Anthologies These Days

the cover of the anthology Animal Vegetable Mineral Ethics and Objects
The other kind of anthology.

Because my last book came out right before the pandemic, I felt as if I’d chucked it into a void. In the years since, I’ve been a bit of a ingrate, wondering too much whether my stuff was being read. A medieval werewolf book comes out with no reference to me in it, I felt annoyed, that sort of thing.

The monkey’s paw curled. This last month I’ve been swarmed by requests to write for anthologies with names like the [Academic Press] [History or Cultural History or Handbook or etc] of [Topic]: The Middle Ages. I had just submitted a chapter for one of these when battalions of these requests barged in. I said yes to one and have otherwise been saying no.

I’m not always no’ing. I’ve published in a few of these already: a Palgrave Handbook; a Routledge Handbook; another Routledge Handbook.

These feel very different, though, from how academic anthologies once did. I’m not making any statistical claims here. Call what follows hunchametrics. Used to be, you’d get an anthology driven by the interests of the editors, an attempt to intervene into some field. Someone working on a monograph might put together an anthology to try their ideas out in a crowd. In my field, we got The Animal Studies Group’s 2006 Killing Animals; Barbara Hanawalt and Lisa Kiser’s 2008 Engaging with Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe; Peggy McCracken and E Jane Burns’s 2013 From Beasts to Souls: Gender and Embodiment in Medieval Europe (also Notre Dame); and so many others. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen has been an anthology machine: non exhaustively, Postcolonial Middle Ages; Prismatic Ecology; Veer Ecology. I recently had to read, for separate projects, Barbara Rosenwein’s 1998 Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages and the 2007 L’arbre anthropogène du Waqwaq, les femmes-fruits et les îles des femmes. Recherches sur un mythe à large diffusion dans le temps et l’espace of  Jean-Louis Bacqué-Grammont et al.

While I’m not saying that anthologies like these aren’t still appearing (thank you Brill! among others) there’s a new kind that feels, hunchametrically, top-down, driven by library subscription packages, to staking claims on the definitive treatment on well-trodden ground, without much of an eye towards making something new and idiosyncratic happen. It’s efficient. It’s reasonable. And I’m not sure I’m a fan.