Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kalamazoo 2010

The 2010 International Congress on Medieval Studies at WMU in Kalamazoo, MI has come and gone for another year. A friend, about whom more later, compared the Congress to Christmas: so much work to prepare, so much excited anticipation, so much fun, over so fast. How true!

Some months ago on FB we were asked about the usefulness of the Congress and I responded to the issue at length in what was intended as a Part One post: Looney Kalamazoo Part the First. There were several issues raised in comments and of course the original questions that Eve Salisbury asked that have yet to be answered. I intend to return to those issues at some point over the summer here. But for now, this reflection on this year's Congress will have to do.

My Congress experience was abbreviated this year. But honestly I was happy to be going at all. Many will recall that I was not in attendance at Congress in 2009. And sadly, though I agreed to be on an interesting panel discussion, I had to pull out of it. It was scheduled for a Thursday, and as a contingent employee, and a poor scholar, I can not afford to give up teaching days: if I don't hold class (like on a Thursday of Congress week), I don't get paid. Simple as that. So four hours of class time is a hit my wallet can not take, especially if I was going to go to Congress. Thus, I could not attend the traditional Wednesday night revelries, and missed all four sessions Thursday and any business meetings. Thus and so.

I took the first train out on Friday morning: all went smoothly and I arrived at the venue about 11:30. I booked a luncheon with two grand bloggers and men I'm pleased to call friend: The Great Nokes ofUnlocked Wordhoard and the too humble Curt Emanuel of Medieval History Geek. BTW, Curt is reporting in some detail on the papers he heard at the Congress, so always a good way to fill things in and get a wider perspective. Good job Curt. Anyway, lunch with these two and one of Scott's students, Eric, was so much fun and enjoyable that we all decided not to attend the 1:30 session but sat and talked instead.

I did make the 3:30 session 369 on Friday afternoon: Identity and Latinity in the British Isles. The session had a paper by two people whom I deeply respect and usually try if I can to attend their papers. The first was Leslie Lockett who read a bit more on retrograde verse in a paper titled: Anglo-Latin Verspielerei and Literary Elitism. I didn't take notes and at this remove I can not do justice to the paper; but essentially as I recall she talked about retrograde verse (where the poetic lines may be read forward and backward) and the elitism it signaled: especially in one Oswald of Ramsey, aka Oswald the Younger, in the eleventh century. I haven't studied this chap before, so his verses may make an entry in Medieval Literature I Didn't Know. But Lockett introduced us to his retrograde verses and his claim to be like Vergil by being able to compose them. It was quite interesting, as Leslie's papers almost always are. I look forward to her book.

The second paper was by Damian Fleming: Raca! Latin, English, Hebrew and Linguistic Identity in Aelfric and Byrhtnoth who talked about how the two Anglo-Saxon authors deal with this Hebrew word and its meaning as transmitted to them through Greek and Latin and they transmit it into Old English.

The third paper was by Carin Ruff who has been working on Alcuin's grammar. The paper was titled "Magisterial Personae and Anglo-Latin Exceptionalism". I won't say too much about this one since I believe it is going into Carin's book and I'll be reading it when it appears and reporting on it.

After the session and touching base with some good folk, including Bruce Gilchrist with whom I sat during the session, I headed on down to the olde book exhibit to encounter both friends and books (sometimes they are the same thing too!). I ran into fairly soon old friend and up and comer Jena Webb and Francesca Bezzone! Jena, I'm proud to say, I've watched grow up. She was 17 when I met her at my wedding to Erika, one of Erika's brides maids. She was a classics major at Marquette and she and her sister came down to Chicago to geek out with us on occasion. Then off she went to NUI in Galway and to make it short, is now completing her degree with a dissertation on the Old English Judith. This was her first hop across the pond for Congress. So, Jena went from shy teenager to friend, colleague, and collaborator. I suppose I take a sort of avuncular pride in her success though I really had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Jena brought along with her Francesca Bezzone from Italy and also a student at NUI. Frances is a delight and a well rounded scholar in her own right. She's currently working on the Vita Germani and did some impressive Latin two-stepping in her paper...but I'll get to that in a moment. I spent a good deal of time during Congress in their company and was utterly delighted.

I also ran into old friend Melodie Harris. We haven't seen each other in some years and it was grand to catch up. Mel has now finished her Phud; in fact, she was supposed to be walking and being hooded during the Congress weekend and opted to come see me, ok, maybe it was to read her paper and all that. Maybe.

Then it was off to the annual Anglo-Saxonists dinner with Bruce Gilchrist and Mel Harris (not an Anglo-Saxonist btw). We sat at table with Pat Conner, Stuart Lee, and others. I think a good time was had by all. It was a great pleasure to make Stuart's acquaintance and Pat is always a companionable dinner companion at these things. The dinner seemed more sparsely populated than in previous years: some posited the food, but I think it was the fact that no bus service was offered this year, making the trip more difficult. Fortunately, the fabulous Bruce drove to Kalamazoo, so he played taxi service. But Leslie Lockett was present, and I met in person Irina Dumitrescu at long last, ran into the incredibly gifted Kathryn Powell, chatted with Don Scragg, and briefly touched based with Tom Hall. All in all, a good time.

Then it was off to the BABEL Working Group's reception celebrating the launch of their journal postmedieval. They had been going for some hours by the time we three got there (Bruce, Mel, and I), but nonetheless there were many still about. I met Michael Moore, not that Michael Moore, but the other one. And I made the official acquaintance of the fabulous ADM! Got to talk to Lisa Carnell a little bit more than just a "hi" and a wave as often happens at the registration desk. I got caught up with the ITM crowd including the talented Mary Kate Hurley who is in the midst of her dissertation. And I even exchanged 2 or 3 words with Eileen Joy who was ever the hostess moving among the gathered making sure a good time was being had by all. And it was.

Then it was off to bed. Saturday morning dawned and brought me to the realization that I was sharing a bathroom with a young woman, or perhaps more than one. It didn't matter to me any: I'm old, married more than once....I don't know if it concerned them any. We stayed out of one another's way. So if those female colleagues happen to read this or you know them let me just extend my congratulations to them on the maturity and professionalism with which they handled the situation.

I then went off to breakfast and the book exhibit, consuming quantities of coffee. I like my coffee. I wandered around the books for a bit, caught up with Juleen Eichenberger former editor at MIP when I was there and with MIP friends. Then off to the session I was presiding over.

The Heroic Age sponsored a session. Yes, even we got into the game. We had three papers. The first, by the aforementioned Francesca Bezzone, titled "Small Reliquaries and Wooden Plates: The Language of Relics in the Vita Germani by Constantius of Lyon. Francesca examined the Latin vocab referring to relics and reliquaries. What I found most interesting, and was the majority of the paper, was the new use of capsa and capsula to refer to something around the saint's neck that seems to have been a relic in a container (leather bag? small box?) of some kind. Very interesting and very carefully done! I don't know of anyone working on the VG, so it is good to have someone doing so, and I'm hoping to nab her paper for HA's anniversary issue.

The second paper was by Michelle Ziegler and had pretty pictures. OOO, shiny. Ok, sorry, was just thinking of Family Guy with James Woods....oooo, piece of candy....anyway, Michelle's paper was titled "Saint Aethelthryth and the Virgin Mary through the Ages". Beginning with Bede, the associations of the Virgin and the saint are wide spread.

Last but not least in this session was Michel Aaij. Michel is the only person I know who works in part on studying the "medievalism" of early medieval saints' cults in modern Europe. And it can be fascinating stuff indeed. This paper took on three saints and introduced us to such goodies as childrens' books on Elizabeth of Hungary and an opera about St. Boniface (in which Boniface and Christianity are the bad guys and the pagans speak for the trees!) among many another very interesting item. A fascinating subfield.

After this great session, it was the Heroic Age
business lunch. We were all business. We even just had sandwiches from the Fetzer lobby we were so business. That's how dedicated we are. No luxuries for us; just all work.

Next came my session. It was number 465, organized by fabulous Mary K. Ramsey and Dana Oswald kept us moving along as presider. I'll say right now that I have a hard time really absorbing papers in my own session. I'm too nervous, even after all the papers I've done, about my own. This year too, I eschewed a paper copy and read off my notebook screen. I think it worked out well and may never read off paper again. Certainly saves a tree.

Richard Burley read "The Eloquent Devil in Translation" in which he looked at the devil's use of rhetoric in Old English texts. This I now know is part of a larger work Richard has already done and will continue to expand. I've asked him to work it up for HA, so keep an eye open for it.

Then there was me. I think I gave the abstract for this paper a while ago, titled Texts of Terror: essentially I argue that the Vita S. Eadmundi and the Old English Judith represent two diametrically opposed policies for reacting to the Vikings; in between the composition of the one and the preservation of the other lie 2 decades and Aelfric of Eynsham whose own approach to the Vikings changes over the course of his writing career.

Last, but far from least, was the aforementioned Jena D. Webb reading on Judith, "A Jewelled Warrior" A Study of the Physical Ornamentation in the Judith. Jena examined what I've often overlooked: there is actually quite a bit in the poem about Judith's adornment. She noticed something else too, but more of that anon.

No one threw fruit or other things, there were about 30 people in the room, and there was a pretty decent question and answer period. So all in all, I think it were a good session.

I went from there to the book hall again. I wanted to explore the possibility of getting some of the dissertation and some other projects in process into book form, so I missed some good sessions for that time slot. I didn't receive any definite news sadly so I'll be doing some writing of letters etc this summer.

I went to my first wine hour in years. I met many a good person, including Jonathan Jarrett of Tenth Century. Sadly the conversations were short, too short, and I would have liked to run into others I met there again and conversed more. Alas, it was not to be.

This brings us to Saturday evening. For dinner, I joined (aka invited myself) Jena Webb, Francesca Bezzone, Kim Laporte for dinner at Bell's. The company was fabulous, the good quite good, and the beer the best. One can ask for little more than that.

After dinner, I had quite a long and delightful conversation with a young Anglo-Saxonist who had been in my session and asked me a question, one Erica Leighton. After I left the poor woman to her own devices for dinner, I went to change out of the zoot suit and into something more comfie for the Sat evening festivities. Jena Webb and I hiked up to the St. Louis reception in Fetzer and spent a delightful time first talking to each other (shocking I know) and then with Michael Fletcher of MTSU and Lydia, and several other folks whose names I didn't hear because I'm getting old and deaf. But I see their faces and they were a great time.

From there, we went on over to the ol' dance party Medieval style. Many drinks, no dances, and a large number of conversations occurred. Too many to recount here. After the dance a group of us, including Bruce Gilchrist, Yvette Kisor, Jena Webb, Erica Leighton, Lynn Wolstadt, and some others were having conversations outside of Valley III. Erica took things in hand and ordered pizzas, so there was some early morning nosh. Good job Erica! But I have to say, I have great friends! Even if we do only see one another once a year.

Sunday morning dawned. I, as usual, overslept the first session, and so once again missed many a good paper. I spent the second session in the book exhibit picking up my purchases, proposal forms, and some sales talking to friends and saying goodbyes to Bruce, Jena, and others of the gang. Lunch was a lonely affair.

There are many I missed. There are many whom I only saw once and would have liked to see more. There are many I met and should have mentioned in the foregoing and haven't for no reason other than I'm a bit slow. There are good papers I would have liked to have heard and business meetings to have attended. But there it is. It was successful. It was fun. It stretched the ol' brain box as I learned new things. It spurned me on to achieve better papers, better research, and carry on the discipline. It made me want even more to teach this material to others. It made me glad I spent all this money, 30 years of my life, and all this effort to become a medievalist. See you next year.