International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England

Message from the Executive Director (31 May 2018)

[This message first appeared as a comment on the Anglo-Saxon studies Facebook group. The immediate context was a question about a white medievalist getting a celebratory tattoo in medieval script. For broader background on race and racism in medieval studies, see Sierra Lomuto’s 2016 blog post and Peter Baker’s and Mary Rambaran-Olm’s recent reflections. ‐Webmaster]

From time to time, non-academic culture inherits these binaries from other fields like linguistics or sociology/anthropology. And they work until they don’t. But sometimes they work. I am thinking of concepts like guilt culture/shame culture or introvert/extrovert politeness. When we have these conversations about medievalists of colour (MOC), allies, tattoos, etc., I think about in-group and out-group identity formation.

Over many years, I think Anglo-Saxonists have grown tired of seeing collections with ‘medieval studies’ or ‘Middle Ages’ in the title that start c. 1200. This signals to us that late medievalists are an in-group that we are left out of. In response, I think we have circled the wagons and tried to argue that the dark ages are worthy of study by studying the dark ages and nothing but. We have created an in-group in response to the broader field of medieval studies that we have often felt excluded from.

I would hope, then, that Anglo-Saxonists could relate when they are confronted by MOC saying that they feel excluded from our field. What signals are we sending that say we want to include MOC in Anglo-Saxon studies? What signals are we sending that say that we don’t think MOC belong in Anglo-Saxon studies?

I think the tattoo question is one that raises these issues again, every time it resurfaces. When a white medievalist says that they want a medieval tattoo, on some level I think that’s about marking oneself with an identity. But it’s an identity that feels off-limits to MOC and students of colour, which makes it an in-group marker. And it feels exclusionary to MOC and students of colour, again marking them as a out-group.

Maybe that makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t. I am not a sociologist or organizational psychologist.

What I do know is true is that I hear white Anglo-Saxonists wringing their hands about students of colour, and I hear MOC saying, “listen to me, listen to me, listen to me” – the MOC once were students of colour, and in the case of grad students, are still students of colour, so why aren’t we listening? Too often I hear white Anglo-Saxonists pushing back rather than making room for MOC voices. And I wonder how much more of this dynamic we expect the MOC to take. If the MOC didn’t care about Anglo-Saxon studies or making A-S studies safe for future MOC and students of colour, they wouldn’t be here.

Again, I ask: what signals are we sending that say we want to include MOC in Anglo-Saxon studies? What signals are we sending that say that we don’t think MOC belong in Anglo-Saxon studies?

Sincerely,

Robin Norris
Executive Director of ISAS

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