If Modern Medieval were a Deadjournal…

… then I’d just have found its mission statement :-)

I shall place the blame for the plight of the humanities in another place [than decreasing enrolments, poor job prospects and idle students]. I shall place it on some humanists, if they should so be called. I shall bewail their preoccupation with the obscure and curse their avoidance of things that are important and therefore interesting. I shall point with scorn to their contempt for intelligibility, for communication to lay audiences, and for their lack of interest in synthesis, and pity therefore their general dessication.

Though the writer, who was Barnaby C. Keeney in 1955′s Speculum does go on, ” I shall deplore their scholarly avoidance of judgements of value and ethics”, which might be less MM-palatable. He goes on to say rather more about that, and the whole thing is worth reading if you can spare a few minutes. All the same: it’s nice to know you have bilious precedent isn’t it?


Barnaby C. Keeney, “A Dead Horse Flogged Again”, address to the 30th Annual Dinner of the Medieval Academy of America in Speculum Vol. 30 (Cambridge MA 1955), pp. 606-611, cited by Judith M. Bennett, “Our Colleagues, Ourselves” in John van Engen (ed.), The Past and Future of Medieval Studies (Notre Dame 1994), pp. 245-257 at p. 247 ubi vidi.

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6 responses to “If Modern Medieval were a Deadjournal…

  1. Not sure what to make of this, Jonathan. If you’re suggesting that the posters at Modern Medieval are bilious cranks who hate our colleagues for doing obscure stuff, well, you’re about as wrong as you can possibly be. I’d further be interested to know what gave you that impression.

    I do, however, think it’s worth talking about why we do what we do. First, it’s outreach to people who just don’t know much about the Middle Ages. Second, we have good answers to those kinds of questions. There are DAMN good reasons for people to study the Middle Ages in all of its manifestations – be they prosopography, crusading, fecopoetics, or whatever.

  2. A couple more things:

    1) Perhaps you’re referring to Charlotte Allen as the heir of any bilious statements about our colleagues?

    2) I do think we are too oblique in our discussions at times, but only because we’re talking to each other and so can afford the obliquity (to make up a word) because almost everyone’s on the same page. We need to remember that there are others out there — people who would like to be let in on the conversation but simply don’t know where to begin and so need more “hand-holding” than we’re used to giving.

    3) In fairness though, I personally don’t like people who are wholly dessicated…

  3. Matt, sorry both to have caused you concern by ill-judged humour, and then to have disappeared into charters (about which more later) for several days rather than resolve the matter. Firstly, and most importantly, no offence was meant to you and the MM team, which I have no wish to do. Though I have got to weigh in critically on the latest blog forum post, that’s hopefully not going to cause offence.

    This post, which was only a throwaway, would have worked better if anyone but a few goths knew what DeadJournal is. DeadJournal is a rival site to LiveJournal (duh) where dysfunction and ranting is rather more encouraged, anonymity is even more usual and friending and so on, the whole social networking aspect (let’s not start that again…) doesn’t really feature, just the soapbox. And no, I don’t have one. Yes, I do know people who do, otherwise I wouldn’t know about it at all.

    So a normal blog, intended to reach an unknown public and tell them something that benefits them and the owner, is to it, maybe, kind of as Modern Medieval is to this 1955 rant. Because the target—insufficient rating in society of the importance of medieval studies—is the same, but your approaches to it differ like two sides of a coin. Modern Medieval is directed out into the world and Keeney’s spleen was directed inward, into the profession; MM is trying to boost public demand by demonstrating that there is something to sell, and Keeney was trying instead to decry bad salesmen. You agree, however, on the importance of the goods. That’s the source of the comparison I was making, you see.

    Now I also see the point of the comparison with Allen, but with her the great peculiarity is that though she studies it and therefore apparently buys in, she doesn’t seem to like to explain why the goods are worth anything. She and Keeney might have agreed about some of their colleagues: but I think he’d have found no great hope in her as a student, because the latter part of the address is about what there is to enjoy in medieval culture and history. Allen doesn’t seem to enjoy it much…

  4. No worries, Jonathan. The more I thought about this post, the more I figured that there was something I was just missing. Anyway, water under the bridge…

    And I’ll have a response to your comments on the Blog Forum post in a bit.

    As for Allen (and, honestly, she’s probably getting way more attention than she or her article deserve), I think Allen does like medieval society generally but thinks that there are aspects of it that aren’t worthwhile. As with most right-wingers, at least in the US, she gets to decide what’s “worthwhile” for everyone else though. And perhaps, now that I mention it, this is a peculiarly US phenomenon, which is why the (vast?) majority of people all up in arms about Allen’s article are Americans. Hmmm…

  5. That’s a blast from the past.

    Barnaby Keeney was president of Brown University in Providence RI when I as an undergraduate there in the early 60s. We always understood that he kept his professorship in the History department as a security blanket while president, because you never know….

    Anyhow, I ran across your blog recently and am working my way slowly backwards through your career, enjoying the close arguing, etc. I wish you the best in your career.

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