Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART)


Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART), a journal of essays reflecting changes in the kinds of assistance that teachers need to enhance an understanding of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, began in February of 1974 as a collection of shared perceptions entitled Ralph—A Newspaper for Undergraduate Teaching: Medieval and Renaissance Humanities.

How Ralph Began . . .

Ralph, a conjunction of Dürer and frolic, was not an acronym but merely a name, bestowed at birth by an inspired but nameless designer. It didn't stand for anything but itself, and no one (including the editors) was able to think of an exact and accurate series of items for such a compound term. Ralph was simply an English name with a long-standing history and association with the earthy and the lively (cf. Ralph Roister-Doister whose roots lie in Roman comedy). The motif/figure for Ralph was a monkey, A. Dürer's pen drawing, "Der Affentanz," courtesy of the Kupferstichkabinett Basel (Inv. 1662.168), dated 1523. The Dürer monkey was a bit raffish and was meant to convey delight—the pleasures of good teaching with a touch of the satiric, for the monkey did mimic things human. Ralph, then, addressed itself to things medieval/Renaissance in the spirit of the fabliaux and the jest books. But the Dürer monkey was dead serious about quality, for Dürer was no less, and thus the monkey provided the motif. The title Ralph, however, did make some people feel uncomfortable, so the editors gladly offered to change the motif if popular opinion dictated. They gave subscribers a chance to vote on their subscription forms as to whether they liked it or preferred something else. "Do you like Ralph, too?" (Ralph, vol. I, No. 1, February 1974). Although the name changed, the monkey prevailed for sixteen years, until 1990.

Where and Why Ralph Began . . .

Ralph was initially published tri-quarterly (January, April, and October) and distributed by the Kent State University Press. The founders and editors included Miriam Burno, Allen Goldhamer, Joanne Kantrowitz, and Mary Keelan. The original design was by Thomas Auld, who also served as the Coordinator of Publications. Kent State University Press and its director, Paul H. Rohmann, provided advice on the practicalities of production, and Carla Becroft of the Kent State University Foundation provided on-going assistance (Ralph, Vol. I, No. 1, February 1974).

In the first issue, the editors offered reasons for publishing the newspaper and why it began as a newspaper. This group of individuals taught at schools small and large and experienced a sense of isolation. They were not only often ignorant of things going on in their fields at nearby colleges, but even in neighboring departments and sometimes even within their own departments. Learning of those events was not their only desire. They missed the enjoyment of talking over a response to a text, of sharing the exhilaration of successfully teaching a work, or in commiserating over an ill-chosen volume. It seemed that the pleasure of easy, informal conversation with colleagues was something that did not happen often enough and that the late-hour exchanges at annual meetings were dialogues they wished would happen more often, in order to gain new ideas and to learn what others in their profession thought about and what they were doing. They believed that a newspaper could not provide the easy give-and-take of conversation, but they thought it came the closest of the various printed media to offering a format that would let them all comfortably share information and ideas. In other words, they wanted to break through the formalities that accompany so much academic writing in order to say things they wanted and needed to learn. A comfortable format was their goal to helping disprove the common assertion that the humanities had "had it." Their own enthusiastic students showed them that there were ways of reaching them and that they very much wanted to be reached (Ralph, Vol. I, No. 1, February 1974).

The founders and editors proposed that, without becoming trivial, they could publish something in which all of them—and most importantly those who read Ralph—could share observations and information of a useful sort. Knowing that this couldn't be done without the readers, they not only sought their comments but requested their contributions. They also expressed their need for those readers who would be willing to serve as regional editors, and to help seek out and keep track of regional events and manuscripts. They requested that manuscripts be rather brief, that notes be incorporated in the body of the text, and that the MLA Style Manual be followed. They also encouraged their own colloquialism found in the introduction of the first issue as one they encouraged in the material sent for publication consideration. They promised a prompt and friendly reply. They also requested that readers drop them a note if they had suggestions or if they wanted to do a review of an article. They emphasized that a person's "degree of importance" had absolutely nothing to do with their rank or where they taught or even if they were teaching. They simply wanted to know what was on their readers' minds. They hoped for their readers' interest and promised to do their very best to sustain it (Ralph, Vol. I, No. 1, February 1974).

Even after Ralph became SMART, the informal but informative writing style of Founding Editor Joanne Kantrowitz remained the preferred style. In the beginning and for many years, Ralph focused on the following features: (1) essays on medieval and Renaissance pedagogy; (2) available resources, including medieval literature, media materials, films, plays, and recordings; (3) reviews of the above materials and lists of other reviews; (4) course syllabi; (5) a calendar of regional events including conferences, meetings, discussions, films, special courses, summer programs, and exhibitions; (6) bibliographies of readily available materials; (7) different ways of teaching a given subject or text; (8) suggestions for relating medieval and Renaissance matters to contemporary ones—the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the present; (9) students' responses to medieval and Renaissance materials; (10) reviews of anthologies by their users (both students and teachers); (11) reviews of contemporary historical novels and children's books; (12) media suppliers' needs and teachers' needs; (13) how to obtain microfilms, gain entrance to a library, etc.—forbidding necessities; (14) a continuing survey of medieval and Renaissance materials regularly read by students and teaches; (15) methods of introducing medieval and Renaissance materials into courses of other periods; and (16) queries and answers (Ralph, Vol. I, No. 1, February 1974).

The First Issue . . .

Ralph's first issue of four simple pages was the result of a year's planning and the help of many people. Although this publication was the editors' idea and production, the first issue could hardly exist without the help of two groups: CARA (Committee on Centers and Regional Associations of the Medieval Academy of America), which provided a grant of $1,000 to underwrite the first issue, and The Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University, which provided a forum for initial discussions in May 1972, good advice, and a mailing list. Personal thanks went to John Leyerle, Stanley Kahrl, John Sommerfeldt, and George Demetrakapolous, but many other individuals across the country provided much encouragement and help in its development (Ralph, Vol. I, No. 1, February 1974).

From the beginning, the matter of finances remained precarious. The first issue (Volume 1, Number 1), published in February 1974, was mailed to approximately 9,500 people who taught medieval/Renaissance courses in the United States and Canada. They became the base, but the hope was to serve a wider audience: public school teachers, librarians, museum people, and those intelligent amateurs who loved the field as much as the founders and editors. The hope was that if enough people subscribed the first year, then Ralph would be able to maintain the "conversation" that it had initiated. Foundations and the government were non-responsive. As expressed in the first issue, "Perhaps prayers to St. Jude are in order, but your subscription will help mightily" (Ralph, Vol. I, No. 1, February 1974).

Ralph's Transformation to SMART. . .

Following the general feeling that it was "time now to move on to new pastures and other helping hands," Ralph moved from Kent State University and began publication with the January 1977 issue (Volume 4, Number 1) at Central Missouri State University under the managing editorial direction of Robert Kindrick and Robert Graybill. The founding editors thanked subscribers for their letters, complaints, and praise during the initial three years, and agreed to having enjoyed every minute of it. They were pleased to assert that "Ralph lives! And he's striking out for a new territory. Cheers!" (Joanne Kantrowitz, Ralph, Vol. 3, No. 3, October 1976).

Then, with the Spring 1982 (Volume 9, Number 1) issue, Ralph became what its subheading always was—Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART). The name change more accurately reflected the aim of the publication and, as critics of the old title suggested, was more acceptable in the academic marketplace. It was not intended for the new acronym to be SMART (except unofficially), since that was almost as insouciant as Ralph. But the monkey—Dürer's "Der Affentanz"—was retained as the hallmark of the previously titled Ralph publication that had lasted for seven years, "perhaps through Biblical miracle." While irreverent and informal, as Dürer's "Affentanz" suggests, the name Ralph did not fully describe what the periodical newspaper did—communicate news and information about teaching medieval and Renaissance studies. Of the four founding editors, three—Miriam Dahl Burno, Allen Goldhamer, and Mary Keelan—remained on the editorial board, which also now included Robert Kindrick (Book Review Editor 1974-1977 and Co-editor 1977-81) and Robert Graybill (Midwest Correspondent 1974-77 and Co-editor 1977-81). Special editors included Robert Lovell, Medieval Editor; D. Jerry White, Renaissance Editor; Mary Richards, Regional Editor/Correspondent; Robert Alexander, Book Review Editor; and Robert Graybill, Chief Editor. (Ralph, Vol. 8, No. 3, October 1981).

At this same time, SMART ceased the newspaper format and became a thrice-yearly journal with a new size—8"x 11"—to allow room for ample illustrations and wide margins, thereby making it easier to reproduce, mail, and store on library shelves. The easily expandable format allowed for some issues to be longer than was before possible, accepting manuscript articles longer than the 1,000- to 2,000-word length of Ralph. SMART also began publishing the activities and findings of TEAMS, the CARA Committee on Teaching Medieval Studies, chaired by Bonnie Wheeler of Southern Methodist University. The old periodical with the new name (but the same monkey) now accepted articles up to about 3,500 words. However, as recorded in the last issue of Ralph, "we Poloniuses believe that brevity is the soul of wit and prefer shorter manuscripts. We are, however, versatile, and SMART is designed to respond to the needs and wishes of people in the everyday grind and glory of teaching. Articles, no matter how brief, will be welcome" (Ralph, Vol. 8, No. 3, October 1981).

The new journal also announced a new 159-page collection of essays on medieval pedagogy entitled Teaching the Middle Ages (TMA). This was the first of four volumes of selected papers presented at four different "Teaching the Middle Ages Conferences" in the Midwest from 1980 to 1990. Edited by Robert Graybill, John Hallwas, Judy Hample, Robert Kindrick, and Robert Lovell, each volume represented the individual voices of speakers on widely differing approaches to a variety of subjects, reflecting evidence of the interdisciplinary appeal of the pre-Renaissance culture of Europe (Ralph, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 1982).

SMART's Transformation to a New Look . . .

It wasn't until the Spring 1990 issue that SMART moved to Indiana State University and began as Volume 1, New Series, published twice a year and editorially managed by Judy Hample and co-edited by Harriet Hudson and John Derrick. Its content changed to focus primarily on pedagogical manuscripts and book reviews, and it assumed a new face, losing the monkey motif to a 6" by 9" bronze and white glossy cover format incorporating a capital from the Prefecture in Angers by Christos Theo, moved to saddle-stitched binding, and revised its content to reflect changes in the kinds of assistance that teachers need to reclaim the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Contemplating the happenings of an old year while looking forward to the new, this Janus-like journal looked back to its predecessor and continued the role of newsletter, while gazing forward to the prospect of publishing substantial essays, both scholarly and pedagogical, informative and practical, since the premise of the journal was, and still is, that excellent research and inspired teaching must be twin aspects of a revived medieval/Renaissance curriculum. The plan was that news of conferences and symposia would be announced, books and educational media reviewed, interviews among teachers conducted and transcribed. The journal also planned to solicit manuscripts for these ongoing features, especially from primary and secondary schools, which, traditionally, had been underrepresented.

The last issue of SMART to be published at Indiana State University was in the fall of 1993 (Volume 4, Issue 2). Following a short hiatus, it reappeared at The University of Montana in the spring of 1997 (Volume 5, Issue 1) under the editorial direction, once again, of Robert Kindrick, with the assistance of Kristie Bixby, Leah Reamer, and Betty Jo Miller. It continued there until the fall of 2000 (Volume 8, Issue 2) and then reappeared again in the spring of 2002 (Volume 9, Issue 1), following Robert Kindrick's move to Wichita State University. It currently resides at WSU and continues to be published twice a year, in the same format except for the change to a "perfect" binding, with generous assistance from the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Following the death of Robert Kindrick in 2004, Kristie A. Bixby now serves as Managing Editor; Robert Graybill, David Staines, and William F. Woods serve on the Editorial Board.