Director’s Statements / Programmatic Overview

Director’s End-of-Year Statement, June 2021

Director’s Annual Letter, Fall 2020

Director’s End-of-Year Statement, June 2020

Director’s Annual Letter, Fall 2019

Associate Director’s Statement, 2008-2009


Director’s End-of-Year Statement 2020-21

Published June 8, 2021

A year ago, in June 2020, we released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. We promised to continue systemic and programmatic changes that we initiated in 2019. And we are starting to deliver.

I am delighted to report on the results of this past year that has seen CMRS attain new levels of visibility and leadership. In 33 events held, we reached a total of 2,500 live audience members, thanks to the Zoom environment imposed upon us in the COVID-19 pandemic. Our YouTube channel has had more than 3,500 views and our website online content has an average of 450 views per month. While we focused on expanding CMRS’s global outreach, we also remained mindful of the need to nurture our community through smaller-scale formats: a monthly CMRS Faculty-Graduate Student Reading Group, curated by Matthew Fisher (English, UCLA); Works-in-Progress Happy Hours where eight faculty and graduate students presented to a receptive audience; four New Book Salons where CMRS faculty discussed their publications with invited guests to enraptured audiences.

To our audiences and viewers, thank you for your interest, dedication, and personal messages of support; to our faculty and graduate students, thank you for everything you contributed to keep us not only together, but to maintain and spark interest in each other’s work, keeping our connections alive and strong. To our staff, thank you for making that miracle possible.

I am very happy to report on the first progress on our inclusive agenda. On May 7, 2021, the Graduate Certificate in Global Medieval Studies was approved. CMRS will administer the certificate that is housed in UCLA’s Department of Comparative Literature. We are likewise engaged in the process of updating the Center’s name, almost 60 years into CMRS’s existence, to more accurately reflect our mission and our appeal to broad, diverse audiences. What drives both initiatives is the premise that all areas of the world are equally epistemologically and methodologically productive, including those that have been underrepresented and understudied. Our collaborative platform of five research axes is based in the exchange of methodologies and epistemologies. In other words, methodology and comparison connect distinct and separate areas of the globe. Connected methodologies thus enable transspatial (non-contiguous) study but also transperiodic (non-continuous) study of the early worlds. This approach provides CMRS with an inclusive and innovative model of combined disciplinarity and transdisciplinarity.

We continue to expand our support for graduate students. This year we added an annual CMRS Dissertation Research Fellowship, thus offering a total of four one-year fellowships for AY 2021-22. We also provided two supplemental recruitment fellowships to attract the most qualified candidates to UCLA’s graduate programs, and awarded summer funding to thirteen recipients. In all, we dedicated $176,400 to graduate student funding. In addition, this fall we will launch a Junior Faculty Book Manuscript Workshop series. Created in partnership with the Dean of Humanities and faculty members’ home departments, this series will bring together outside reviewers and UCLA faculty and advanced graduate students to provide valuable feedback and networking experience to junior faculty. We are grateful for the past contributions of our supporters, who have allowed us to offer fellowships, grants, research assistantships, research funds, publication projects, and classes. We hope you will continue to support CMRS and our deserving graduate scholars, who bring innovative ideas to our campus and create new opportunities for cross-disciplinary research, enriching the intellectual life of the university.

In order to continue CMRS’s role as a leading North-American Center for the study of the early worlds, we have led the charge on the technological updates to our stately rooms of Royce Hall 314 and 306. All our events in 306/314 Royce will have the capacity to be hybrid starting this Fall: each event can be presented simultaneously both on-campus in-person and live-streamed on the internet to a remote audience. These events will also be fully interactive with the remote audience. CMRS also spearheaded a proposal for an NEH American Rescue Plan grant, on behalf of all the Humanities Centers.

I invite you to visit our YouTube channel where you can find some of the highlights of this virtual season, “1521: Making the World while Breaking the World”; “Slavery’s Archive in the Premodern World”; “Spatial Grammars: The Union of Art and Writing in the Painted Books of Aztec Mexico,” and “Varallo and the Sacri Monti of Northwestern Italy.” You can continue to enjoy our podcast series on the colonization of the Americas and indigenous California, as well as the beautiful and moving op-eds in “Reflections on 2020,” written by UCLA faculty and graduate students during the worst period of the pandemic.

As ever, I look forward to hearing from you at zs@humnet.ucla.edu. I hope that you will join CMRS as we continue to build a new habitus across disciplines on campus and all over the globe.

Wishing you a safe and restorative summertime,
Zrinka Stahuljak, CMRS Director


Director’s Annual Letter, Fall 2020

Published September 13, 2020

The Director’s annual letter is a serious task because it conveys a commitment to the project of the coming academic year and to a vision of a long-term future. But as I set to writing it this summer — the summer which never really came — the task is a radically altered one. How is one to present the programming, outline the goals, chart a course in the midst of the biggest upheaval — racial, social, political — and collapse — health, economic — that we have ever known? How is one to set the compass — moral and intellectual — when nothing is certain? What can be said about an annual “plan” when, from one day to the next, all we have thought and willed may get upended again? What center is there to a Center?

The daily contingency of the future is commensurate to the experience of sameness and un-change, each day and night blending into the next. This (protracted, infinite) moment — of a health crisis, of racial and social injustice, of democratic erosion from within – has made us definitively global. The entire world shares and lives in a pandemic. After #MeToo, we witness Black Lives Matter become a global movement, too. Illiberal democracies follow the same p(l)aybook no matter their location on the globe. Our crises have brought us a truly borderless world. And a limitless, undefined time of an eternal present — because we are in a time without a certain future perspective, in an open-ended temporality, adrift, decentered, dispersed.

When more than ten years ago, I advocated for CMRS to take the temporal span under its purview to the whole globe, I hardly could have imagined that our scholarly enterprise would collide with the globality that is now our daily experience and our position by default. Perhaps one way to relate to and grasp the involuntary globality of our experience is to seize this opportunity to embrace the globe while recentering on what gives us a sense of community in these rudderless times, to find the axis to the globe when the center has been burst open. The CMRS 2020- 2021 program that our faculty, associates, and graduate students have proposed, with some events rescheduled from the canceled Spring 2020 program, imagines ways both to relate to this ever-present lived globality and to connect in our community.

Globally, CMRS’s 2020-2021 program reflects changes that we enacted before the events of this past spring, but whose significance has been reinforced by them. In Fall 2020, Sarah Beckmann (Classics) will teach a LAMAR-CMRS Research Methodology Seminar on “The Late Antique World: Transitions and Transformations between Classical and Medieval (CL 250)” that will cover scholarship on enslaved persons in the late antique Christian Empire. Two important one-day workshops are planned for 2021: in Winter 2021, “1521: Making the World While Breaking the World” will connect Germany, Philippines, Mexico, and Ethiopia; and in Spring 2021, “Slavery’s Archive in the Global Middle Ages.” We will also host Susan Einbinder who will examine Jewish sources on the plague in early modern Italy and Andrea M. Achi will talk about libraries produced in Christian communities in medieval Africa for the History of the Book Lecture.

One of the events scheduled for next year, on medieval studies and Indian classical dance in the medieval period, a conversation between Anurima Banerji (World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA) and Seeta Chaganti (English, UC Davis) has been postponed, as a way to draw our attention to the systemic connection between economic and racial injustice. Before any of the global events, we witnessed the UC-wide movement for COLA for graduate students. This major movement has repercussions for our intellectual community as the UC speaker boycott continues until demands are fully met and all students are reinstated and disciplinary charges dropped. We witness how those who are disadvantaged are disadvantaged yet again in visibility and place for their scholarship, because they are taking action.

I have made it a priority for the Center, for the coming year of our borderless, virtual existence, to provide “safe” spaces for our community — and for the new members joining us as UCLA’s new hires and incoming graduate students. Please come meet them at the CMRS Open House on October 15. Our research, but also our thriving community connections, have been made so tenuous and frail that CMRS-specific events are one way of caring for ourselves and keeping us connected and recentered. We will be offering a twice-monthly Works-in-Progress Happy Hour throughout Fall and Winter, as well as the New Book Salon featuring latest publications of faculty.

I also wish to shore up the support for those who are our future: CMRS will be offering this year an additional CMRS Dissertation Research Fellowship, as well as a number of Supplemental Recruitment Fellowships, and other smaller grants.

As we seek to steady the needle on the compass, to resituate our center, CMRS will continue to pursue systemic changes and grow into the 21st century looking forward. Because we, scholars of the past, know this: that the open-endedness of time is filled with potential even when changes take a long time, too often beyond one or more generations. We partake in the joy of the becoming of peoples, events, and objects that we study. I hope you will join us at the Center as we seek our center together. Whether it is the Center’s programs, intellectual community, or systemic change, we cannot realize the task alone.

In solidarity,
Zrinka Stahuljak, CMRS Director


Director’s End-of-Year Statement, June 2020

Published June 17, 2020

On June 8, 2020, CMRS released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. In it, we also reaffirmed our commitment to systemic and programmatic changes which we started to bring forward this year, first through our new five-year Research Axes plan and in new programming such as the CMRS symposium on “Early History of Africa: New Narratives for a History of Connections and Brokers” which we held last January. Additionally:

Systemic changes require systemic thinking.

In this final news blast of the AY 2019-2020, I am happy to invite you to listen to the audio archive from the “Early History of Africa” Symposium that features three of our junior UC colleagues, Lamia Balafrej (Art History, UCLA), Jody Benjamin (History, UC Riverside), and Hollian Wint (History, UCLA). The future of medieval and early-modern research has already arrived. You will also find my introductory remarks to the Symposium, a part of my vision statement for CMRS.

Protecting the other component of the future of our research fields, CMRS stepped up its efforts to support graduate students in the ongoing health and UC funding crisis. By redirecting funds from spring CMRS events cancelled due to the coronavirus, we were able to provide in part summer research fellowships and support for twenty graduate students.

For this summer, we proposed a CMRS Faculty-Graduate Student Reading Group. This is a venue where we can actively engage with new methodologies and new scholarship. For the Fall and Winter, you will find here a call for presenters for CMRS Works-In-Progress Happy Hours, an informal space to share work and debate what matters to our fields.

We also feature video footage of Renaissance dances based on the Decameron from Professor Emerita Emma Lewis Thomas (World Arts & Cultures/Dance). As part of our efforts toward inclusivity at CMRS, dance and the performing arts are another example of diverse areas of research with which we can seek to renew our connections as we build partnerships and alliances across campus and the UC system. These recordings also remind us how arts can comfort us in the gravest of situations.

The Center appreciates the past support from our contributors and needs it now even more with funding cuts on the horizon at this pivotal juncture. Your contributions directly fund individual student’s studies and engaging public lectures. Please donate what you can.

As ever, I invite you to reach out to me at zs@humnet.ucla.edu. I hope that you will join us as we build a new habitus across disciplines on campus and all over the globe.

Wishing you a safe and restorative summertime,
Zrinka Stahuljak, CMRS Director


Director’s Annual Letter, Fall 2019

Published September 2019

I write these sober words on July 24, 2019, in Paris, where a new historical record of summer temperatures is about to be set at 107.6 ° Fahrenheit. There is much talk in all the French media of the collapse and end of the world, imminent by the end of this century. Many define this, our time, as the age of “collapsology.” Collapse and collapsology are contemporary expressions for what the specialists of premodern Europe have previously referred to as “apocalypse” and “apocalyptic thought.” For those who have studied the premodern past (and would it not be the same for a Classicist?), a discourse of collapse—rather than one of decline—feels foreign. Indeed, we have learned to talk about the “decline of the Roman Empire” rather than its “fall.” French media also report heated debates between collapsologists and environmentalists, who prefer to talk about the slow, soon unstoppable, deterioration. It seems that, after all, we are not going to fall off the cliff tomorrow. Or disappear in a  spontaneous combustion.

So the good news is that the end of the world is more likely the end of a  world. But even that thought seems beyond our capacity of comprehension. How then to think that  which is beyond thought? The premoderns lived in confrontation and in cohabitation with the thought of the world ending. Which didn’t end. What can we learn from the premoderns, for whom the world of  disease, famine, and extreme weather was beyond mastery, we who seem outdone by the violence of  climate change? And what can the diversity of thought of “apocalypse” in the premodern and early  modern African, American, and Asian worlds teach us?

Philosopher Marianne Durano writes in the  opinion pages of Le Monde, “we are not the cause of the end of the world but the end of the world  gives us a cause: to live the best life possible.”

As the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies  enters a new phase under my leadership, I very much look forward to discovering with you what the  global premodern and the early modern can teach us, the moderns, about our best possible life. Please  do not hesitate to contact me – I look forward to meeting you and speaking with you over the  next academic year 2019-2020 about the ways in which the past is perhaps closer than ever to us and  I am excited to see how we can bring theseideas to their best public life.

Zrinka Stahuljak, CMRS Director


Associate Director’s Statement, 2008-2009

Published September 2008

Going Global, Getting Medieval
It seems that medieval French studies are in vigorous intellectual shape, with work of great rigor and  vibrancy being produced. Perhaps it all started in the mid-1980s and early 1990s with the pitched battles around new philology and renewed interest in methodologies of manuscript edition. Then,  thanks to the history of sexuality and queer theory, and postcolonial theory, we witnessed an  interdisciplinary opening of the French Middle Ages. This in turn opened up communication between  medievalists, normally relegated to exile in the pre-modern, and their colleagues in other, modern, centuries of French literature and history. Transformative work on French medieval manuscripts was  done, such as the vast collaborative project on The Manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes, that looked at  codices and the manuscript tradition in a more global way, thereby making crucial socio-cultural  information available for a better overall understanding of the circulation of languages, cultures, and artifacts across medieval Europe, and beyond, in territories yet to be defined in national(ist) terms. In  fact, global may be the word to retain here, whether philologically or theoretically.

For “What is the state  of medieval French studies?” does not strike me as the main question to ask of the French  discipline today. Rather, it seems that medieval French studies are participating in a major shift toward,  simply, medieval studies.

First, boundaries between disciplines previously defined as national are  falling by the wayside, as medievalists, particularly in literary studies and history, initiate and participate  in projects conceived in global terms. French medievalists are actively participating in the  definition of Mediterranean Studies, including the seminar series “Mediterranean Studies: East and  West at the Center, 1050-1600,” to be hosted by the CMRS in Winter 2009 and funded by the Andrew  W. Mellon Foundation Grant for “Transforming the Humanities at UCLA” (see page 4).

Another  example of transnational interdisciplinary research in collaborative humanities is an effort spearheaded  by the Centers for Medieval Studies at the University of TexasAustin and the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, “Scholarly Community for the Globalization of the ‘Middle Ages’” (SCGMA). Even projects  confined to France have become increasingly transversal and collaborative, such as “Poetic  Knowledge in Late Medieval France” or the digital library of “The Romance of the Rose Project.” As a  result, the American academy will perhaps follow the British example of funding more collaborative  projects, as does the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI), most recently in  Fall 2007 with the Residential Research Group “The Emergence of ‘the West’: Shifting Hegemonies in  the Medieval Mediterranean,” or seminar grants provided by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study,  although Radcliffe is more open to larger numbers of scholars from outside the home institution.

Finally,  a global and transnational approach may allow us to resolve the brewing dispute over the  location of study of Anglo-Norman texts. This important component of the OldFrench heritage does not  have to belong to a department of English or of French, but is a part of Francophone literature, conceived indeed beyond the nineteenth-century boundaries erected and reified by nationalism and colonialism. Thus, medieval French studies are becoming a part of the global picture that reflects more  accurately the circulation of ideas, people, and objects in the Middle Ages, even as globalization and fragmentation of nation-states today suggest an emergence of neo-medieval models: by going global,  we are getting medieval, again.

Zrinka Stahuljak, CMRS Associate Director