CFP: Alternative Medievalisms Working Session

Alternative Medievalisms

Repetitions of the Medieval in Contemporary Performance

Conference: 2020 ASTR

Deadline: 1 June 2020


  • Carla Neuss (UCLA)
  • Christopher Swift (NYCCT, CUNY)
  • Jesse Njus (Virginia Commonwealth University)

From its Latin roots of "seeking backwards," repetition ruptures linear temporalities and evokes the past in new ways while laying groundwork for potential futures. Perhaps no other historic-temporal imaginary is as regularly and imaginatively evoked as that of the "medieval." From T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral to Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play, Game of Thrones festivals to Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo's The Miller's Tale: Wahala Dey O!, medievalisms broadly signal, in David Matthews's words, "geelings about the past" leveraged towards ever-evolving ends in the present and future.

This working session seeks to investigate medievalisms as they are performed and embedded in broader social movements and cultural production. As it has in earlier moments of cultural transition, the "medieval" is reemerging once again today in the crosshairs of contemporary political and social upheaval. This contemporary repetition of medieval is frequently re/presented in service of a false ontology of whiteness, from the appropriation of an imagined homogenous medieval past by ethnic nationalists to many of the medievalisms cited above. Yet as Wahala Dey O!—a Nigerian adaptation of Chaucer's Miller's Tale—reminds us, performance as restored behavior can reveal new epistemological foundations from which to reassess the past. The possibilities inherent in this reassessment are illustrated by the current turn within medieval studies towards a global Middle Ages as exemplified by the work of scholars such as Geraldine Heng. The recurrence of the medieval in our contemporary moment is repeating with a difference, proliferating alternative medievalisms.


This session will support the development of papers that interrogate the medieval as it circulates through various forms of performance while challenging dominant narratives that have previously characterized the impetus to seek and repeat the medieval past. We encourage submissions that engage and build upon the following questions:

  • How have medievalisms and their temporal imaginaries circulated within contemporary political and social phenomena?
  • How has nostalgia for the Middle Ages functioned affectively and efficaciously across performance, cultural production, and the everyday?
  • In what ways do medieval/ist discourses and performances rupture pre-existing formulations of time, space, migration, race, or religion?
  • How have artists and practitioners readdressed medieval themes in order to produce new histories, alternative memories, and unexpected utopias?

The panel conveners encourage submissions from scholars working in a range of disciplines including, but not limited to, performance studies, history, language and literature, cultural studies, and political science. In order to foster productive interdisciplinary conversations, members will respond to focused prompts a few months prior to the conference. As conceptual threads emerge, participants will be placed in thematic subgroups to exchange papers. At the conference, subgroups will meet independently to discuss revelations, intersections, and repetitions, followed by a meeting of the entire working group for a broader discussion about the reiterative power of medievalisms.

Please include your name, professional affiliation, email, and a 250-word paper abstract that connects your research with the themes of the conference and working group. For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners at cneuss[at], cswift[at], or janjus[at] Please note that all submissions must be received formally through the ASTR website. The form will allow you to indicate second and third choice working groups if you wish; if you do so, note that there is a space for you to indicate how your work will fit into those groups. The deadline for receipt of working group participant submissions is 1 June 2020 and we anticipate that participants will be notified of their acceptance no later than 30 June. Please contact the conference organizers at if you have any questions about the process.