Monday, June 01, 2009

What a PhD in Medievalism Feels Like

There was a time, not so very long ago (and it's a time that still persists in many institutions) when any graduate student wanting to write on medievalism was firmly discouraged from doing so. And if said student is keen to pursue a career in medieval studies, I would say that was probably still good advice. Let me come clean: I've given that advice myself, even quite recently. And I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the times people have remarked that my own PhD (an edition of Wynnere and Wastoure) has somehow licensed my more theoretical and speculative work. For people wishing professional accreditation as a medieval scholar, medievalism still does look, in many quarters, like a secondary field.

However, this is in process of change. And yes, there are lots of aspects of medievalism that don't require detailed immersion in medieval languages and literature. And when the medievalism in question is linked to another established critical field, the results can indeed be spectacular.

Dr Melanie Duckworth has written two terrific posts here and especially here about the viva process of her PhD on medievalism in Australian poetry at Leeds. Meli has blogged about the writing and revising of such over the past few years at Northern Lights. I've heard her speak at two conferences. I've read stuff she's published in an Australian newspaper. I've talked and emailed with her a little about her work. (She's also been fearless and candid with me on the chapter she's writing on the poetry of my former partner: ok, since it's 18 years since we separated, you'd think I'd be fine about this, wouldn't you?) I can say that her work is really terrific and very important, both to medievalism studies and Australian literature studies.

The second post, which summarises the questions her examiners put to her, poses a fantastic cluster of issues to think about; e.g. the perennial question about what "medievalism" refers to: the actions/effects of the primary texts we study; or the secondary act of studying such primary texts. Where "primary", against normal usage, doesn't refer to medieval, but rather postmedieval texts. Texts which scholars of the medieval, also known as medievalists, regard as secondary. You can see the problem.

Questions about the relation between medievalism studies and cultural studies; and about the nature of national and post-colonial studies and medievalism. About the distinctiveness of medievalism, as opposed to the revivals of other periods, etc. etc. All would be good questions for anyone writing on medievalism to think about. None of them is easy. And so all power and congratulations to Meli, who obviously acquitted herself brilliantly in her answers, and who can now graduate, without having to make a single change to her thesis. I, for one, will be watching that space, to see what she does next.

1 comment:

meli said...

Oh - thank you Stephanie! Thank you.