Richard Utz has a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the ways that medievalist can more intentionally link what they do to popular expressions of ideas about the Middle Ages.
There is now a manifest discrepancy between the large number of students who request that we address their love of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and medieval-themed video and computer games on the one hand, and the decreasing number of medievalists hired to replace retiring colleagues on the other. We are no longer protected by our involvement in preserving European heritages, an involvement often joined up with primordialist, jingoist, and colonialist mentalities discredited in the Western world by the 1970s. And we are as endangered as the rest of our humanities colleagues by the advent of new areas of scholarship, the intimidating popularity of the STEM disciplines, and politically motivated cuts to the liberal arts.
What can we do?
Perhaps we should begin by admitting that in enjoying the splendid isolation that allowed us to learn a lot about medieval culture, we have failed to share that knowledge with the public. As a result, a single 178-minute movie, Braveheart, could wipe out what 150 years of scholarship had established about the Right of the Lord’s First Night (a feudal lord’s rumored right to take the virginity of his serfs’ newlywed daughters). Meticulous source study since the Enlightenment about the horrific crimes committed during the medieval crusades hasn’t stopped schools from naming their teams Crusaders. And tens of thousands of learned books and articles about medieval knighthood have had no influence on white supremacists’ appropriation of allegedly chivalric virtues. It is clearly time to lower the drawbridge from the ivory tower and reconnect with the public.
I’m all for this. I don’t believe there is an ivory tower (and there probably never was), but I like what he’s saying here and am glad it’s being so widely shared. I’ve obviously, I hope, tried to model just this kind of engagement in my public writing about history. I also do it in my classroom. I am the choir. If Utz is preaching to me, I am ready to sing. Go read the piece and think about it, please.
|Disney’s Cinderella Castle|
And that’s enough for me.
Still not re-watching Braveheart.