by Maureen Russo Rodríguez, Schreiner University
When it comes to solidarity and comradery in academia, the Hispano-medievalists always seem to get it right. Perhaps it’s because our group is small enough to inspire a natural kinship, yet also large and diverse enough to assure our sense of collective import and relevance within the greater academic communities of which we are a part.
This forum post advances several important “calls to action” for the Hispano-medieval community that emerged from two sessions held at the 50th and 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. These include IMANA’s 2015 panel, “Medieval Iberian Studies in the Last Fifty Years,” and the subsequent roundtable that it inspired, “Pulling the Next Ones Up: Encouraging the Study of Medieval Spanish, Challenges and Projects.” If you were present for either of these sessions, you can attest to the sense of urgency that characterized the conversations that began there. If you were not, then you should know about these conversations, and you should join them. The ways in which we collectively address the questions that have been raised will define the future of our field as we know it.
As participants on the 2015 panel reflected on the currents and debates that have marked the last fifty years of scholarship about medieval Iberia, a panel commemorating the recent past quickly became a heated discussion about the urgency of our present moment and our future directions. Sol Miguel-Prendes pointed out an important irony: historically, we Hispano-medievalists have often fought against the designation “Medieval Spain” (chiefly, for its failure to underscore the linguistic and cultural diversity that defined the Iberian peninsula in the Middle Ages); however, many of our faculty appointments are validated by the existence of medievalist positions within Spanish departments.
If we choose to self-identify as humanities scholars and comparative scholars first (and as scholars of a greater “Spanish-speaking world” second), our reasons for doing so are still just as compelling as they have ever been. However, the need for us to position ourselves as essential contributors to our Spanish Programs may be now more pivotal than ever to our ability to keep doing what we do—by whatever name we wish to call it—and to enable future scholars within our discipline.
As shifting trends in higher education are causing traditional Spanish programs to reassess their role and mission in the US academe, we are wise to ask ourselves: Where will the future scholars in our field come from? What can the current community of Hispano-medieval scholars do to support, shape, and ensure that future? Several scholars present at the 2015 panel decided to start strategizing “from the bottom-up.” At the 2016 Roundtable and Working Group, “Pulling the Next One’s Up,” we discussed the potential first steps for collaboration toward things like better pedagogical resources and strategies to engage the next generation of young scholars. I will attempt to summarize our contributions for you below, and I encourage others to share to share further thoughts and resources here on La corónica Commons.
Sol Miguel-Prendes opened the roundtable by sharing a “wish list” that included the publication of a more dynamic textbook for use in survey classes and other courses. The text she described would be organized around broader topics, rather than by chronology of texts or by genres, so as to engage students at different levels through relatable themes. Miguel-Prendes also highlighted the strategic importance of linking medieval cultural practices and concepts to topics on colonial America, praising David Wack’s blog post “How Christian was Iberia in the Midde Ages?” as a fine example of such integration. Additionally, the textbook she envisions would have exercises to target students’ improvement of Spanish use in comprehension and analysis, while also exposing students visually to the linguist diversity of the original texts by including images of manuscripts in Catalan, Romance Andalusí, Hebrew, Arabic, Aljamiado, and Galician-Portuguese, alongside any modern renderings or translations.
Linde Brocato reminded us that teaching and learning are always matters of seduction, and challenged us to consider how we might best show students how intriguing the Iberian Middle Ages can be. She highlighted ideas about increasing the visibility of medieval Iberia as an enticing subject matter at all levels of education: from elementary storybooks to pedagogical materials for use in AP© Spanish and General Education courses. Brocato also reinforced the suggestion to organize pedagogical presentation around “scalable topics” and shared specific ideas for topics that would intrigue and entice: “gender and identify,” “bureaucracy,” “fashion,” “celebrity status,” and many others. Furthermore, Brocato directed us to a centralized Gmail account (IberianMiddleAges@gmail.com) that she created as a platform to organize and share resources among educators.
Matthew Desing showed us one concrete example of how we might engage directly with educators at the secondary-school level to promote Hispano-medieval studies. In October 2015, Desing organized two workshops for high school Spanish teachers in conjunction with an academic conference event, The Cleric’s Craft, hosted at University of El Paso. Local and visiting scholars of the Iberian Middle Ages showed high school teachers how enjoyable and accessible medieval and early modern topics can be for the high school classroom, providing suggested lesson plans and other resources. Since secondary school educators are required to complete a certain amount of hours in continuing education regularly, offering more workshops in conjunction with academic conference events is a highly pragmatic way to make progress in the promotion of Hispano-medieval studies.
Mark Johnston reminded us that we need to educate ourselves at the most practical level about current trends in secondary-education standards if we wish to effectively promote Hispano-medieval studies starting at the K-12 context. The more we know about how and when K-12 teachers would have the option to incorporate lessons on Hispano-medieval topics, the better we can position ourselves to approach educators and administrators. By way of example, Johnston showed us how the present K-12 learning standards as specified on the Illinois Board of Education’s webpage indicate that local teachers can decide which eras and events they wish to focus on for social sciences lessons at certain grade levels. Illinois also allows Spanish teachers flexibility to select content to fulfill the “cultural knowledge” component of their curricula, a fact that gives us further incentive to increase awareness of our discipline among secondary school educators. Which levels and areas of secondary education would be the best avenues for promotion of Hispano-medieval studies in your state? You can find this information by consulting the dropdown menu on the U. S. Department of Education website.
Greg Kaplan called on established scholars to promote the future of the field not merely by considering where future scholars will come from, but also by helping current junior scholars to advance and to get promoted. (For any fellow junior faculty and graduate students reading this post, you may join me in a chorus of “Hear, hear!”). In keeping with his own suggestion, Kaplan offered junior scholars this advice: turn pedagogical materials into publications for promotion and tenure. Such initiatives allow us to combine our efforts to engage undergraduates and our efforts to build a publication portfolio. Kaplan reinforced this advice with specific examples from his own dossier, including tips on how to recognize potential publication opportunities when they arise and how to showcase them in the job-search or promotion process.
Isidro Rivera’s contributions provided a way forward for the ideas proposed by other participants on the roundtable. He outlined La corónica Commons and its plans to launch in late 2016. And here we are today. This forum serves as a digital platform through which Hispano-medievalists can connect and collaborate about everything from pedagogy to research projects to upcoming events and news items. As the content of the site will be user-generated rather than editor-mandated, it can be what we want it to be, and it will be whatever we make of it.
As the moderator and final participant in this roundtable, I took stock of the intersections between the participants’ ideas and commented on the pathways for more immediate collaboration. I also took a moment to highlight the need to align our goals with some of the trends that are already evident in the shifting agendas of Spanish programs in the twenty-first century. I wish to expand, briefly, on both points here, and open the forum for discussion.
I draw your attention first to Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera’s recent post for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Lingua Franca blog, in which he criticizes U. S. Spanish Departments for not hastening their shift away from the Eurocentrism that has traditionally characterized coursework offerings and faculty appointments. Many Peninsular specialists bristled at his comment that “[o]verloading the faculty, canons, and curricula toward Spain has occurred for 500 years; transitioning our professoriate toward the cultural realities of the Spanish-speaking world is an ethical imperative that is long overdue.” Make what we will of his post, Herlihy-Mera’s prediction about one statistic is hard to deny: the amount of faculty appointments for Peninsular specialists vs. Latin Americanists will not continue to maintain its present ratio (which, according to 2015 data cited by Herlihy-Mera, is still “roughly one-to-one”) amidst the changing currents in success of Spanish programs in general.
Undeniably, the traditional Spanish program that wishes to succeed in the twenty-first century must adapt its missions and approaches to address changes in a society that is also rapidly evolving. The affirmations in MLA’s 2007 report, “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World,” continue to resonate in 2016, especially the warning that U. S. Spanish language programs will flounder unless they are able to break from their traditional two-tier system (in which lower-level coursework must be followed by a series of survey courses on canonical literature organized by place and period). Numerous programs have already started to shift away from the traditional survey course, and some have opted not to organize coursework around literary periods at all. No one says it better than Rogelio Miñana in his 2013 article for Profession, “The New Mission and Location of United States Spanish Departments: The Mount Holyoke College Experience.” To truly flourish into the twenty-first century, Spanish programs must do several key things. They must “reinvent” the ways in which they present relevant and engaging coursework options, and in so doing, they must also recognize the essential role that Latinos/as and heritage speakers play in their mission.
Such trends in higher education should be the backdrop for our discussions about engaging the future scholars “from the bottom-up” on topics of Hispano-medieval studies. The roundtable’s contributions summarized above include ideas for rethinking the ways in which we engage students with our coursework. Answering such calls to action will allow Hispano-medievalist faculty to carve out essential roles as contributors to re-energized, relevant academic programs within their respective departments.
Finally, the importance of collaborative platforms such as La corónica Commons cannot be overstated. Whether our aim is to collaborate toward improved pedagogical resources, to engage with high-school administrators about K-12 standards, to support junior scholars, or simply to reinvigorate our own approaches to inspiring others about our field, we need a common platform and space to facilitate the sharing of our ideas and resources. Furthermore, in order for this tool to serve its purpose, we must not only create and design it; we must populate it and promote its use.
To those ends, I invite you to use this forum to build on the collaboration that has begun. Let’s continue the conversations that have started, and let’s answer to the calls to action that have emerged from them.
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