Wednesday, August 20, 2014

CFP: There and Back Again: Tolkien in 2015

This event may be of interest:

There and Back Again: Tolkien in 2015
February 20-21, 2015

The Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the Ohio State University invites abstracts and panel proposals for its second academic conference on Popular Culture and the Deep Past, devoted this year to the works of and world surrounding J.R.R. Tolkien: "There and Back Again: Tolkien in 2015." In keeping with the PCDP idea, this will be a full-fledged conference, itself nested in a broader 'carnival' of popular and traditional cultural events and activities, including food- and culture-ways demonstrations, exhibits of artwork, books, and manuscripts, combat, gaming, and cosplay. (If you wish to submit a proposal for a non-academic presentation or activity, or otherwise participate in 'Tolkien Day' as an organizer or volunteer, please see our separate 'Tolkien Day' CFP at

Given the release in December 2014 of Peter Jackson's final Hobbit movie, we will be particularly receptive to proposals that draw on themes evoked in or growing out of Tolkien's 1937 novel; but we invite submissions involving research on any topic related to the Tolkien phenomenon, ranging from historical and cultural identities to linguistic, writing, and media systems, folkways and cultural expressions, fantasy and gaming, and popular or artistic manifestations of all kinds. As with last year's PCDP conference on the Game of Thrones, this one aims to explore the interface between historicity and contemporaneity: preference will be given to proposals in which this element is manifest.

Conference papers will be limited to 20 minutes' duration, followed by 10 minutes of discussion; they will be organized thematically into two-hour sessions of 4 papers each, ranging across two days. Submissions for entire conference sessions are welcome, in which case a session title and abstract should be submitted, along with individual paper titles and abstracts for the session from the different presenters.

Abstracts for sessions and individual papers should be limited to 250 words. The submission deadline for abstracts and panel proposals is October 1st. Submissions after that date will be happily received, but cannot be guaranteed full consideration. Please contact us at with any questions you might have.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

About Paul B. Sturtevant's Website

Online discussions of the Society pointed out Paul B. Sturtevant's website The Public Medievalist some weeks ago. Sturtevant describes himself as "a Public Historian--a Public Medievalist....most interested in how people learn about and use history in their lives" and notes "This has traditionally only encompassed historical institutions for public education--archives, historical-heritage sites, museums or universities. I conceive of it as being broader than that: anywhere that people engage with and learn about the past is a part of public history." Despite some few issues of concern, the site does well to support his stated mission; although missing some points, it presents helpful insights into how contemporary popular culture engages with medieval history

His 18 July 2014 article, "If 'Chivalry' Isn't Dead, Let's Kill It," illustrates the point nicely. In the piece, Sturtevant rails against the cries voiced by The Daily Telegraph and others that "chivalry is dead" and that it was killed by feminists, among others. He does so in large part by pointing out that the definition of chivalry commonly used is not the same kind of chivalry attested in medieval writings; instead, it evolves from Victorian medievalist understandings of the term. In that sense, he asserts, it perhaps ought to be allowed to pass unmourned, given the oppressive heteronormativity of the construction. In the prevailing medieval sense, he also remarks, it is not particularly unique, so that distinguishing "chivalry" is perhaps according too much distinction to the medieval European feudal warriors.

There are some problems in the way he makes his argument. One that stands out to my eye is an omission. In explicating the Victorian medievalist origins of chivalry as a normative set of heterosexual politeness practices, he lists such sources as Malory, the Gawain poet, Chr├ętien de Troyes, and Sir Walter Scott. Lacking is Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose Idylls of the King enjoyed more currency among Victorian readers than any of the medieval Arthurian sources and, quite likely, Scott.* Tennyson is hardly an unknown author; not mentioning him is an oddity.

Even so, the article does much well. It is framed nicely as a response to a series of articles in a major newspaper and a study published by a major academic group, grounding the discussion firmly in popular culture; the invocation of relatively popular films also does so. The systematic dismantling of popular arguments about the killing of chivalry is good to see, as is the corollary argument that chivalry is not a static category taken from a monolithic Middle Ages. Sturtevant is correct in framing it as a still-dynamic descriptor, the use of which has changed substantially and which at its best can still offer people something worth having. And if his "If 'Chivalry' Isn't Dead, Let's Kill It" is representative of his public medievalist work, then his ongoing efforts in The Public Medievalist will be well worth continued attention.

*See my dissertation, pgs. 182-86.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Whiteness and Westeros

A few days ago I came across this article online which quoted George R. R. Martin invoking the medievalism of his books to explain why there are few major characters of colour either in them, or the TV series. It quotes Martin's Livejournal, where he responds to a reader's question about the absence of Asian characters in A Song of Ice and Fire: "Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world, so it is a long long way from the Asia analogue. There weren’t a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either." It's a response that directly parallels comments made places like the fan site which I wrote about in an article that went online last week here.* It's hard to argue directly with that kind of statement; taken by itself it's factually true. But it also masks the fact that the Middle Ages, even within Europe, were culturally, lingustically, and racially diverse.

* visit our Facebook page for a link to a free download if you don't have access to the journal Continuum through a university library