Friday, May 29, 2015

Society News and Updates

A few items to bring to Society attention:

More discussion of Society activities at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies is forthcoming. Some information has yet to be reported about those activities (although many have responded already, which is greatly appreciated); when it comes in, it will be posted to the blog. It is the summer, though, and the many Society members who are academics may well be about other business; updates are forthcoming.

Planning for the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies remains underway. The topics survey ( remains open; if you are a member of the Society and have not filled it out, please do so. It will help us make the next Congress a better one yet--and our sessions are already high-quality and attended well, so making them better will make them excellent, indeed.

Another survey, asking after member opinions about the Society blog, remains open, as well. Again, if you are a Society member and have not responded to it, please do so. It will help the Society direct the blog to its members' interests and benefit.

We are always interested in having new members. Joining is easy and free; send an email to with "Tales after Tolkien Society Membership,"your name and a note asking to join, and you will be added to the mailing list and membership roll soon.

Also, we are always seeking contributions to the blog. If you are a member and have something you'd like to see on the blog, email it to either or with "Tales after Tolkien Society Blog Submission" in the sbuject line, and we'll see about getting it posted.

If you'd like to be a regular contributor (which would be most welcome), send an email to one of the addresses above with the subject line "Tales after Tolkien Society Blog Contributor," and we'll see about getting you authorized to post away.

If you'd simply like to comment on what we already have up (which would also be welcome), please feel free to do so. And if you'd simply like to continue to read what gets posted, that's just fine; we're glad to have you do so.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

CFP Survey for a Society Roundtable at the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies

As noted here, the Society will be proposing a roundtable for the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies: Unconventional Medievalisms. At the meeting where the idea was voiced, comments noted that some guidance in the CFP will be helpful; the survey below seeks to elicit member responses to help form that guidance. Please take a few moments to fill out and submit it; it will help the Society do its work.

Tales after Tolkien at Kalamazoo 2015: Introduction and the Meeting

As the Society webpage notes, the Society formed from work at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. As such, the Society does tend to privilege that conference, and in 2015, it sponsored two sessions and conducted, somewhat informally, the Annual General Meeting called for in the Society Constitution 5.1. Reports on the sessions are forthcoming; information needed for those reports is still outstanding. A report on the meeting, however, appears below.

The AGM was held in Kalamazoo but away from the conference site at approximately 6pm EDT on 15 May 2015. In attendance were Stephanie Amsel, Geneva Diamond, Judy Ann Ford, Alexandra Garner, Jewel Morow, and Kris Swank; Geoffrey B. Elliott presided.

The initial agenda of the meeting was to confirm office-holders, per the Society Constitution 3.2.1, and to elect officers to the positions of Secretary and Social Media Officer, per the Society Constitution 3.2. Items added to the agenda during the meeting were proposals for sessions to be sponsored at the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies and a proposal to have the Society sponsor a session at a regional conference in 2016.

The initial agenda was completed without difficulty. Helen Young was confirmed as President of the Society. Molly Brown was confirmed as Vice-President (At-large) of the Society. Geoffrey B. Elliott was confirmed as Vice-President (USA) of the Society. Stephanie Amsel was acclaimed as Secretary of the Society. Kris Swank was acclaimed as Social Media Officer of the Society--although Geoffrey B. Elliott continues to be tasked with curating the Society blog.

The items of the added agenda were concluded without difficulty. Suggestions for sessions to be proposed for the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies were made and voted upon by the membership present at the AGM. Desired sessions include a paper panel focusing entirely on Martin's Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones and a roundtable titled "Unconventional Medievalisms," per member suggestion, focusing on medievalism outside fantasy, science fiction, and period pieces. A survey to determine the exact headings to be suggested for the latter was promised and is forthcoming. (The suggestions have since been reported to Helen Young, who will compile the necessary paperwork for submitting the sessions to the Congress; a CFP is forthcoming, pending their approval by Congress staff and results of the survey.)

Membership discussed sponsoring a session at a regional conference. The specific conference will be the 2016 South Central Modern Language Association conference, to be held 3-5 November 2016 in Dallas, Texas. Geoffrey B. Elliott and Stephanie Amsel will be heading the sponsorship efforts.

Questions were raised during the AGM. A list of Society members, to be posted either to the Soceity blog or the Society website, has been requested; one member noted having been asked to prove membership, and a directory would be helpful to that end. (Work on such a list is forthcoming.)

The meeting was adjourned at approximately 645pm EDT.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

About "5 Horrifying Realities of Daily Life Edited out of History"

On 5 May 2015, Chris Fox's article "5 Horrifying Realities of Daily Life Edited out of History" appeared on As the title suggests, the piece details five facets of life common to earlier periods that purport to strike the expected readership of the website as terrifying or otherwise abhorrent. It moves away from the typical discussion of military technologies, seigneurial depredations, plague, and famine to the more quotidian toilet humor and unemployment troubles, as well as to the more esoteric spice trade. While some mention is made of both late imperial Roman and early modern English practice, the bulk of the article is focused on presentations of the Western medieval, depicting some of the less-commonly-understood challenges that the people of the European Middle Ages faced.

There are some problems, of course, with the presentation of the medieval offered by Fox's piece. It is somewhat sensationalist, although such is perhaps to be expected from offerings of a self-styled comedy website. It is also presentist in its biases, portraying the past as a time of terror from which current readers are likely to be excepted--although that, again, is perhaps to be expected. More locally to the article, though, the ordering of points is less than optimal. The excesses of the European spice trade do not seem to be more terrible than beatings for unemployment or the daily or more frequent occurrence of risky defecation--despite the rhetorical privileging afforded them by their placement at the end of the article.

Even so, Fox does a number of things well. The mere fact of reminding early twenty-first century readers of the European medieval serves as a useful, if small, counterpoint to prevalent short memories. The piece also usefully roots itself in current scholarship, working from the best available understandings at the time of its writing, and the involvement of ongoing research in the comedic piece helps remind readers that new knowledge of older events and activities is still being developed. (Admittedly, not all of the sources used are of equal scholarly quality. Again, however, the article is an offering on a comedy website.) Further, although perhaps unwittingly, the text accords with some of the most commonly studied written humor of medieval England; in moving to the scatological early, Fox's piece follows Chaucer's pattern in The Canterbury Tales, in which the jesting begins with fart jokes and references to cunnilingus or analingus in the ribaldry of the Miller.

In essence, then, Fox's piece may not be the best presentation of the medieval in current popular culture, but it is far from the worst that can be found.