of Canada’s three armed service commands are prominently displayed in the lobby. 

Also on display at RCMI, a World War I era Canadian red ensign, complete with nine-quartered coat of arms. 

I walked by a renovated Varsity Stadium, the main sports field of the University of Toronto. Flying on Bloor Street were two U. of T. flags, one featuring the university’s coat of arms with a reversed background (nice effect!), and another athletic flag featuring a T and a maple leaf. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, a flag that I did not know about. In front of the Legislative Building we encountered a protest in favour of Azad Kashmir, with numerous examples of its flag being displayed.

Global Medievalisms

I was pleased to participate in the 34th international conference on medievalism this weekend at Georgia Tech. This conference was last held at Tech five years ago, right at the dawn of this blog. The Georgia Medievalists’ Group was a co-sponsor, and several GMG members participated, including your humble narrator (with a paper on the medievalism of the Gaelic Revival), Emory Law professor Sasha Volokh (who spoke about American rhetorical appeals to medieval law), and Reinhardt English professor Graham Johnson (who spoke about pragmatic speech in Game of Thrones).

Keith Kelly of Georgia Gwinnett College and Graham Johnson of Reinhardt University.

Medievalism is defined as the study of the “reception” of the Middle Ages in times after the Middle Ages, and it’s all around us. Medievalism-ists (for lack of a better word) uncover the medieval origins of things, and examine present-day appeals to the Middle Ages, for both noble and base reasons. I enjoyed the presentation of Ken Mondschein, who is an active member of the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), and who can fight while dressed in a full suit of plate armor.

HBO’s Game of Thrones television series was a very popular topic at this conference (six papers in total) – thus did I learn of the existence of a Bayeux-style Game of Thrones tapestry, currently on display at Bayeux

Another popular topic was the Charlottesville rally in 2017 and the possibility that “white nationalists” and the “alt-right” are taking inspiration from the Middle Ages in Trump’s America, and what are we going to do about it? Personally, I think that the danger of these groups is wildly overstated – they might squawk on the Internet if you know where to look for them, but on the infrequent occasions when they gather in meatspace either no one shows up or they’re vastly outnumbered by counter-protesters. Furthermore, their medievalism is lightly worn – some of them employ medieval imagery (knights on horseback, Germanic paganism, etc.), but many more dress up in paramilitary uniforms straight out of the twentieth century – i.e. how “medieval” are they, really? In other words, I retain my opinion that academic Medieval Studies is not tainted at all by such usage, and we should stop worrying about it, as much as we enjoy thinking that we’re politically relevant, if only in a negative way. 

Some Good Advice

From Chronicle Vitae (hat tip: Richard Utz): 

How Not to Be a Jackass at Your Next Academic Conference

If you’ve spent any time at an academic conference, you know the scene: A stage full of scholars have just finished presenting their papers. As the Q&A session begins, a woman rises from the audience and prefaces her remarks by saying, in so many words, that she hadn’t been invited to appear on the panel. But here, anyway, are the highlights of her paper—and her credentials and biography, too.

Or maybe a senior professor speaks up. He barks at a graduate student on the panel, embarrassing the student by ripping his paper to pieces. Another professor steps forward and asks the panelists a series of multipart questions she already seems to know the answers to.

Perhaps a guy raises his hand to comment and quotes verbatim from Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Or he decides to show off his French by citing Frantz Fanon’s manifesto Les Damnés de la Terre, when he could have kept it simple by using the English title, The Wretched of the Earth.

Some of these moments may be byproducts of social awkwardness; others are signs of bad manners. Some might not even bother you. But they’re all fairly common. I witnessed several of them earlier this month—including the Habermas and Fanon name-checks—at the American Historical Association meeting.

Why do so many academics risk coming off like jackasses at conference Q&A sessions? Some scholars say it’s because those sessions are more about pageantry than conversation: Showing other scholars how much you know is often more important than actually listening and learning.

There’s another reason, too: Developing good conference manners—and social skills in general—just isn’t part of graduate school training. I gathered a list of behaviors, both comical and aggravating, from a few dozen academics. As I read through them, I wondered: What would Emily Post, the famous etiquette author, do?

I decided to call up someone who would know. Emily Post’s great-great granddaughter, Anna Post, keeps the flame alive, conducting business-etiquette seminars across the country as an etiquette guru at the Emily Post Institute. She carved out some time to chat with me about academic disorders and how to cure them. 

Click the link to read some excellent advice

The Academic Sandbox

The always-entertaining Charlotte Allen weighs in on the recent kerfuffles in medieval studies, in First Things. A choce excerpt:

Until recently, academic medieval studies seemed to be immune from the mix of identity politics, impenetrable postmodernist jargon, and social-­justice witch-hunting that has taken over most of the humanities and social sciences. It’s not that most professors of medieval history and literature aren’t political liberals. It’s that medieval studies used to be so technically and linguistically demanding (deciphering Latin manuscripts, for example) that scholars didn’t need to worry about being called out for not being sufficiently alert to critical race theory and other progressive obsessions. As one medievalist professor, who requested anonymity, told me in an email: “People who do Near Eastern languages, Classics, Slavic languages, Asian languages, Byzantine history and, until recently, Medieval history have been protected from the worst of the SJW ­idiocy, because SJW idiots aren’t smart enough to get a foothold in those fields.”

All of this is changing fast. Perhaps because of pressure from university administrators to shorten degree programs to churn out doctorates, perhaps because secondary and even post-secondary education these days fails to train would-be medievalists in the rudimentary skills they need (what public high school teaches Latin?), standards have fallen, especially with respect to languages, but also with respect to technical skills such as paleography, which ­graduate students even at elite universities often must learn on their own, if at all. The standards have fallen fastest in university English departments, where graduate programs function in part as catchment areas for warm bodies to teach mandatory freshman composition for rock-bottom pay. It was no accident that the majority of the medievalist academics who gathered at George Washington in October 2017 to censure Rachel Fulton Brown hailed from postmodernism-soaked English departments.

The field of medieval history, in contrast to ­medieval literature, has been somewhat resistant to this trend, partly because historians still generally believe that they can shed light on what actually happened in the past, not just on the socially constructed narratives that literary theorists might find. Nonetheless, postmodernist politicization has made inroads even into history departments. Progressive academics have picked apart the field of medieval studies itself as a social construct: a narrative invention by self-glorifying scholars of European descent.

“How serious is this whole thing?” a colleague asks. In honesty I have to reply that, given the numbers of people involved, it’s not all that serious. Medievalists might not be “monkish” but, from what I can gather, most of them don’t even know about the Brown-Kim feud, and cannot muster the interest to care when they are apprised of it. It seems to be one of those things that becomes all-consuming if you’re a social media junkie. People with actual lives and real research agendas tend to have different priorities.

Alas, you might not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. So-called “woke” medievalists, the “SJWs” of the discipline, while numbering perhaps 100 at most, are influential beyond their numbers, for the reasons that Joseph Epstein noticed. Some of them have infiltrated the higher reaches of the Medieval Academy, where they bend it to their will by instituting a risible Professional Behavior Policy, sending around an email asking the membership to “thoughtfully consider” a statement by the Medievalists of Color essentially accusing the entire field of being racist, or giving free lifetime membership to Dorothy Kim on account of the alleged harassment she received from fans of Milo Yiannopoulous. And if no one pushes back against this sort of thing, it will eventually become the new normal, and given the online behavior of its proponents they will end up ruthlessly excluding anyone holding contrary views from the Medieval Academy. This is not an exaggeration – they truly believe they are in an apocalyptic struggle against the forces of evil, and anything done to further their cause is morally justified. This is not even a conflict between the “left” and the “right,” it is between emotionally secure adults who have an expansive attitude toward other opinions, knowing that they themselves might not have all the answers, and people who believe, e.g., that refusing to ban Rachel Brown from attending a session at the Kalamazoo conference “allowed a false conception of academic freedom to undermine true academic freedom” (cf. Joseph Stalin on “true freedom“), or who say things like this:

Georgia Regional PAT Conference 2019

On Friday, March 30, Reinhardt students Jessie Fanczi and Grant Ashton traveled to the University of West Georgia in Carrollton to participate in this year’s Georgia Regional Phi Alpha Theta Conference. There were four concurrent sessions of three panels each over the course of the day, and the overall quality of the papers was very good. Jessie presented a paper on Stanley Porter, one of the pioneers of racial integration at Reinhardt College in the late-1960s, while Grant gave a paper on the Gaelic Revival of late nineteenth century Ireland.

Grant Ashton and Jessie Fanczi, UWG, March 30, 2019.

There was no keynote speaker for this conference, but a poster session, a novelty for me. I especially liked one by Lesley Jones of the University of North Georgia on women and the occult in the nineteenth century, complete with Edward Gorey-style original illustrations:

Other interesting papers I heard addressed the Astor Place Riot, the German Student Movement of 1968, NBA star Allen Iverson as a hip-hop icon, US Senator and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Presidents James Madison and John Adams, and Baptist minister John Leland. A session that I chaired featured papers on Catherine the Great, the policy of “salutary neglect” toward the American Colonies in the eighteenth century, and the Spanish Civil War as represented in the Daily Worker, the official organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

I repeat that the quality of these papers was very high. The swag was good, too! It was kind of the nursing school to lend us their beautiful new building for this conference. Thanks to Colleen Vasconcellos and Stephanie Challifoux of UWG’s History Department for organizing such a great event.

Code of Behavior

The Medieval Academy of America, following a survey of the membership taken last year, released a Professional Conduct Policy on January 2. I quite liked this coverage of it, on the College Fix. Excerpt:

According to the document, it is meant primarily for the protection of “those in vulnerable positions” from other medievalist members, who could potentially “assert a relationship of power” over them.

What actions does the policy define as troublesome? While it is highly specific as to what constitutes sexual harassment, all of the other potential violations in the categories of “harassment,” “microaggressions,” “bullying” and “social media” are very general.

“Harassment includes demeaning, humiliating, and threatening actions, comments, jokes, other forms of verbal and/or written communication, body language, and physical contact,” the policy states.

This generality has been taken by some to be problematic; despite the academy saying it “will not take breaches of professional or ethical behavior lightly,” what exactly constitutes a breach in its judgement appears to be lightly outlined, if at all.

Much of what is written about is based upon an individual’s personal judgement or feelings. For example, the academy strictly prohibits harassment in the form of “demeaning” or “humiliating … body language,” but does not state what types of online actions are considered violations of either. It also says that bullying “may include refusal to recognize … personal constructions of work,” which, as the word “personal” implies, differs from one professional to another.

Under the category of “microaggressions,” instead of detailing in the policy what types of behavior are restricted, it links to a Tumblr blog titled “Microaggressions.” The blog’s last post was from over a year ago, and in the FAQ section in response to the question “What makes you an authority on microaggressions,” its authors admit that they “aren’t.” They do, however, define the term as “the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities.”

Rachel Fulton Brown comments that:

If feelings are going to be the way in which we determine whether or not people belong in the conversation, then… it’s a change in the character of the professional body, from one of mutual interest to social belonging, and that will change its effectiveness.

For my part, I was amused by this nugget from the policy:

Harassment is a form of discrimination and misconduct by which the harasser asserts a relationship of power over the harassed through behavior that causes feelings of fear or distress.

Apparently every single meeting with one of my grad-school professors was “harassment.” 🙂

Kalamazoo

I enjoyed the 53rd annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, held this past weekend on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I have been attending this conference since 1995; this one was my fifteenth. It was great to see old friends and make new ones. Some highlights:

• The state of Michigan, it seems, has been willing to invest in WMU – or at least the place attracts enough students that it can do good things with all the revenue generated. The dorms have been given a makeover, and there was a new one that conference attendees could stay in for some extra consideration. There is also a massive new dining building, and the pond has been extended and has a new bridge across it (although there were no swans this year, to my chagrin).

• Enjoyed a lovely dinner with my friend Kevin Harty of Lasalle University in Philadelphia. Kevin has been a major source of St. Georges for me, and I appreciate his two latest ones:

• To my great delight Michael Wood was a participant in this conference. He is most famous for his history/travel videos, which are always popular with my students (including one from the 1980s on the Trojan War). I did not know that his original training was as a historian of Anglo-Saxon England, and his presentation on Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians (who died 1100 years ago, in 918) was illuminating. Episodes of Wood’s series King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons (“Alfred of Wessex,” “The Lady of the Mercians,” and “Aethelstan, the First King of England”) were shown on successive nights.

• Enjoyed the plenary session by William Chester Jordan of Princeton University, who spoke about the converts to Christianity that St. Louis made on his crusades, and their subsequent integration into French society. I did not know about this.

• Attended two sessions of the American Association of Irish Medieval Studies in preparation for my trip there later this month. I was happy to see my old friend Lee Follett from my days at the University of Toronto. 

•  Pleased to talk with Michael Gervers, who had supervised my Master’s thesis at Toronto. He has numerous scholarly interests beyond medieval England, including medieval Ethiopia, in which capacity he was at Kalamazoo this year. His work on Ethiopian rock-cut churches was noticed by the Toronto Star late last year, and Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie has awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Ethiopia in recognition of his research.

• My own paper, featuring my work on St. Michael, was given in honor of the retirement of my friend D’Arcy Boulton, emeritus of Notre Dame. Again, a great session and a lovely dinner afterwards with D’Arcy and co-panelists at the Great Lakes Shipping Company, a longstanding Kalamazoo institution.

Georgia Regional Phi Alpha Theta Conference, 2018

The 2018 Georgia Regional Phi Alpha Theta Conference took place on Saturday, April 7 at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Carla Gerona and Daniel Amsterdam were the main organizers. Thirty students representing ten Georgia universities presented papers over the course of the day. I was impressed by the overall quality of these presentations.

Reinhardt was represented by the talented Madeline Gray, shown here seated between Jake Schenberg (UGA) and Carolyn Wood (Georgia State), participants in a session on local Georgia history. Mr. Schenberg spoke about the people displaced by the construction of the Buford Dam, which created Lake Lanier, while Ms. Wood addressed the integration of the Atlanta Police Department, which was made difficult by all the Klansmen who were members of it. (Something I did not know about: the Columbians, “the nation’s first neo-Nazi political organization,” formed in the summer of 1946.)

Ms. Gray presented her paper on the racial integration of Reinhardt College in the 1960s. Written as part of Ken Wheeler’s Town and Gown IDS course last fall, it featured interviews with some of the still-living participants, and primary source research in the Reinhardt newspaper, yearbooks, and trustees’ minutes. President James Burgess deserves much of the credit for ensuring that this process ran as smoothly as possible.

I’m pleased to say that Ms. Gray’s paper won an honorable mention award at the closing ceremonies! Well done! (The photo shows her between Profs. Amsterdam and Gerona.)

The keynote was a very interesting presentation by Douglas Flamming, professor of history at Georgia Tech. Entitled “Red, ‘Pink Gold,’ and Blue: Southern Shrimpers and Soviet Shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico, 1945-1975,” it took as its starting point an incident that occurred in March of 1963, some five months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The shrimper Ala, out of Fort Myers, Florida, had been fishing for several day on the Tortugas Banks off Key West when it lost power and started drifting eastwards through the Straits of Florida – a little too close to Cuba for Cuban comfort, apparently, which sent three Soviet MiG fighter jets to intercept it, one of which actually fired on it. (The Ala’s difficulties may have been deliberate, as the Americans had just installed a radar station on Key West whose signal was impossible to fly under, and they may have wanted to test it – the MiGs were chased off in under five minutes.) This incident served to open up an investigation into the application of technology developed during World War II (e.g. diesel engines and sonar) to shrimping, which entered a golden age in the mid-twentieth century (this is the era when breaded shrimp appeared in TV dinners, and the shrimp cocktail was an emblem of sophistication). The Soviets, for their part, in a search for more protein to feed their people, sent out massive fishing expeditions, organized like a naval battle fleet and complete with processing factories on the flagship. (As you can imagine, fishing in international waters produced a classic “tragedy of the commons” situation, and Gulf shrimping is largely moribund these days – the shrimp that most Americans consume today is farmed in southeast Asia.)

I had been to Georgia Tech before, but hadn’t really had the opportunity to see the campus. The parking lot was quite a ways from the Hall Building, so I was interested to discover such details as the Tech Walkway, the Tech Green…

the Kessler Campanile (reproduced on the logo above)…

and this engineering-themed sculpture in Tech colors.

Medieval Academy

Device of the 93rd annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America (2018), at Emory University.

The springtime meeting of the Georgia Medievalists’ Group was folded into something much grander: the 2018 annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America, held this past weekend at Emory University (specifically, the Emory Conference Center Hotel – what you can do with Coke money!). This one was my third, after Minneapolis (2003) and Phoenix (2011). Phoenix, as I remember, was controversial – Arizona had recently passed an anti-illegal-immigrant law, and there was tremendous pressure on the Academy not to hold the meeting there. They went ahead with it anyway, largely for financial reasons, although they changed the theme, especially welcoming presentations dealing with medieval immigration and xenophobia. (My paper, on the Flemish weaving community of fourteenth-century London, which was decimated during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, fit with this theme very nicely.)

This conference was not quite as controversial, although it threatened to be. Unbeknownst to most people, there has been some conflict in the medievalist world of late, with some people claiming that the entire field is inherently racist, and others objecting to this identification. This conflict has taken place largely over the Internet, with all the hyperbolic self-righteousness that such interaction usually entails. To address the issue, the conference organizers arranged for a plenary session of Medievalists of Color, whose presentations were actually pretty good and did not descend to the level of an Internet comment thread, despite occasional references to “white fragility”* or the notion that “research is violence.” They also avoided calling out their opponents by name, which was a nice gesture. (As much as I would love to see a revival of medieval-style academic debate, the topic here is so sensitive that the bad consequences would surely outweigh the good, if people who don’t believe that the field of Medieval Studies needs “decolonizing” were to be given equal time.)

As ever, it was good to see old friends and to make new ones, and most of the papers were pretty good. My favorite presentation was the final plenary, by Michael McCormick, of the Initiative for the Science of the Human Past at Harvard. Apparently researchers at SoHP can now deduce the atmospheric content of the past from the ice cores of Greenland or Antarctica without even melting them, and with a much finer granularity than previously (gleaning two million data points for a period twenty thousand years, for example). Thus have they determined that human metallurgy has been putting pollutants into the air for a very long time; it’s not just a function of the Industrial Revolution. Even more interesting is a partnership between the SoHP and the Max Planck Institute in Germany called Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean, which aims to reconstruct the human settlement patterns around the Mediterranean going back to the late Bronze Age. I was amazed to learn that teeth contain evidence of one’s diet up to age twelve or so. Pulp in the molars of corpses contains evidence of disease-causing bacteria; what researchers are now able to determine is how the DNA of a disease mutated over time (specifically, the Yersinia pestis bacteria of the plagues of Justinian in AD 541-42), which allows them to plot exactly where it appeared and when, and thus to reconstruct ancient trade routes. Fascinating stuff!

Other highlights of the conference included the facsimile of the Bayeux Tapestry, on loan from the University of North Georgia (with many copies of the pamphlet explaining it, by yours truly). The conference program was the most edifying I’ve ever seen: in addition to maps, the schedule, and the list of participants, it also featured short articles on the founding of Emory, Emory’s campus architecture, noted medievalists Kemp Malone, Stephen White, Thomas Lyman, and George Cuttino, the Candler School of Theology, the Pitts Theology Library, the Carlos and High Museums, and other things of local or medieval interest. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out the excellent heraldry of this conference! The Medieval Academy’s coat of arms is a wonderful thing, featuring a splendid rose-en-soleil. 

The Academy’s journal is Speculum, and its device features a hand holding a mirror – a punning coat of arms, since speculum is mirror in Latin (it has a different meaning now, of course).

Both of these coats of arms, I understand, were designed by Pierre de Chaignon la Rose, who also came up with Harvard’s heraldic system in the 1930s.

Emory University itself uses a fine, simple coat of arms, featuring a crossed trumpet and torch. It is based on the university seal, which dates from 1915.

* Thesis: anyone who interprets opinions he disagrees with as “violence against bodies of color” does not get to talk about white fragility.