The hurly burly of Medieval Studies!

Bute Psalter – Paris – 13th c. – Getty

You might think that this is a joke.  It is a joke, but not the kind sane people think up.

From Campus Reform (with my emphases and comments I’ll leave links in as texts):

Activists demand more social justice in Medieval Studies

A group of medieval studies scholars is threatening to boycott next year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies to protest the rejection of sessions proposed by “Medievalists of Color.”

Conference organizers, however, insist that workshops like “How to Be a White Ally in Medieval Studies 101” and “Toxic Medievalisms” were rejected based on standard criteria such as lack of intellectual justification.

A prominent association of medieval studies scholars has pledged to boycott the discipline’s largest annual conference over a lack of social justice programming. [No doubt that would be a huge blow to this field, were they not to show.]

On July 11, the BABEL Working Group[Please tell me this is a spoof.] published an open letter to the organizers of the International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS), which is planning to host its annual conference of about 3,000 academics at Kalamazoo College in May 2019, outlining two “concerns” about the conference.

“The first is that there seems to be a bias against, or lack of interest in, [those are not the same thing… I, for example, can be mostly uninterested in Big Foot because there is no Big Foot and it’s a waste of time.] sessions that are self-critical of medieval studies, or focused on the politics of the field in the present, especially relative to issues of decoloniality, globalization, and anti-racism,” the letter explains, adding that the second concern relates to an alleged “lack of transparency around the process by which ICMS programming decisions are made.”

[RELATED: Profs fear ‘alt-right’ is taking over Medieval Studies] [Alt-Right is interested in Medieval Studies?  Who knew?]

The letter, which has been signed by more than 600 people as of press time, argues that by rejecting workshops such as “How to Be a White Ally in Medieval Studies 101,” “Toxic Medievalisms,” and “Intersectionality and the Medieval Romance,” the ICMS organizers are hurting scholars of color and excluding their perspectives.“The rejection of multiple sessions co-sponsored by Medievalists of Color (MOC) in particular minimizes the intellectual guidance that scholars of color would provide at the conference, when these scholars are already severely underrepresented in the field,” the letter protests.

Other workshops rejected by ICMS organizers included “Toxic Medievalisms: Misuses and Abuses of the Medieval in Contemporary Culture,” “Race and the Medieval,” “Translations of Power: Race, Class, and Gender Intersectionality in the Middle Ages I and II,” and more.

[RELATED: Prof: ‘white marble’ in artwork contributes to white supremacy[*sigh*]

While the BABEL Working Group suggests foul play, a review of previous conference schedules indicates that social justice issues are not typically discussed at the conference.

Instead, workshops on topics such as “Commemorating Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians,” “Transmaterial Dynamics between Italy and Iran,” and “Law as Culture: Inquisition, Landholding, and Murder” are more likely to be seen during the event.

In an effort to influence the topics of discussion at the upcoming conference, the BABEL Working Group demands that the ICMS organizers allow at least two of the previously rejected workshops to be added to the 2019 schedule, threatening to withdraw thousands of dollars in annual support if the ICMS does not comply.

“If ICMS chooses not to recognize the special urgency of supporting the Medievalists of Color this year…the BABEL Working Group does not anticipate putting more of our collective resources into the Congress,” the open letter warns.


So, if they don’t get their way, they’re threatening to go all medieval on the conference?

Ahhh… Medieval Studies!

And now a musical interlude…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Throwing a Nutty, You must be joking! and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. As a medievalist who has taught religious history in state universities (Berkeley, Oregon, Virginia) for some 25 years and now teaches that material in a seminary, I would warn against taking the “K’zoo” conference as typical of medieval studies. Charlotte Allen did a great send up of the ‘Zoo some years ago that is worth reading:

    It made a lot of the professors in literary areas very angry. And she is right about the growing marginalization of historians in the discipline.

  2. richiedel says:

    A real medievalist like Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. would be able to dissect this well.

  3. Julia_Augusta says:

    I am reminded of Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

  4. chantgirl says:


    Well, it is cultural appropriation for these 21st century profs of non-European descent to even study the medieval era ;)

    Must this dumbassery infect every area of academia? Is there no place safe from the madness? Perhaps mathematics is still safe for a bit?

    I am wondering if there is a sort of social justice fever that can strike academics who have been locked inside their safe spaces for too long, perhaps like sailors used to get cabin fever?

    I am reminded of the scene in Muppet Treasure Island when the crew gets cabin fever and breaks into song :)

  5. JesusFreak84 says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this could pass for an Onion or EOTT article?

  6. Kerry says:

    Hmm…what about that plague which killed 1/3 of the population, the “People of Color” Death?

  7. Greg Hlatky says:

    This will end only when the last Grievance Studies professor is strangled with the guts of the last Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion.

  8. JeromeThomas says:

    Just to expand on this a little, Campus Reform is unfortunately incorrect in saying that social justice issues are not likely to be discussed at the ICMS. The talks that *were* approved include:

    – “Medieval History and Marxist Thought”
    – “Queer Ecologies and the Middle Ages”
    – ““Queer” Border, “Hidden Kingdom”: Perceptions of Wales in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Work”.
    – “Dice Rolling for Racism: White Supremacy and Role Playing Games”
    – “Medieval History and Marxist Thought”
    – “Would Aquinas Support Homosexual Activity if He Were Alive Today?”
    – “Dysphoric Pedagogies: Teaching about Transgender and Intersex in the Middle Ages”

    among a number of others. Granted, there are more than two thousand talks at this conference, but regardless, it seems to me that the BABEL group, in pushing for their talks, were simply trying to push ICMS too far, so that in rejecting BABEL’s proposed talks BABEL could start this boycott and demand to be placed in the selection committee, thus completing the effective takeover of ICMS.

    ICMS released a letter a few hours ago ( in which they accepted all of the demands made in the boycott letter. So expect to see many more of these talks soon.

  9. Dear Jerome Thomas,

    Well, of course. Take a look at Charlotte Allen’s essay I linked now ten years old. Sorry for the cliche, but “Same old, same old. To think of the ‘Zoo as what medieval history is about is like making the the Leadership Conference of Women Religious the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

    One Byzantinist is fighting the good fight:

    One of the great Byzantine scholars of our generation. Buy his book.

  10. iamlucky13 says:

    “I am reminded of Monty Python’s Holy Grail.”

    Actually, I believe the article was actually based on a deleted scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, originally to follow the struggle against reality scene. Perhaps they changed the era to make the plagiarism less obvious.

  11. Ages says:

    Monty Python was supposed to be comedy, not prophecy.

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