Day 4: Roundtables on Blogging and Disability Studies
Today was my day of work (well, a little fun by having lunch with a friend). I participated in two roundtables, both of which turned out to have excellent discussion and provided me with much food for thought.
The first – the MassMedieval roundtable, “Blogging the Medieval(ist) World”! I am incredibly pleased with this discussion. There were so many interesting topics brought up that I will never be able to summarize them, but I will try to get to a few. First, a list of the panelists and their sites:
- Peter Konieczny and Sandra Alvarez, Medievalists.net
- Meg Roland (Marylhurst University), A Passionate Geography: Romancing King Arthur’s Roman War
- Elizabeth Anderson (University of Chicago/Roosevelt University), Voi che ascoltate
- Jenny Adams (University of Massachusetts-Amherst)
- John and I, MassMedieval
In the initial comments from each panelist, we hit on a few ideas that were discussed in more detail later. Peter and Sandra briefly considered the possibilities of Twitter, particularly in how medieval images are ideal subjects because they are visually appealing, often have an element of the strange, and need little explanation. Meg, a self-described “slow-blogger,” gave the background of her amazing opportunity to recreate the England to Rome journey of Arthur and how her blog is both a travelogue and a means for writing through the experience. She offered the idea of how a blog can provide the structure to follow a literary story through a geographic space. She also provided the name of a resource that I plan on examining: Blog Theory by Jodi Dean. Beth uses her blog as a way to read a poem a day from Petrarch’s Canzoniere. She, unlike Meg, describes herself as “blogging in haste” by using “Voi che ascoltate” to focus on daily reading and writing exercises. Beth also brought up the idea of how to bridge the gap between medievalists and “civilians,” particularly by making links to contemporary music and art. Jenny does not currently have a site – though she is on board to write a guest post for MassMedieval! – but, through her survey of medievalist blogs, she offered some insightful comments about the choice to remain anonymous or not and how the choice to incorporate personal details into posts can change the representation of the authors. In my remarks, I outlined the reasons John and I decided to start MassMedieval – in particular, as an outlet of expression for medievalists at small institutions and the desire to connect with other medievalists.
After these comments, the discussion was engaging and wide-ranging. Some highlights:
- Online presence as an academic – The validity of online interactions has changed considerably over the last few years. Whereas, not too long ago, such activity would have been considered in a poor light, now it is more often than not encouraged. Still, the type of online activity and individual profile is still a consideration. We thought about the concept of how having a blog could be a means of raising profile while on the job market. We found that some of us tend to compartmentalize our online work (Facebook separate from other activities or personal vs professional blogs/Twitter accounts) while others seek to integrate their online personas.
- Collaboration – Two of the blogs on the panel are a collaborative effort, while two others are not. In general, collaboration allows for more activity as well as more diversity in types of posts and more potential for motivation to continue. The bloggers from one author are both highly structured projects with an end point, not to say this always has to be the case.
- Guest posts – It was generally agreed that guest posts are the way to go. The advantage of a blog is the ability to communicate. Bringing others in to offer different perspectives creates a rich, dynamic site. Many at the roundtable were interested in collaborating in this way with each other.
- Using the blog to further research – A couple of the panelists are very much already doing this, especially with their specific focus in their sites. It was also mentioned how blogging can provide motivation and inspiration for research projects. It has even been possible for some to turn their blogs themselves into publications.
Other blogs from the audience (if you are a medieval blogger, please feel free to leave a comment with a link):
For those who attended or participated in the roundtable, please fill in anything I have forgotten to add!
Second, I was a panelist on the Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages roundtable on “Incorporating Medieval Disability Studies in the Classroom.” The discussion here too was quite rich. Some of the panelists focused on descriptions and thoughts about specific courses taught, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as American and European. The considerations raised dealt with issues of considering the types of students in these courses, who may or may not have a background in either disability studies or the Middle Ages. I also discussed my own experience teaching a graduate course, mostly comprised of high school teachers, who found the complications and complexities of medieval disability useful in thinking about their students and the state-mandated labels of different types of students. Besides courses with disability topics, it is also important to think about bringing in issues of disability into other courses, such as surveys, thereby giving students an additional lens with which to read texts. It may also be possible to have students consider what makes someone “abled” or “dis-abled” in a particular profession or social sphere (i.e. kings vs. peasants, women, scribes, etc.).
John also brought up a point that we must consider in introducing our students to any critical framework. How can students become well-versed in a vocabulary or in a particular type of critical reading in one semester? Will they simply default to mimicking terminology or critical styles without learning how to apply or how to assess such work? This becomes important when considering how students may fall back on the “diagnosis model” of reading the text – “therefore, this character has this disease/disability – the end.” One specific solution we considered is the possibility that more focused work – looking at one word across texts, for example – might help this particular situation. The work of the Society also may provide a solution, for we are developing a Medieval Disability Glossary, which will offer opportunities for various critical assignments.
Whew! My last Kzoo post! It has been an informative and invigorating conference. As always, I am filled with ideas for projects and teaching experiments. The trick now is to keep up the momentum as I return and grade finals to end out the semester and begin the summer!