The Leeds International Medieval Congress (IMC) has just passed, and has been enjoyed by many PGR researchers in the Midlands. Here are a few reflections and comments from some of those who attended.
Alexandra Marchbank: The Historical is Political
‘This was my first year at the Leeds IMC and in less than a day I went from nervous first timer to extoling its virtues to almost everyone I met. There was an excellent breadth of papers, tea and coffee galore, stimulating conversation, and of course the famous (or infamous?) dance. One of the elements which I hadn’t quite expected was the extent to which a conference centred on people, places and events happening at least 500 years ago could be political. And not just in the sense that the people researching those events lead political lives, but in the sense that the historical space itself is a political arena.
I went to lots of sessions over the four days that I was at Leeds – too many, perhaps, to really take them all in, but two in particular stood out for me. Those were sessions 1035 and 1117 on Wednesday morning. The first included a paper by Victoria Cooper about her experiences as the author of a paper on identity politics in medieval-inspired video games which was subsequently adapted and published online. She talked about the bullying, harassment and threats that were directed at her for exploring the ways in which medieval imagery has been used and abused by far-right and nationalist groups to legitimise present attitudes. This has stuck with me, and had resonance in session 1117 with a paper by Caron Newman. Her research looks at the archaeology of the English/Scottish border, and I was particularly struck by the notion – again easily found online – that border raids between the two nations were incessant, and that there was little else happening in the ‘desolate landscape’, an idea which Caron argues still prevails and which she works to refute.
Sometimes I wonder about the relevance of medieval research and the impact that it has for individuals, communities and places that are occupied and politicised today. These two papers in particular helped me to realise that our work is important because our understandings of the places and spaces and people in the past are vital for informing our beliefs and values about those places, spaces and people today. So thank you, Leeds, for the late nights, the friendly delegates, and for reminding me that medieval research is a lot more political than I sometimes think.’
Hannah Ingram: Leeds IMC. Gender and Harassment in Academic Spaces: Round Table Discussion.
I attended the ‘Gender and Harassment in Academic Spaces’ round table on the Wednesday evening of the Leeds IMC, which had been organised jointly by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship and the Gender and Medieval Studies Group. It was a thoroughly thought-provoking session, but I did leave feeling both enlightened and extremely angry in equal measure.
Upon entering the conference room, I was disappointed, but also unsurprised, to see a majority female attendance. I could probably count the male academics present on one hand, a striking statistic, considering the session was packed and it was standing room only towards the back. The speaking panel was an eclectic mix of female medievalists, who all brought something interesting and important to the table.
The session focused on the need for an independent process to enable victims of sexual harassment within academia, both male and female, to report such misconduct. Indeed there have been increasing calls for conferences and institutions to facilitate the reporting process, rather than hiding behind liability disclaimers. After a demonstration by Dorothy Kim of how online feedback forms for reporting sexual harassment have been employed at recent international conferences, the floor was opened up for the attendees to air their own experiences.
This was the part of the session I found the hardest to listen to, particularly as some of the individuals present shared, quite frankly, shocking memories of how they have been treated because of their gender in the academic sphere. I will not go into too much detail here, out of respect for the women involved, but what was clear was just how far there is still to go. In fact complaints ranged from the lack of facilities for female academics with young children, right up to cases of ongoing sexual harassment. Some of this anecdotal evidence particularly revealed the underlying problems, such as the experience of one woman, who, having rebuffed an unwelcome advance from a male colleague at a conference, was told by him that ‘what happens at conferences stays at conferences’. Indeed the unspoken conclusion seemed to be that sexual discrimination, whether consciously or unconsciously, is still perpetuated in academia, with universities reluctant to recognise it, as doing so would mean acknowledging there is a problem.
A particularly pertinent point was raised towards the end of the session, which concerned the mentor-mentee relationship between senior and junior academics (or PhD students) which, as a central facet of accepted academic training, could unfortunately allow, or even encourage, sexual harassment or misconduct. Indeed it was agreed that this relationship, whilst hugely beneficial from a career perspective, could potentially shield would-be harassers.
The session closed with the understanding that meaningful changes could only realistically be achieved if academic institutions and universities take responsibility and actively address these issues. Otherwise sexual discrimination and harassment will continue to be swept under the proverbial rug.
Geogrie Fitzgibbon: Presenting to Cistercian Speacilists at the IMC
Though my fourth IMC (I started attending as a curious MA student and you can read about that here: buff.ly/2tsOSj7), this year was my first year presenting. My paper, on Cistercian engagement with the cult of saints in the twelfth century, was part of a three-session strand sponsored by the journal Cîteaux: Commentarii Cistercienses. The series included papers closely-focused on texts; Bernard of Clairvaux’s letters and Third Crusade sermons, as well as less well-known manuscripts such as Master Hildebrand’s Libellus de Contemplatione. Our panel was the last of the Cistercian series, and oriented around material culture. My co-panellists, Caroline den Hartog and Stephen Anthony Moorhouse, are archaeologists, and presented on the sites of St Servaes in Utrecht and Rievaulx Abbey’s grange at East Bolton, respectively.
While I have presented at a range of conferences, this was my first experience presenting in front of Cistercian specialists. In some ways it was lucky we were scheduled to speak on Wednesday, following the Cistercian scholars’ dinner the night before; it’s easier to speak to friendly faces! The paper was drawn from the second chapter of my thesis, and it was really helpful to have such engaging questions from the audience (apparently everyone can be interested in ancient body parts). I now have ideas to follow up that will improve the chapter, as well as a lead on a useful book, and the opportunity to present next year.
Overall I would thoroughly recommend presenting at the IMC. The range of papers and audiences makes for fascinating conversations. If you’re planning to contact a journal or research centre to join a strand, the deadline is looming! You can also submit a standalone abstract to the programme committee, or form a panel of your own. You can only present one paper per year at the IMC, but you can chair panels in addition, as I did for some friends on the Monday. Paper proposals are due by 31 August, sessions by 30 September, so get planning!
Alexandra Marchbank is a first year PhD student at the University of Nottingham and co-supervised at the University of Birmingham. She is funded by the Midlands 3 Cities Doctoral Training Partnership for her thesis entitled, ‘Testamentary Piety: The Evidence of the Norfolk and Kent Wills, c. 1400-1535″.
Hannah Ingram is a second year PhD student at the University of Nottingham. She is funded by the Midlands 3 Cities Doctoral Training Partnership for her thesis entitled, ” Archetypes and Individuals: Reconstructing the Users of the Westminster Staple Court.”
Geogrie Fitzgibbon is a third year PhD student at the University Birmingham. She is funded by the Midlands 3 Cities Doctoral Training Partnership for her thesis entitled, “Comparisons, Connections and Contexts: Cistercian Monasticism and the Cult of Saints’ Relics, c.1100-c.1250″.