MAA News – Supporting Contingent, Unaffiliated, and Academic-Adjacent Medievalists

By Laura Morreale

I don’t attend the Kalamazoo Congress every year, but when I do, I am always happy to have made the trip. The Congress attracts a large number of medievalist colleagues and takes place in roughly the center of the continent, so attendees are more widely representative of the field, in terms of both geographical and professional placement, than at many other medievalist-oriented events. Even if some of our colleagues opt out from one year to the next, the conference brings together a broad spectrum of fellow medievalists and reminds us that the diversity we see at the conference is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive.

This year, since I am working on the MAA initiative to promote greater awareness of professional diversity in our field, I was particularly mindful of the numerous ways and spaces in which medievalists use the skills we all share, from graduate students still learning the ropes, to friends and colleagues who work in libraries, study centers, publishing houses, computer companies, rare book shops, museum curatorial or development departments, university administrative offices, and other places too numerous to list. Striking also are the multiple positions and environments in which we teach our craft: as tenured or tenure-track professors, full- or part-time lecturers, in community colleges, SLACs, high schools, K-12 institutions, or R1 universities, or even in podcasts, blogposts, or publicly-oriented writing.

Despite the diversity of professional practice we witness among our fellow medievalists, the jobs of tenured or tenure-track professors have traditionally been pegged as the norm in the field, and structures of support in our medievalist organizations are often attuned to the challenges inherent in these particular employment environments. The Ad Hoc committee on professional diversity  approved by the MAA Council this past March, and assembled by President Ruth Karras shortly thereafter, has been tasked with recognizing colleagues working beyond the professorate and determining how the MAA might support their continued medievalist work. Committee members are themselves differently-placed within the arc of the profession; Mary Rambaran-Olm and I work as independent scholars, Lisa Fagin Davis and Raymond Clemens hold full-time non-professorial positions in academic or academic-adjacent organizations, and Adam Kosto and Sarah Davis-Secord are both tenured professors working at two different universities. Both Kosto and Davis-Secord have worked with the Mellon foundation in recent years to promote graduate-student exploration into a variety of professional pathways, and other members bring years of accumulated experience and networking to the discussion. We are honored to have been entrusted with this charge and will do our best to serve MAA members as best we can.

Although it is still early days, the goals we have set for ourselves over the course of the next year are two-fold: first, to suggest specific, short-term actions that will address the challenges faced by medievalists working outside of traditionally-conceived university teaching positions; and second, to promote a shift in culture over the long term so that contributions made by those working outside of the professorate will be readily recognized as meaningful, valid, and beneficial to the medievalist conversation more generally.

Keeping the short-term actions in mind, we will reach out soon to survey the needs of our non-traditionally employed members and fold their concerns into our committee work. The position paper, Towards an Inclusive Intellectual Community for Medievalists: A Plan of Action for Professional Diversity, offers a starting point for such efforts, but new ideas and perspectives are welcome and desired. Part of the long-term culture shift will be achieved by de-mystifying what medievalists working outside of the professorate actually do, and profiling how they contribute to the profession.

What is clear is that a greater acceptance and acknowledgement of professional diversity in the field will only be achieved if we rely on actions taken by medievalists throughout the profession. Good will abounds here; but be prepared to be called upon in these efforts in the coming months! We all have the power to shape our own intellectual community to fit our needs, and I appreciate the generosity I see among medievalists every time we come together, at Kalamazoo or anywhere else along the way.

Laura Morreale

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