The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages, Inc.

News & Notes from TEAMS

October 1996

The Status of the Profession: Medievalists in 1996

Bonnie Wheeler
Southern Methodist University

The traditional Thursday evening TEAMS session on professorial issues was held in Fetzer Auditorium at Western Michigan University during the 1996 International Congress on Medieval Studies last May. The 1995 topic had been "Women Mentoring." That lively discussion is summarized in the Spring 1996 issue of the Medieval Feminist Newsletter. This year's topic was "Medieval Studies in the College Curriculum - Dead or Alive?" One often hears colleagues - in several fields, but particularly in literature - argue that there is declining student or, most threateningly, peer interest in earlier literatures.

Participants on the panel included medieval scholars from departments of literature and history, each one noted for long-standing commitment to undergraduate teaching, as well as non-medievalist Stanley Katz, President of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and Professor of History at Princeton University. In each case, panelists mentioned the importance of reaching younger students: if we wish to preserve the vitality of our fields, we must amplify our audiences into the elementary and high schools. We must effect changes in the content of the national standard testing (SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement tests) so that medieval topics are well-represented.

Laurie Finke (Women's and Gender Studies Program, Kenyon College) began by reminding us that the profession is "over-determined by a sense of periodization." She called attention to the "ways in which the period coverage model - the division of chronological periods - that structures the humanities curriculum in most institutions of higher learning perpetuates the marginalization of the Middle Ages and the belief that it was a dark age of superstition, ignorance, and benighted prejudice. Following the Eastern European theorist, Slavoj Zizek, who argues that false consciousness has less to do with how we think than what we do, I argue that even though we do not really believe the narrative the period coverage model relates about how the Renaissance awakened Europe from its benighted slumber, we act as if we do as we go about our job of creating curricula, writing syllabi and anthologies, hiring, promoting, and tenuring our colleagues and teaching our students, activities which are dominated by the period coverage model."

Giles Constable (Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University) spoke eloquently about the way in which all cultures have some form of "Middle Ages"; teachers who remain aware of this fact are apt to embrace medieval subjects in the classroom. He took "a more optimistic view than most of the speakers, stressing the interest in the Middle Ages of students (and to some extent the general public) and their relevance to the present not only in Europe but also on this continent (as in Mexico and the Southwest). Modern societies look in the Middle Ages for the roots of their own successes and problems, however, so that the term often means different things to different peoples. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for teachers, who should avoid presenting a unitary picture of the Middle Ages derived from one region or period."

Ruth Mazzo Karras (Dept. Of History, Temple University) brought us back to some practical issues and suggestions: "The problem many of us face in today's university environment is getting enough undergraduate bodies in the seats. Two ways of doing this are 1) focusing our medieval courses around issues that are relevant in other times and places - putting medieval history in a world history context, or a comparative context, and 2) making use of the computer resources that are now available in order to teach the students Web literacy at the same time as we're teaching them medieval subjects."

Allen Frantzen (Dept. of English, Loyola University) warned us about business as usual: "Medievalists today live in an age blessed with two sources of strength that are not likely to continue. First is the existence of strong programs established some time ago by major figures in medieval studies; the Kalamazoo conference is the product of such a program. This strong base for medieval studies still flourishes, although anxiously. Second is new talent. There have never been so many people working actively to change the contours of the disciplines of medieval studies and to explore the differences among the disciplines medieval studies engage. This is true because graduate programs have been producing outstanding students in impressive numbers and because these graduates are not interested in replicating structures but instead in changing them. The happy results of this work are all around us. Look at the encouraging balance of traditional, somewhat innovative, and innovative to contemporary sessions at this conference, for example.

"At the moment, there's a vibrant atmosphere for medieval studies in the classroom. But will it last? . . . Many institutions cannot place their medieval studies graduates. This state of affairs bears directly on our work in the classroom, where all these graduates carry out important phases of their work. Yet I sometimes think that we are not supposed to comment on it. . . . My views can be summed up in two points, one negative, one positive.

"1) The impressive level of professional activity in Anglo- Saxon studies - large-scale research projects, numerous publications and organizations, and well-attended conferences - is not a sign that the discipline itself is healthy. Nor are large numbers of excellent applicants for mediocre jobs in medieval subjects to be understood as signs that things are going well! Ultimately the discipline is only as vital as its future, and the MLA Job Information List offers incontrovertible evidence that Anglo-Saxon studies are losing ground to other areas of the English curriculum.

"2) But there's a challenge here that those of us already employed can rise to. The shift from language and historical distribution to multiculturalism and theory offers an opportunity for Anglo-Saxon courses which are cross-disciplinary in a specific way that focuses on social problems and issues. I have linked introductory Old English course to such topics as servitude, slavery, and labor; the household and the family; and literacy. The courses devoted less time to grammar than I would have liked but more than compensated for this drawback by helping students learn about historical and cultural contexts (by which I do not mean slides from the British Museum but rather essays about the status of slaves, differences in the vocabulary for male and female slaves, and the role of the Church in slavery). By the end of the semester, students had acquired a basic reading knowledge of Old English that is sufficient to support further work in the language; they had also acquired a "reading knowledge" of some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and links between Anglo-Saxon and contemporary cultures. If we persuade our students, our colleagues, and our administrators that Anglo-Saxon studies are connected to topics of wide interest in academic life today, then we can expect these people to support our work and continue to provide opportunities for it to be carried out. We cannot carry on business as usual in Anglo-Saxon studies in particular (heavily emphasizing grammar, source study, conventional literary analysis, etc.) and expect that colleges and universities responding to major changes in intellectual, social, and financial fronts will support our work to the degree they once did. And we cannot ignore the consequencesof the national state of our discipline for those new to the discipline, those who hope to take our places. We best make these places ready for them by integrating our work with other disciplines, inside and outside the classroom."

Stanley Katz (President, American Council of Learned Societies [ACLS], 228 E 45 St., New York, NY 10017) ended the panel's observations on an ebullient note: "Medieval Studies is, fortuitously, nicely situated to capture the attention of students and young scholars who these days are more interested in focusing their efforts on problems than on disciplinary conundrums. The leading edge of humanities research and teaching is in the "studies" fields which define themselves by the problems they address rather than by the imperatives of traditional disciplinary agendas. Medieval studies also corresponds to the new interest in women, everyday life, and popular culture. So, far from being an "old subject," medieval studies finds itself on the intellectual and pedagogical frontiers. There are reasons for dancing in the streets, rather than despair."

Audience response was passionate on all sides of these issues. The conclusion? All agreed that it is important to begin the process of gathering data about current and past teaching practices so that we can absorb local anecdotes and scattered impressions into broader professional narratives. William Ziobro and the AHA now analyze the job market in the field of classics; we hope the Medieval Academy, perhaps through CARA, will undertake that work for our collective good.

Poculi Ludique Societas: Coming Attractions

The internationally-known Poculi Ludique Societas, based at the University of Toronto's Centre for Medieval Studies, produces plays from the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. These productions provide rare and excellent opportunities for students to see authentic stagings of medieval plays. Activities for this year include a Christmas double bill of the Towneley Trial of Mary and Joseph and the Second Shepherds' Play, running November 29­p;December 8, 1996, in Toronto; a February-March staging of Gammer Gurton's Needle, and a touring production of Heywood's Johan Johan which is still available for some dates in April and May.

The PLS is currently planning a production of the complete York Cycle for Midsummer's Day 1998, with individual plays to be staged by visiting groups. Several plays are still open; a full list of plays available and their details (cast number, length, etc.) will shortly be posted on the website listed below. If your class, club, or organization is interested in mounting a play for this production, or if you would like to know more about the society, call 416-978-5095 or send e-mail to For additional information about the Poculi Ludique Societas, visit the web site at <http://www.>.

Robin Hood Conference

Announcement and Call for Papers

The University of Rochester will sponsor a multi-disciplinary conference on Robin Hood, October 16­p;18, 1997. Papers addressing all aspects of Robin Hood, in all media and from all chronological periods, are invited. Presentations might address the historical records for various Robin Hoods, and the motives of traditional historical inquiry; the early representation of Robin Hood in dramatic performance, political narrative, ballad, prose and illustrations; the sponsorship, production, and reception of early texts; Robin Hood in nineteenth- and twentieth-century genres (boys' novels, opera, operetta, popular novel, satire, silent film, studio and mainstream films, low budget films, animation, TV, mini-series, comic books, other illustrated versions, historical novel, fantasy writing, and so on); issues of sex and gender; cultural location; issues of narrative and genre; the nature of medievalism; etc. This listing is meant only to suggest, and not to limit, the issues panelists may address at the conference.

Plenary speakers will include Stephen Knight (University of Cardiff). The conference will take place in conjunction with the only North American staging of an international exhibition of Robin Hood publications and artifacts (see Kevin Carpenter, ed., Robin Hood: The Many Faces of That Celebrated Outlaw [Oldenburg: University of Oldenburg, 1995]). A showing of the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Robin Hood (silent, 1922), possibly with live orchestra, will be scheduled to coincide with the conference in Rochester. The conference will also sponsor opportunities to discuss related topics - such as Robin Hood Web Sites and Robin Hood on the internet (texts and images), Robin Hood in the classroom, plans and materials for the teaching of Robin Hood, and sources for obtaining such materials - in conjunction with formal papers.

Send inquiries, abstracts, and proposals by January 31, 1997, to Thomas Hahn, Department of English, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, or send e-mail to

Robin Hood Anthology

Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, edited by Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren, is nearing completion. The 700-page volume, to be published next year in the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, will include sources and analogues, the Gest, Gamelyn, numerous early romances and ballads, several plays, including Anthony Munday's complete Downfall of the Earle of Huntington, and several later ballads.

Arthurian Web Site

Recommended Web Site for teachers: Katherine Eisenhower's "Arthurian Legends: a Web-Based Interdisciplinary Web Site for Arthurian Studies." Eisenhower teaches at C. D. Hylton High School in Woodridge, Virginia. She developed the project during a 1995 summer program sponsored by NCSA's Research for Science Education Program. You can visit the site at

New Dissertation Fellowship

The Rossell Hope Robbins Library at the University of Rochester will award annually The Helen Ann Mins Robbins Fellowship to a woman working on a dissertation in medieval studies. The award for the 1997-98 academic year will be $10,000.

This is not a post-doctoral fellowship. The recipient of the fellowship must be working on a dissertation and using the resources of the Robbins Library for the year of the award. The recipient must be in residence in Rochester and making use of the Robbins Library for at least six months of the academic year, and we would be pleased if she were in residence for the entire year. The recipient must provide for her own living and travel expenses from the award.

Towards the end of her residency, the recipient is required to give a lecture based on her research, and she is expected to engage in the academic life of the University (by attending relevant lectures, etc.).

Please send an application of not more than 1,000 words describing the dissertation and the applicability of the holdings of the Robbins Library to the research for it. (The Robbins Library has outstanding holdings in medieval English liter-ature - including but not limited to Chaucer, the Middle English lyric, medieval romance, and general Old and Middle English literature - and has considerable holdings in British history and in the relations between England and France in the Middle Ages.) Applicants should include a statement of the projected period of residency.

The application must be accompanied by a CV (listing graduate courses taken, and publications and presentations, if relevant) and a letter of recommendation from the dissertation adviser. The deadline for applications is March 1, 1997.

Send queries and applications to:

Alan Lupack, Curator
The Rossell Hope Robbins Library
Rush Rhees 416
The University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627

Teaching the Liturgy

TEAMS is sponsoring two events of interest to those interested in the liturgy. A volume is underway entitled "Essays in the Medieval Liturgy," edited by Thomas Heffernan and E. Ann Matter. This volume contains seventeen original essays examining a number of the most important characteristics of the liturgy, e.g., music, art, architecture, literature, and theology. The liturgy's complexity has often served as a barrier for many medievalists. It is hoped that this present volume will not only serve to inform those with little familiarity with the liturgy, but will stimulate scholarly discussion among the initiated. Heffernan expects that the volume will be useful for class assignment even at the undergraduate level; it should be available by the end of 1997.

In addition to the volume on the liturgy, there will be round table panel devoted to the liturgy at the 1997 Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo. Six speakers will precis their essays in the volume discussed above. It is hoped that the roundtable format will encourage a vigorous question and answer period. If last year's Kalamazoo meeting is an indication of interest - there were over 125 people in the audience - we should have another very fine session. Although the meeting times have not yet been established, we thought it might be useful for our readers to have the speakers' names and their subject areas: Dr. Thomas J. Heffernan, University of Tennessee, Organizer and Chair
Dr. Thomas Campbell, Wabash College: Drama
Rev. Martin Dudley, St. Bartholomew's Church, London, England: Sacramental Liturgies
Rev. Lawrence Frizzell, Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies, Seton Hall University: Judaism and the Latin Liturgy
Dr. Elizabeth McLachlan, Rutgers University: Liturgical Vessels
Dr. Elizabeth Parker, Fordham University: Architecture

Dr. Sherry Reames, University of Wisconsin: Hagiography

For information about TEAMS publications, write to Medieval Institute Publications at

The Medieval Institute - Walwood Hall
College of Arts and Sciences
Kalamazoo, MI 49008-3801

or call (616) 387-8755.

The Medieval Institute Publications catalogue is online at
For more information about TEAMS, visit

News and Notes from TEAMS is published twice a year by The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages.

Articles, news items, letters, and announcements related to the teaching of the Middle Ages are welcome. Please send items for publication by August 15 or February 15.

Editor: Karen Saupe
Department of English
Calvin College
3201 Burton S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49546