Notes to Contributors
Links to Other Online Journals
Marginalia -- The Website of the MRG
The place of medieval studies within an English – or indeed any other university – faculty is, to use a loaded term, a queer one. Innately inter-, trans- or multi-disciplinary, medieval studies continues to find itself defined – both from within and outside the discipline – as Other.1 At the same time, ‘[t]he centre is,’ writes Michael Camille, ‘dependent upon the margins for its continued existence.’2 Thus, the ‘medieval’ is likely to remain uniquely marginal and yet ‘in the middle’ of academic endeavours, across periods and subjects, at least as long as the labels ‘the Middle Ages’ and ‘the Renaissance’ themselves persist.
At the plenary session of a recent graduate conference, held at the University of Cambridge, one respondent (an academic from the field of eighteenth-century literature) commented that medievalists had, in fact, ‘always been a little weird’.3 Privileged though perhaps somewhat alienated by this quality of ‘weirdness’, graduates and established scholars alike working in the field of medieval studies are faced with the challenge of forging the future direction of the discipline – a direction which, as this issue of Marginalia demonstrates, is very much driven by a desire to point out the importance of the Middle Ages to the past, the present and the future. Notably, it is precisely this impulse that informs Jacques Le Goff’s recent work, The Birth of Europe (reviewed here by Ingrid Abreu Scherer) in which he advocates, in Abreu Scherer’s words, ‘a fuller understanding of Europe’s future through a fearless investigation of its past’ – an understanding that, for Le Goff, must be firmly located in the Middle Ages. It is this conviction – of both the importance of graduates within university faculties, and of the embeddedness of all things medieval to the study of other periods and disciplines – that motivates this journal; thus whilst ‘margins’ provide the specific theme of the first issue of Marginalia, they will necessarily recur in different guises and to different effect in future ones.
The essays collected here therefore have in common, but interpret variously, the notion of ‘margins’. Margins have, of course, been crucial in many of the recent developments in a wide range of disciplines from anthropology and art history to literary theory. Perhaps peculiarly characterising the study of medieval manuscript marginalia, it is more generally the notion of margins – both real and metaphysical – that underpins feminist, queer and postcolonial theory, as part of a project to revaluate, for example, those groups ostracised by society and in the domains of historiography and literary criticism. This collection of articles therefore contributes to this project, and places authors, texts, and artefacts – traditionally or otherwise left on the periphery of critical enquiry – at the centre.
Fittingly, the first article, W. T. Rossiter’s ‘The Marginalization of John Lydgate’, works ‘to blur the margins of late-medieval and early-modern periods’ in the figure of John Lydgate. Attempting to reclaim Lydgate’s poetry from the margins of literary criticism, Rossiter argues that far from merely marking ‘changing fashions’, Lydgate represents a ‘devotion to the progression of poetry’. In turn, drawing attention to a group obscured by the project of top-down, patriarchal history, Erin McGibbon Smith both propagates the use and interrogates the limitations of medieval manor court rolls in order to access and establish the role of women in the fourteenth-century manor of Sutton-in-the-Isle. Foregrounding a more properly marginal artefact, Anke Timmermann introduces a previously unidentified alchemical verse text found in a sixteenth-century manuscript collection, and highlights the need for further research into the history of MS Mellon 43 and its marginalia. Sandy Vaughan goes literally to the edge – that is, to the hems of garments – in order to focus on a marginal episode in the Miracles of St Dunstan, and argues that an interrogation of this one image of clothing, used to contrast virtue and vice, contributes to an understanding of how a text can be manipulated in order to create competing versions of ‘history’. Looking to the future direction of resources and sources for graduate study, Catherine Eagleton promotes the use of museums and material culture in medieval research. In sum, this issue of Marginalia proposes readings – and exhortations – relevant to the past, present and the future through the lens of the medieval and the marginal. It is our hope that future issues of Marginalia will continue to provide a forum both for graduate research and for those ‘texts’ (books, art, artefacts) that would otherwise remain on the edge.
Finally, the members of the Medieval Reading Group would like to acknowledge and thank all those who have been instrumental in bringing Marginalia to birth, but also in helping to create a space in which the ‘weird’ intellectual activity of graduate medievalists can be collected, recorded and made available to other readers, graduates and scholars. Special thanks are due to Professor Helen Cooper for her staunch support of graduate activities, in particular, those of the MRG; to the advisory and editorial board as well as the contributors; and to those who filled in gaps in our knowledge – Professor Richard Smith, John Spence and Laura Miles – by providing us with their expertise. Finally, our thanks go to those wonderfully perseverant and enthusiastic attendees of the MRG, for it is in the meetings of this group that this journal has its beginnings.
Katie L. Walter, on behalf of the Medieval Reading Group
1. Many scholarly works address this notion, but see, for example, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s introduction to the collection of essays (edited by Cohen), The Postcolonial Middle Ages (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000), in which he writes, ‘the Middle Ages have been characterised too often as a field of undifferentiated otherness against which modernity…emerged’, and observes the ‘characterisation of the period as wholly other’, p. 4.
2. Michael Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (London: Reaktion Books, 1992), p. 10.
3. English Unbound conference, held at the English Faculty, University of Cambridge, 5-6 November, 2004.