A Time of Renewal
Dear MAA Members,
Happy New Year!
As we usher in 2022, I hope this letter finds you and your families and loved ones in good health, safe from the pandemic which continues to challenge us all.
With the Omicron wave predicted to crest in mid January, I am still hopeful that many of us will be able to come in person for the Annual Meeting in Charlottesville in March, along with numerous participants online. Whether the meeting remains a hybrid event or shifts entirely online as circumstances warrant will be communicated by the Local Arrangements committee in a timely fashion. Whatever the case may be there will be an exciting program that highlights, among other topics, the importance of medieval studies perspectives on race as we convene at a place that stimulated and is now forever embedded in national conversations about race as a result of the 2017 white nationalist demonstrations and counterprotests. Two plenarists will specifically address race–Roland Betancourt and Seeta Chaganti—and my own presidential address will explore the intersections of race and proto-humanist thinking in the art of Trecento Venice. There will also be a panel discussion sponsored by the MAA Council, “Medieval Studies for the Modern Age: New Approaches to Medicine, Disease, and Health.” Brief contributions by Hannah Barker (Assistant Professor, History, Arizona State), Meg Leja (Assistant Professor, History, SUNY Binghampton), Alex More, (Associate Professor, Public Health and Environmental Health, Long Island University), and Sharon DeWitte (Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of South Carolina) will be offered in honor of Monica Green (Professor Emerita, History, Arizona State), who will also serve as discussant. The panel will help launch the Monica H. Green Prize for Distinguished Medieval Research, which will be awarded annually, beginning in 2023, for a distinguished project that shows the value of medieval studies in our present day. The Prize, which has generously been established by anonymous donors, brings with it an award of $1,000.
A new year offers opportunities for renewal, and the Council has begun the hard work of rethinking all aspects of our operations and governance, as well as implementing new initiatives that plan for the long-term fiscal health of the organization and the changing demographics of our membership and the landscape of medieval studies in academe and beyond. At our December Council meeting we discussed some initial feedback from all our committees and Maureen Miller has agreed to lead a new working group to gather more data from membership and develop proposals for change. Significant goals will be to enhance transparency and inclusion. For many members, the processes by which new initiatives are launched by Council, and even the ways in which individuals are selected for committees and other tasks remain obscure. We seek to foster greater participation from membership in all aspects of our organization. We have also begun an important conversation about how we can better integrate financial planning into the council’s establishment of key priorities. With membership numbers in a pattern of long-term decline, parallel to other professional societies, we need to be more strategic in planning for future programming initiatives while anticipating declines in membership revenue and investment income while also considering the potential impact of the rise and fall of the market. We cannot afford to be reactive. We want to work toward a more intentional process with appropriate committees receiving ideas from membership and developing proposals for consideration by Council as part of an annual assessment of priorities that can then be forwarded to the Finance Committee and in certain cases the Development committee for fundraising. We need to think in terms of two- or three-year cycles for our financial planning.
At our recent meeting the Council approved a new Advocacy Policy, led by Hussein Fancy and Elina Gertsman. We continue to be called upon to comment on current events and issues that may be illuminated by the special knowledge and/or expertise of the MAA, as well as the professional interest and concern to the MAA’s membership. To facilitate more nimble and effective responses to timely issues, we will establish an Advocacy Committee which will author advocacy statements on behalf of the organization, and in particular cases may seek advice from Council. The statements issued by the committee will specifically address matters about which members of the MAA have special knowledge and expertise. The Advocacy Committee will also be charged with reviewing and signing statements issued by other scholarly societies. We will finalize the structure of the committee and the process of selection at our next Council meeting and publicize the policy on our website.
Another significant discussion at our recent council meeting focused on how we should respond to the changing demographics of medieval studies—the decline in numbers of traditional tenure-track positions and the increasing number of medievalist scholars who take on other careers but continue to contribute to scholarship in the field. Laura Morreale, in collaboration with Merle Eisenberg and Laura Ingallinella, presented us with a brief but striking analysis of academic positions advertised over the past five years, revealing a steady reduction in tenure-track positions and broadening expectations for what medievalists are expected to cover. While we want to continue to make the case for the importance of medieval studies in academe, we also need to plan for a future when most of our members will not be tenure-track professors. Council discussed the possibility of establishing a new committee or expanding the purview of the current Committee on Professional Diversity to develop proposals aimed at supporting research and publication by contingent scholars, adjuncts and medievalists in various professions who don’t have access to scholarly libraries and travel funds.
Another forward-looking initiative in progress is the planning for our Centennial year. Initial meetings of the Centennial Implementation Committee in December yielded many excellent ideas. In addition to special programming for the 100th Annual Meeting to be held in Boston, we anticipate a full year of programming, lectures, concerts, and exhibitions nationwide in collaboration with museums, libraries and the CARA programs and centers, and a revamp of our website to showcase a wide range of resources for teaching and learning about the Middle Ages. We agreed in principle that programming should be forward-looking and used to expand audiences for medieval studies with intentional outreach to the public including programming that engages typically underrepresented communities, and should aim to be truly global, including regions and interactions beyond Europe, medieval indigenous cultures, and distinct religious traditions in addition to Latin Christianity. In the spring, smaller working groups will develop concrete plans for implementation including any necessary funding to be considered by Council. I want to encourage medievalists to organize programming in their own communities during the 2025 centennial year, that MAA can advertise on our website in a special Centennial Events calendar. It is not to early to start planning.
In conclusion, I wanted to thank all our members who have renewed their membership and express my deep gratitude to those of you who so generously contributed to our year-end appeal. This was a banner year, including total gifts of $75,000. Added to our endowment these funds will help ensure we can carry out significant programing initiatives in upcoming years.
Thomas E. A. Dale, President