Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reboots, sf, and history

In response to my last post, which was in part on the latest version of Captain America, Bellebonnesage pointed out that Marvel had played a part in the Civil Rights movement, and in fact, The Howling Commandos were always an interracial unit. Even while watching the film, I did think about the Dirty Dozen, which had a less savory plot device for bringing Jim Brown into the film. I think this is specifically where the current reboot lets us down: there is no explanation. In fact, I think this is one of the joys and problems of reboots in general. Reboots are deliberate erasures of story lines and attempts to take a story along a different timeline in the way that sf has played with for years.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I liked the Star Trek reboot, despite having been a fairly serious Trekkie in my much younger days (Yes, there was a time when I could probably have told you the name of an episode based on a couple of hints, but not the episode number!). The reason why the reboot worked for me was that I was able to assume multiple parallel universes in which things play out differently. Also, I think it needs pointing out that, although the original Star Trek is part of my history, it is set in the future. It's not actually history, and very little of it takes place in our historical past. "City on the Edge of Forever" may play with the time paradox and the effects of one slight alteration, but it's always a 'what if' sort of episode. It's also, incidentally, interesting in that it reinforces the idea of Big Events and stuff that doesn't matter. If Kirk and McCoy save Edith Keeler, Hitler wins: see how one intervention in the timeline can have huge ripple effects? But what about the guy who sees Spock's ears? How does that affect him, and his family? Still, the big picture is clear: we shouldn't alter the past.

One might argue that the current Avengers movies are much like the Star Trek reboot. They are fantastic, they are pop culture, and they are clearly not history. This is one of the reasons that casting Idris Elba as Heimdall worked just fine for me -- the Marvel Aesir aren't gods, they're just guys with better technology who got treated like gods. Not that some people could figure that out. But it is because some people can't figure it out that I think Captain America's producers goofed.

Captain America is a superhero. He's sf -- after all, super-strength imparted through an experimental serum and Stark technology? But he's also set in the historical past. Obviously, not entirely historical, because the Hydra is totally Marvel, and even there, this is a reboot of the organization.* But yes, our past, and our historical past. The Second World War is, with the Civil War, one of the few historical events/periods that modern US audiences (and given what I've seen of the UK A-Level exams, UK audiences) can get a grip on, in the sense that they know something about it. But what they know is often wrong. What they know is often misinformed, and leaves out things like Japanese internment camps, or segregation. So when an audience that doesn't know the history of the comic, or the comic's place in history -- and I think most people who see the films won't, because the numbers of people who learn about comic book characters via tv series and films as opposed to actual comic books (and they'd have to go digging backwards to get all of the original story line, which is only available via huge reprint volumes that cost a fortune) -- when they don't know, they are not likely to think about it. A couple of lines of exposition introducing the Howling Commandos could have made a big difference. In leaving out those lines, the reboot cut itself off from an important part of its own history, and rewrote ours.

*Also, despite the coolness of the Hydra logo, it's not a hydra, it's a skull-headed octopus! Hydra, people, NINE heads. If a villain is going to tell us that two heads grow back where you cut off one, then perhaps there should be multiple heads?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Is Captain America Supposed to Make Scared White Men Less Scared?

[There are small spoilers.]

One of the things I've done since Leeds is catch up a little with friends I haven't seen for a month or more. So the other day, a few of us went to see Captain America. As a superhero film, I have to say, it was one of the better ones I've seen -- at least for a Marvel-based film. It was exciting, the script and acting were really good, the casting was great... and it was surprisingly not jingoistic. I think it escaped it by being mostly set during the Second World War, and by having a villain who was a breakaway from Hitler's special arcane & tech forces unit. I loved the odd sort of nostalgia, and the way that Captain America was clearly part of the war effort, but in a 'real guy embodying an emblem' sort of way.

There were really weird moments, though. Weird because, while the evocations of the period often felt real (inasmuch as comics can evoke historical feelings), there was just stuff that was wrong. Once Cap is in Europe, united with the 107th, he's got a multicultural band of brothers. I realize that there are lots of things in the film that aren't real, duh -- secret powers of the Aesir? References to Raiders of the Lost Ark? But when I saw the African-American GI, my initial thought was, "but aren't you supposed to be in a segregated unit? or a cook?" And when the Asian (presumably Japanese) guy says,"Hey, I'm from Fresno!" How could I not think, "Dude, then you'd be in Manzanar or the 442nd!" Better writers on race in America have already commented on this, and how it helps to erase the Civil Rights Movement, so I'm not going there. Yet?

Then last night, I was watching Luther, a BBC crime drama with the amazing Idris Elba. It's good, gritty, and dark. And one of the episodes I watched concerned a white guy who may or may not have been racially motivated. There was a scene where the killer, a skinny white man who was clearly into RPG stuff, went into a shop run by a South Asian man. He blatantly stuffed his bag from the shelves, watching the shopkeeper watch him and do nothing. And it made me think of all the astoundingly offensive and insane commentary surrounding Breivik, the mass murderer in Norway (short roundup here, because I will not link to assholes at Fox), whose ideas of jihad-by-migration have also been defended (although not linked to Breivik there at all) on an academic listserv I read and in fact more directly on that scholar's own blog. No, I'm not linking there, either. This came at a time where yet again, a bunch of misogynist comments were made, and then dismissed by senior male scholars when women complained about them.

The one thing that comes to mind over and over again is how scared and threatened a very large segment of the population must be. Where does this phenomenon of the scared white guy come from? Because that's what it is, isn't it? Beck, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and all the people who buy into their fear and hatred, and want to channel it back into attacking women and people of other races (and I don't really believe Islamophobia is as much about religion as it is about race -- Sharia law supports a lot of the sorts of positions Michelle Bachman does, after all...) -- how does that work? How is it that, when we look at who truly has power in Western society, we can see that it's mostly plutocratic power, and those who hold it are primarily white and primarily male. Actually, that should be reversed. Male and white. Male is still the biggest conveyer of privilege. In the West, white and straight and Christian are also up there. And yes, there are going to be trade-offs, and within certain communities, the balance will be different. A senior colleague and friend pointed out to me that one of the people who irritates me most on the list serv because he seems so entirely unable to recognize his male privilege, or even his academic privilege, probably can't see it that way because his self-perception is based on being a Jew and being held back by those with white privilege.

But back to the fear: why is it that we live in a world where there is a perception that power is a zero-sum game, and if it is shared, i.e., if we actually live in a world where people of color, people of other religions, people with other sexualities -- and, by the way, women -- share in the running of that world, it means something bad for white guys who think of themselves as Christian? And why is it that the people who fear (because I think we need to include the partners and families of these scared white men -- there are lots of women in the Tea Party, after all) cannot see that they have far more in common with the rest of us folks who live from paycheck to paycheck in multicultural land than they do with the people running things and asking us to pay the bills?

I expect in some ways it all comes down to entitlement, and not the good sort provided by the NHS, or Social Security. If you're used to privilege, and that privilege seems threatened, then all you have to fall back on is a feeling of entitlement. And if power is not a zero-sum game, then privilege kind of is. At least, once privilege -- something that is grounded only by means of historically having power without thinking about where it comes from -- is challenged, then people have to compete for the same jobs, places at university, etc. In fact, a level playing field doesn't feel all that level when it means you don't have the up-hill advantage. When you've never had to share, even giving away a small portion can feel like a huge loss. Being accustomed to privilege, especially the unrecognized kind, leads to feelings of entitlement that don't hold water for me. And I guess entitlement means not having to be scared, or think about one's own responsibilities to others. So a world in which a token African-American or Nisei soldier helps to show that, hey, we've always got along together just fine is a world that says, "see? you don't have to think about reality or question your privilege." It's a world where you don't have to be scared white men.

Of course, lots of us already live in a world where you don't have to be scared white men. It's full of interesting people with different ideas about life and nature and how the world works, and conversations that include bits of different languages, and really, a lot better food. And you know? the doors aren't always wide open, because sometimes assholes with guns show up. But if you are willing to live here with the rest of us, it's a pretty nice place.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This year, I remembered my bloggiversary: Blogenspiel is NINE!

Yep, it's nine years old.

Ok, really it's a little less, since I didn't start blogging in earnest for a couple of months, but still, NINE!

A lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same. I have gone from being a married person who had stopped working in academia and trying to get back in to a divorced person with a fairly secure (I think) academic position on the other side of the country and a house of my own. I met someone and fell in love, and that didn't work out so well, and the breakup (even though it turns out neither of us have completely moved on, but there is no possible 'back together', either) just about broke me. Didn't blog much about that one, though. Went through another year I didn't blog much about, last year, because once I'd recovered from the personal crisis, I landed in a professional one that is still trying to break me. I am torn between 80% of being in a job in a place I love, where I want to be, and 20% of Giant Black Hole of Dread when I think about actually going in to work, because they don't give you a kevlar vest with quasi-tenure. This year's goal is to reduce the 20% and, more importantly, not to allow it to ruin the 80% or the steps forward I've been making in writing and teaching cool new stuff.

That, and I need to get in better shape and pay off some bills :-)

Other things that have changed:

I've kept a lot of my old blogfriends, and they have become RL friends as well. But some, like New Kid, have changed careers. I've made new friends through blogging, and those friends have been as instrumental as the old ones in helping me see myself as a competent person who actually has a place at the academic table. The only disadvantage is that, as I manage to be a better scholar, I seem to have less time to read blogs, and feel I've lost touch with some of you, and that makes me sad. With any luck, the getting in better shape will also mean more energy to arrange my days better and to faff a bit less. I know that I want to write more on the blog in the coming year, because it really does keep me in practice.

Things that have not changed:

I am still horrified by some of my colleagues and their attitudes towards academia, their inability to recognize their privilege, and sometimes their completely insane hate-mongering.

I am still horrified by the governments of the US and UK, and their attitudes towards higher ed, the thrall in which corporate interests hold them, and the new ways they find to sell us out every day.

I still detest everything Murdoch and, although I do not wish it, I would not weep if I heard that Palin, Bachman, Cantor, Beck, Limbaugh, Buchanan, and others of that ilk were killed by buses, polar bears, or (and this would be a sort of justice) a failure of the infrastructure they have worked so hard to destroy.

I also have no great love for the centrists of the supposed left, and in some ways think they are worse.

I will still be blogging about academic life things, even if talking about my own is too difficult at the moment -- and this is also because of a change that has occurred, i.e., I'm far more pseudonymous than anonymous these days, and I don't want people trying to figure out which RL people I may or may not be talking about.

So... in the next few days, I hope to be posting about strategies for keeping up with scholarly stuff while dealing with a heavy teaching and service load; William Pannapacker's latest iteration of what's wrong with higher ed; a long overdue review of a slightly erotic novella written by a colleague and other medievalist; faculty buy-in... and some stuff I can't remember because it's hot here in Dabbaville, and I can't sleep in the hot.

In the meantime, here is a picture from my summer:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Writing group Check-in week 8

Well, I did get my paper done, and then took a few days off to visit with an old friend who lives on the other side of the Pennines from Leeds. Then home yesterday to a pile of admin stuff. So OBE has hit again -- that and not counting on things like travel and forgetting that I owed my dean a pile of work. So that needs doing Saturday, and the paper will have to get sent on Saturday. Then I will be taking stock of what needs doing before classes start again. The long-term goal for me has stayed relatively the same: I've finished two conference papers, and am trying to get drafts sent to a journal and a volume editor by the end of August. But in the meantime, there is definitely some shuffling going on, and I will absolutely need to take a few days off somewhere, just to sleep.

In the meantime, I'll be adding some more thoughts on recalibrating in ways that don't mean dropping things entirely. That and why I set goals that don't include any time to spare or time to spend resting. In the meantime, I am wondering -- What are people's teaching loads, and how much time do you spend on research during the academic year? I ask because I think I overload myself because of the fear that I only have the summer to get things done, and that's probably why I don't plan any holiday time. Ever.

This week's goals:

ABDMama [Draft of an article MS]: begin cutting, 1,000 words this week
ADM [conference paper for Leeds; revision of paper after]: Get paper submitted to MFF
Cly [revise article for publication & draft chapter for book]: Finish revisions
Dame Eleanor [Revising a conference paper into article MS]: Keep expanding; including actual words on the page (NPhD: got a word count in mind?)
Digger [drafts of two book chapters]: Finish Mash chapter – for real!
Dr. Koshary [work on book MS]: Excused absence: moving this week
Eileen [First draft of a dissertation chapter]: finish current section & map out final section
Erika [Review-ready draft of an article MS]: edit 1 page/ day, write 500 words on conf. paper or freewrite 500 words on second article
Firstmute [chapter draft; send out article]: get back to chapter draft, with a daily writing goal of 3 hours a day
Frog Princess [rewrite Chapter 3; get another draft of the introduction]: make a plan for the remainder of the summer; start dealing with chapter 3, and go through the papers of a subject held at the university library for relevant information
Gillian [an article that needs writing]: planned incommunicado for another week
Godiva [First draft of diss. chap.]: write 500 words/day & basic outline of whole chapter
Jeff [Review-ready draft of completed dissertation]: Get a version of ch. 2 ready to send to committee
Kit: [Write the first draft of a dissertation chapter]: ((specific goal for this week??))
NWGirl [Revising a conference paper into an article MS]: draft section 3 and conclusion
Sapience [Prepare presentation of full dissertation for department]: Keep working on the presentation/ introduction, especially in terms of organization; shift to revisions of the main work if feedback comes in.
Scatterwriter [Complete expansion/revision of an article MS]: write up final point suggested by reviewers, then make last passes through the manuscript as a whole
Scholastic Mama [Revising a conference paper into an article MS]: excused absence for faculty seminar, but will use the time to do some reading
Susan [Revise & polish two chapters of a book MS]: either continue on the current (interrupted) chapter, or go spend a few days on the introduction
Tigs [Completed diss draft]: finish edits on chs. 3-6; complete draft of ch. 7 (NPhD: wow – that seems like a lot for a single week…)
Travelia [prepare book MS for review]: take stock of book ms and create a master to-do list of necessary and desired revisions, making detailed notes on the strengths and weaknesses of each chapter
Zabeel [Complete draft of an article]: one-week holiday planned

Awaiting report:

Audie [working on transitioning a dissertation chapter to an article]*
J. Otto Pohl [Complete draft of 2/3-finished book MS]*
Jen [Revising conference paper into article MS]*
Matilda [Draft of a publishable paper]*
Mel [Finish dissertation!]*
Zcat abroad [write an article]*

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Leeds Reaction 2

Went to lunch today with a friend who needs to come to Leeds more so he can talk about Viking-y things (and grace the disco with his presence), and Friend Who Needs a New Pseudonym (so, currently, FWNNP), and told them about it, at their request. It was sort of nice, because it reminded me of some of the highlights and less-than-highlights, so that I can start writing them up. Still unable to say how my own paper went, although FWNNP liked the one report he'd seen. But then, he liked the paper, too, which he read in a less-polished draft.

But other than that, I was able to tell them about the Really Not Fun experience of giving the time signal, then giving it again, and then again, and having the speaker tell me he was finishing -- only to go into another section. Good thing the original moderator was not there, is all I can say. But, since you all know how I feel about this, let me just say it again: DO NOT DO THIS. EVER. Not if you are famous, not if you are a post-grad, not if you are in the middle. You are taking time from other people. Also, you really aren't doing yourself any favors. If you go over by more than about 2 minutes, people stop paying attention, because they are counting. that's right. You lose your audience. You especially lose the audience if what you are saying is already on a slide in front of them. And, if you are trying to impress, there's a chance you won't, because people will remember the behavior more than they will a brilliant (or even weak, I think) paper.

And I told them about the paper that was pretty much all about how one historian had got it wrong, over and over again. That one was really pretty fun. And the clothing papers, which I will say something about. And the really good one in the session before mine, which was well-delivered by someone speaking in a third language, well-constructed, and really just plain interesting.

I got to tell them about the disco, which suffered from poorer musical choices this year than in the past (really? American Pie when people are still sober? or, actually, ever?), and the very nice people who were there and who they would have liked to have seen. And then we had an extended conversation about "Scandinavian" burials in Ireland. Very extended. Is "Scandinavian" indicative of location? or of ethnicity? both? neither? When immigrants do things that commemorate their cultural traditions (but may not actually be those traditions, but things that are sort of blown up beyond recognition), how do we treat that?

And then we talked more about archaeology. Or rather, they did, and I interjected on occasion, because as I told them, I managed to survive a grad seminar where we talked about onion-topped fibulae for over a week, I think, and can vaguely tell the difference between the best-known fibulae (or brooch, if you'd rather) types. I can even read archaeological reports and understand them pretty well. But really? Not so much my thing. On the other hand, it's nice to have been updated on the whole NO! it's not that! it's an SBT! thing, even if it reminds me that I need to read a bit more on the 5th C.

And now, I'm off home tomorrow. Sad to leave the UK, happy to be going home to cats and friends, sad to not be working in the BL, happy that the Nice Librarian has offered to let me work in a nice space over there, so that I don't have to spend any more time in my department than is necessary. Yes, I think that this year, I will be playing the role of the absentee Department Chair: on campus, available to students and administrators, but not actually in my office unless there are plenty of people around.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leeds Reaction #1

First off, my Leeds was a bit odd. I never felt I hit my stride till maybe the last day. Normally, I ask questions -- in fact, I have been accused of asking awkward questions. This time, I felt very disconnected, and had a horrible time processing information. I think part of it was that many of the session moderators paused for questions after each paper, and so I didn't have the time to ruminate as I usually do. Anyway, it was a far more difficult Leeds than I expected. The best part was that I got to talk to some really nice and intelligent people, and even though I felt more imposter-like than usual, there were moments that inspired me. One was Guy Halsall's paper, which confronted outright the issue of historians whose work seemed, willingly or unwittingly, to lend fuel to (especially) right-wing political agendas, particularly those that connected immigration to barbarian/Roman relations.

It was especially interesting to me because it bears on an internal conflict I regularly confront. I absolutely agree with him -- yet I am also very aware of the fact that I try very hard not to engage with the current political atmosphere when I teach. Except that I do, in some ways -- it's probably not a coincidence that I frame my surveys around issues like the relationship of the subject/citizen to lord/state, and on ways in which different cultures saw legal status, for example.

It also made me think about what it was that made me uncomfortable about my own paper. I was, and am, very certain that we need to re-think certain basic assumptions about the history of women. But I also do believe Judith Bennett is right about the patriarchal equilibrium. So I honestly worry that, by challenging people to stop simply assuming the oppression of women and the absence of female agency as a starting point, I might also be giving the false impression that I don't think they could be true. Ok -- I'm not entirely sure that "oppressed" is a helpful or good word for the early MA, because it seems to me to be a word best employed when there is a clear understanding of rights being restricted against one's will.

When I argue that we need to understand the situation of women differently, it doesn't mean that I think women's situations were better, or worse. I just mean that we should think about imposing our own values on the past in ways that might not have made sense to the people living there. But Guy's post hits at the underlying problem, and it is one I deal with regularly: to a non-specialist reader, or student, I can see how my approach could reinforce the opinions of people inclined towards anti-feminism and perhaps even give them excuses for dismissing the inequalities of the early MA. And that's not what I want. I don't want them to say, "oh, but look -- women DID have these legal rights we thought they didn't, so obviously we can dismiss any silly feminist arguments." I want people to ask questions so they can see that sometimes things look like one thing, but have a different meaning in a different context. And I think that that should make people more aware of feminist issues (in this case, but really, pick an issue and you can make the argument). But the sessions helped me to put a name to the nagging worry that people will think I am asking them to throw the proverbial baby out with the proverbial bathwater, or even that they will try to find evidence to support a right-wing view that feminism is somehow a bad thing, or a lie.


Thursday, July 14, 2011


More on Leeds later, but rumor has it that things went reasonably well. I was at least able to walk into my session with the knowledge that one colleague had reviewed the draft and liked it. More on the very interesting papers I heard later, and again, I've still got a little bit of the high I always get from talking to really smart people with beer added.

But now, a nap. Apparently I am being taken somewhere by a friend in an hour or so.

Monday, July 11, 2011

At Leeds IMC

And not bloody ready AT ALL.

If you are a RL friend, you have permission to bug me. If you don't really know me yet, please forgive the fact that I may be a bit rude to anybody who wants to talk until I can talk without worrying that my paper -- which is now something like a paper -- needs finishing.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Writing Group Check-In

Hi all --

Well, I am still being somewhat Overtaken By Events, some of which are academic, and some of which are down to a lot of odd things happening in my personal life that I will not go into here. One of the academic event is something I will come back to as soon as the paper is actually finished. I am heading off to the BL as soon as I post this.

But here is one of the things I've realized: when all the time you have for research is the summer, it's possibly not the best idea to use all of that time for a paper you might have been able to get done at home with Interlibrary loan... Also, in my case, I have to remember that reading for a paper is not the same as reading to actually read and learn. I can't read everything I want in its entirety. I wish I could. I should. But there is only so much time, and I always forget that serious reading takes practice -- and I'm out of practice most summers, because I spend most of the academic year reading for classes that are out of my strongest areas of expertise, or completely new (pirates. not doing that again...)

So expect me to write something I hope will be useful about not making the same summer (or for some people, research leave) mistakes over and over. In the meantime, maybe you could also share some ideas on that?

Thanks, and here are your last week's goals, compiled by Notorious, whose super-organized Type A personality is a godsend at the moment!

Writing group week 6 goals:

ABDMama [Draft of an article MS]: Pull sections from diss chapter to help fill out the article; work at least an hour each day.
ADM [conference paper for Leeds; revision of paper after]: finish Leeds paper…or else!
Audie [working on transitioning a dissertation chapter to an article]: reread all secondary sources and current chapter draft; map out/outline article
Dame Eleanor [Revising a conference paper into article MS]: No specific goal posted.
Digger [drafts of two book chapters]: continue working on book chapter; flesh out conference paper outline and start getting image permissions for book
Dr. Koshary [work on book MS]: finish a rough draft of chapter 4
Eileen [First draft of a dissertation chapter]: finish previous goal of 4K words on theory/quantitative data
Erika [Review-ready draft of an article MS]: 500 new words a day, plus clean up one old page per day
Firstmute [chapter draft; send out article]: Finish article draft & send to advisor.
Frog Princess [Review-ready draft of completed dissertation]: Finsh introduction & compile everything
Gillian [an article that needs writing]: Detour for final revision of Leeds paper
Godiva [First draft of diss. chap.]: Write 500 words/day
J. Otto Pohl [Complete draft of 2/3-finished book MS]: completely finish the deportation section
Jen [Revising conference paper into article MS]: finish the current section, writing 400 words each morning.
Kit: [Write the first draft of a dissertation chapter]: write 500 words a day
Matilda [Draft of a publishable paper]: small parts of three separate tasks, with deadlines for each in mind
Mel [Finish dissertation!]: Finish discussion section of chapter 4
NWGirl [Revising a conference paper into an article MS]: Finish section 1 of article & draft section 2
Sapience [diss chapter (done! ahead of schedule!) Prepare presentation of full dissertation for department]: start outlining presentation
Scatterwriter [Complete expansion/revision of an article MS]: start last passes through complete book to make sure argument is complete; begin drafting cover letter to editor
Scholastic Mama [Revising a conference paper into an article MS]: complete week 5 of WJA book
Susan [Revise & polish two chapters of a book MS]: On vacation for two weeks
Tigs [Completed diss draft]: finish the legal section of ch. 2, do a first round of edit on the culture section, and break down what else needs to be done to finish off the chapter
Travelia [Write two conference papers]: give a talk on topic at one conference; looking ahead to the following week to prepare book MS for review [NPhD: Travelia, do you want to add this MS to your overall goals?]
What Now [Polished book proposal]: trying to figure out what to do when a project is scooped
Zabeel [Draft first two sections of new article]: read three books and one article; continue daily writing goals of 3 hrs/day
Zcat abroad [write an article]: Plan out structure of article, and re-read base text for notes

Awaiting report:

Bardiac [Review-ready article MS]*
Caleb Woodbridge [MA thesis]**
Cly [revise article for publication & draft chapter for book]**
Jason [First draft of a dissertation chapter]**
Jeff [Review-ready draft of completed dissertation]*
Ms McD: Revising a conference paper into an article MS***
My Museology: redraft three dissertation chapters***
Ro [MS revision (NPhD: article?)]*

Thursday, July 07, 2011

following GH

So I suppose I am both happy and semi-annoyed to find what has become an impetus for this paper laid out so clearly on p. 321 ff of Cemeteries and Society in Merovingian Gaul.

I'm in very good company, at least.

The real question is, what are we going to do about it?

Blogger meet-up at Leeds

Hello, all --

For those going to the International Medieval Congress at Leeds next week, Jonathan Jarrett and Magistra et Mater are organising a bloggers'meetup. This will be 6-8 pm, Stables Pub at the Weetwood site on Tuesday 12th July. For anyone who has not met any of us before, Magistra will be the tall middle-aged woman with short brown hair, glasses and a faintly bemused look. Jon has long black hair and will be talking enthusiastically. I am the medium-sized (I suppose -- not particularly tall, nor short, nor thin, but not actually plump), middle-aged (because I am certainly older than Magistra and Jon), and blonde with a sort of bob-pageboy haircut, likely in something brown-and-white or black-and-white and skirt-ish.

Monday, July 04, 2011

An example of why I am writing this paper

"Allegations that widows took fraudulent vows in order to remain free to lead a life of sexual abandon leave no doubt that the cloistering of widows represented an integral part of the church's effort to enforce monogamy. As this program met with success and the conjugal family emerged as the basic unit of society, the function of sheltering unmarried ladies, formerly assumed by extended families, was taken over by the convents. As in other spheres of life, her too the royal family led the way. Louis the Pious not only sent his notorious sisters to nunneries but also installed his widowed mother-in-law as abbess at Chelles." SF Wemple, Women in Frankish Society, 105

Granted, Wemple is sort of old news these days. But the ghost of this sort of scholarship is alive and well, I think. There's plenty out there that contradicts this interpretation, which rests in part on a feminist reading of the role of the church in the Early Middle Ages and indeed, on a function of monogamy that may or may not have been entirely true at the time. Most importantly, I think, is a more recent idea that we see in, for example, essays in de Jong's Topographies of Power, LeJan's Femmes, pouvoir et societé, and even in Goldberg's biography of Louis the German and Althoff's work on the Ottonians. That those all assume a degree of agency that Wemple doesn't is very important. That only one of them is in English is one of the reasons that I'm writing this stupid paper: despite the fact that more and more Anglophones seem to be reading German these days, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of synthesizing going on, or at least not on a level that is reaching more 'general' audiences. We have reached a point, I think, where we are no longer explicitly arguing against older assumptions (and I am not sure that we ever really did, because that would mean -- shock! horror! -- engaging in women's or even feminist history, which might undermine our standing as real historians who work with charters and stuff). Rather, we are arguing for a much more interesting and nuanced picture of women's roles in early medieval society that is still haunted by unresolved scholarly approaches.

Or maybe not. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Writing Group Check-In up at Notorious, PhD's

Hey all -- this week's check-in is up here. My week has been good in some ways (talked to people about the paper, got totally freaked out, looked at abstract again and realized that the paper I keep thinking I'm "settling" for is the one I said I was going to write -- I just now think it's a lame paper.

But I'm going to write the damned thing.