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Me for Quillette: International Society of Anglo-Saxonists to change its name because the phrase “Anglo-Saxon” sounds too much like, you know, racist white male supremacists

October 29, 2019
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On September 19, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), a 36-year-old organization of academics specializing in the history, culture, and literature of England before the Norman Conquest, hastily voted to change its name. Indeed, the vote was so hasty that the organization had no idea what its new name ought to be (it is soliciting suggestions from members). Nonetheless, the majority of its 600-odd members were certain of one thing: they no longer wanted to be associated with the words “Anglo-Saxon.”…
A statement from the ISAS’s advisory board accompanying its September 19 announcement of the planned name change read: “It has sometimes been used outside the field to describe those holding repugnant and racist views, and has contributed to a lack of diversity among those working on early medieval England and its intellectual and literary culture.” But there was something more at stake: During the run-up to the announcement the majority of the board and at least one of its officers had resigned, some of them very publicly, issuing statements excoriating the organization for failing to tackle issues such as “racism, sexism, inclusiveness, representation” and turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of female scholars in the field. The ISAS’s executive director, Robin Norris, also handed in her resignation, stating in an email: “We made you wait too long for change.” The term “Anglo-Saxon” had become an all-purpose grievance nexus for the academic Left—and also a nexus of professional embarrassment and self-doubt for scholars who like to think of themselves as tolerant liberals and feel vaguely ashamed that most of the people taking an interest in Anglo-Saxon studies happen to be white and that a lot of them are men….
What happened to make those words suddenly problematic in 2019 was the emergence of postmodernist and post-colonialist theory as the dominant ideology in university literature departments. The Gospel According to Edward Said—that academic scholarship in literature and history has been no more than a self-glorifying project of Western imperialism, tainted by notions of Western European (read white) superiority—became a baseline assumption among English professors and even many academic historians. It took a while for medievalists to latch on, since medieval studies is a highly technical and thus conservative discipline demanding training in arcane languages, manuscript-reading, and other skills. But latch on some of them eventually did. In 2001, Eileen A. Joy, then a graduate student specializing in Old English literature at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, filed a doctoral dissertation, “Beowulf and the Floating Wreck of History,” arguing that “Anglo-Saxon England” was actually a “cultural construct” formed by “the negotiations and interactions between scholars and their subjects” and shot through with “discourses of…dominant ideologies” promulgated by the imperialism-infected nineteenth-century British scholars who had published and edited the first Old English texts….

Eileen Joy went on in 2004 to found the BABEL Working Group, a “collective” of radical scholars “devoted to more present-minded medieval studies, a more historically-minded cultural studies, and a misfit heteroversity.” After a stint as a tenured professor at Southern Illinois University she quit academia in 2013 after founding Punctum Books, a print-on-demand publishing firm whose eclectic titles include critiques of capitalism, explorations of “queer theory,” and The Medieval Disability Sourcebook. She also became a point woman in a loose affiliation of radical medievalist gadflies who tasked themselves with calling out other medievalists over alleged acts of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and other sins of incorrect attitude.

One of the first targets was Allen J. Frantzen, a respected scholar of Old English—and, as it happened, an openly gay man—who had taught at Loyola University-Chicago for 35 years until his retirement in 2014. In 2015, Frantzen posted an entry (since removed) on his personal blog, “How to Fight Your Way Out of the Feminist Fog,” that decried feminism as “a sour mix of victimization and privilege” and echoed the diction of “men’s rights” websites in urging men to take the “red pill” of resistance. Joy and others signed a petition in 2016 to the Medieval Academy of America, the nation’s premier medievalist organization, demanding what amounted to a censure of Frantzen as “misogynistic” and “bullying.”…

Meanwhile Joy had fastened her social-media sights since 2017 on yet another male Anglo-Saxonist—and ISAS member—even more prominent than Allen Frantzen, accusing him in a series of Facebook and Twitter posts of being a “serial sexual predator” of campus women for at least three decades. Since, as far as I know, no actual alleged victim of this man has come forward publicly to accuse him, and an email I sent him asking for comment went unanswered, I am not going to name him. But Joy’s Twitter rants against this scholar, which include excoriations of ISAS for demanding “proof” of the allegations instead of promptly expelling him, have gained credence among other female medievalists….

Read the whole thing here.
Posted by Charlotte Allen

From → Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. Moft permalink

    I suppose the next step will be to require name-changes to counties and other parts of England which commemorate those wicked old geezers, like Sussex, Essex, and East Anglia.
    And then England itself, Land of the Angles.

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