I began the second day of the Congress by joining a group of Global Chaucerians for breakfast at a nearby coffee shop. Jonathan and I have found informal gatherings like this are helpful for colleagues attending the NCS Congress for the first time.
For Session 3, I attended my first lightening panel: “Chaucer and Transgender Studies” moderated by Ruth Evans. The six short papers were fascinating and provocative.
- Leanne MacDonald (University of Notre Dame) “Challenging Normative Notions of Transidentity in Medieval Studies”
- Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington & Lee University) “Trans*domesticity”
- Michelle Sauer (University of North Dakota) “Reading the ‘Glitch’: Trans-, Technology, and Gender in Medieval Texts”
- M. W. Bychowski (Case Western Reserve University) “Transgender Ethics: The Wife of Bath’s Trans Feminism”
- Miranda Hajduk (Seton Hall University) “’My Sturdy Hardynesse’: The Wife of Bath’s Antifeminist Satire as Trans Narrative”
- Cai Henderson (Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto) “Christine de Pizan’s ‘droite condicion’: Authorial Construction and Resonant Reading in Transgender Text”
Because the presenters were limited to 5-7 minutes, the heart of the panel was the ensuing conversations among themselves and with the audience, as we explored transgender topics, including the ways Chaucer’s characters inhabited multiple, simultaneous identities; the transphobic elements of The Miller’s Tale; transmission glitches revealing resistance to hegemonic norms; and the nature of transgender ethics. The lightening format, a new format for NCS, proved an excellent structure for presenting ideas and generating conversation.
Next up, the program featured a plenary panel on Race and Inclusion: Facing Chaucer Studies, Past and Future. The five speakers were Anthony Bale (Birkbeck, University of London), Candace Barrington (Central Connecticut State University), Carolyn Dinshaw (New York University), Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington and Lee University), and Richard Sévère (Valparaiso University). The invitations to participate on the panel were issued nearly year ago, and the subsequent months proved the program committee’s wisdom in forming the plenary round-table addressing questions of race, whiteness, and inclusion in the field of Chaucer studies.
The program committee requested that our short presentations consider “more broadly the historical past of our field as well as our ethics of engagement in the present, and to look forward to what needs to happen next.” We were also asked to consider the international dimension of our society and “to offer a past-future presentation on whatever facet of Chaucer” we would like to address.
- Anthony Bale “Whose Prioress?”
- Candace Barrington “The Feral in Chaucer Studies”
- Carolyn Dinshaw “Facing Incarceration”
- Wan-Chuan Kao “White Attunement”
- Richard Sévère “Teaching Chaucer While Black: Strategies for Pedagogically Inclusive Classrooms and Curricula”
As Ruth Evans mentioned in her opening remarks, the session title alludes to the title of Carolyn Dinshaw’s 2000 NCS Biennial Lecture in London, “Pale Faces: Race, Religion and Affect in Chaucer’s Texts and Their Readers.” Another major point of reference was Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press 2018). Accordingly, speakers were asked to touch on one or more these topics:
- Scholarship in the field of race and Chaucer specifically, which can include Orientalism and antisemitism, etc.
- Scholarship about Chaucer and medievalism as it relates to race
- Strategies for pedagogy when it comes to racially inclusive classrooms, etc.
- Race and mentorship in Chaucer studies
- The role of NCS as public face for Chaucer studies in these contexts
- Methods for decolonizing Chaucer Studies
While the five of us each approached the task differently, we all ended by focusing on our individual and institutional responsibilities to ensure that, despite our mistakes as scholars and teachers, we make the study of the literary past open to everyone. The panel generated useful conversations that should extend well beyond the limits of the Congress.
At lunchtime, many contributors to the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales gathered for a picnic lunch on the lawn outside Victoria College. For the first time since Brantley Bryant broached the idea to a group of scholars in 2015, the large group assembled, with some of us meeting each other for the first time.
Because I am very interested in the sorts of texts we provide students and scholars throughout the world, I attended the two afternoon sessions organized by Elizabeth Scala: Is There a Text for This Class? Editing Chaucer Now I & II. There are many proposed solutions to our current predicament, and I’m eager to see if any address the needs of undergraduate students (like mine) who are eager to engage with early literatures but have no plans for graduate study.
After those two sessions, I met Ruen-Chuan Ma, an early-career medievalist at Utah Valley University. We were introduced through the NCS mentorship program organized by Tom Hahn (Rochester University), Shazia Jagot (University of Surrey), and Sierra Lomuto (Macalester College). As we talked, we walked leisurely to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a reception co-hosted by Medievalist of Color and featuring a display of art objects—Ethiopian religious paintings and European boxwood beads—accompanied by a beautiful, contextualizing pamphlet (written by Meseret Oldjira [Princeton University] and Seeta Chaganti [University of California, Davis]). Attendees were provided “thought questions,” and I’m going to close Day 2’s posting with them.
- If you are a senior scholar, what can you do to help grad students and less-established scholars of color feel welcome in a field that has historically alienated people of color? (Note that NCS has a wonderful mentorship program that will serve this end really well.)
- If you are a journal or book editor, what do you think about the diversity of the authors your publication or list represents? What can you do to improve that diversity?
- For everyone: how can we create networks together that will be truly inclusive?