Medieval Power Struggle


The Medieval Academy of America torn in a new power  struggle

Last week The Medieval Academy of America announced that co-executive directors, Eileen Gardiner and Ron Musto have resigned, effective immediately. Richard W. Unger, president of the Academy, who made the announcement, called it regrettable. In an e-mail statement to Inside Higher Ed the two ex-directors said “they left because the board of the Academy was changing procedures to minimize the power of the staff members, who led the daily operations of the Academy, and forcing them to spend excessive time responding to “oversight” from board members.”

As far as can be gleaned from twitters and comments in blogs, observers are of the opinion that the fall-out is a reflection upon the many changes, which have taken place in the last two years, where Gardiner and Musto have worked to renew the internet-presence and the publications strategy of the Academy. So far no real explanation has been forthcoming.

However, it is a remarkable fact that a new survey on Medievalists and the Scholarly Digital Edition which was presented at the recent annual meeting in Knoxville, shows that about 50% of medievalists in 2011 still preferred to read at least some of their journals in print, while none professed to prefer exclusively to use scholarly editions in electronic form. Although the survey was done before the advent of the ipad and the other tablets on the market, it is an astounding fact that medievalists seem to be somewhat averse to electronic publishing.

In view of this it may seem a safe bet that the board might have felt inclined to reign in a future strategy whereby the Academy might move to render the established publishing houses obsolete in a situation where the new directives concerning open-access are calling for new business models. With more than 4000 members worldwide, one of the Academy’s assets is its ability to foster genuinely anonymous peer-reviews at a grand scale while at the same time turn itself into a proper medieval publishing house paid for by the money, which scholars in the future are expected to put down the publication of their work. A business model which the current publishers as opposed to a not-for-profit association cannot follow since they are in the business of making money. At the annual meeting several announcements were made, which points in this direction,  amongst these a revival of the Speculum Books Series and a possibility to discontinue reading Speculum in Print.

Gardiner and Musto have worked in various aspects of the book trade since 1967 and cofounded Italica Press in 1985. They have individually and jointly authored and edited numerous books, articles, reviews, and websites, with a concentration on medieval studies and e-publishing. They have most recently been working together on the book, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Scholars and Studies, to be published by Cambridge University Press. However, both are also acclaimed medievalists.


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