I returned to New York City from Kalamazoo, Michigan, yesterday. I was in Kalamazoo to attend and present a paper at the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies. As was the case last year, I found the conference illuminating, and I am quite glad for having gone, although I am certainly glad to be back home.
This year, I lodged in the dormitories at Western Michigan University, the site of the Congress. The convenience of living on site was quite nice. The lack of air conditioning was less so, particularly for the first couple of days of the conference. Temperatures in the high 80s and humidity higher than that, along with a lack of ventilation, made for stifling times. I have the impression, though, that there is method to the madness of that setup; the classrooms are air conditioned, so students are induced to get out of their rooms and use the school's facilities. It is a clever tactic.
The first day of the conference, Wednesday, boasted a couple of events that piqued my interest some time ago. The first was a particularly tasty buffet, which I had paid to attend. The menu included quite a selection of fine neo-medieval food; I ate heartily and enjoyed the company of a few of my professional colleagues.
Following dinner, I attended a performance of Spamalot. I am not normally a fan of musical productions, but I am quite fond of Monty Python, so it made sense for me to go. My attendance--an action also taken by a number of the conference attendees--set a pleasant tone for the conference.
The next day, Thursday, saw me attend several sessions after opening up the exhibit hall and spending a fair amount of money buying books as well as picking up catalogs from publishers and a few bits of information from other vendors. The panels I attended focused on the idea of the neo-medieval, which is the interpretation (and, not infrequently, misinterpretation) of the medieval in the current. Difficulties in the digital medieval were discussed at great length, as was the fact that the medievals themselves did the kinds of things that current neo-medievalists do; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was advanced as one example of the phenomenon at work. Also discussed was the use of the neo-medieval as a way to drive enrollment in medieval studies courses and thereby potentially protect them against administrators who see medieval coursework as expendable.
My own panel, the Rhetoric of Knighthood, followed. As it turns out, I was the seniormost member of my panel, both in terms of age and of status in the field; my two fellow panelists were both master's students, and the presider had only recently earned her MA. I found myself therefore in something of a mentoring position, which was unexpected but not unpleasant, and my presentation, "Knighthood Continued: The Endurance of the Chivalric in Early Stuart England" (which derives from a part of my dissertation), went over well.
Friday was a busy day. I attended most of the Spenser at Kalamazoo events, including two panels and a dinner. I bowed out of the afternoon session to take a nap; I had not gotten much sleep the previous two nights, and it told upon me. Even so, I was able to enjoy prolonged discussions with the Spenserians at the Congress, to whom I had been introduced last year by my dissertation director, who is among their number. I was also invited to attend the meeting of the International Sidney Society, where we had an open discussion of several coronas* written by Sidney and his associates; a fine time was had by all.
On Saturday, I attended a Sidney panel in the morning, finding it quite interesting. That afternoon, I attended a panel put on by the International Arthurian Society/ North American Branch, finding it informative and entertaining. Then came dinner with the Sidney folks, followed by a couple of social events that allowed Sunday to be a relatively dead day for me; the conference ended, and I went to see a movie in the afternoon.
As I noted, the experience was quite enjoyable. I made a number of professional contacts and was able to glean a fair bit of knowledge from outside my field of focus. Unlike last year, I was not able to directly parlay any of the material into my dissertation, but I think I ended up having a better time.
I look forward to next year.
*A corona in this sense is a cycle of poems in which the last line of one poem becomes the first line of the next. The last line of the last poem is the same as the first line of the first poem. The cycle therefore forms a sort of circle or crown, hence the name.