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Joint Statement from the U.K. Gender and Medieval Studies Group (GMS) and the international U.S.-based Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS) on the threatened job losses at Birkbeck

6th December 2022

Dear Professor David Latchman, Professor Matt Innes, and Sir Andrew Cahn,

We write on joint behalf of the Gender and Medieval Studies Group (GMS) and the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS), organisations which represent the study of medieval English Literature, and medieval studies more broadly, in the UK, the US, and globally. We wish to strongly express our concern at the news of the devastating cuts proposed for The Department of English, Theatre & Creative Writing at Birkbeck. Given the department’s recent success in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, a success which has been much lauded in the global arena, your proposal to render 50% of English Literature staff redundant is both inexplicable and contrary to the university’s interests. To proceed with the proposed cuts will have shattering consequences for Birkbeck’s standing in the academic realm, for the individual academics concerned, and for the vibrancy of the Arts and Humanities in London. As uncompromising advocates of equality and fairness in academia and the workplace, we also wish to emphasise the disproportionate effect that such action will have on talented academic staff already operating in a context of job insecurity in our sector and on the broad, often “non traditional”, student community which Birkbeck has historically championed and for which your institution has deservedly gained an international reputation. There are important considerations of gender equality, too. Any performance management processes implicated in redundancies will inevitably single out staff who have been worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, including home-schooling parents. In this light, we urge you to reconsider this decision by reflecting, like other institutions have successfully managed, on alternative ways forward to prevent the damage that will ensue on an individual and field-wide scale.

As you will be aware, there is evidence that the discipline of English Literature is at its strongest in London. While other London institutions such as Goldsmiths and Roehampton might narrow their offerings in English, Birkbeck has a crucial opportunity to increase its student numbers. There are many reasons for institutions like Birkbeck to champion, not threaten, the long-term survival of a subject that makes such an impact socially and culturally. As a vital humanities discipline, English Literature is also crucial to the UK economy. The subject of English Literature encompasses engagement with the most pressing social concerns, from climate change to social justice, from gender to racial identity. By teaching students how to communicate via the written word in an increasingly online world, developing students’ skills in processing information and thinking critically, and encouraging students to think creatively, English Literature provides invaluable skills for envisioning and executing new plans for the future in these precarious times. Graduates of English Literature are able to offer a level of criticality in society which is vital for the healthy maintenance of our democracy and freedom. The subjects in the Arts and Humanities must be central in the future vision of all universities, including Birkbeck.

The annual Gender and Medieval Studies (GMS) conference, which has international attendance and which is supported each year by the SMFS, is to be hosted by the English Department at Birkbeck in January 2023. This event will be an important occasion for the discussion of global medieval literatures and cultures, including those written and circulated in Britain; it will showcase the role Birkbeck’s Department of English, Theatre & Creative Writing plays in furthering research in this area. We are devastated that the very staff who are igniting future literary study are themselves threatened with the loss of their careers and the opportunity to promote the survival of our subject. Since Birkbeck offers a means of accessing study to a wide and diverse demographic, it also has a social responsibility to offer subjects like English Literature, which themselves give access to some of the most urgent human concerns. We urge you to rethink this decision, to help us in championing the subject of English Literature as a vital cultural mechanism, and to realise the importance of the discipline for academia, our society, and our democratic future.

Yours sincerely,

The Gender and Medieval Studies Group (GMS) Steering Committee (UK)

The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS) Advisory Board (international, US-based)


Professor Simon Gaunt FBA (July 1959–December 2021)

The GMS is very sorry to learn of the death of Professor Simon Gaunt, who passed away on the 4th December 2021, at the age of 62. Simon was a world-leading scholar of medieval French Professor Simon Gauntand Occitan. An alumnus of Warwick University (BA, 1982; PhD, 1986), he went on to hold positions at Cambridge University (1986–1998) and at King’s College London (1998–2021). He co-organized one of the first Gender and Medieval Studies conferences in living memory, held at Cambridge in 1989.

Simon’s early work in the 80s and 90s pioneered feminist and queer approaches that subsequently became more widely accepted among medievalists. Key publications such as Troubadours and Irony (1989), Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature (1995), and Martyrs to Love: Love and Death in Medieval French and Occitan Courtly Literature (2006) continue to be important touchpoints for literary historians working on gender. His later work further examined how medieval literature could be brought into conversation with current philosophy and critical theory, by exploring themes such as sacrifice, death, ethics, and poetic voice. Most recently he led the collaborative projects Medieval Francophone Literary Culture outside France (2011–2015) and The Values of French (2015–2020), two major undertakings that ambitiously reconsider what French and Frenchness meant in the European Middle Ages, while countering the nationalist and colonialist legacies of traditional philology and literary history. Though gender was addressed more obliquely in his later work, Simon’s commitment to the insights of feminism and queer theory informed his scholarship and his teaching throughout his career. Those of us working on medieval gender today have much to thank him for.

Simon will be remembered as an energetic and inspirational scholar, teacher, mentor, and colleague. Our thoughts are with all those whose lives he touched.

Inclusivity, Harassment & Accessibility

Inclusivity and Harassment

Conference organisers are required to include a statement of inclusivity and accessibility, including an anti-harassment statement in the programme and on any individually managed website. As a body, the GMS is committed to valuing diversity, difference and inclusivity, and to opposing most actively any form of discrimination based on gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age or religion. The annual conference is designed to encourage full inclusivity, based on mutual respect, collegial and collaborative interactions, and friendship. As such, we are also dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone in attendance. As a group, we do not tolerate harassment of or by conference participants in any form. Conference participants violating these rules for harmonious, respectful interaction may be subject to sanctions or required to leave the conference, without a refund, at the discretion of the conference organizers. Our full anti-harassment policy can be found on the GMS website.


Many who work in academic settings live with disabilities and/or chronic conditions which mean that attending conferences can be a difficult issue. This can be the case for students, early career researchers, independent scholars, tenured academics and support staff, and all need support so that their conference experience is as good as it possibly can be. We have created guidelines for GMS conference organisers in line with advice offered by the Medievalists with Disabilities group that include:

  • Full accessibility for all spaces used during the conference, including social spaces.
  • Sufficient seating at all events, including social events and receptions.
  • Clear and visible signposting for all toilet facilities, including those for disabled or non-gendered access.
  • Provision of a quiet room in addition to other conference spaces.
  • Use of inclusive language in all communications and conference spaces.
  • Accessibility built into all conference trips and venues.

Gender and Medieval Studies Student Essay Prize 2018

The 2018 Gender and Medieval Studies Student Essay Prize has been awarded to Sarah Hinds from the University of York, for her essay

‘Late Medieval Sexual Badges as Sexual Signifiers: An Archaeological Reappraisal’.

Huge congratulations to Sarah!

Information about submissions for our 2019 essay prize will be announced here.

To keep up-to-date on the GMS conference series, please subscribe to the listserv address:

Statement in Support of Dr. Dorothy Kim

GMS is a signatory on a letter of complaint written to the Dean of Humanities at the University of Chicago about the recent blog posts of Rachel Fulton Brown. We signed it of our own volition because, whilst disagreement is a healthy part of intellectual endeavour, there are lines that academic debate should not cross. In particular it should not explicitly or even implicitly incite hatred or violence, and it should be conducted in the language of respect for differences of all kinds. We endorse the concern that has been expressed by Dorothy Kim and others about the misappropriation of medieval symbols by far right groups and recognise the responsibility of classroom practitioners to offer rigorous critical contexts for medieval culture.

Medievalists Respond to Charlottesville

GMS are proud to support this statement by the Medieval Academy of America condemning white supremacy and the misuse of medieval history.

In light of the recent events in the United States, most recently the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the undersigned community of medievalists condemns the appropriation of any item or idea or material in the service of white supremacy. In addition, we condemn the abuse of colleagues, particularly colleagues of color, who have spoken publicly against this misuse of history.

As scholars of the medieval world we are disturbed by the use of a nostalgic but inaccurate myth of the Middle Ages by racist movements in the United States. By using imagined medieval symbols, or names drawn from medieval terminology, they create a fantasy of a pure, white Europe that bears no relationship to reality. This fantasy not only hurts people in the present, it also distorts the past. Medieval Europe was diverse religiously, culturally, and ethnically, and medieval Europe was not the entire medieval world. Scholars disagree about the motivations of the Crusades—or, indeed, whether the idea of “crusade” is a medieval one or came later—but it is clear that racial purity was not primary among them.

Contemporary white nationalists are not the first Americans to have turned nostalgic views of the medieval period to racist purposes. It is, in fact, deeply ironic that the Klan’s ideas of medieval knighthood were used to harass immigrants who practiced the forms of Christianity most directly connected with the medieval church.  Institutions of scholarship must acknowledge their own participation in the creation of interpretations of the Middle Ages (and other periods) that served these narratives. Where we do find bigotry, intolerance, hate, and fear of “the other” in the past—and the Middle Ages certainly had their share—we must recognize it for what it is and read it in its context, rather than replicating it.

The medieval Christian culture of Europe is indeed a worthy object of study, in fact a necessary one. Medieval Studies must be broader than just Europe and just Christianity, however, because to limit our object of study in such a way gives an arbitrary and false picture of the past. We see a medieval world that was as varied as the modern one. It included horrific violence, some of it committed in the name of religion; it included feats of bravery, justice, harmony, and love, some of them also in the name of religion. It included movement of people, goods, and ideas over long distances and across geographical, linguistic, and religious boundaries. There is much to be learned from studying the period, whether we choose to focus on one community and text or on wider interactions. What we will not find is the origin of a pure and supreme white race.

Every generation of scholars creates its own interpretations of the past. Such interpretations must be judged by how well they explain the writings, art, and artifacts that have come down to us. As a field we are dedicated to scholarly inquiry. As the new semester approaches at many institutions, we invite those of you who have the opportunity to join us. Take a class or attend a public lecture on medieval history, literature, art, music. Learn about this vibrant and varied world, instead of simply being appalled by some racist caricature of it. See for yourself what lessons it holds for the modern world.

GMS Student Essay Prize Winner reports on her year since the 2016 GMS conference

2015 GMS student essay prize-winner, Laura Kalas Williams (Exeter) has reported on her progress since winning the GMS student essay prize, awarded to her at the Gender and Emotions conference at the University of Hull in January of 2016. Laura’s essay has since been published in the SMFS journal, Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal for Gender and Sexuality, and she successfully negotiated her viva in September of this year (for which, many congratulations to Laura!). She is now co-editing a collection of essays based on the successful 2016 conference with Daisy Black and Amy M. Morgan, entitled: Gender and Emotion in Medieval Culture: Uses, Representations, Audiences. In her report, appearing as a blog entry on Exeter University’s Centre for Medieval Studies blog (, Laura underlines the importance of the annual GMS conference for encouraging and supporting both PhD students and early career academics, as well as emphasising its collegiate inclusivity and welcome of diverse approaches to the Middle Ages. You can access Laura’s blog-post here.



Guardian follow-up headline article on academic harassment

On October 6th, the Guardian newspaper ran a follow-up headline article on academic harassment, this time linking its prevalence to the Savile scandal and those besetting the Catholic church in recent times. It certainly did not make for pleasant reading (

See also, the follow-up online contribution from the following day, ‘Accounts of sexual harassment in UK universities’ (, documenting the accounts of more than 100 women contacted by Guardian investigative journalists, Sally Weale and David Batty. It’s good to know that the Guardian is on to this in a big way and that the type of lobbying we have been trying to undertake on this pernicious issue in recently years may now begin to reach a far wider concerned public.

The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship is committed to combating such harassment and part of its initiative is accruing resources to help inform and assist anybody concerned with harassment in academic contexts. So, do please keep sending in information, reports and strategies for the Society to collate and add to its resources page.

Guardian Report on Academic Sexual Harassment

For those of us deeply concerned about the proliferation of sexual harassment and microagressions within academic contexts, it is gratifying to see the UK-base Guardian newspaper carrying a report of this as its headline article on Friday, August 26, 2016 (

Admittedly, it is a pity that the report was semi buried at the end of August and just before a national bank holiday, but what it has to say on this growing concern is most welcome. Also useful are the links included in the article, especially a link to the recently formed 1752 Group, a lobbying group convened by four former students of Goldsmiths University, London, to help combat sexual harassment within academia at all levels. The Group’s website also contains a very useful set of resources,  providing information and strategies about dealing with academic harassment.