Why The History Of Medieval Studies Haunts How We Study The Past

Medieval Studies has a choice to make. Just this week controversy eruptedover the largest annual academic conference devoted to the study of the Middle Ages in all of its forms – the International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS), hosted by Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Many academic conferences in the Humanities and Social Sciences work in the following way: prospective attendees submit brief summaries of their presentations, then a selection committee reviews those proposals, and if there are too many for the time available for the conference, picks the “best” ones. The ICMS at Kalamazoo is no different.

The choices the selection committee makes though will necessarily steer the conference in a certain direction, allowing more of a focus on one topic, minimizing focus on another, or trying to strike a balance between them all. This year, before the 2019 Congress, a group of scholars have written a letter of concern about the opaque (one might even say “secretive”) way the selection process was handled and how the anonymous committee seems to be moving away from discussions related to the state of the field. Particularly worrying is how these decisions minimize, according to the letter, “the intellectual guidance that scholars of color would provide at the conference, when these scholars are already severely underrepresented in the field.” (Full disclosure, I signed the letter.)

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