The 2018 New Chaucer Society Congress: Day 2

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Reception at Art Gallery of Ontario; co-sponsored by Medievalists of Color.

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.

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Plenary Roundtable: Race and Inclusion: Facing Chaucer Studies, Past and Future Evans, Barrington, Bale, Kao, Dinshaw, & Sévère

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:

  1. Scholarship in the field of race and Chaucer specifically, which can include Orientalism and antisemitism, etc.
  2. Scholarship about Chaucer and medievalism as it relates to race
  3. Strategies for pedagogy when it comes to racially inclusive classrooms, etc.
  4. Race and mentorship in Chaucer studies
  5. The role of NCS as public face for Chaucer studies in these contexts
  6. 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.

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OACCT Contributor Picnic.

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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?
  3. For everyone: how can we create networks together that will be truly inclusive?
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Reception at Art Gallery of Ontario.
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The 2018 New Chaucer Society Congress: Day 1

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Clamorous and happy break between sessions. Victoria College. Photo by Chris Jones.

To say the past two years have been tough for medievalists and medieval studies is to risk unsympathetic oversimplification.  Within the home turf of our colleges and universities, we have found our courses more and more marginalized.  Beyond the walls of higher education, we have seen our field and our texts misappropriated in horrifying ways. The siege from both sides has been exhausting.

The New Chaucer Society’s 2018 Congress provided a much-needed antidote to past injustices and an invigorating inoculation against forthcoming wrongs.  By embodying the Society’s principles on public discourse and civility, the congress organizers and participants created a restorative and regenerative space that allowed everyone to be seen and valued.

The more inclusive, more global turn in Chaucer Studies was evident from the moment  Toronto was announced as the New Chaucer Society’s 2018 Congress venue. The program committee (co-chairs Bobby Meyer-Lee and Claire Waters, plus Louise D’Arcens, Jonathan Hsy, Elliot Kendall, and Sebastian Sobecki) worked to develop innovative formats, design innovative sessions, and incorporate perspectives from scholars both new and established. At the same time, congress organizer, Alex Gillespie of the University of Toronto, and congress host, Will Robins of Victoria University, sought ways to bring Toronto’s legendary medieval resources and burgeoning global community together for new purposes.

The Congress’s first morning set the tone by beginning with a traditional smudging ceremony conducted by Elders Grafton Antone and Eilene Antone (both from the Oneida of the Thames First Nation and on the University of Toronto faculty). Conducted in the indigenous language, the ceremony cleansed the gathering of the difficulties encountered getting to the congress and prepared everyone to have a good mind. The ceremony was followed by Carter Revard (a Native American and Chaucer scholar) reading his own poetry, which incorporates aspects of indigenous, modern American, and Middle English culture and languages. Ardis Butterfield’s Presidential Address, “The Dream of Language,” asked her audience to consider the continuum of linguistic registers that color our understanding of how Latin and medieval vernaculars co-existed and changed. Once we recognize the inadequacy of identifying any semantic or syntactic unit as belonging to one language or the other, we see utterances as ‘translingual.’ Bringing words and formations across languages becomes so natural that it occurs without any awareness the change has happened.

When the first sessions started that afternoon, they included six topic threads: Chaucer Abroad, Forming Knowledge, History Now, Language Contacts, Making the Text, and Middle English Literature at Scale. Designated by the program committee, the threads highlighted the more inclusive, global nature of medieval studies.  Because I primarily followed the Chaucer Abroad thread, I encountered several Global Chaucers, new and old, highlighted below.

  • The first session, Who Owns Chaucer Now? (organized by Jonathan Hsy and Louise D’Arcens, and moderated by Louise), featured two fascinating papers.
    • Elizabeth Watkins (Loyola Univeresity, New Orleans) introduced us to a forthcoming translation in Bikol, a language with 4 million speakers in the central Philippines. Part of Ateneo da Naga University’s ongoing process to demonstrate Bikol’s legitimacy as a literary language, the verse translation illustrates the continuity of religious culture that is more apparent in the Philippines than in Europe.
    • Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo (University of Iceland) previewed the forthcoming productions of her Nigerian Pidgin play The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O! In addition to describing the parallels between the cultures of late-medieval England and contemporary Nigeria, her talk included a short, excerpted performance that illustrated how she was able to focus on the human factor and to show how human behavior doesn’t change across time or space.
  • In the second session, I joined Ingrid Nelson and Shazia Jagot on the Chaucer “And”: Methods of Interdisciplinarity panel organized by Michelle Karnes and moderated by Julie Orlemanski, a part of the Forming Knowledge thread.
    • Ingrid Nelson (Amherst College) used her paper “Thinking (with) Media” to place pressure on the presentist tendencies of media studies, which mistakenly equates media with a limited number of technologies.
    • Shazia Jagot (University of Surrey) persuasively argued in her paper, “Chaucer and Arabic,” that we can move beyond the usual source studies to discover Arabic as a deeply embedded cultural force in Chaucer’s work.
    • My paper, “To Interdisciplinarity and Beyond,” considers what Global Chaucers can tell us about the limits of critique; it can be found here.

The first day ended with three special events, each affirming NCS’s commitment to being an open and inclusive scholarly organization.

  • Members Parliament. In addition to learning that the Society’s financial and membership numbers remain strong, we heard from in-coming executive director, Tom Goodman (University of Miami).
  • Research Expo. The 2014 Congress’s experimental poster session has now become a very successful aspect of the congress. During the initial viewing at the Hart House Great Hall reception, the presenters were available to discuss their work and answer questions.  After the reception, the exhibit moved to the main gathering area in Victoria College.
  • LGBTQIA+ Get Together. This informal gathering at the Glad Day Bookshop, the oldest North American bookstore specializing in queer literature, provided an opportunity for all LGBTQIA+ and allies to mingle and relax.

By the end of the first day, the Smudging Ceremony seems to have achieved its goal.

Medievalists of Color

We want to make certain you know about the important interventions being made on

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St. Maurice, Magdeburg Cathedral (13th century)

the behalf of medievalists everywhere by Medievalists of Color (“a professional organization of a diverse group of scholars working across the disciplines in Medieval Studies“).

 

Global Chaucers and Medievalists of Color not only share many members but also uphold the same values. Along with MoC, we acknowledge that “enduring patterns of harassment and racism make academic freedom a mere myth for some” and affirm that “positions of misogyny, ethnonationalism, xenophobia, homo- and transphobia, and other biases are not legitimate positions in any conversation because they make freedom for all within the conversation impossible.” Together, we will work toward making “our old field be the ideal home for those recognitions, one that rejuvenates their force.”

Check out their website for their invaluable Whiteness Workshops, Statements, Resources, and Public Resource blog, including the most recent post by Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, “Lost in Our Field: Racism and the International Congress on Medieval Studies .”

 

The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O!

by Candace Barrington

img_7995.jpgOn 13 and 15 July, Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo’s dramatic adaptation, The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O! was finally brought to audiences in the western hemisphere. Featuring performers from Nigeria, England, Iceland, and Canada, the international troupe brought an exuberant interpretation of Chaucer’s tale, first to the Isabel Bader Theatre at Victoria College, Toronto, and then to Erindale Studio Theatre in Mississauga.  True to the spirit of Nigerian dramatic tradition, the production enhanced the comic adaptation with music and dancing from many genres.  

The first performance coincided with the New Chaucer Society Congress being held at Victoria College, so the filled house was not surprising.  It was good to learn that the second performance also played to a full house.  

The large undertaking would not have been possible without the support of the 2018 NCS Congress hosts, Alex Gillespie, Will Robins, and their exceptional University of Toronto team.

Going Rogue

The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales (OACCT) is a featured textbook in Alex Mueller’s essay “Heading for the Open Rogue: The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales” (with a nice tandem acknowledge of Global Chaucers) for the Open Library of Humanities (OLH).

empowoa-open-insights-twOLH is a publishing platform supporting “academic journals from across the humanities disciplines, as well as hosting its own multidisciplinary journal.” Launched in 2013, it works to bring scholars and librarians together to provide peer-reviewed academic articles and to showcase “some of the most dynamic research taking place in the humanities disciplines today – from classics, modern languages and cultures, philosophy, theology and history, to political theory, sociology, anthropology, film and new media studies, and digital humanities” (from the OLH “About” pages).

As Alex points out, OACCT is an important means for bringing Chaucer to a Global audience because “[p]ublished resources are difficult for many readers to obtain. While we’re all aware how book costs hamper students, we often forget what this can mean for libraries—and not just our libraries, the ones affiliated with research universities, well-endowed colleges, and strong high schools. Vast underfunding means public libraries, rural and urban high schools, community colleges, as well as colleges and universities outside the sphere of Anglophone privilege are limited (at best) to outdated publications.”  The OACCT is a vital mechanism for bringing current, approachable scholarship free to anyone with an internet connection.

If you haven’t already read Alex’s article, do.  It highlights the important ways that Open Access publication can revolutionize academic publishing  And if you haven’t already checked out the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, do–especially if you teach high school or undergraduate courses  The OACCT is designed for non-specialists, and this free resource just might be perfect for your students.

More Patience….

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Patience Agbabi’s East Coast speaking tour has an additional date and locale: Monday, 13 November 2017, at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. If you’re in the vicinity, we highly recommend you make the effort to attend–and bring your students.

Patience never disappoints.

 

A Postcard from the Beneicke’s Takamiya Collection

For a long while I’ve been intrigued by the large concentration of important Chaucerians in Japan.  Japanese scholars present at Anglophone medievalist conferences around the world, and their work appears regularly in monographs, collections, and journals.  No other non-Anglophone country produces more first-rate TakamiyaChaucerians. Where did their passionate interest in medieval European literature (in general) and Chaucer (in particular), originate? A forthcoming article by Koichi Kano traces the somewhat dispiriting publication history of the first Japanese translation of The Canterbury Tales in 1917; bringing Chaucer to a Japanese audience through prose translation was certainly an important step. I have my own ideas about the role played by Lafcadio Hearn, a Greco-American scholar, author, and translator at the end of the nineteenth-century. Perhaps, though, the best explanation for what I’ve observed during my own twenty-five-year career can be explained by the extraordinary influence of Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya.

Over a period of fifty years, Professor Takamiya became one of the preeminent private collectors of Middle English manuscripts. His passion for collecting Western books was sparked when he handled one with its thick pages and sturdy binding, creating a heft noticeably different from the Japanese books he knew growing up in post-war Japan.  This son and grandson of prosperous traders had recently received two degrees (in Economics and in English) from Keio University, and he soon became a knowledgeable scholar of medieval literature. With familial resources and deep knowledge, he transmuted his bibliophilic passion into shrewd manuscript purchases.

Two historical and academic circumstances allowed him to amass his distinctive collection. First, when he began purchasing manuscripts in the 1970s, many landed British families were divesting their book and art holdings in order to pay property taxes.  In this sense, the Takamiya collection’s shape (like that of any other collection) was determined by availability.  Moreover, the restrictions were looser for exporting these items, items that would eventually be covered by the Garvey Clause and prohibited from leaving the U.K. Thus, not only were the manuscripts on the market, but they could be removed from the U.K., a pair of historical circumstances not likely to be repeated.  This means that Takamiya’s 1970s purchases were the necessary route for a non-U.K. institution (such as Yale’s Beinecke Library) to acquire significant manuscripts in the 2010s.

Anyone with the necessary financial ability and bibiographic acumen could have taken advantage of these circumstances and purchased the manuscripts now comprising the Takamiya Collection. One reason Takamiya was able to acquire these manuscripts with little competition can be understood as the consequence of mid-twentieth-century academic fashions. At that time, institutional collections (the competitors who could match his resources) such as the Folger Library, the Huntington Library, and research university libraries were primarily attracted to illuminated deluxe manuscripts, most often Italian humanist and other Latin texts. These collectors passed on the more modest Middle English codices, rolls, and fragments with minimal ornamentation that Takamiya quietly slipped into his library and generously shared with colleagues and students around the world.

His three Canterbury Tales manuscripts, however, take advantage of an academic fashion peculiar to Chaucer Studies. When Takamiya purchased the Devonshire and Delamere manuscripts, codicological studies focused on a handful of essential texts. Chaucerians sought to recreate a text that matched medieval author’s intention by identifying the earliest examples. Two manuscripts, the Ellesmere and the Hengwrt, were identified as the earliest sources and thus the texts that should form the basis of Chaucer scholarship. Once scholars had noted the gaps, textual variants, and idiosyncratic ordering of the tales found in the other manuscripts, Chaucerians generally overlooked these “lesser” manuscripts.  With libraries and museums not interested in them for their aesthetic beauty, and university research libraries not interested in them for their contents, these seemingly prosaic, even debased, manuscripts were available to the young Japanese bibliophile with the foresight to see what others overlooked.

For decades, Takamiya’s medieval library was a resource to scholars, whether they studied in his class at Keio University, made a pilgrimage to Tokyo, or participated in conferences from around the world. His carefully curated collection—filled with texts chosen to satisfy both the collector’s enthusiasms and the pedagogue’s and scholar’s needs—provides an epitome of the period’s extant text. The quality of the Takamiya collection resides in the collector’s drive towards completion, his financial resources, his knowledge of medieval texts, and his intuition about which manuscripts were currently undervalued.

In 2013, the collection’s residency in Tokyo came to an end but not its availability to scholars, for its transfer to Yale’s Beinecke Library ensured a safe and accessible repository.

When the crates of medieval manuscripts began arriving in New Haven from Tokyo, they held of one the most significant acquisitions by a North American library in half a century. As the 143 codices, roles, and fragments were unpacked, cataloged and made ready for their new home in New Haven, Connecticut, the staff noticed that, here and there, Professor Takamiya had inserted used envelopes and business cards, marking both his place and (it turns out) his temporary custodianship of the books.  Beyond the assigned accession numbers prefixed with “Takamiya ms,” nothing else about the books seems to betray the five decades they spent in his care, both in the temperature-controlled library of his Tokyo home and his international travels when he gleefully pulled from his bag a valuable manuscript that formed the cornerstone of his talk’s analysis.

Among the 143 manuscripts in the Takamiya Collection are Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe as well as three containing The Canterbury Tales, including the Delamere Chaucer and the Devonshire Chaucer.  Before acquiring these manuscripts, the Beinecke had no manuscript copy of the Tales; now it has three as well as the Treatise ms, Takamiya ms 9, 22, 24, and 32.  With their travels from England to Japan and now to the U.S., these four manuscripts add a new dimension to the term “Global Chaucers.”

The Beinecke celebrated its acquisition of this transformative collection with Making the English Book, an intimate conference featuring eminent scholars of medieval manuscripts, book collectors associated with Toshi Takamiya, and Professor Takamiya himself. In all ways, the conference reflected Takamiya’s generous spirit, his warm sense of friendship, and his passion for collecting Middle English manuscripts.  I attended the conference not only as a medievalist fascinated by the manuscripts themselves but also as a Chaucerian curious about what it means that such a significant mss collection (with 4 Chaucerian mss) was amassed in Japan: what it tells us about Chaucer Studies in Japan, what it tells us about ourselves, and what it tells us about Chaucer and his works that we might otherwise overlook.

I came closer to some answers. Some Japanese medievalists at the conference see a commonality between European feudalism and Japanese feudalism, and hence Japanese scholars have a natural interest in that European period.  They also credited Japanese interest in Chaucer to the three good translations now available.  They explained the nature of Japanese scholarship, with its intense emphasis on phonology and textual variants, as a function of the way English is taught in Japanese schools; Middle English is part of the teaching of English, since their approach includes the language’s history. They tend toward that approach because, as one scholar wryly admitted, that approach was most likely to receive (grant) funding. Takamiya’s collection, with its wide range of Middle English texts helped to feed those interests.

Repeatedly, the conference presentations reminded us that the provenance of a manuscript is important, reminding how ownership shapes the reception and how reception shapes ownership.  Ownership marks are carefully preserved and noted in all discussions of the manuscripts.  That fact that Prof. Takamiya seems to have left no similar marks recording his possession of this significant collection seems out of step with the delight he and other bibliophiles take in tracing provenance.  His apparent failure to leave his mark in his books reminded me of certain attitudes towards conservation I observed in Japan. At many shrines and pilgrimage routes, “conservation” did not mean “restoration.” Instead, “conservation” meant careful, respectful, and continued use of an object or place, leaving as little trace of one’s presence as possible, neither mourning when use wore away a stone step nor replacing a wooden beam deteriorated by weather.  I see something akin to this in Takamiya’s habits as an academic collector who did not see himself as an owner but as a guardian: he cared for the manuscripts without turning them into museum objects. He used them as a scholar and teacher who left the faintest trace, just a stray envelope or extra business card left behind, waiting for his return. Nevertheless, his name is permanently associated with these manuscripts, if not with owner’s marks on the flyleaf or doodles in the end pages or annotations in the margins, then with their accession number.

Perhaps, though, he had a bit more in common with many of the books’ previous owners because, after confessing that he never inserted the bookplates he had had specially designed for his collection, he whispered that there might be some very small TTs penciled in the gutters.  With this tantalizing clue, we should all keep a watchful eye open for these hidden monograms whenever we open a Takamiya manuscript.