Month: June 2015

CFP for volume on monstrosity and disability

Embodied Difference: Monstrosity, Disability, and the Posthuman in the Medieval and Early Modern World, edited by Richard H. Godden and Asa Simon Mittman
Call for Papers (Initial deadline, September 1)

Volume Description

Medieval and Early Modern art and literatures are replete with images of non­normative bodies. Saints lives valorize physical challenges, fabliaux render them metaphorical, medical texts pathologize them, and marginal images make them subjects of amusement. Divergent bodies are viewed as gifts from God, markers of sin, or manifestations of medical imbalances. In many cases throughout Western history, a figure marked by what Rosemarie Garland­Thomson has termed “the extraordinary body” is labeled a “monster.”

In this collection, we wish to take on the challenge of examining the intersection of the discourses of “disability” and “monstrosity.” Bringing these two themes together is a timely and necessary intervention in the current scholarly fields of Disability Studies and Monster Studies, especially in light of the pernicious history of defining people with distinctly non­normative bodies or non­normative cognition as monsters. This collection will explore the origins of this conflation, examine the problems and possibilities inherent in it, and cast both disability and monstrosity in the light of emergent, empowering discourse of posthumanism.

Irina Metzler has observed that in the Middle Ages there was no conception of the disabled as it would accord with modern notions of embodied difference. In looking for figures of the disabled and the deformed, scholars in medieval Disability Studies have often fallen back on monstrosity as an overlapping or even equivalent category. We are looking for essays that address the imbrications of monstrosity and disability in provocative and searching ways. We especially encourage essays that do not simply collapse these two categories, but rather look to interrogate the convergence and divergence of the monstrous and the impaired in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period. What is the effect of reading monsters as disabled and the disabled as monstrous? How does the coupling of these two Othered groups obscure important features? How does reading them together illuminate the social and cultural processes by which difference is constructed? How do the discourses of monstrosity and disability intersect with recent thinking on the posthuman? We invite essays from all disciplines and national traditions, and we welcome interdisciplinary, transtemporal and transcultural thinking, including medievalism.

We plan to include ten to twelve essays, framed by an introduction written by the editors and pair of brief codas written by prominent figures in Disability and Monster Studies. We invite essays based in the disciplines and discourses of medicine, literature, religion, art history, law, ethics, and on, that consider themes including visibility and invisibility, civilization and wildness, normativity and abnormality, vulnerability, processes, transformations, encounters, and enactments. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, “monstrous births”; “monstrous peoples”; “monstrous gender”; religious, social, and political otherness; physical, mental and cognitive difference; care and treatment of the disabled; disability, sin, and salvation; and positive, even celebratory depictions of disability.

Ohio State University Press has expressed interest in this volume.

Please send a 250 word abstract to Richard Godden ( or Asa Simon Mittman (, and feel free to contact us with queries, questions, and suggestions.

Editor Biographies

Richard H. Godden is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Tulane University, and has published in postmedieval and New Medieval Literatures. He is also co­author with Jonathan Hsy of “Analytical Survey: Encountering Disability in the Middle Ages.” His current work focuses on the intersections between the political theology of the neighbor, temporality, and Disability Studies in medieval romance. He also works on the alliances between Digital Humanities and Disability Studies. He has presented numerous papers throughout the US on related subjects, and his research has been funded by the Newcomb College Institute, Tulane University, and Washington University. He is a founding member of the Grammar Rabble.

Asa Simon Mittman is Professor of Art History at California State University, Chico, and author of Maps and Monsters in Medieval England (2006; paperback 2008), co­author with Susan Kim of Inconceivable Beasts: The Wonders of the East in the Beowulf Manuscript (2013, awarded a Millard Meiss Publication Grant from the College Art Association), and author and co­author of 22 articles and chapters on monstrosity and marginality in the Middle Ages, including most recently pieces on Satan in the Junius 11 manuscript (Gesta, with Kim) and “race” in the Middle Ages (postmedieval), in addition to several works in press and in progress. He edited the Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (with editorial assistance by with Peter Dendle, 2012; paperback 2013), and is co­director of Virtual Mappa, an interface to allow searching and linking among medieval maps and geographical texts, due to launch this fall. Mittman’s research has been supported by the College Art Association, the International Center of Medieval Art, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as grants from Arizona State University and Chico State. He edits book series with Boydell and Brill, and is the founding president of MEARCSTAPA and a founding member of the Material Collective.

Access, Publishing, and Unreasonable Demands

Ok, I wanted to write down a few quick thoughts that were proving too long for twitter. Inside HigherEd published an article about accessibility in publishing. In its presentation of the issue, issues of access are presented as demands, as an ultimatum. The language of “unreasonable” informs the response.

Lennard Davis, Catherine Kudlick, Margaret Price, Melissa Helquist and Jay Dolmage put together a one-page letter that encourages authors to solicit publishers to include accessible editions of texts simultaneously with the usual printed versions. The letter penned by Davis, et al. does similar work as the petition circulating recently that states panelists at academic conferences will not participate in all-male sessions.

From the letter:

As a scholar working in disability studies, I am dedicated to publishing work that is accessible to all scholars, including anyone with print-reading disabilities. For this reason, it is imperative that before agreeing to publish with [name of publisher], I have written assurance that materials will be available in accessible formats at the same time as any print copies.

It isn’t likely (to me) that most authors would submit such a statement to their publishers, but the existence of such a letter does much to raise awareness, and it also lists specific suggestions:

The technical specifications: Materials must be in EPUB 3.0 or later format with true, reflowable text embedded in them – not screen images. This makes it possible to resize the text (for readers with low vision) and read aloud (for readers using screen reading software). If DRM (digital rights management, which sometimes creates a barrier that makes it impossible for accessibility software to access the text) is going to be used, a DRM-free version must be available to persons with documented disabilities. The process for accessing a DRM-free version should be straightforward.

Currently the program “Adobe InDesign” – the program used by most large book designers – has built-in features for checking accessibility, but these should be test-run with actual users of screen-reading software since the tools for checking accessibility are still a work in progress.

It is important to remember that many charts and graphs are also unrecognizable to screen-reading software. Numeric tables replicating chart data should be provided. Instead of using color-coding for charts and graphs, differences in line style or “texture” should be used so that the chart can be understood in black and white. Data tables should never be converted into images, and basic accessibility guidelines need to be followed for table headers, titles, and so on.

Ideally, images, maps, and figures appearing in books should also be visually described, particularly when the images are central to the themes, arguments, findings, and/or narrative of the book. In this way, readers using screen reading software can still have access to these important features of the book.

These are good, practical recommendations for opening access. However, InsideHigherEd has a slightly different take on the issue:

The guidelines, a one-page template letter, read a little like an ultimatum. The letter opens by asking a would-be publisher to confirm in writing that print books and accessible formats will be made available simultaneously, then launches into an explanation of how publishers should handle everything from digital rights management to authoring software.

Lennard J. Davis, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the letter is meant less to threaten a boycott and more as a public service announcement. Some authors may not budge from the demands in the letter, he said, but others are likely to use it as a way to spread awareness about accessibility.

I am troubled here by the use of the word “ultimatum” and also the reference to “demands.” Yes, there is some direct language in the letter such as “imperative,” but these hardly read like demands or ultimatums. As someone with a disability, I have repeatedly, and throughout my life, been confronted with the fact that many view accessibility and accommodations as somehow unreasonable, that is they view them as demands being made rather than reasonable requests. Is it reasonable? This is often the question asked when considering issues of access or accommodation. We should ask, instead, is it needed? Does it include rather than exclude?