Neomedievalism, Popular Culture, and the Academy

In our latest post, KellyAnn Fitzpatrick tells us of her introduction to and growing involvement with neomedievalism. Look out for her companion interview in the December issue of the Medieval Herald eNewsletter.

The term “neomedievalism” has its own peculiar history, and its definition has been debated and contested in academic circles over the years. In my book I have tried to capture some of this history and navigate the definitions and debates. More importantly, I have tried to demonstrate what is at stake in recognizing how neomedievalism works: that the ways we reinvent the Middle Ages tell us a lot about how we see (and want to see) ourselves. While I will save my thoughts on definitions for the book itself, here I offer up a narrative of how someone like me ends up writing an entire book on a concept like neomedievalism.

Although not the first usage of the term, Umberto Eco uses “neomedievalism” in his essay “Dreaming of the Middle Ages” (1986) to refer to popular culture’s interest in and interpretations of the Middle Ages. This usage maps roughly to ways that scholars such as Leslie J. Workman were using the term “medievalism” at around the same time. However, in the last fifteen years or so, thinkers working in medieval and medievalism studies have been speaking and writing about neomedievalism as either a specific type of medievalism or, for some, a separate entity in its own right.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I first heard the term “neomedievalism,” but I know that I was already familiar with it when I first read Bruce Holsinger’s Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror (2007). I also remember discussing it with some of the lovely folks I fell into conversation with while attending my first International Conference on Medievalism at Towson University in 2005 and then again at the 2007 conference in London, Ontario. Among these were some of the founders of the Medieval Electronic Multimedia Organization (MEMO), including Carol Robinson and Pamela Clements, whose essay “Living with Neomedievalism” appeared in Studies in Medievalism XVIII (2009) and helped kick off an effort to better define the term.

Robinson and Clements also drove the momentum for (and eventually edited) MEMO’s collection of essays on neomedievalism: Neomedievalism in the Media: Essays on Film, Television, and Electronic Game (2012). Although published in 2012, the volume was in press for quite a while, and so my own contribution to the collection was one of my earlier forays into writing about neomedievalism. For me, these earlier pieces often started with specific texts: books, films, and games with clear medievalesque components, but that did something different with the medieval (and using different means) than what I saw happening in Walter Scott or even J.R.R. Tolkien. By the time Studies in Medievalism—under the editorial direction of Karl Fugelso—put out volume XIX on “Defining Neomedievalism(s),” I was at the point where I was thinking about neomedievalism more broadly. When the call went out for a 2011 follow-up volume, I was ready to bring my own contribution to the table.

The conversation around neomedievalism has, of course, advanced since 2011, and so has my thinking about it. Notably, my thinking has been influenced not only by my scholarly work but also by my work in the software industry. Although I have an undergraduate degree in English and medieval studies and a doctorate in English, for a long time I have also had one foot at least partly in the tech world. I’ve worked as a tech writer, a software test & release manager, and, more recently, an industry analyst. These experiences have given me insights into how and why certain kinds of neomedievalism are made; they have also introduced me to whole new groups of people who think about medievalism from perspectives different than academic medievalism studies. This variety of perspectives has been more valuable to me than I can express: medieval studies, scholarly medievalism, my academic colleagues, my students, my coworkers, my friends who let me drag them into World of Warcraft guilds with me, my colleagues who pushed me to speak at a tech conference about Tolkien.

This is the mix of perspectives from which my book emerged, but in some ways—especially with the technology available to us today—that mix is never quite varied enough. So as happy as I am with how the book turned out, for me it is a contribution to what I hope becomes an even larger conversation about (neo)medievalism: a conversation that I would like to see draw out as many perspectives and experiences as possible.

This guest post was written by KellyAnn Fitzpatrick, an affiliated researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Neomedievalism, Popular Culture, and the Academy
by KellyAnn Fitzpatrick
Hardback, 9781843845416, £39 or $64.35

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