Never Fear—the Lone Medievalists Are Here!
Fitchtburg State University
©2018 by Kisha Tracy. All intellectual property rights reserved. This edition copyright ©2018 by The Heroic Age. Permissions granted for educational and personal purposes only.
§1. In 2015 at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Dr. John Sexton at Bridgewater State University and I organized and sponsored a roundtable entitled "The Ballad of the Lone Medievalist," which was geared towards the issues and opportunities faced by academic medievalists who were the only one of their kind at their institutions. To our pleasure, it was a highly-attended event, and it was highly successful as well in generating conversation and interest. It seemed we had hit upon a common concern among our colleagues. At that same conference, we partnered with then graduate students Sarah Barott and Rachel Munson to create a web site for lone medievalists with the intent of developing an online community. The Lone Medievalist was born.
§2. Our purpose, as stated on the site, is: "The Lone Medievalist is a project designed to bring scholars together who are the only medievalist scholars within their campus or larger community. This community will create a way for scholars to connect with peers and help keep skills such as language fluency, translation, and research sharp, as well as answer questions that medievalist scholars may have. Discussion about any and all topics medieval in nature is also strongly encouraged and warmly welcomed." Since we started, we have hosted two more roundtables at the ICMS, brought in 750 likes (and counting) on our Facebook page, developed a Twitter presence, and produced the book The Ballad of the Lone Medievalist, a collection of thoughts from over thirty Lone Medievalists, forthcoming from punctum press. The goal of this collection and indeed The Lone Medievalist project in general is not to lament our fates—although, indeed, providing a venue for venting is a valuable part of our mission—but to serve as a facilitator uniting Lone Medievalists, to create opportunities that take in consideration the unique aspects as well as the limitations of being a Lone Medievalist, and to brainstorm ideas and solutions.
§3. This year, at the 2017 ICMS, we hosted a roundtable entitled "Greater Than the Sum of Our Arts: The Multitasking Life of the Lone Medievalist." As a panelist on that roundtable, I reflected on the many roles that medievalists—and Lone Medievalists, in particular—play on their campuses. To prepare, I asked informally on social media for medievalists to send me a list of their roles. Although I expected the wide variety not to mention the length of these lists, reading them was useful and illuminating. I want to focus specifically on a few roles that appear frequently on the CVs of medievalists, but, first, I will pose a question to which I will return later: are medievalists—by training and/or temperament—particularly suited to the multitasking life of the academic?
§4. One campus role that is often filled by a medievalist is that of center for teaching and learning (or equivalent center) director. It may at first seem like this is an odd or simply coincidental, but it is really too widespread to be the latter. As for the former, the more I thought about it the less odd it seemed. First of all, simply speaking historically, the origins of the university as we know it are rooted in the Middle Ages (see my essay "From the Monk's Cell to the Professor's Office" forthcoming in The Ballad of the Lone Medievalist). That those of us who study this time period are interested in the further development of teaching then is an extension of our interest in the discipline. More directly, medieval studies is by its very nature interdisciplinary. To teach the Middle Ages requires innovative pedagogical thinking. The next step to an interest in pedagogy in general and facilitating its improvement on our campuses is a short one.
§5. Another common role of medievalists is writing coordinator. Again, surely a coincidence? But who, with the exception of perhaps a classicist, is more interested in rhetoric than a medievalist? Those of us who study medieval literature often have training in rhetoric. Additionally, we often have training in the history of the language (the teaching of which is another common role for medievalists), which contributes both to an understanding of composition and to a unique outlook on how to communicate. Couple that with the previous inclination towards pedagogy as well as the fact we spend our scholarly lives teasing out the meaning of words and the intention of writers we can't consult, and writing coordinator makes perfect sense.
§6. A final role that I will highlight is that of editors and translators—in the broad senses of the terms. This may be journal editors or campus publication editors or faculty research group leaders or conference organizers. What role could make more sense for scholars who work with translation on a daily basis, who produce editions as part of our contribution to the discipline, who serve as interpreter for students and colleagues alike to our periods of study? Our experience with this work trains us to understand the necessity of communicating our scholarship as well as the importance of the role of editors.
§7. I could continue to categorize the roles that medievalists share—honors program coordinators, search committee/chairs, general education reviews, etc.—but these three highlight my point: our identities as medievalists make us suited for this multitasking life. Whether we like it or not, we are trained for versatility and utility. Medievalists gravitate towards these roles—or are nominated for these roles—because we have the skills to do them well. This statement might sound rather grandiose, but I do believe that the very nature of our work prepares us to take on this variety of work. For Lone Medievalists, the problem is that there is only one of us to take on these roles! What ends up happening then are the long lists like those I received from colleagues through social media.
§8. Does this reflection keep us from feeling overwhelmed at our many roles? Sadly, no, it does not. What it does do—at least for me—is put these roles in the context of my field of study. Rather than seeing them as separate from everything else I do, thinking about each role's connection to medieval studies can create more continuity and synthesis. Those of us who teach pre-modern studies are often called upon to "defend" its significance or its importance in larger debates and concerns. These are concepts we think about regularly. Positioning our own activities and service into this discussion is both good practice for these moments, but it also clarifies for ourselves exactly how medieval studies enhances the professional and public lives of academics.
§9. It can also be a point of pride—being a medievalist makes us better at our jobs!
Last Modified: 03-Oct-2018