The Public Understanding of the Middle Ages Society (PUMAS) is an organization dedicated to the promotion of academic research, discussion and interest in the contemporary Public Understanding of the Middle Ages.
Our initial goals are the organization of sessions on this topic at the two major international conferences on medieval studies: the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo and the International Medieval Congress (IMC) in Leeds. More forward-looking goals are the instigation of conferences and the promotion of further publication on the topic (whether that be in existing journals or in the promotion of new collections, monographs and journals).
The PUMAS welcomes both academics interested in the public understanding of the Middle Ages as well as practitioners in the field (i.e. museum and public history specialists). We also welcome educators in Medieval Studies who are interested in how the public understanding of the Middle Ages is relevant to teaching medieval studies or the opportunities that research in this field may hold for and public policy.
We currently have three main academic strands of interest:
1) We are interested in the study of medievalism, meaning post-medieval cultural references to the Middle Ages, (or as defined by Leslie Workman, ‘the continuing process of creating the Middle Ages’). The entire spectrum of medievalisms are of interest to us, whether they are cultural (popular or high), or discursive (public, political or academic). We distinguish ourselves from other organizations by our focus on studying the effect that medievalisms may have on the public (or, perhaps more appropriately, in what way those who interact with instances of medievalism actively interpret and make meanings with them). Additionally we are interested in engaging with persons who create those instances of medievalism (i.e. filmmakers, authors, &c.) who have interest in how their work may have an impact in the public sphere.
2) We are also interested in studies of the public understanding of specific aspects of the Middle Ages (e.g. crusade, religion, warfare), as well as examinations of the public understanding of the past that are culturally based (i.e. defined by region, nation, age, class, gender, social class or other defining social feature). This strand lends itself to the use of sociological methodologies for the purpose of exploring the public understanding of the past, which we embrace.
3) Finally, we are interested in current practices in medieval public history and what implications they may have for education and public policy. Concurrently, we are interested the research of those who work in public historic institutions (the heritage industry, museums, historical sites) who have researched how their work impacts upon public understanding, or how the public’s understanding affects their work.
Many academics write or speak about the public understanding of the Middle Ages, either the understandings of their students or the public more generally. However very little has been done in the way of actual rigorous research on what the public actually understand about the Middle Ages today. We hold this question to be of crucial importance to medieval studies today; achieving a better understanding of this phenomenon will allow us to be better educators and to interact with the public in a more productive manner.
The Society for the Public Understanding of the Middle Ages was founded on May 16, 2010 at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo as a way of bringing together the strands of what currently stands as a fragmentary field. The study of the public understanding of the past is an inherently interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary adventure; as such, practitioners in this field come from a variety of different disciplines with a multiplicity of approaches and methodologies. This society seeks to bring together researchers in those disparate fields in order to further discourse and understanding in the field.