Sponsored by the New Chaucer Society, New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession offers essays, news, and resources for teachers and scholars of Geoffrey Chaucer and his age. Published twice per year, this peer-reviewed, open-access journal is dedicated to our work inside both the classroom and the institution, as well as to our outward-facing work contributing to the public discourse. In these ways, the journal seeks to advance a broad and embracing conception of medieval literary studies.
Volume 1, Issue 1, 2020
The beginnings of New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession are found in many energetic conversations about the state of our field and our profession at the New Chaucer Society’s 2018 Congress in Toronto. Concerned about the sustainability of medieval studies, the editors imagined a journal that not only addressed these pressing issues but also helped diminish the isolation many medievalists feel. Most of all, they sought to rethink how different forms of academic labor are defined and valued. The resulting journal rests on two pillars of accessibility: open access and peer review. Available through the University of California’s eScholarship publishing platform, the journal is freely available regardless of institutional affiliation. And by encouraging a peer-review process of constructive criticism and intellectual dialogue, the journal promotes fresh perspectives. The journal’s first issue presents timely and thoughtful contributions by Anthony Bale, Andrew James Johnston, Dan Kline, and Carolyn Dinshaw.
Bale’s doctoral research on the representation of Jews in medieval English literature led him to realize that he turned to the late-medieval period seeking not its hospitality but rather its challenges, especially the questions it forces us to ask about ourselves. For Bale, an important question deals with who is allowed within the precincts of Medieval Studies. As the data bears out, the UK’s educational system has been a gatekeeper effectively limiting who takes our courses and, eventually, who teaches our courses and conducts research in our field. To ensure greater access to Medieval Studies, Bale suggests such practical steps as being aware of attainment gaps, avoiding exclusionary behavior, requiring unconscious bias training, and targeting funding for intersectional exclusions. Unless educators remain focused on access issues, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic will to easily distract them and aggravate the disparities. Rather than looking for ourselves in the medieval past, we must see that its alterity requires we seek out alternate perspectives.
Johnston examines the lessons to be learned from the precarious position of Medieval English Studies in Germany. While German universities are attracting a growing number of English-speaking graduate students, Medieval English Studies in Germany has been increasingly modeling itself on programs in leading Anglophone universities and increasingly hiring non-“German” faculty. Consequently, the gap between the scholarly community in Medieval English Studies and that in Medieval German Studies has widened, leaving Medieval English Studies untethered to either German medievalists or Anglophone medievalists. Ironically, because funding mechanisms value cross-disciplinary collaboration, Germany’s Medieval English scholars frequently work across departments and programs, establishing collaborations that they might otherwise overlook. Because a truly global Medieval Studies requires engagements outside nationalist interests and across multiple perspectives, the collaborations forged by German scholars focusing on Medieval English Studies may provide a model for ways we can actively engage with and learn from one another.
Kline’s essay guides readers through the steps many Chaucerians may find themselves taking in order to protect the English major and to ensure medieval literature remains in higher education curriculum. In institutions such as the University of Alaska-Anchorage, where funding has dried up and what remains is frequently diverted to STEM fields, one certain way to preserve the major is through faculty’s active involvement in curricular work and general education. The goal cannot be simply to pack as many medieval-literature-friendly courses into the curriculum as possible; instead, the goal is to create coherent general education programs that meet student needs and provide opportunities for them to explore the questions that medieval literary texts provoke. Although it might seem outside the medievalist’s immediate interests, active participation in shared governance provides a means for medievalists to remain relevant.
In 2020, a global pandemic and egregious evidence of systemic injustice have catapulted the U.S. into turmoil. Carolyn Dinshaw identifies these disruptions as signs that change is needed for all institutions, including higher education. In her meditation about these needed transformations she notes that substantial experimentation is integral to successful and beneficial change. Inspired by the educational approach advocated by the Muscatine Report—whose eponymous author is familiar to Chaucerians—Dinshaw urges that we once again embrace experimentation. Our changes need to be bold and we need to be ready to fail. Like Charles Muscatine and others who designed the experimental Strawberry Creek College at the University of California at Berkeley, educators must seek structural change in order to make the university truly a place for higher learning.