NCS Election: Candidate Statements

The election of four new trustees and a new president for the New Chaucer Society is now upon us.  Nominees for these positions are asked to provide statements to the membership, offering a personal introduction and how they envision contributing to its future.  Please see these statements below; they are listed in alphabetical order below presenting, first, statements from candidates for president followed by prospective trustees.

For a list of current NCS officers, please see this link

 

Candidates for: President of the New Chaucer Society

Anthony Bale, Birkbeck, University of London

I am honoured to have been nominated to stand for election as President of the New Chaucer Society. NCS has been the formative professional association in my own career, and I have played a number of roles in the Society – from being a student volunteer at the 2000 Congress in London, serving as a Program Committee member for the 2014 Congress in Reykjavik, co-organising the Congress in London in 2016, and serving as a Trustee 2016-20. My service to NCS reflects my priorities as a medievalist: engaging with innovative research in medieval studies and fostering inclusive academic environments. I have a comprehensive understanding of NCS, and a good grasp of what is working well and what works less well.

NCS is flourishing, and SAC has become a leading journal in medieval literary studies. There are, however, many challenges to be faced. The ‘New’ in New Chaucer Society needs to live up to its name; the Society must stay fresh, continue to embrace change and respond to new developments in the field and to the changing scholarly environment. I anticipate that priorities for NCS over the next few years include

Continuing to rethink our biennial Congress and its purposes. The Congress has to be more ethical, sustainable, and inclusive; we need to put it on a more secure organisational footing; and we must protect and extend funding to ensure that those who wish to participate are able to do so.

Advocating for and safeguarding the teaching of late medieval literature on school curricula and internationally, particularly in non-elite schools (high school and undergraduate level), by developing NCS’s profile as a resource for teachers of medieval literature at all levels. Without medieval literature on syllabi, we will not foster the next generations of medievalists.

I am Professor of Medieval Studies and Dean of Arts at Birkbeck College in the University of London. Birkbeck is a unique widening-participation, research-excellent institution in the centre of London, and my experiences there give me a deep understanding of academic issues around accessibility, opportunity, and exclusive structures. As Dean since 2017 much of my energy has been focussed on protecting the arts, addressing inequality, and leading change. This has included raising significant funding for diversity scholarships and setting up the Out@Birkbeck LGBT+ staff network. My own research has been at the forefront of challenging understandings of the cultural history of antisemitism and medieval encounters through travel. I have published on Chaucer throughout my career. I am currently completing a biography of Margery Kempe and continuing my research on the literature and codicology of medieval pilgrimage.

 

Julia Boffey, Queen Mary, University of London

I’ve taught Chaucer for a number of years to both British and international students, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and through involvement with NCS and a range of other scholarly bodies have gained an understanding of issues of current concern to medievalists. Among the priorities I see for NCS in the immediate future are the development of its role as an international hub for the exchange of interdisciplinary interests relevant to Chaucer and his age, and the extension of its responsibility to pedagogy as well as to scholarship. I endorse the Society’s commitment to inclusivity, and I see this too as a continuing priority. The range of activities sponsored by NCS is vitally important to the profile of Chaucer and medieval studies, whether in academic curricula or for the public at large.  I would aim to work with NCS to promote understanding of the many ways in which learning about Chaucer is of value.

 

Patricia Clare Ingham, Indiana University, Bloomington

At this historical moment, scholarly organizations like the New Chaucer Society have a responsibility to look in two directions at once. Among our membership, the society must continue to hold to the highest professional standards while fostering rigorous conversation and research. This means helping to enable the continuation of important critical work whether by way of renewed textual editions, debates over interpretive practices, sustained thinking and rethinking of our limits or our methods, or best practices for our classrooms.  And we must continue to cultivate broader publics: from contemporary poets and performance groups to secondary school teachers; continuing to demonstrating the liveliness and contemporaneity of our fields with an eye on the future. One developing strength of the NCS, over the past several years, has been its increasingly international reach. The society must continue to find ways to bolster global alliances, to welcome and strengthen the diverse relations built under our auspices. This has never been more important than it is now.

Thanks to the work of past presidents, trustees, and executive directors, the society is in robust financial shape. As President, I would like to see both continued careful stewardship of these resources and strategic investments in particular initiatives: public outreach in the form of programs and presentations aimed at popular audiences; and more financial support for scholars working in all kinds of precarious circumstances, a category which increasingly includes some in academic positions with little support for travel or research.

 

Candidates for: Trustee of the NCS

Helen Barr, University of Oxford

I would be honoured to be a trustee of the New Chaucer Society – it does fabulous work in arranging the biennial conferences (which I have always found very egalitarian and congenial – a ‘felaweship’), publishing Studies in the Age of Chaucer, the annotated Chaucer Bibliography, enabling young scholars, and for promoting creative sharing of pedagogy.

If elected I would like to join with anyone interested to create an online resource for the teaching of Chaucer under particular headings (and including links to manuscripts and visual material). So many of us have to reinvent the wheel for reinvigorating our teaching, and a resource, in addition to the bibliography, would help teachers and students manage a body of material that often feels overwhelming.

I also wonder whether we might want to move to publishing Studies in the Age of Chaucer online, partly for finances, but also to enable a faster turnaround for publication? I have mixed feelings about this, but would be interested in views.

I would also like to contribute to conference planning, and have experience of doing this. The sessions already happen in different formats, and I would like to extend the repertoire of these. For instance, some of my best learning experiences have come from formats that break down the presenter/audience model, whether that’s a panel of speakers or a round table. Given that conferences often have ‘threads’ would there be any interest in having a session on a particular topic/text in which the participants worked in groups to explore and share their knowledge and insights, and concluded with group presentations? I think that this could be a very good way of bring graduates, early career scholars and those more established in the field together so that we could learn from one another.

Above all, I would like to act as a soundbox to listen to how together we can continue to celebrate and learn from the work of Chaucer and his contemporaries in an academic climate that feels often inhospitable to the intellectual brio, and political bravado of a poet who doesn’t mind presenting himself as fat, middle-aged, a bit dim, boring, and hopeless about love. Nothing, as we all know, could be further than the truth.

 

Louise D’Arcens, Macquarie University

NCS stands at an important juncture in 2020, with genuine opportunities to expand its core remit. Its 2020 conference program reflects a growing commitment to fostering scholarship that takes the study of medieval English literature in directions that embrace global and decolonising perspectives. I am a scholar of medievalism, including Chaucer’s afterlife, in postcolonial and global contexts, and believe my research background, as well as my southern hemisphere perspective, will be valuable to continuing this new direction in a way that also respects the organisation’s specialisation in the age of Chaucer. I was honoured to help NCS develop this work as a Conference committee member for NCS Toronto 2018, and would be excited to continue it as a Trustee. I would bring to this work my organisational experience as a founding member of the Sydney Global Middle Ages Group and Node Leader in the ARC Centre for the History or Emotions, as well as the knowledge of medieval literature, medievalism, and global and decolonisation studies that underlies my major publications. These include World Medievalism (forthcoming 2020), Comic Medievalism (2014), Old Songs in the Timeless Land: Medievalism in Australian Literature 1840-1910 (2011), Medievalism and International Popular Culture (co-edited with Andrew Lynch, 2014), and The Cambridge Companion to Medievalism (edited, 2016). Among the numerous special journal issues I have co/edited, The Global Middle Ages and Global Medievalism with Candace Barrington is the most recent. Another of NCS’s key challenges as an organisation is consolidating its commitment to developing practices that combat academic racism, colonialism, sexism, homo/transphobia, and ableism. As a Trustee, I would be committed to ensuring that NCS is a welcoming and inclusive organisation, with practices that foster diverse membership, inclusive citational practices, and genuine, reflective dialogue. In this capacity I would draw on my ongoing experience as Equity and Diversity Chair of the Australia and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Thank you for considering me for this role.

 

Orietta Da Rold, University of Cambridge

It is an honour to have been nominated as a candidate for the position of Trustee of the New Chaucer Society. Constitutionally, the Society’s Trustees have a pivotal role in the stewardship of the Society in regulatory, financial and managerial matters, and going forward they will have to take a number of difficult decisions on how to use finite resources. But more than that, I have always thought of this body as a furnace for the present and, more importantly, future directions of the Society. Over the years, the Society’s International Congresses, and more broadly a number of initiatives sponsored by the Society across the Academy, have become more inclusive, and representative; a diverse group of scholars, academics of colour (at any stage of their career), precarious contract colleagues, early career researchers, graduate students, and teachers have contributed to debates and learning at these Society fora. This has been a very positive change which I have felt deeply. When I joined the Society almost twenty years ago, I felt very much like an outsider not because of my ethnic background, but because of where I came from: a non-native English speaker, with a non-traditional academic background and devoid of the classic academic pedigree. I now feel very differently about my relationship with the NCS, because the Society itself has changed, and has become more open. I am proud to be a member of this community. I have served on the NCS Programming Committee, the NCS Trustee Nominating Committee and engaged in other Society activities. I would love to use the expertise I have acquired to continue the Society's drive towards inclusivity, and to think more carefully about initiatives which can support the New Chaucer Society community at large, because more can be done especially for those constituencies in precarious work who so often cannot attend events because of their work situation. Every member of the Society ought to feel like they belong—a participant of an inclusive and diverse community, which listens to worries and actively provides opportunities of intellectual growth beyond race, gender, income or academic hierarchies.

 

Karma Lochrie, Indiana University

The New Chaucer Society stands at the forefront of resistance in these difficult political and academic times, to my mind.  Its ethical positions with regard to diversity, inclusion and discourse make it a model among academic societies in our field today.  At the same time, its congresses continue to innovate and fearlessly broach the topics and critiques of the field that other societies have been more reticent to do, whether it is including sessions on “toxic Chaucer,” Chaucer in the age of Brexit, and global Chaucers, or whether it is developing new formats for academic exchange.  Its outreach program to non-research institutions is also an exciting development, bringing Chaucer scholars into dialogue with teachers of secondary education.  At a time recently called  “apocalyptic” for the  humanities, I would like to participate in the NCS’s efforts to extend its outreach beyond college research institutions, as well as continue actively to pursue the inclusion of different kinds and levels of scholars in its community and congresses.  At a time, too, when medieval studies more broadly is being weaponized by right-wing and white nationalist movements, the NCS is in a good position to assume leadership in addressing issues of race in the profession and providing a valuable intellectual forum for their interrogation.  These are exciting and challenging times to be a medievalist, more so than at any other time of my own career, and I am keen to assist the NCS in engaging with these challenges by way of continuing to transform medieval and Chaucer studies, as well as our corner of the humanities.

 

Bobby Meyer-Lee, Agnes Scott College

Something that has given me hope in these dark days has been a weekly Middle English reading group consisting of faculty and students from a couple of Atlanta-area institutions. For an hour, in an entirely informal setting, we take turns reading lines from some Middle English literary work. Remarkably, given the small size of the group, the participants span a rather broad range of gender and racial identities, political leanings, disciplinary affiliations, professional statuses, and, of course, experience with reading Middle English (from virtually none to decades-worth). While all these differences certainly matter in the way each of us encounters the text at hand, group meetings have been unfailingly joyous. In reading Hoccleve’s Series last semester, for example, we all relished the paradoxical weirdness and familiarity of the poet’s persona. From our various identity positions, we found common ground in an appreciation of this play of similarity and difference—the reciprocally generated insight into the past and about ourselves—that reading Middle English literature can so often prompt.

The hope that this experience has brought me is the sense that, in the third decade of the twenty-first century, Middle English literature not merely continues to be relevant but its study may in fact provide a distinctive, valuable means for negotiating the challenges of the present.  As a trustee of the New Chaucer Society, my aim would be to facilitate this kind of experience writ large. For example, the work of the society in providing pedagogical resources—for beginners through the most advanced—is crucial in this respect. Relatedly, the society’s support of the efforts to collect, disseminate, and provide public forums for the creative activity that continues to be engendered by Chaucer and his fellow Middle English writers is essential for broadcasting the value this material holds (for) today. In a different way, the society must engage with the challenges of the present by continuing to evolve into a more accessible and equitable organization, and by serving as a public advocate for those constituents and causes that fall under its umbrella. In furthering this work, I would bring to the board my experiences of co-chairing the 2018 NCS Congress Program Committee, serving on the NCS Nominating Committee, and organizing numerous NCS Congress sessions, as well as the related experiences of co-editing JEGP, serving on Medieval Academy committees for the Elliott Prize and the program for its 2015 meeting, and two decades of working at a range of different types of institutions, including chairing the English department at Indiana University South Bend.

The troubles within and without the academy are enormous—the transformation of higher education into a gig economy and an emboldened white supremacism, to name but two. The New Chaucer Society must respond to these troubles, most basically, by its steadfast commitment to being a compassionate and transparent organization, and by demonstrating to its members and to teachers and readers elsewhere how the very alterity of six-hundred-year-old literature provides a common ground for thinking about and through our differences.

 

Richard Newhauser, Arizona State University

The NCS has taken progressive steps towards becoming a more inclusive academic society by not just talking about matters of inclusion, but vigorously foregrounding occasions that emphasize how globality and racial, social, gender, and employment justice enhance the work we all do as academics. Augmenting these occasions will be beneficial to everyone involved in the NCS. They will help ensure its growth into the future, as we continue to add new methods, new pedagogical practices, and new archival findings to what we do as scholars. We all have public-facing work to do as well. The NCS can play a role in countering the anti-intellectual forces now active around the world by also speaking to the general public. I look forward to underscoring these efforts as a Trustee of the NCS as I have done in my research, my work as the editor-in-chief of The Chaucer Encyclopedia, and in my activities at Arizona State University. At ASU, I have helped develop a biennial Chaucer Celebration that reaches out to the general public. In 2018 we featured readings by Patience Agbabi and Kim Zarins to an audience that included 120 high schoolers. This year’s Celebration includes a video contest open to undergraduates and high school classes. Support by the NCS for public events will only increase our influence in the cultural and intellectual life of wherever we live.

 

Susie Phillips, Northwestern University

I vividly remember being welcomed into the community of Chaucerians at my first Congress in Glasgow in 2004, when I was one of very few scholars of color in the field, and I have attended regularly ever since. I recognize that my experience has not been universal, and I admire the steps NCS has taken in recent years, through thoughtful Congress programming and by developing new avenues of financial support, to try to ensure that all members of our scholarly community feel as welcome and respected as I have. I am eager to contribute to that vital, continuing work. As a member and current President of the MLA Chaucer Executive Forum, I have co-organized yearly panels that provide a forum for emerging scholars working on the Global Middle Ages and premodern critical race studies. At a moment when higher education is under siege in the public sphere, I have dedicated my public-facing work to advocating for the crucial role that the Humanities, and medieval literary studies in particular, in their most inclusive and expansive forms, must play in 21st-century education at all levels. This work has included giving presentations at the Chicago Humanities Festival and other venues to donors and public figures, and teaching Chaucer courses for both Chicago Public School teachers (K-12) and Chicagoland retirees. My scholarship explores idle talk, mercantile mischief, and popular pedagogy in premodern England.

 

Sif Rikhardsdottir, University of Iceland

I have been involved with the NCS since my graduate student years and it remains a venue I turn to for inspiration and where I continue to encounter the most exciting and stimulating research in the field. I participated in the organization of both the Siena and Portland congresses in 2010 and 2012 and hosted the NCS Congress in Iceland in 2014, which attracted over 500 delegates. Since then I have been involved directly and indirectly with the NCS and it would therefore be an honor to serve as a Trustee for a society that I have long held dear and whose members I have long admired. The field and the NCS with it are in many ways undergoing a transition and it is critical that we remain ahead of the curve and embrace the challenges that come with a global organization and its often unique local complexities. Having studied and lived more than half of my life in the US and in Europe, before taking up a post in Iceland, I recognize the challenges as well as the opportunities that come with the growing responsibilities and transcultural presence of the NCS. I would therefore like to see the Society grow and expand, strengthening its position and presence globally, while nevertheless maintaining its core focus on critical rigor, innovative scholarship and education. Ultimately, the most valuable contribution the NCS can make in the current political climate is to lead by example and to support its members in providing informed, objective and non-partial information on a period that is often misunderstood or misappropriated. The NCS is in many ways uniquely placed to serve as a model for positive and transparent leadership, fostering diversity, inclusivity and a supportive and collegial environment for marginalized scholars as well as the next generations of Chaucerians and medieval scholars. Serving as a Trustee would fall in a long line of service to the society and I would embrace the opportunity to partake in shaping a positive future for the NCS and its members.

 

Kellie Robertson, University of Maryland

How does a return to the past help us to understand our present more fully and ultimately to imagine more just and livable futures? The New Chaucer Society is ideally positioned to provide many different answers to this question, some of which are directed outward, beyond the academy, while others are directed inward, to the field itself. In addressing a wider audience, the NCS should prioritize supporting and amplifying the voices of medievalists of color, whose work has become more politically urgent with recent attacks on our members by white nationalists. Similarly, we should continue to address issues around access—who claims the Middle Ages? Who becomes a medievalist?—and build on the society’s long-standing commitments to graduate students and early career academics. In terms of what we can accomplish within our discipline, one concrete suggestion would be to expand the NCS’s mentoring activities, setting up a longitudinal mentoring program that offers beginning medievalists several types of mentors (peer, tenured faculty, independent scholars) and supports sustained relationships among this network rather than, say, a model that offers a single lunch at a single conference. My university service has prepared me to undertake this work, since, as Director of Graduate Studies, I recently overhauled our department’s graduate mentoring as well as diversity and inclusion initiatives. Understanding the unique challenges facing early career medievalists has been a priority in my professional life in multiple institutional capacities: as a journal editor (New Medieval Literatures, 2017 to the present), as an elected member of the MLA Chaucer Forum (2009-2014), as Director of Medieval Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2009-2011) and as Director of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Pittsburgh (2003-2006). A member of the NCS since the mid-90s, I have served as co-chair of the Program Committee (London 2016, with Emily Steiner) and as a member of the Finance Committee and the Nominating Committee. Taken together, these experiences have shaped my thinking about what supporting our colleagues should look like, both within medieval studies and in the humanities more widely.