postmedieval awarded for best new journal

A journal seeking to redefine how medieval studies is approached in the modern academy has been awarded the Best New Journal in Humanities and Social Sciences by the 2011 PROSE Awards, according to a press release from its publisher Palgrave Macmillan.

The PROSE Awards are sponsored by the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers which recognizes “annually the best in professional and scholarly publishing by bringing attention to distinguished books, journals, and electronic content.”

The journal is the brainchild of its editors, Eileen A. Joy, associate professor of English language and literature in SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences, and her co-editor Myra Seaman, associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, who are also the principals of the BABEL Working Group.

The journal is described as a “cross-disciplinary, peer-reviewed journal in medieval studies that aims to bring the medieval and modern into productive critical relation” by Palgrave Macmillan.

“We are very proud that postmedieval has been recognized with this prestigious award. As well as upholding the highest scholarly standards, postmedieval has sought to be inclusive and innovative in all that it does – from engagement with exploratory forms and initiation of dialogues with scholars outside of the humanities to experiments with open peer review and the launch of an open access forum. We congratulate the editors, Eileen A. Joy and Myra Seaman, whose vision and commitment have shaped postmedieval from its earliest days,” said Rosalind Pyne, senior publishing and business development editor at Palgrave Macmillan, in the press release.

Joy, a founding member of the BABEL Working Group and punctum books, said that the journal is a collective of scholars from North America, the U.K., and Australia. In the first few editions in 2010, Joy stated that the journal editors spent a lot of time soliciting guest editors to edit special editions with submissions trickling in at first.

“At first, the submissions trickled in and now it’s an avalanche,” said Joy. “The journal is booked through the end of 2015, completely booked with content, which is a little overwhelming.”

Joy stated that the journal’s first edition was in April of 2010, and it began with only three issues per year. However, due to the interest in the journal and the amount of content coming in, the publishers increased the number of issues per year to four.

“The journal was so successful that Palgrave-McMillian decided to give us extra pages, and starting now, we’re four issues a year. Palgrave-McMillian told us that we exceeded their sale projections. And, this is at a time when most library budgets have been frozen and most universities are self-hemorrhaging from self-inflicted and non-self-inflicted budget cuts.”

Joy stated that the journal sets itself apart from other journals because of many of the policy decisions made early on. When it began, the editors made the decision to reserve space in each issue for graduate students.

postmedieval–and this is very unusual–we have a policy that graduate students have to be included in every single issue. We are huge promoters of the idea–which is anti-elitist–that you never know where the best ideas will come from,” said Joy. “We want the journal to help our larger aim–which is a big part of what BABEL is about–to level these hierarchies that separate: ‘You’re at Harvard and I’m at Southern Illinois.’ ‘Travis is a student and I’m a professor.’ We don’t care about those distinctions and we’d like to see them utterly demolished.”

The journal has already been reviewed five times in its short history. Joy stated that the reviews refer to postmedieval as theoretically edgy and stylish. The journal doesn’t only look at medieval times, according to Joy. The journal accepts submissions in a field of study called studies in medievalism as well.

“That’s another thing we’re also interested in is what are called studies in medievalism, which is a specific branch of medieval studies–the middle ages as seen through the lens of popular culture. So, Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’ all the way to Disney’s ‘The Sword in the Stone’ to the Medieval Times Restaurant to Monty Python’s ‘Search for the Holy Grail’ to all the movies about the middle ages like ‘A Knight’s Tale,’ to ‘Excalibur,’” said Joy. “And, there is a whole bunch of people who just work on that and we are interested in publishing their scholarship too.”



Below is a portion of an interview with Eileen Joy giving a more complete overview of what postmedieval aims to accomplish:

postmedieval tries to do something different. The most succinct way to explain why we created this journal and what we hope its going to accomplish is this: First of all, within the humanities, there are different fields: philosophy, religious study, literature, history, etc. Within each of those fields, there are markers according to temporalities. So in literary studies you have 19th Century American studies, modern poetry studies, Renaissance studies, 18th Century studies, and so on. Within most of the fields in the humanities, you have these temporal divisions. And historically, the people who work in the earliest periods are often seen as a country apart.

“Those are the people who read Chaucer, and Beowulf, and study Charlemagne–the past really is a different country. And often times, those scholars feel–and really are–marginalized within the humanities, sometimes happily so. They like the fact–some of them–that they study the archeology of Anglo-Saxon England which involves digging up a lot of graves and examining the pottery shards, and the bones, and the armor. And they don’t really give a flying what-have-you, if that has any relevance to the present, and they will even make the argument.

“They use this fancy word alterity, which is a fancy way to say otherness, or the strange otherness of others–meaning you just can’t know too much about this. So you just try to know what you can on a minimal basis and you seal all that up in a nice little package called the British Museum or something and we’re done. A lot of times, people in earlier periods, they don’t do theory. They don’t want to talk about Freud. They don’t want to talk about Derrida. They don’t want to talk about Karl Marx or Max Weber or whoever, because they think that it has nothing to do with the Middle Ages. Those two things are separated by so many years, one cannot speak to the other.

“We believe that everything in the present is also still somewhat stuck in the past. You can see that even when you walk around a city and you have cathedrals next to skyscrapers. An underground subway that might have been built in the 1920’s which itself curves along a pathway initially marked by a river which is antediluvian and ancient–that everything in the present encloses or is stuck in or in somehow still stuttering in the languages of the past. There is no such thing as a pure present or a pure past.

“Also, we were distressed at how many people in the university were creating all of these big theories–about gender, identity, sexuality, history–and thinking that the only resources they needed to develop those ideas are about 100 years old. In other words, people like Foucault, Derrida, and all the theorists who followed in their wake, their thinking is post-enlightenment. And they spend a lot of time talking about what modernity is because they think modernity is unique. So, they spend their whole careers  describing what makes modernity unique. And we were like, modernity is not as modern as you think it it. The past always inheres in the present and the present shows up in the past sometimes in really weird ways. We’re big believers in asynchronous non-chronologies, which is a fancy way to say that we don’t actually believe in the idea that time only moves forward. It may move forward in physics. Time’s arrow is a famous metaphor from physics. Time only moves in one direction. Our claim is time is moving in multiple directions in multiple times, all the time.

“Go to Brooklyn. It has all these cool neighborhoods. There’s a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn and I know it really well because it borders one of my friends neighborhood’s, Sunset Park. And you have to walk through it to get to another part of Brooklyn. Now Hasidic Judaism is a rather interesting kind of radical sect within Judaism that looks very old because they practice these things that feel very ancient: they have very strict gender divisions; women have to keep their heads covered; men have a certain kind of haircut, and they have to wear these long coats. When you walk through the neighborhood, you feel like you’re stepping back into time. But, there’s two weird things going on. Hasidic Judaism was founded in the 19th century. It was an attempt to recapture a past that had supposedly disappeared. But it is itself a modern invention. Also, if you are a Hasidic Jew living in Brooklyn, you may have your own neighborhood, and everyone may look alike, but you’re surrounded. You’re in this modern city. Everyone else walking by is wearing their getup.

“So, the other thing that interests us is the ways in which every single person is kind of a unique container of different times and places and whatever you think modernity is depends on where you are. If you’re in Calcutta or Brooklyn or LA of Bangladesh or Kosovo or Grosny in Chechnya after the Russians bombed the entire city to rubble, how can you tell what time you’re in? I went to a conference and I showed pictures of Grozny after it was bombed and I asked the audience where is this and most of them said Dresden from World War II. How is each time different from every other time. Our journal is interested in showing how the medieval and the modern are constantly locked together in a dialogic encounter, the outcome of which is never certain.”

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