Read the Ormulum, You Should

[NB: This is an abbreviated version of a paper I gave at Kalamazoo in 2014. If you would like to read the longer paper, please contact me directly at carlathomas@mac.com.]

The first question I ask people when discussing my research is this: have you ever heard of the Ormulum? Most advanced medievalists will groan if they’ve heard of it, which means that they probably also haven’t actually spent much time with it (thank you, those few of you who get excited when I mention it). For you, dear reader, I will provide a brief introduction to the Ormulum, which, unlike most medieval texts, is not an editorial title.

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And It Begins…

The East Coast Medieval Graduate Alliance–a name suggested by the fabulous Elaine Treharne–is an organization spearheaded by Shyama Rajendran (PhD Candidate at George Washington University) and Carla Maria Thomas (PhD Candidate at New York University). Essentially, one day while chatting about next year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan (its 50th anniversary, by the way), Shyama asked, “Why can’t we propose a session on medieval texts that nobody reads but should?”

Carla’s response was, “We can. Shall we?”

And the impulse to create the ECMGA was born.

Our mission: to encourage more conversation about medieval texts that are not read, taught, and studied very often in most university English departments. Why do we have to remain so Anglo-centric when England in the Middle Ages itself wasn’t Anglo-centric? Scholars like Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Elizabeth Tyler, Jonathan Hsy, and Suzanne Conklin Akbari (among others) have helped us, as a field, realize the importance of the multilingual Middle Ages, not just the Anglo Middle Ages. In doing so, we have become open to reading texts that are rarely read, taught, or studied in English departments otherwise, such as Gower’s work and Anglo-Norman romances and hagiographies. However, this has also reminded us that there are even English texts that are often overlooked because of early prejudices that the discipline (wittingly or unwittingly) perpetuates; the Ormulum is one such work that comes to mind. Ultimately, we question the necessity of the “canon” as it stands in the university English classroom today, and we hope to broaden it by contributing our voices to this dialogue.

We hope that you will join us in expanding our conception of the Middle Ages, one that is dynamic rather than focused on the Anglo as the destination for scholarship and teaching in the English college classroom. And where better to begin this transformation of thought than at the graduate level?