The source of the mispresentation
I am compelled, for a second time this year, to write about academic misrepresentations which constitute defamation. This time the author is Dr Fran Allfrey. The misrepresentations appear in the same academic journal as the lies authored by Dr Helen Young: the Palgrave Macmillan (distributed by Springer) medieval studies journal postmedieval.
Dr Fran Allfrey’s article is titled ‘Ethnonationalism and medievalism: reading affective ‘Anglo-Saxonism’ today with the discovery of Sutton Hoo‘.
The article by Dr Allfrey concerns how the Sutton Hoo burial ground has been an enduring focus of Anglo-Saxonist discourse. Dr Allfrey outlines the broader challenge of terminologies and discourses on English origins before exploring newspaper articles discussing the Mound 1 ship-burial in 1939 before returning to reflect on 2019 media coverage using images relating to Sutton Hoo. The specific ofcus is on links between Sutton Hoo and the Old English poem Beowulf. I reserve judgement on the article and focus my attention on the misrepresentation of my published research which relates to only a small part of the article itself.
The misframing of my academic work
Dr Fran Allfrey inaccurately frames my writings as emotionally attached to ‘exclusionary ideologies of race and nation’ as opposed to ‘real’ and ‘true’ accounts of the early medieval period.
I fully refute these unfounded assertions.
Let me unpack her bogus claims point by point.
Citing and thus perpetuating defamation
Dr Fran Allfrey cites a defamatory blog-post by Dr Helen Young and Dr Kevin Caliendo from 2019 to imply I was involved in targeted ‘harassment via social media’ against ‘mostly precarious, BIPOC, and queer scholars…’.
Young and Caliendo’s blog-post and Dr Allfrey’s article present no evidence to support this narrative because there is none.
I have instead presented my own views on the use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ via my Archaeodeath blog. I discussed how the lobby to ‘retire’ the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ was being framed in 2019 with exaggerated rhetoric to target and bully other scholars. I argued for the need to carefully and critically retain the term in both scholarship and public-facing media in the absence of a proper discussion, the lack of convincing alternatives, and in order for the term not to become an exclusive space for racialised hate-speech.
Dr Fran Allfrey’s Gaslighting (1)
Dr Fran Allfrey then gaslights on two points. Firstly she claims that there was no initiative at all to remove or discontinue the term ‘Anglo-Saxon from academic writing’, despite a host of evidence and statements showing that this was exactly what a small group of medievalists have proposed since 2019.
For example, Dr Mary Rambaran-Olm on 4 November 2019 in the History Workshop states that ‘corrective measures’ were required to remove the use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’, asserting that the term is never neutral and always a ‘racist dog-whistle’.
Later, Dr Mary Rambaran-Olm and Dr Erik Wade state that ‘Anglo-Saxon has more connection to white hoods than boar-decorated helmets‘.
Dr Mary Rambaran-Olm’s own resources deploy the meme with the words: ‘let’s abandon an inaccurate and misleading term for a more accurate one’.
I refer readers to my blog-posts on the issue for an accurate account of what happened without giving oxygen to those who spread threats and abuse against those querying this simplistic rhetorical stance.
Dr Fran Allfrey’s Gaslighting (2)
Dr Fran Allfrey then claims that there were not attempts to ‘cancel’ scholars who wished to ‘persist in using the term’. Dr Allfrey is clearly unaware or unwilling to admit that a host of strategies have been at play to intimidate and pressure academics (including personally and repeatedly accusing me of ‘racism’, a ‘racist’ and being a ‘wyte supremacist’) in email discussion groups and on social media. These unethical and abusive behaviours have even extended to personal slurs and threats of violence, as well as threats of writing letters of complaint to scholars’ institutions and actual formal complaints being submitted.
Dr Fran Allfrey’s ignorance is inexcusable, especially since some academics have lost their employment, and others have suffered severe personal and professional issues, in part because of these orchestrated attacks.
Dr Fran Allfrey’s misrepresentations of my thoughts on ‘Anglo-Saxon’
Dr Allfrey then cites my 2015 blog-post regarding the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in which I outlined my cautious use of the term and that I more recently claimed ‘abandoning Anglo-Saxon would … concede intellectual and historical territory to extremists’.
Dr Allfrey implies that I have changed my stance, when I have not. I argue instead for the critical and cautious use of the term having long critiqued its past and current uses. Dr Allfrey is wrong to presents me in opposition to those ‘urging for more care’.
Put simply: I disagree with those who call for the term to be completely abandoned and I am critical of those who use it incautiously and uncritically. I am vehemently opposed to those who would use it to sustain and bolster ethno-nationalistic and racial discourses about the early medieval period.
Both the first and second groups risk increasing the likelihood of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon being used unchallenged by the third: i.e. the appropriation of the term by extremists to perpetuate narratives of proto-English origin myths.
Moreover, the terms proposed without discussion or consultation with other academics or the wider public claiming to avoid these situations, including ‘Insular Saxon’ and ‘early English’, are just as likely, if not more likely, to cause confusions and promulgate xenophobic and chauvinistic narratives regarding the early medieval past as ‘Anglo-Saxon’. The use of early English conflates past and present and encourages the perception of the Early Middle Ages as the origins of an indigeneity-following-migration myth for present-day ‘English’ people. For all its problems, ‘Anglo-Saxon’, as a spatio-temporal frame of reference, maintains a clear distinction between past and present.
I welcome debate on the careful and specific uses of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’.
Dr Fran Allfrey’s false claim I use ‘metaphors of warfare’
Unable to provide evidence to counter my plea for the critical and cautious use of ‘Anglo-Saxon’, Dr Fran Allfrey makes another baseless claim. Dr Allfrey states that my ‘plea to not ‘abandon’ the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ relies on ‘metaphors of warfare’. Dr Allfrey speculates that this ‘reveals how affective attachment underpins the discussion beyond objective argument for the term as a useful adjective’.
Dr Allfrey provides no citation in support of this sentence whatsoever. It is a total fabrication.
In my aforementioned blog-posts, and on social media, I tried my utmost to avoid rhetoric of conflict. The exception was the title of my Aeon piece where the commissioning editor proposed the title ‘The fight for Anglo-Saxon’. I dispute that this title can in any regard be accurately referred to as a ‘metaphor of warfare’.
I do not consider academic disagreements to be analogous to military conflicts and I refute the implication that I do.
As a result, there is no evidence to support the assertion that I have emotional attachment to the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and this is demonstrably clear in my academic writings.
A false narrative
Dr Allfrey’s published writings are presumably the result of a small group of scholars coming to an evidence-free and highly subjective evaluation of my views.
They have created a straw man to fit their narrative, rather than citing accurately and fairly my writings on the subject under consideration.
Notably, Dr Allfrey is unable to cite adequately any of my popular writings on the subject. Likewise, Dr Allfrey cites none of my academic publications on the history and theory of Anglo-Saxon archaeology.
For the record, Dr Fran Allfrey and I previously had some direct communications via email on areas of our mutual interest regarding the interpretation and public reception of the discovery of the Mound 1 Sutton Hoo ship-burial. These have been mutually advantageous and courteous. Dr Allfrey has generously shared her doctoral thesis with me and drafts of publications, and I have shared with her a draft of a forthcoming chapter I have composed about Sutton Hoo’s Mound 1 burial assemblage as ‘treasure’.
I harbour no personal grudge against her and I wish her well with her future career.
Misrepresentations are not scholarship
In summary, Dr Fran Allfrey has chosen to present a false narrative in a vain attempt to counter my responsible stance on the careful and critical use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in both academic scholarship and public engagement.
Dr Allfrey asserts that my views on ‘Anglo-Saxon’ are aligned with extremists, including nationalistic and racialised views of the Early Middle Ages, when in fact I oppose extremist appropriations of the term.
Dr Allfrey has published misrepresentations about me rather than evidence-based counter-arguments to my points.
Postmedieval: a dubious journal
Finally, the editors of postmedieval have demonstrated they lack adequate editorial oversight, and that their journal does not possess an adequate peer-review process. It seems that authors who are keen to publish misinformation are welcome to publish in postmedieval.