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.