This is part of an ongoing series of profiles of faculty members who have recently achieved tenure. These profiles are intended to provide illustrations of how some faculty reach that goal.
The attractions of teaching and research at UMKC were compelling enough that Virginia Blanton stepped off the tenure track at another institution in 2002 to take a position as an Assistant Professor of English in UMKC’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Blanton’s vocation – the study of medieval literature and manuscripts – is a labor of love. Therefore, many of the disciplined steps to promotion and tenure were, for her, a journey with familiar friends. Blanton mines the surviving manuscripts and writings of sanctified medieval women, a field that was once the sole province of church historians and religious scholars. Careful study of these writings yields clues to the politics, history, arts, cultures and gender roles of the period.
After coming to UMKC, Blanton laid out a research and publishing path, allowing five years to tenure and five years to promotion as full professor. Things not only went according to plan, but there were also many academic rewards as well. Because of positive exposure, Blanton’s scholarly reputation grew significantly.
Advised by her colleagues to develop a national or international reputation, Blanton authored a monograph published in 2007, “Signs of Devotion,” that earned her tenure. The book won two prizes, cementing her growing reputation as a medievalist. This led to further invitations to publish, which kept her motivated as she moved toward her promotion goal.
As evidence of the fulfillment and joy Blanton derives from teaching and research, she willingly sets aside hobbies and travel for study and inquiry.
“My great passion is helping people care about the past and find value in medieval texts,” Blanton said, “especially helping students develop as researchers and writers. As I have become more and more interested in book history and literacy, I have focused more on medieval manuscripts and the people who read them. Last spring, I taught a course on medieval women and literacy and was thrilled with the high quality projects the students developed. I have planned a course in medieval handwriting for this spring that will give students skills they need to conduct research in archives and special collections.”
Blanton has been integrally involved in the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, an international organization that she joined in graduate school. First as a member of the Advisory Board and later as the organization’s President, she had the opportunity to edit the society’s academic journal and mentor graduate students and junior faculty. Furthermore, this service introduced Blanton to bright, like-minded people. She kept abreast of the new ideas were being generated by young scholars and drew energy from the growth and discoveries in the field.
Blanton has also worked to make medieval studies an important area of research and teaching at UMKC. Last June, she had the chance to showcase the campus when she hosted an international medieval scholars’ conference. In addition, she curated a medieval and rare book exhibit at Miller Nichols Library that attracted visitors from throughout Kansas City. The books – from area monastic libraries – demonstrated the untold riches in our own backyard.
Blanton said, “The attendees loved our campus and our city. I believe the conference helped put UMKC on the international map for medieval studies and brought recognition to our campus and our students.”
Faculty in the Humanities are expected to produce work on their own, so one of the great joys as a full professor is Blanton’s freedom to take up collaborative projects. One in progress is a critical edition of a virtually unknown manuscript that illustrates the late-medieval reading practices of women.
“Collaborative work is so rewarding, and I hope that future tenure decisions might consider collaborative work as a positive contribution,” Blanton summarized. “Conducting research, brainstorming, and writing together, my colleagues and I are accomplishing far more than we could alone.”