Friday, August 08, 2008

Medievalist Priorities?

Medievalist Priorities?

Just had one of those 'wow' moments. I'm being bored stiff by yet another piece of academic writing for this chapter dutifully reading another important article auf deutsch when I realise that I have read the same piece of information a couple of times in a couple of different ways. Do you know want Edmund E. Stengel was doing on March 12, 1944? He was giving a speech on the history of Fulda, in Fulda, to celebrate the 1200th anniversary of the founding of the monastery.

In March. 1944.

It's a really good reminder, I think, for all of us, especially those of us who teach. Horrible, world-wrenching things can be going on around us, and yet people do just get one with their work. Even historians.


Nathaniel said...

Admittedly, the example you give is somewhat worrying. I'm not sure I want medievalist priorities to seem that purblind.

Without getting into the morality of it, it is an entirely natural and human response, especially in a state where as long as you had the preferred racial classification, kept "apolitical" and focused on your work you had a pretty good chance of survival (especially in his case not opposing the removal of Jews from Academia, or at least not loudly). It seems almost like an extreme example to throw up (immediately to be Godwinned) when discussions of topics such as the purity of research and retreating to the garden of scholarship come around.

Of course, all of the above is a generic discussion of culpability of "ordinary people" (well, specifically academics) in situations like the Nazi state, or even lesser situations. At least individually Stengel was involved in the deeply worthy task of his archive of charter photographs. I have no idea about the current state of the archives of which he preserved at least a shadow, but considering the destruction of buildings and archives in the second world war, I have to consider that a worthwhile task.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Is this Rhein River Nathaniel?

Yeah -- and honestly, I hadn't even thought all that far about Stengel and his work when this struck me. Really, I was just thinking about how life does just go on, and how we tend to teach in terms of major catastrophic events sometimes. Think about something like the Plague, or the 30 Years War, and the massive devastation that goes on ... and yet we have to be able to get across to our students that the survivors *did* survive, mostly by just carrying on.

In Stengel's case, and the cases of other German academics, though, I think you are very right. The particular circumstances are ones that raise so many other important issues and questions, some of which we can't really ever answer. And which I think can't be Godwinned by anyone who is thoughtful.

Janice said...

It certainly is food for thought: his life during the war seems to have gone on fairly normally unlike, say, Marc Bloch's.

By the way, I have a blogging award for you over at my site!