Thursday, May 3, 2012

What Medievalists Are Not

A week from now, darling readers, I'll be at Kalamazoo.  Note that I didn't say in Kalamazoo, which would indicate a trip to that fair city, but at Kalamazoo which is shorthand for attending the International Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  And, frankly, this time of year, a medievalist is more likely to simply write, "Are you ready for K'zoo?" or "Damn, I can't wait to get to the 'Zoo!"

Next week, perhaps, I will write of this excessively delightful congress, but it has occurred to me that you, my beloved readers, may need to know what a medievalist actually is before you will understand next week's shenanigans.

Briefly, a medievalist is a scholar who studies the period of history loosely defined as between the years 450 and 1485 CE ("CE" means "Common Era" and has completely failed to replace "AD" in common usage, but in this, as in so many other areas of my life, I have chosen to act uncommonly).

You would think, precious readers, that the above definition would be very simple to understand.  You would be wrong.  There are a great many misconceptions about what a medievalist is and does, so I, dearest readers, am going to set you straight.


What a Medievalist Is Not:
A Helpful Guide from Me to You
  1. A medievalist does not need a dungeon master.  A few medievalists may have had one, or even been one, long ago in some adolescent basement or dorm room, but most of us have left such childish games behind in exchange for committee meetings.  Besides, I always die on level 4.
  2. A medievalist does not study (exclusively) Shakespeare.  At least not as a primary subject.  We may teach the Bard upon occasion, and there are a few medievalist/renaissance scholars (which is rather like being a model/actress), but Shakespeare is from another period altogether and did not write in Old English.  No, he didn't write in Middle English either.
  3. A medievalist does not dress up in costume on weekends and pretend to be knight or a lady.  Those are the good folks from the Society of Creative Anachronism and similar groups.  Medievalists as a rule don't participate partly because we are far too cool to waste our weekends in this manner, but mostly because we can't stop saying things like, "Why is everyone here a cleric or a nobleman?  Where are all of the peasants?  An agrarian community would starve to death like this, and incidentally, there is no actual evidence of the use of the chastity belt."
  4. Medievalists don't go to Medieval Times either.  Please stop inviting us.  It's like inviting an anchorite to a mega-church revival. 
  5. A medievalist does not "wish you had lived back then" because we know damn well that most of us would have died in infancy and many of the rest would, given our personalities, have been executed for heresy. 
  6. Most medievalists are not fantasy writers. Yes, J.R.R. Tolkien was one of us. Yes, there are some of us who write novels, but we are as likely to write detective fiction or poetry as multi-volume quests to defeat the Great Evil Force infesting a fictional world.  We do approve of those maps, though.  Very nice.
  7. Finally, medievalists are not these guys:
That's a professor of religion and a professor of mathematics.  Just in case you forget who the real weirdos are.


  1. I'll be at the Zoo, too! I'm proud to use CE all the time, but now I'm a little ashamed that I'll be talking about Shakespeare and QE 1.0. Sorry about that. ;)

  2. Are you staying in the dorms? If so, you are forgiven.

  3. Love! I'm totally depressed not to be going to the 'Zoo this year, but I know y'all will do it up well. :o)And Dude, what up with the Religion and Math profs? Seriously. ;op

  4. Number 4!

    And Number 6.

    See you at the Zoo!

  5. Brilliant. Especially that last pint about mathematicians. They are a WEIRD bunch!

    See you at the Zoo!

  6. No. 7 (or possibly 3a) A medievalist does not eat at Medieval Times. (submitted by my colleague, Don Sunnen)

  7. I keep waiting for my students to take me to Medieval Times. Somehow, it never seems to happen ...

  8. also, "I've never heard of those things you teach about" =/= "The things you teach are really esoteric"

  9. I am those guys. No. No I'm not. I was thinking of someone else.

  10. I shall also be at the 'Zoo, but I will say, that on occasion, just for fun, I do dress up and go to Ren Faire. I revel in the anacronism, and besides, I look good in stays and it's an excuse to watch jousts and drink beer all day. I love have 'those' conversations with people about what isn't 'medieval'.

  11. I have added the bit about Medieval Times; good call, Alan.