Medievalism is a tricky subject; it is a field that has been fractured into so many disciplines and sub-disciplines, from Medieval Studies to post-medievalism and New and Public Medievalism, that few people are even aware of the complexities within the field. In a time of persistent fascist appropriation of everything medieval, however, the ignorance which surrounds medievalism needs to be confronted. Because the forces of the extreme-Right have a love-affair with a warped understanding of the medieval, one which had been put through their own racialist fantasies and little resembles the historical account, historians and academics of all stripes must rise to the occasion and effectively engage the public on a new, progressive understanding of the medieval world.

This is where Richard Utz’s slim book Medievalism: A Manifest enters the picture.

Heavily concerned with dissecting the field of “medievalism” and “medieval studies”, Utz goes through several cycles, or examples, of pivotal areas of concern; from knowledge-production and the history of the field—the transition from informal study to formal study—to its relationship with those outside of academia to hot topics such as how we study history and for what purpose, Utz decisively tackles the problems underpinning medievalism as a field. More precisely, however, Utz’s book subverts the mythologies of the field—the “Whites Only” legacy—while acting as a call to arms for those within the field.

The book, then, is truly a manifesto. A scholarly manifesto.

Coming in at just over a hundred pages, this is a text easily read in an afternoon. Written just last year, this manifesto aligns itself with the backlash from academics against right-wing forces. In the wake of such tragedies such as the Charlottesville murder of an Anti-fascist activist and the sustained and visible bastardization of medieval iconography, progressive websites such as In the Middle, The Public Medievalist, and the Babel Working Group have found new ground and revitalized the debate around what an honest scholar should and shouldn’t strive for when their field is under attack. Utz’s manifesto, then, takes the just side of the debate and argues against a racist encapsulation of the Middle Ages.

Readers new to medievalism will find much to appreciate here. Each chapter, after all, tackles a different subject related to the problems of medievalism; topics like the medieval roots of the KKK and understanding the problems of studying to medievalism’s temporality are talked of at length. The only issue with any of these chapter in my eyes is that the writing can be a little technical or off-putting to newcomers; since the manifesto, in part, decries the technocracy of the field, this is more than a little ironic and I feel is a holdover from the author’s own developing sensibilities. That being said, none of the chapters are overly obtuse though the manifesto still feels less like an invitation to the public and more an imploration to the professionals of the field.

It is safe to say I will be spending more time with this manifesto. My initial reading was fruitful, but it only scratched the surface. I know there is much more to the specifics of this tiny volume which I would do well to consider. At least another reading or two before I can give some in-depth thoughts. In the meantime, however, I will recommend Utz’s book to anyone interested in a modern take on a pre-modern period.

Richard Utz

Medievalism: A Manifesto

107 pages. Published by Arc Humanities Press. $14.95 (Paperback), $11.99[1] (Kindle[2]). 2017.

 

[1] Prices and page estimates were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.

[2] I would not recommend buying the Kindle version; the several “Interventions” chapters are poorly formatted with sections coming immediately after one another while all the internal image files are also missing. Save yourself the trouble and just shell out the few extra dollars for the paperback version.

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