In the time since I last posted, I went to the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. It was my third time at the Congress, and it was as good an experience as I remember it being. Each time, I am delighted to meet new people and to learn a great many things from them. This time, I had the additional pleasure of presiding over a regular session as well as presenting on a panel organized by Helen Young, currently of the University of Sidney.
I am in one sense tempted to try to recount the series of events I experienced as I have them recorded in my private journals; although the conference is only a few days gone now, I long to once again feel the joy of it. But I know that poring over the memories for such a reason will do me no good. All it will do is remind me of the feeling at a time when I cannot experience it again, and that will serve to frustrate and sadden me.
It will sound odd to many, I know, to take such delight in a gathering of scholars as I have done at Kalamazoo this year, in 2011, and in 2010. Gathering to share information and understanding is important for scholars in all fields--professionals in all fields, really--but for that sharing to be overwhelmingly joyous is perhaps uncommon. Other conferences I have attended have not provoked the same reaction in me, although I have been glad of them and have benefited from them in no small measure. But I thrive on an intense closeness, as those who know me know, and many other conferences, which take place in busy cities with much to do, do not do so much to promote that intensity as does the International Congress on Medieval Studies. (Full disclosure: This last was pointed out to me through discussion of a Facebook post by a professor at the University of North Dakota whom I met in Kalamazoo.)
There are other things at work, as well. Prominent among them is the relative isolation of the medieval in many departments (certainly frequently in English departments). My experience and what I have heard from others is that the medievalists in departments not dedicated to medieval studies tend not to attract students to themselves. Something of a conscious rejection of the past as "stupid" and "boring" is at work in this, I think, and even among scholars in other areas, there is a...disfavor in which the medieval is held. For them, it is as though that which happened in Western Europe between the Fall of the Western Roman Empire and the beginning of directed Western European colonization of Africa and the New World* did not matter and should be ignored as irrelevant. Others, coming to the medieval (much as I did) through highly romanticized ideals inculcated in fantasy literature or fantasy gaming, encounter the "real" medieval** and are shocked away from it.
The International Congress on Medieval studies by its very nature brings together people interested in the medieval. As they are too often isolated on their campuses and in their broader lives (for many independent scholars appear and present at Kalamazoo, which is a good thing), when, as happens at Kalamazoo, they are immersed among people with similar love of the post-Classical pre-modern, they have the opportunity to hold forth and open up as is all too rare. I, at least, feel such, and it is in being able to simply be, to not have to restrain as much of myself as I usually do (for fear of boring and thereby alienating many of those with whom I should like to remain close), that I come to love my attendance at the conference so.
Or it is one reason among many; there is much to love of the place. And so I shall seek to go again.
*I am aware of how fraught these terms are in chronology and geography, in no small part because of some of the discussion conducted by Helen Young in her presentation at Kalamazoo. Suggestions for better means of discussion are welcome.
**How real a thing can be when our ideas are based upon the limited evidence available to us is an open question. Discussion of it is certainly welcome.