K'Zoo 2013 Roundtable: "Productive Anachronism?: the Promise and Peril of Historical Analogy in the Study of Medieval Culture

full name / name of organization: 
Jonathan Newman, Dartmouth College/ Anna Wilson, University of Toronto

In the twentieth century, a rift developed between communities of historians who approached the past by physically recreating circumstances and practices and the more institutionally sanctioned world of (largely textual) scholarship. As a result, historical analogy has become associated with amateurism, an over-enthusiastic application of free association, and a tendency to distort the past it meant to recover. But to discard historical analogy—to posit the alterity of the past as absolute—is to lose a valuable tool, and moreover to efface the inevitability of accessing the past through comparisons with our own experience. Medievalists have been at the forefront of efforts to reconsider the analogy as a theoretical model, a scholarly tool, and a hermeneutic. In the twenty-first century, work on "queer temporalities" and "digital medievalism" has suggested a new importance for analogy as the basis of creative and rigorous work in medieval studies. As Caroline Walker Bynum writes, "It is not only possible, it is imperative to use modern concerns when we confront the past. So long as we reason by analogy rather than merely rewriting or rejecting, the present will help us see past complexity and the past will help us to understand ourselves.") In this light, analogy may, in fact, be the only possible way of responsibly approaching the past.

Our five panelists will open discussion with 5-10 minute position papers on how to responsibly use modern communities and practices to inform work on the Middle Ages, leaving 40-50 minutes for general discussion. We invite papers describing the role of historical analogy in the panelist's own work as well as papers with a purely methodological focus. We encourage papers that will contribute substantially to a discussion of how analogies can direct and reframe our understanding of medieval culture, religion, art, literature, social practice, institutional history, etc.. More importantly, how can we put diachronic comparative cultural study on a sound methodological basis? Can anachronism be responsible as well as creative?

Potential applicants should be aware that individuals may have up to three appearances in the Congress program in different capacities (e.g. one traditional paper, one roundtable, one workshop).

Please submit proposals of 500 words or less by September 15th along with the Participant Information Form (available at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/index.html), and a copy of your CV to productive.anachronism@gmail.com.
Please direct any inquiries (but not submissions) to jonathan.newman@dartmouth.edu or anna.wilson@utoronto.ca.