When people ask what I study, I used to say, “Medieval Studies.” This is a horrible answer, even though it’s the name of my department, because it’s like saying “I study studies. You know, the medieval kind.” And the person who asked would usually say in response, “Oh, is that like medieval history? I’ve always been fascinated by medieval history…” and I’d have to explain that I mostly study medieval literature, rather than straight history.
This is why now, when asked what I study, I say, “medieval literature.” This allows my interlocutor to confidently respond, “Ah, yes, medieval history. I’ve always been fascinated by medieval history” and to subsequently introduce me to their spouse and any other party guests who wander by as “the medieval historian I was just talking to.”
The term ‘medievalist’ eventually sinks in with most of the people who I talk to regularly, though with the majority of them even I’m pretty sure they mean ‘medieval historian’ when they say it.
But I do have a few good friends who seem to get what I’m all about. Two in particular sent me a belated Christmas gift in the mail last week. Consider this installment two in the “What to Get the Medieval Historian Who Has Everything” series:
I’ve been telling people for years, “I love the Black Death, but it is neither large enough for most household uses nor sufficiently plush.” Finally, they listened and made a giant plush plague bacterium. Available at www.GiantMicrobes.com and wherever fine goods are sold. I really like mine.