Monica Green

title.none: Chance, ed., Women Medievalists and the Academy (Monica Green)

identifier.other: baj9928.0606.001 06.06.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Monica Green, Arizona State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Chance, Jane, ed. Women Medievalists and the Academy. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2005. Pp. xlvi, 1073. $85.00 0-299-20750-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.06.01

Chance, Jane, ed. Women Medievalists and the Academy. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2005. Pp. xlvi, 1073. $85.00 0-299-20750-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Monica Green
Arizona State University

This volume will come as a surprise to many readers. For some, its sheer size and heft (over a thousand pages!) will challenge their sense that medieval studies has been a virtual men's-only club as might be assumed from surveys like Lee Patterson's Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature (1987) or Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists (1991). For others, its array of women working throughout western Europe and North America, in fields as varied as anthropology, archaeology, philology, and the history of science, will dispel any sense that women have been ghettoized into any particular subdisciplines. Even those of us who consider ourselves fairly well informed about traditions of women's contributions to medieval studies will find much to surprise and delight. In all, the biographies of seventy-three women both living and dead are included, written by students, colleagues, or intellectual descendants or, toward the end of the volume, by several scholars now in their prime who offer engaging self-portraits. An especially illuminating pair are Marjorie Chibnall's two chapters, one on the great English historian Eileen Power (1889-1940), who had been her mentor, and her own autobiography, which together suggest how much changed in British academics over the course of two generations. Not surprisingly given its genesis among U.S. scholars the heaviest emphasis is on North American and British women, though we also find portraits of a few Continental European women. If there have been female medievalists in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia, we learn nothing of them here. Rather amazingly, Chance has been able to gather photographic portraits of each of the biographees except the first, the English historian Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756) whose likeness is instead captured from an engraved initial from one of her books, and the Arthurian scholar, Jessie L. Weston (1850-1928), whose entry is the only unillustrated one in the volume. Each entry closes with a select bibliography of the woman's writings.

This is a book for sampling as well as sustained reading. In my own perusal, I was intrigued to find the personal stories of so many scholars I had encountered as an undergraduate: the female half of the Loomis and Loomis partnership that produced the textbook Medieval Romances I had used in literature courses (Laura Hibbard Loomis, 1883-1960), the legal historian Doris Stenton (1894- 1971), and the French Pizanist Suzanne Solente (1895-1978). Given the current popularity of The Book of Margery Kempe , most medievalists even outside of English have heard of the Book 's first interpreter, Hope Emily Allen (1883-1960), but others are far less well known, such as the literary scholar, Margaret Schlauch (1898-1986), who was hounded out of the U.S. during the McCarthy era and spent the rest of her career in Poland. Everyone, of course, will have their own list of female medievalists they wish had been included: my own fields of History of Science and Medicine are well represented by the great French philologist Marie-Therese d'Alverny, the Austrian historian of philosophy, Anneliese Maier, the etymologist and text-editor Margaret Ogden, and the American historian Pearl Kibre, but others may feel the absence of key figures, a fact the editor, Jane Chance, acknowledges in her Preface.

Is such a book even necessary any more, now that women have achieved near parity in certain corners of academia and are now better represented in almost all fields than at any time in the past? The simple answer is Yes. Surely Caroline Walker Bynum (1941- ) has become such a powerfully influential figure in religious history that her name will never disappear from the historiography of that field. But we could all do with some reminding of how so many essential tools of medieval scholarship--compiled long before there were computers or even photocopiers--have been the work of female scholars. From Eleanor Prescott Hammonds' (1866-1933) study of Chaucer manuscripts to Edith Rickert's concordance of his works, from Pearl Kibre's Catalogue of Incipits of Mediaeval Scientific Writings in Latin (written with her male collaborator, Lynn Thorndike), to Ruth Dean's (1902-2003) still inadequately explored Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts , most of us still encounter these women on a daily basis.

More important to my mind, however, than simply celebrating these women's achievements is asking, What unites these women's stories? Only a few would have openly called themselves feminists and of some who would, like the historian of monastic women, Lina Eckenstein (1857-1931), their true impact on feminist scholarship would come only many years after their deaths. Trends in schooling, in academic employment, in paid vs. non-paid work, all varied considerably. Eckenstein had no formal schooling, the contemporary historians Elizabeth A. R. Brown (1932-) and Walker Bynum were educated at Harvard. Some, such as the Iberian art specialist Georgianna Goddard King (1871-1939) and the English historian Marjorie Chibnall made their careers at women's schools (at least until they went coed in the 1970s); others never held any academic posts at all. Of those fortunate to have careers in academia, most trained no advanced students who could form a particular school of thought and carry on their teachings. Nevertheless, not all can be said to have been unappreciated or unrewarded during their lifetimes. The great English social historian, Eileen Power, held a chair at the London School of Economics at the time of her premature death at the age of fifty-one. Nevertheless, as noted by Elizabeth Scala, writing of Edith Rickert: "Gender was so enmeshed in the work that these women did, and that they were allowed to do, that ignoring it sets no record straight." (128) The few disappointing essays in the volume are those that don't take this point to heart and instead focus on "strictly intellectual" biographies.

Prior to receiving this request to review the book, I had already purchased my own copy largely because I wanted to display this monument to female excellence in my campus office. Never again need a young student, male or female, wonder whether there is room in the Academy for female professionalism. Yet every time I dip into it, I find more and more to enlighten even this mid-career academic. In her preface, Jane Chance acknowledges the efforts of her contributors and notes that this volume "represents a triumph of collaboration and good will". (xix) That it does indeed.