Medieval exhibitions in the Era of Global Art History
Call for Papers
55th International Congress on Medieval Studies Kalamazoo, May 7 - 10, 2020.
Session sponsored by the International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA)
On May 5, 2019 the Sunday edition of the New York Times appeared an article titled “Medieval Scholars Joust with White Nationalists – and One Another” by Jennifer Schuessler, which featured comments from numerous scholars in the field and brought the International Congress on Medieval Studies to the front page of one of North America’s leading newspapers for the first time in the conference’s 54-year history and pushed medieval studies into a broader public limelight.
This was an impressive demonstration of the fact that the Middle Ages have moved back into the center of a broader public interest. While on the one hand the article can be interpreted positively – drawing attention to the relevance of medieval studies for understanding the present – in other ways the picture is more problematic. Readers were left with the impression that the study of the medieval world is dominated by scholars, who “mostly want to stay out of the fray.” One literary expert describes most of his colleagues as “monkish creatures who just want to live in their cells and write their manuscripts.” To put it simply, medieval studies is characterized as an “intellectually conservative field” with a resistance towards “uncomfortable questions.”
Significantly, recent and forthcoming medieval exhibitions are not mentioned in this article at all. This is not because the Times editors observed a difference between the public-facing and academic sides of the field, but rather because exhibitions were not on their horizon at all. Had the article taken museums into view, they would have been confronted with an impressive number of exhibitions in recent years, taking place at numerous institutions in North America and Europe, that challenge the view of an isolated and apolitical field of medieval studies. Many of these shows have explicitly challenged Eurocentric narratives, focusing on trade routes and patterns of exchange that encouraged the movement of people, ideas, and objects across vast distances. Far from retreating into “intellectually conservative” topics and reifying nationalist histories, these exhibitions have embraced the global turn in medieval studies, challenging their publics to see the racial, religious, and regional diversity of the Middle Ages with fresh eyes.
This lack of awareness between the Times article and current curatorial practice raises several fundamental questions which will be the central theme of this session:
*To what degree do medieval exhibitions reflect and thematize current discourse in academia and society?
*What factors contribute to the organization of major exhibitions?
*Is there a balance between entertainment and political and historical education?
*How do museums try to reach out to a broader public which is not familiar (anymore) with, or feel alienated by the Middle Ages? This is especially true as we reshape what exactly it is we mean by medieval.
*What are the differences between Europe and North America in presenting medieval objects to the public, and shaping specific topics?
*Finally, what is the contribution of museums for the academic debate where increasingly global approaches and diversity have been moving into center stage?
We welcome papers which focus on specific case studies of past, current, or future exhibitions. Equally important will be presentations which discuss current trends from the perspectives of museums and other academic institutions, keeping a global perspective in mind. The session is intended to strengthen awareness for current trends at museums and universities, and to open dialogues about how different institutions might learn from each other and exchange ideas, expectations and approaches.
Gerhard Lutz, Dommuseum Hildesheim, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lloyd de Beer, The British Museum, email@example.com
Proposals can be sent directly to the organizers, together with the Participant Information Form PIF
Deadline: September 15th, 2019
Chair, of the Programs and Lectures Committee