Over stimulated–that’s how I feel after attending the 47th international congress on medieval studies at Western Michigan University. For one thing, there’s the schedule: from the West Coast I need to depart early Wednesday morning in order to arrive in Kalamazoo in the early evening, register for parking on campus, pick up my conference materials, and check in to my hotel or B&B. On Thursday morning I rush over to campus before the sessions begin (at 10:00) to check out the book exhibit, a list of the new books I want in hand, hoping to be the first to claim the display copies (for a deep discount). Then on to the sessions, lunch with friends, two more sessions, dinner with friends, and I return to my room around 11:00 in the evening, in time to call my husband to chat for a few minutes before I hit the pillow. Friday and Saturday the schedules are the same, except that the early morning visit to the book exhibit is less frantic–now I’m browsing. Three days of this. Sunday I rise, pack, run to campus to ship my books, pick up the friend with whom I carpool to Detroit, and head home.
Such an intense three days, almost always in the company of friends, chatting about the sessions we’ve attended as well as catching up on the year’s news and our current projects.
The highlights for me this year were the two sessions in honor of Laura Hodges, whose books Chaucer and Costume and Chaucer and Clothing are staples in any Chaucer class, and have been invaluable to me in clothing my characters. In a paper for the second session I shared snippets of my correspondence with Laura–fashion is as much about a culture as it is about textiles, and her help has gone far beyond the technical. Also in the sessions, Alan Gaylord’s inspired reading revealed the sensuality of Chaucer’s descriptions, Mary Morse’s paper on birth girdles was fascinating–long rolls of parchment or paper inscribed with prayers and fashioned to look like a relic of the Virgin Mary’s girdle (belt)–were they wrapped around a woman during labor? and Lorraine Stock’s paper about Robin Hood’s clothing had us roaring with laughter–and you thought academic conferences were stuffy!
The sessions sponsored by the Society of the White Hart are always some of my favorites, focusing as they do on “my” period in English history, and this year was no exception. Highlights for me were a round table in honor of Mark Ormrod’s Edward III, Christopher Berard’s paper on Edward III and the Feast of St George 1358, and a revelatory paper by Chris Given-Wilson on Henry of Bolingbroke’s activities in France 1390-99. The latter validated my long-held opinion that Bolingbroke was plotting to overthrow Richard II long before he returned to England. Saturday morning I had planned to skip the sessions and catch up with an old friend, but she had to cancel, and though I regret not seeing her I’m grateful, because instead I attended a session that gave me much food for thought about royal marriages (and Alice Perrers): “Queenship, Reputation, and Gendered Power, Queenly Power and Infamy”. The papers were outstanding, but I was particularly excited about Christine Ekholst’s ongoing work with a Swedish colleague on royal marriages which they’re calling “heteronormative rulership,” looking at kings and queens as teams, the unwritten rules for queen consorts and kings, and how sexual misconduct was used as political propaganda. It gave me much to consider regarding the model marriage of King Edward III and Queen Philippa of Hainault, as well as his liaison with Alice Perrers, the exceedingly dysfunctional marriage of King Edward II and Queen Isabella, the marriage of Joan of Kent and Edward of Woodstock–though he died before he could succeed his father theirs was a royal marriage, and King Richard II and his two wives.
A session “Order and Disorder in Late Medieval English Towns” was most useful for my Owen Archer novels, particularly Samantha Sagui’s paper on the city watch in England and Christian Liddy’s on urban enclosure riots. In a session in honor of John Riddle, I was particularly taken by Wendy Turner’s paper “Mental Incompetency as a Foundation for Suit in Medieval English Land Disputes”–it was good to hear that the courts defended the disabled.
Another great conference. Can’t wait till next year.