New medieval book series could captivate public, scholars alike

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—For those who agree with Shakespeare that "What's past is prologue," Western Michigan University has a new book series that may become popular with the public as well as academics.

WMU's Medieval Institute Publications has launched Past Imperfect, a new series of short-form books that focus on the Middle Ages, are written in scholarly yet edgy and accessible language, and are garnering broad acclaim.

Multiple audiences

More than 40 volumes have been commissioned from scholars across North and South America, Europe and Australasia, says Dr. Simon Forde, director and editor-in-chief of Medieval Institute Publications.

"Short-form publications meet an increasing scholarly need to publish concise summaries of research—35,000 words and 100-plus printed pages—that are aimed at engaging more broadly with the public while also serving the needs of college curricula as well as undergraduate students, graduate students and scholars who want an introduction to specific topics," Forde says.

"Across the world, people remain fascinated by the Middle Ages, whether it's 'The Hobbit' or 'Game of Thrones.' It was the period of the Islamic Golden Age and when civilizations in India, China, across Africa and in Central America were often more advanced than the West. Past Imperfect offers an affordable overview of a full range of subjects spanning the time period, and proves that the era still retains a powerful resonance and impact throughout the world today."

Wide range of topics

Book covers: Medievalism: A Manifesto, The Scholastic Project, and Today's Medieval University.

The series' first three volumes were published in January 2017. They include:

  • "Medievalism: A Manifesto," by Dr. Richard Utz, chair and professor of literature, media and communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology, covers the history of the medieval studies discipline. Utz is a former English professor and department chair at WMU.
  • "The Scholastic Project," by Dr. Clare Monagle, senior lecturer in modern history, politics and international relations at Macquarie University, focuses on scholasticism.
  • "Today's Medieval University," by Dr. Jane Toswell, professor of English at Western University, Canada, is about the history and impact today of medieval university structures. 

Three more Past Imperfect books will soon be published on Alfred the Great; the Kingdom of Rus', which was a state in what is now the Ukraine; and medieval demons. Many of the series' future volumes focus on Islamic and Middle Eastern history, non-Western subjects and the social impact of medieval studies today, including a volume on medieval parallels to Twitter.

Engaging the public

Forde notes that Utz's "Medievalism: A Manifesto" already has been enthusiastically reviewed. The Public Medievalist in April indicates how this and other small volumes should have wide impact within and beyond the walls of academe.

"['Medievalism: A Manifesto'] offers an affordable, much-needed call-to-arms to those medievalists still on the fence about working for, among and with the public," the review wrote. "This book—especially its final chapter, which comprises the real 'manifesto' of the volume—should be required reading for every medieval studies Ph.D., and taped to the door of many a public history professor."

The Past Imperfect Series is published by Arc Humanities Press. Printed volumes can be purchased for $14.95, and e-books are available on Amazon worldwide. For more information about the series, contact Forde at simon.forde@wmich.edu or (269) 387-8755.

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