bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Avoiding Tedium with Medium Aevum

Posted in Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 8 August, 2022

In the middle of the last decade, the Times Literary Supplement indulged in a game of finding literary references to itself. At the time, I noted that there was at least one academic journal which could engage in a similar game, if it wanted — though more likely it would want not. Britain’s longest established journal dedicated to medieval studies, Medium Ævum, might seem unlikely to feature in comic fiction but (as I pointed out) it does gain a walk-on part in Kingsley Amis’s early success, Lucky Jim.

I am not sure anyone has asked why Amis might have his hero day-dream about getting a job with Medium Ævum, beyond the amusing implausibility of that publication being able to offer to struggling lecturers one from a set of paid positions. Perhaps he enjoyed the irony of a journal devoted to the things medieval having a title which sided with the Renaissance humanists, those disparaging inventors of the ‘middle age’, down to the use of the diphthong. Or maybe its inclusion was a sign that he had an inkling of its illustrious literary associations with the Inklings, in particular with J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis. If you drew a conceptual map, you would find Medium Ævum does not lie far from Middle Earth.

Into that world, I now enter — or, indeed, return, as I have had previous experience of the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, the publishers of the journal. A little more than a decade ago, I had a happy time helping with the running of the Society, developing its activities and its grant-giving. Though Medium Ævum was run autonomously, I had dealings with its team, both its copy-editor and type-setter, and its editors. I already knew Prof. Nigel Palmer, who was helmsman of that team; he had, in fact, been one of the interviewers for the Lyell Research Fellowship in Palaeography when I was fortunate enough to become that role’s first holder. Nigel’s range of expertise was as broad as his commiment to the journal was deep. He had taken up the baton originally in 1990 as editor for Germanic languages but came to be responsible for Latin, manuscript studies, art history and matters relating to Eastern Europe. He also guided each issue of the journal from typescript to print. In all this he worked closely with his colleagues, Prof. Corinne Saunders at Durham, who looks after Old and Middle English, and Prof. Sylvia Huot at Cambridge, who is responsible for Romance languages. I came also to know and like both of them in my former time with the Society.

Now, the saddest circumstances have forced on the Society a change. When Nigel unexpectedly died on 8th May, he was still very much in harness, overseeing the move to press of the first issue of volume XCI of the journal. His posthumous conventional epithet immediately and rightly became ‘irrreplaceable’: no one could attempt to imitate the expanse of his learning or his sustained energy. The Society’s solution was to ask two to do the work where one had. They wisely asked Stephen Mossman, of whom Nigel thought very highly, to take care of his core passion of Germanic languages. For Latin and palaeography, as well as the role of guiding the journal through the publication process, the Society approached me. So, at the beginning of August, the new arrangements were announced and I find that I have become Managing Editor of Medium Ævum. I am not unaware that it will be a significant amount of work, and that it sets me a challenge, but I cannot avoid feeling about myself: ‘lucky him’.

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