The Medieval Magazine, Vol. 2 No. 25 (September 20, 2016) Anniversary Issue: 8 Years of Medievalists.net.
Reviewed by: Richard Utz
Those of us interested in lowering the drawbridge between our own ivory tower scholarship and the broader public interest in medieval culture have been following the path taken by the website medievalists.net. Most recently, The Medieval Magazine, a digital publication that has been enhancing the website for more than a year, celebrated the eighth anniversary of medievalists.net.
For this anniversary issue, the founders and editors, Sandra Alvarez and Peter Konieczny, selected six pieces originally published at medievalists.net for republication. These six pieces are representative of the approaches both the website and the magazine have taken to attract an impressive international audience: “Ten Things You May Not Have Noticed About the Bayeux Tapestry” is a typical “10 things list,” this one providing details, in image and concise descriptions, about the tapestry, for example, of Turold the Dwarf or of King Harold’s men taking of their hoses and tucking in their tunics as they wade through water. A second, more discursive article, “The Norman Conquest of England: The Alternative Histories,” discusses Wace’s Roman de Rou and the Vita Haroldi. A third article tackles the common misconception that people in the Middle Ages did not drink water. A forth article summarizes Emily Selove’s 2012 translation of Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi’s 11th-century Art of Party Crashing. A fifth piece, “Thanks for the Coffee: A Five Minute Look Back at Medievalists.net,” offers Danièle Cybulskie an opportunity to share her role as staff writer for the magazine and site (she recently published a “best of” version of her short articles in The Five Minute Medievalist, which KellyAnn Fitzpatrick reviewed for Medievally Speaking). And a sixth piece condenses Maya Bijvoet Williamson’s 1998 English translation of the memoirs of Helene Kottaner, servant and confidante to the widowed Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1409-1442).
These six pieces, selected by the editors as representative of the articles published by medievalists.net, demonstrate the editors’ and staff writers’ goals. They know that their readers will not want to plough through entire scholarly monographs-cum-paratexts, but nevertheless love to learn about serious and reliable academic research in concise and informative summaries. All the staff involved in the magazine and website hold undergraduate and/or master’s degrees in medieval studies, and so they are well prepared to appreciate both the academic methodologies informing these studies as well as the necessity to parse them to those who delight in learning about medieval culture as so-called dilettantes or amateurs. Danièle Cybulskie sums up how she and her colleagues understand their own task and role at this specific moment in time:
We are at an amazing point right now. The scholarship coming out of our universities is top-notch and the sharing of that research from place to place has become a thing of beauty. Archaeologists and experimental archaeologists are coming up with new insights as to how things worked in the Middle Ages every day. Digitized manuscripts and new finds are now accessible to millions, so people all over the world can all but touch the relics of the past that were once locked away behind closed doors. News about the medieval world makes the headlines in the mainstream media on a regular basis. Popular histories are flying off the shelves, and a new generation of hip historians is gracing our screens. Historical fiction is no longer a guilty pleasure, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the English-speaking world who hasn’t heard of [Vikings] or [A Game of Thrones]. It’s a great time to indulge in a love of all things medieval. How lucky we are to be a part of it. (p. 53)
Earlier this year, I had asked Peter Konieczny about the audience he and his colleagues are reaching with their publications. He responded, in an e-mail of April 17, 2016, that the magazine, which was only about a year old at that time, had roughly 350 subscribers, increasing at about a rate of five new subscribers per week. As for medievalists.net, it has a much larger audience, peaking in January of 2016 at 385,000 monthly users, and at 1,068,000 page views. Overall, medievalists.net has had over 9 million unique visitors and 25 million page views since its inauguration in 2008, a truly impressive record. It is clear that medievalists.net and The Medieval Magazine have been enriching what millions of readers know about medieval culture. And for those among us who still disdain all extra-academic medievalia, let me put things in perspective: How do medievalists.net’s user numbers compare to the impact of the average peer-reviewed essay? According to Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr (“Citations are not enough,” The Impact Blog, 2016), in the humanities, 82 percent of peer-reviewed articles are never cited; in the social and natural sciences fewer than one third of such articles are cited, and only about one-fifth of these cited papers were actually read. Overall, an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely at most by no more than ten people. So it goes.
Medievalists.net occupies a central public space in which academic and non-academic lovers of the Middle Ages can congregate and collaborate. I congratulate Sandra, Peter, and their colleagues on persevering on a path that cannot always have been easy (they clearly experienced many of the kinds of "othering" also waged against Leslie J. Workman, Kathleen Verduin, and Studies in Medievalism), and I look forward to seeing my own interest in medieval culture enriched by the project's future efforts.
Georgia Institute of Technology