Opening Remarks and Overview from “Ethno-Religious Interaction in Premodern Iberia”, October 14, 2022
Director’s Annual Letter, Fall 2022
Director’s Annual Letter, Fall 2021
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 Annual Letter, Fall 2022
Published September 25, 2022
Plague, war, violence, sectarianism, takeover of bodies and lives of women and disenfranchised people, denials of climate change and democratic election results, books and entire segments of knowledge banned from teaching and access, control over independent media sources, personal carrying of arms in shared public spaces, insurrection and attempted government overthrow, the menace of famine, the struggle over resources (water, agricultural land, habitable land), the list is incomplete because it is rapidly growing—globally. There is no need to make a reference to the Middle Ages or to “less civilized,” “obscurantist,” and “barbaric” times of the past, or to seek parallels to different times and places in history that could provide guidance or a lesson for the present. Let us face it: this is our present, uncomfortable, lethal, ideological, and unjust.
If the problem of the specialists of the past in American academia has for a long time been how to make the past relevant to the present, this may no longer be the question. How to make the past relevant may now have an entirely different resonance if the past is no longer held as a research object but has become a mythical, phantasmagoric, unchanging, sempiternal state of being. Despite being presented as “historical” by the originalists on the Supreme Court, the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that struck down Roe v. Wade is not grounded in history, but is a spectral past of origins that ignores the passage of time. It signals a hastened arrival of eternity, that is, a lack of (the passage of) time. In citing the historical origin—a gesture of literalism—the Supreme Court denies the very possibility of history, of evolution and new formations throughout the passage of time. It gives a new reading of the end of times: an eternal present.
In this originalist and literalist eternal present—hardly a paradisiac state unless one takes the biblical lesson of the originary moment of the Fall literally and stops eating from the Tree of Knowledge—what role for the study of the past, for the humanities? In our Western democracies, scholars and researchers, thinkers and critics, teachers and learners, in short we, the citizens, are not (yet) subject to the direct orders of political powers; rather, we operate in an intellectual universe that recognizes the line of division between science and politics, between knowledge production and governance. Therefore, rarely since WWII has the question of the relevance of the global past to the present and, above all, to the global future been more acute. Perhaps two things can be highlighted from the global archive: that Christian theology is not the only worldview; and that the past is irrepressible—it in fact does always return, albeit transformed—and that is our chance, because it means that there is history, that is, evolution and renewed formation through time. The past is irrepressibly a future. Put differently, as long as there is time, there is future. And this is where the speculative future of the past haunts the originalist present and becomes the bane of its existence, of its presentism.
As a scholar, I have a commitment to interrelating the past and the contemporary, not because the past will teach the present a lesson, or because the present repeats the past, but because in their comparison and confrontation, we get to ask of each questions that we could not have thought of otherwise. And so I note that the humanities are at least one academic generation ahead of events. Humanities are “inactual”—not in sync with their time—not because, in the case of our early fields, they talk about inactual, irrelevant things, but because the work actually precedes its own actuality, it is ahead of events. Sara Lipton said poignantly at the last meeting of the Medieval Academy of America in March 2022, in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia, that she did not know that her work on anti-Jewish polemic was going to be at the heart of recent events linked to anti-Semitism. The same can be said of the work of Monica H. Green, who spent most of her scholarly life working on medieval medicine, but her research on the Great Plague of the fourteenth century is only now of utmost—global—currency. I couldn’t have planned for all the media interest that my book on medieval and Afghan fixers was going to generate when published in early September 2021, at the very moment when those who had helped the Westerners were left behind during the catastrophic US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. I have elsewhere called this phenomenon the future anterior of humanities work. We should keep an archive of every instance in which the scholarly work preceded its own actuality and bring it as proof to any administrator who is asking for deliverables and outputs or to any politician who denies history and differentiation in time. Speculative futures are the domain of the humanities even when we study them as a past. Perhaps one of our main contributions can be to deepen this understanding of the relationship between the past and the future, and to do so through the lens of the global past.
To that end, CMRS Center for Early Global Studies has put forward a set of thematic priorities for the next two-year cycle:
Travel and Traveling Forms
Our current Call for Proposals (due October 1) is timely, and I encourage all members of CMRS-CEGS faculty to reflect, directly or indirectly, on the proposed themes—for example, issues of ecology and climate change, knowledge and censored knowledge, the senses (and bodies and sexualities), sovereignty as rights and liberty. Designed to encourage, rather than to limit, these themes can be taken up as standalones or can be combined in different ways. Of course, we continue to accept proposals that fall within the Center’s chronological span, that is, from the 3rd to the mid-17th century CE. I hope you will find our open collaborative research platform of five main research axes nimble for thinking about the past and the future.
Our CFP also seeks synergies between research and teaching by offering formulas that can serve scholarship and pedagogy. We thus wish to enable faculty to bring their research to a greater variety of students through CMRS-CEGS Research Seminars and through participation in the Graduate Certificate in Global Medieval Studies. In Fall 2022, the 11th edition of the CMRS-CEGS LAMAR Methodology seminar will be taught by Calvin Normore (Philosophy). First taught in Fall 2012, the LAMAR Methodology Seminar is intended to provide interdisciplinary training to graduate students in the fields of Late Antiquity, Medieval, and Renaissance (LAMAR). Three more CMRS-CEGS graduate research seminars will be offered, in Winter 2023, by Barbara Fuchs (English/Spanish & Portuguese) and Giulia Sissa (Political Science/Classics/Comparative Literature) and, in Spring 2023, by Greg Woolf (History). We continue to encourage using graduate seminars as public research venues; in the past year, we supported a number of online public lectures presented as part of CMRS-CEGS sponsored graduate seminars.
Alongside this, we continue with plans for larger scholarly gatherings, with conferences on ethno-religious interaction in Iberia (F22) and the future of medieval European scholarship today (W23). We are excited to welcome to the UCLA campus the next Byzantine Studies Association of North America (BSANA) Annual Conference (Nov. 3–6)!
We will continue our support of junior and mid-career faculty through two more Book Manuscript Workshops; three were held last year. We have maintained the increased levels of graduate support: in a combination of dissertation fellowships, recruitment fellowships, summer fellowships, and travel and conference grants, we supported 22 applications in the amount of $160,730, in the disciplines of archaeology, art history, history, Indo-European studies, and literatures. We continued our partnership with the Medieval and Early Modern Student Association (MEMSA) through a yearlong student-faculty Race Reading Group and graduate conference on Intersectionality in the Early Global World, and strengthened our regional and institutional connections through a series of cosponsored events (e.g., Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts; Comparatism and Slavery; Qur’an and Torah in Comparative Perspective; Petrarch’s African Canzoniere). Our audience, thanks to the hybrid capacity in Royce 314 and 306, and our online presence, kept at record numbers.
I hope, as we grow and our work takes on more relevance with every passing day of this age, that you will support us, whether through your involvement in the intellectual life of the Center or financially. Please give what you can. I wish you a safe and healthy AY 2022–2023 and invite you, as always, to connect with me at email@example.com and to join the Center in activating the past in the future.
Director, UCLA CMRS Center for Early Global Studies
Director’s Annual Letter, Fall 2021
Published September 20, 2021
Over the past year and a half of the continuing biggest upheaval – racial, social, political, health – that we have known in our lifetimes, it was essential to continue looking for an answer to the question I asked a year ago: where and what is the center to the Center? In response, our faculty, graduate students, associates and affiliates, and friends of the Center found ways to come together as a community, to recenter, steady and reposition ourselves. Every two weeks, we met in CMRS-specific events: Works-in-Progress Happy Hours, New Book Salons, the CMRS Faculty-Graduate Student Reading Group. You joined us for center-defining events and talks, such as “1521: Making the World While Breaking the World”; “Slavery’s Archive in the Premodern World,” “Signs of Sex: Comparative Semiotics of Virginity in the Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Worlds.” You read our webpages and watched our podcast series and YouTube channel in unprecedented numbers. We discussed the lessons and uses of the past in this uncertain present and the perspectives for CMRS, one of the oldest UC Research Centers, in an unknown future. Ultimately, as a collective of scholars of the past, we have chosen boldly both the past and the future. Together, faced with the globality of our shared crises, when the center was burst open and the ground pulled from under us, we found the axis to the globe.
In 2021-2022, in the 59th year of its existence, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies will become CMRS Center for Early Global Studies (CMRS-CEGS).
Institutionally, CMRS-CEGS reflects and represents UCLA’s diverse faculty and graduate student body across a great variety of disciplines covering the breadth of the globe in the time periods under the Center’s purview from the 3rd to the 17th century CE. In disciplinary terms, our fields have undergone major changes in the last two decades, reflected in transdisciplinary methodologies, interdisciplinary curricula, digital innovation and exchange, and scholarly collaboration, that allow for comparative study of unconnected premodern and early worlds and of connected early modern worlds across the globe. Socially, moving away from traditionally European-identified fields of medieval and Renaissance studies toward the coverage of the globe in a manner that is inclusive and methodologically sound is in line with UCLA’s strategic goals of social justice, its Rising to the Challenge initiative and commitment to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2025.
Our updated name reflects the desire to keep the former acronym of CMRS in honor of the Center’s 58-year-long history of late antique, medieval and Renaissance studies. In order to counteract the varying periodizations across the globe, which do not fit neatly along the European lines of division of ancient and medieval and where parts of the world outside of Europe often do not know a Renaissance, the best term that accommodates the periods under the Center’s purview from the 3rd through the 17th century CE is “early.” Most importantly, the term “early” circumvents the problem of always centering the earlier time periods in relation to “modernity” (as in “premodern”) and thus avoids the pitfalls of teleology, of working on the presumption of progress from the past to the present. Finally, it is important to note that the striking formula of “early global studies” points to the study of unconnected and weakly connected worlds before the global era and globalization. In that sense, CMRS Center for Early Global Studies – by its size, by the excellence of its faculty and their research – champions a new understanding of “global studies.” That is, it promotes the “studies” of the “early global.” And CMRS-CEGS does so early on in the academic game of trends, pioneering a novel institutional paradigm and institutionalizing a scholarly model, which no comparable major research center or program has done in North America.
CMRS-CEGS is thus uniquely positioned to take a leading role in reconfiguring the face of North American early and premodern studies. With its five research axes plan, CMRS-CEGS has adopted a “global” model that responds to the challenge of regional world systems, that is, the plurality of premodern and early worlds. CMRS-CEGS studies a multi-centered world in which methodology and comparison connect distinct areas of the globe. This collaborative platform allows faculty studying various parts of the globe over almost 1500 years to exchange effectively from within their fields or work together innovatively across them. This approach provides the Center with an inclusive and innovative model of combined disciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. Connected methodologies also enable transspatial (non-contiguous) and transperiodic (non-continuous) study of the early worlds. In our definition of connected methodologies and epistemologies, “early global” is a paradigm and a method of research deployed in order to gain the experience of the time periods under our purview as total social phenomena but also providing scholarly disciplines with an inclusive model. Indeed, “early global, early inclusive” can well be one of CMRS-CEGS’s mottos.
In a historical twist, as is oft the case, the present imitates the gestures of the past. Lynn White Jr. argued for the establishment of CMRS in 1963 because “during the past two decades medieval and Renaissance studies have both greatly broadened and at times tended to converge. These movements of scholarship have opened up new questions which require a degree of collaboration among experts with very diverse competencies such as could scarcely have been envisaged a generation ago.” CMRS-CEGS’s plans for the future align with his original assessment that “the Middle Ages are no longer an intelligible unit if defined simply as the phase of Occidental culture extending from the victory of Christianity to the overseas expansion of western Europe,” a conception that he believed impacted equally the understanding of the Renaissance and of Antiquity in the world. “Functionally the old division between medieval and Renaissance scholarship has lost much of its significance. They are now a unified field of investigation. The new view of the Middle Ages and Renaissance has likewise expanded understanding of the implications of classical studies.”
CMRS-CEGS sustains and extends the creative and visionary course charted by Lynn White Jr. Beginning with Academic Year 2021-2022, we will administer the Graduate Certificate in Global Medieval Studies that is housed in UCLA’s Department of Comparative Literature. The required CMRS/LAMAR methodology course will be “Digital/Medieval: Resistant Archives” (Engl 257). Two CMRS Research Seminars will support the Graduate Certificate “Eros in Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Early Christian Worlds” in Winter 2022, and “Persian Literature in Interdisciplinary Context” in Spring 2022. We will offer innovative programming on Dante in dialogue with East Asian Buddhism; the future of medieval studies of Europe; book collections in the premodern world; and renew our collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum with a conference on the Getty Pentateuch. Thanks to our leadership in the Humanities Division, all our events in 306/314 Royce will have the capacity to be hybrid starting this Fall, simultaneously presented both on campus in person and remotely, and fully interactive with the remote audience. In an ongoing partnership with the Medieval and Early Modern Student Association (MEMSA), we are co-sponsoring the Race Reading Group for faculty and students. We will maintain our increased levels of support for graduate students through the CMRS Dissertation Research Fellowship; three supplemental recruitment fellowships to attract the most qualified candidates to UCLA’s graduate programs; and summer funding. Finally, this fall, we are launching a Junior Faculty Book Manuscript Workshop series, in partnership with the Dean of Humanities and faculty members’ home departments. We are grateful for the past contributions of our supporters and hope that you will continue to support CMRS-CEGS. I invite you to join us in this next phase of CMRS’s existence and do so with the conviction that it is “better to be early than late”!
Wishing you a productive and healthy academic year,
Zrinka Stahuljak, CMRS-CEGS Director
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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 email@example.com. 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