Here at Loyola Marymount University, we continuously emphasize the importance students play in the scholarly conversation. As a student, your thoughts, writings, and eventual publications are part of an ongoing dialogue between scholars. One scholar begins the conversation and others jump in, citing this original work and adding their own thoughts. This often feels very far from where you are right now, but you are absolutely in the midst of these conversations in real time.
Racist Imagery and Medieval Studies
Recently, such a conversation began between two medieval studies professors about white supremacy and imagery from the Middle Ages. White nationalists and racists have used images of the Knights Templar and medieval saints at nationalist rallies.
While it is unlikely these racists know the true origins of these symbols, medievalists like Dorothy Kim, Assistant Professor of English at Vassar College, are concerned about the use of such imagery. She believes that their displays, as well as the silence of her white colleagues, perpetuates myths of the “all-white” medieval past. Like other academics, Kim insists that neutrality in the scholarly community is not an option. Faculty members and instructors must explicitly call out the racist usage of medieval images and provide an evidence based historical record.
While some of Kim’s colleagues are in agreement, Rachel Fulton Brown, Associate Professor of History at the University of Chicago, is not. She explained in a series of blog posts that faculty do not need to take an anti-racist stand in the classroom. She considers such rhetoric as fear-mongering and insulting. She goes on to use a late twelfth century stained glass window as evidence that white supremacy had no place in medieval culture.
Silence as Complicity
While this method of conversation is not specifically scholarly, these posts from both Kim and Fulton are key to the discourse around colleges and universities and race. It is absolutely necessary for faculty and instructors to dispel racist fantasies and myths in their fields perpetrated by those in public.
As stated by Rebecca Futo Kennedy:
“The problem of white supremacy is not going away, and Classics has found itself (once again) in the fulcrum. So, if a side consequence of teaching about human diversity in the ancient world is the disruption of contemporary white supremacists in their attempts to continue a narrative of superiority based on their misappropriation of the Classical past, I’ll take it.”
Unfortunately, Fulton later descended into name-calling in her posts, halting the possibility of a respectful discussion between colleagues. However, other medievalists have continued to discuss this topic and began a crowd-sourced bibliography detailing race and medieval studies. This exchange displays the importance of not only speaking openly about race, but the role of the scholarly conversation in our shared culture and history.