On being a medievalist

Our department chair stopped by my office this morning to ask me to identify and translate the text that appeared on the front of the Christmas card he’d selected for us to give to our departmental administrative assistant. So, I poked around and identified it as a response from Vespers on the first Sunday of Advent, then I wrote a translation in the card, added my own greeting, and handed it back to the chair.

The reason I deem this worthy of a blog post is that the exercise of doing this – digging out my copy of Harper’s The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century, pulling out a copy of the psalms, reminding myself of what it is like to read medieval Latin, especially medieval liturgical Latin, transcribing from a lovely German manuscript (Mainz, 15th century) with square musical notation – has made me homesick for life as a medievalist.

Sure, I have been teaching Old English this semester, but it is very different teaching Old English literature for mostly English majors than reading it with people who also read Latin, Norse, and possibly also Welsh or Irish. I usually define myself as a medievalist when it comes up, not as an English person, but I miss both the companionship and the greater erudition of my medievalist peers. It is all too easy to let my disciplinary knowledge slip away when there is rarely any demand for it. I am extremely lucky to have an academic job, with generous colleagues, and I feel painfully aware of the predicament that most of my grad school friends are in, with full-time jobs hard to come by, even for those who are eminently qualified for them. So, this post is meant as a reminder to myself to make decisions that will allow me to do the work I love. It is easy to forget that I have agency and can do a lot to shape my job satisfaction.

I did fairly well this semester on my plan to start my day in the office with at least an hour of my own research-related work or other professional tasks, although the last few weeks have been a bit dicey in that regard. (In many regards, frankly.) I intend to continue with this scheme in the spring semester, but I think I’m also going to concentrate on finding projects (whether for research, professional development, or for teaching) that let me tap into my broader training as a medievalist.