Kalamazoo 2010: After-action Report

Posted: May 19, 2010 in Crusades, Uncategorized
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So, the 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies happened last week at Kalamazoo, Michigan.  I was there.  Fourth year now, and the best one so far; not in flat-out excitement, but definitely in the “satisfying” category.  I’m reminded, every year I go, why I enjoy the ’Zoo so much; it’s a blessed time of scholarly community, where you can forget for a while the pressures of the past academic year (and/or even, in my case, the grading I had yet to finish).  It’s good to see old friends, make new ones, and hang out with people who share the same interests as yourself.  And so, since I’m under the illusion that what I write is interesting (well, it is to me…), here’s a round-up of news from Kalamazoo, as I remember it.

Disclaimer: Anything seemingly snarky is meant as tongue-and-cheek humor, and shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than that!!

We arrived early Wednesday evening (“we” being myself, my stalwart companion Peter Sposato, and my brilliant youngest brother Matt, up from Chapel Hill to give a musicology paper).  Drinks, and dinner with friends, and then time to work on the paper, trying to make it as good as possible.  Just a tad freaked out at that moment.  And I made the mistake of buying that awful, disgusting frappuccino stuff from a convenience store, forgetting that it’s not real coffee.  Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Thursday: Hit the booksale, snagged a couple Ashgate titles (Deeds of James I of Aragon, and the 7th Crusade sourcebook), and a beautiful exhibit set on Frederick II from the David Brown Book Company.  And a couple of Boydell titles, too.  I showed great restraint on the first day of book-binging.  The chap who sells wax seals wasn’t there, which was very disappointing, as I’ve been making a point of buying a seal every time I go.  Eh, next time I’ll have to buy two, I guess.

Off to the sessions!  I first went to #6, the White Hart session on “Crown and Country in Late Medieval England.”  Great stuff.  Ilana Krug gave an excellent paper dealing with Edward I and complaints about purveyance; she’s a great scholar, and I enjoy reading and hearing her work.  Chris Given-Wilson has discovered evidence which suggests that Richard II slugged Arundel twice, not once…the kid had anger-management issues.  And Doug Biggs gave a fascinating paper about Cambridge’s abortive Spanish campaigns, arguing, successfully in my opinion, that he wasn’t the incompetent klutz that his brother John of Gaunt subsequently pegged him.  Good session.  I really wanted to hear my friend Dana Cushing’s crusades panel, but the dissertation-related one won out…I heard it was a good panel, though.

I ran into the same problem with the 1:30 session, but my logic was forced to run in a reverse order, as I attended #58, Chivalry and the Effects of War, rather than the White Hart’s #64, Warfare and Violence in the Middle Stages of the Hundred Years War… Missed David Green’s doubtless excellent paper, to mention one of the three.  I went to the other one because it was also loaded with great papers, and it was a Rochester panel, moderated by my close friend Craig Nakashian.  My friends and colleagues were presenting, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Peter gave a great paper on Elizabethan chivalry, Paul Dingman gave a fascinating paper looking at how chivalric tales dealt with grief, and Craig Taylor, from York, gave an overview of one chapter from his nearly-finished book on chivalry.  Great stuff, all around.  And I’m very sympathetic with Craig’s exploration of just how theoretical talk and material reality intersects in chivalry—not surprising, I guess, as we’ve shared a common mentor in Richard Kaeuper.

I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I skipped the 3:30 sessions entirely, as I wanted to keep revising the paper.  Still a bit freaked out…But I did run into Jeffrey Lyon, of Chicago, who is a class-A chap, and one of the few Staufen scholars in the states.  Good to catch up.  I would have gone the White Hart one, #119, with papers by Cynthia Neville, Peter Fleming, and Philip Morgan.  Arrrgh…And that would have meant missing the crusades panel, #133, with my friend Dana’s paper, as well as Paul Chevedden’s presentation (and he’s always worth hearing, I find).  But…that didn’t happen.

So, skip the wine hour and receptions following, and off to my session, #175, with Doctors Bernard Bachrach and David Bachrach.  Focus, precision, and calm.  Apparently I projected an enormous amount of confidence…and the PowerPoint worked too, so that helped.  Dr. Bernard Bachrach gave an assessment on the “Angevin Way of War,” which, as one might expect from Bernie’s works, consisted of avoiding battle and concentrating on sieges and fortress strategy.  Certainly makes sense, though not necessarily a popular interpretation.  David’s and my papers went together quite well; he addressed the bureaucratic professionalization of Edward I’s logistical organization, and I was stressing the relative inefficiency of royal recruitment in East Anglia during Edward III’s reign.  Lots of useful parallels, contrasts, and lines of analysis.  So, everyone apparently thought it went well, and I was all set to sit back and enjoy the rest of the conference…Began with York and Durham’s excellent reception, two doors down, heh heh.

Friday: Then began the frustrating phenomenon of “there’s one paper in each of three sessions that I want to hear.”  Started with #215, hearing my friend Anne Romine’s excellent paper connecting the popular standing of the knightly class to whether England was winning or losing at a given moment.  Worthy stuff.  Apparently the other papers were good too, and a lively discussion followed, as Peter tells me.  I ducked out after Anne’s paper, though, and heard some interesting papers in the crusades session (#208) downstairs in Fetzer Hall.  Caught the tail-end of a long presentation on iqtac and feudalism, then a rapidly delivered but very interesting argument that Zengi wasn’t as great a threat as he’s commonly portrayed, then a great paper by Brett Whalen of Chapel Hill on 13th-century papal letters to Muslim rulers.  Excellent as always, and I hadn’t seen him since the Global Encounters conference in Carolina in 2008.

Hit the De Re Militari business meeting.  Then off to my brother’s panel, #289.  My first (and, no offense meant) probably my last musicology panel…Matt’s paper was history-oriented, but while it was interesting to hear papers from a musicologist’s perspective, it was a bit over my head.  All three papers were excellent, of course, and Jan’s chant database (www.globalchant.org) looks fascinating.  Matt did fine; as I told Peter afterwards, this is why Matt’s the smartest of the Franke brothers.  Dr. Peggy Brown has been encouraging him to develop and publish his material, and with endorsements like that, how can you say no?

Then went to #336, another crusades session, and heard some interesting conceptual papers on the origins (or “pre-history”) of the crusades.  One about the Paterines, and their presumed influence on Gregory VII…Closest thing to revival preaching I’ve seen in a long time.  But, a good paper, notwithstanding the quirky delivery.  And an interesting paper asking the question, why did people start thinking that the centuries-old “wrong” of the Muslim occupation of the Holy Land should be righted?  That seems to fall outside the normal lines of theories of justice.  Interesting.

I was feeling pretty beat by 5, and wound up skipping a bunch of events…Saved my energy for the receptions.  I almost went to the Higgins Armory sword demonstration, but decided not to.  Last year the room was a large hall with high ceilings; this year, the ceilings were so low that it didn’t look like they’d have enough room to execute some strikes.  And it was smaller—these events get really crowded, and didn’t feel up for it.  Besides, I’ve been to Chivalry Weekend a couple times, have had the pleasure of Greg Mele’s instruction, and figured I knew most of what was going to be covered.  It was refreshing to see the event billed as “But One True Art of the Sword,” as I’ve gotten somewhat weary of the artificial hermetization imposed on German and Italian sword techniques.  Dropped in on my friends’ medieval gaming workshop, run by Annie Heckel, from our English Department.  Didn’t stay too long, but it looked to be a great success.  It was fun to see Mount and Blade get some attention—one of my favorite games, to date.

Ah, the receptions…Brill, Ashgate, and UPenn.  The last two throw a good reception—Penn actually had three or four kegs, which all floated, go figure.  Brill, to my surprise, skimped on the liquor; Bud from a can, and Molson.  Nothing wrong with Molson, mind you, but when Ashgate has hand-crafted lagers and ales, that’s obviously the place to be.  Wound up hanging out with Cliff Rogers and David Bachrach for a good while, discussing all manner of English military stuff, then passed the time with the Cornell folks.  Excellent times.

Saturday: Great day for sessions.  #393, with Kelly DeVries, Cliff Rogers, and Mark Geldof discussing armor, longbows, and swords respectively.  I loved Mark’s presentation, as the kata-like list of practice drills he was discussing so nicely illustrates that bridge between techniques and how to practice them which is always missing from the continental manuscripts (as he rightly noted).  Kelly’s talk was fascinating, as always, and you really can see the changes in armor over time.  Italy’s such a rich storehouse for this kind of evidence, too, and by his own account he’s barely scratched the surface of what’s there by way of military representations.  As for the longbow…I have to admit that the weight of iconographic evidence for the longbow’s development in the 14th century is certainly in Cliff’s favor.  I still have some issues with the military chronology which such a development assumes, but it may well be that longbow in general was a 14th-century development.  I don’t know.  But, it will certainly come in handy for that book review I owe Steve Walton, and which I’ll be completing directly!

I honestly can’t remember what I did during the 1:30 sessions…I was tempted by #445 (reenactment and interpretation) and #454 (manorial records) but I didn’t go to either of them…Oh, that’s right.  My friend Craig was taking off that afternoon, and I joined him and other folk for an elongated lunch.  Well worth it, as I don’t get to see him very often these days.  Then to De Re Militari’s annual lecture, #495, delivered with great aplomb by Steve Muhlberger.  He dealt with the workings of the retinue, chivalric communities, and the gaining of honor in the later Middle Ages, drawing on his exhaustive knowledge of texts and individuals.  Very good stuff.  Then Peter and I went off to a fine dinner with two distinguished scholars and fine folk, Jeff Hass and Paul Crawford.  And then back to the St. Louis reception, and then off to THE DANCE.  Yeah…

Sunday: Painful, to say the least.  But I made it to the 8:30 session, darn it.  Session #537 and then  #576.  Heard a great paper by Rob Howell on Anglo-Saxon Cheshire, and its military defense.  Hear a good paper on aspects of the Castiglione, and partially heard Don Kagay’s  paper on frontier warfare (I got there a few minutes late, and waited outside…).  And thus it ended.  The drive back was brutal…I made it to Ohio, and then Peter took over driving from there.  Really lousy music stations in Ohio, not helped by the fact that he was flipping channels every 10 seconds or so.  I woke up around Cleveland; Matt and Peter are very longsuffering individuals.  Let’s just leave it at that.

General comments: Bought fewer books this year, and spent somewhat less money on them…sort of.  Spent more on food.  I’m still a fan of the breakfast service—I don’t care what other folk say, it’s good old-fashioned college grub, and before you complain about it I suggest you try the Leeds Congress breakfast fare.  That’s right.  Zip it.  We eat like kings at Kalamazoo.

One thing I did notice this year, something which affected all organizations it seemed, was no-shows.  Now, most of them were explainable, and due to the volcano, and some kind of air traffic snarl in Chicago.  But there were still a few too many times that I saw or heard about sessions where a presenter randomly didn’t show up, and no one knew where he/she was.  Again, seemed to affect everybody, not any one organization.

Other notes…

–Cornell people are AWESOME, and great fun.  Should have been hanging out with them a long time ago.  In general, I got a greater sense of personal and professional collegiality all around this year, as opposed to previous years.

–Attended to a lot of professional business and projects as well, so professional connections are starting to have more meaning now, rather than simply as formalities…Finishing the dissertation in the coming year might have something to do with that.  But personally, this conference was simply relaxed and “chill.”

–The Dance was a lot of fun.  I don’t think I’ve had such a good time at that shindig in previous years.  Lot of repeat tunes from last year, including Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (great song).  There were some gems, such as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” (love that song), and, well…someone’s going to mention it, so I might as well…Sir Mixalot.  Just search it on Youtube, that’s all I can say.  And, traumatizing as it often is for newcomers to see renowned, serious scholars on the dance floor, I have to say that as a communal ritual The Dance has much to recommend it.  And I’m long past the traumatized stage, by the way.  The Dance is a well-deserved reward for being mentally and intellectually alert for the better part of three very full days.  Enjoy yourselves!

Pax vobiscum, till next year…

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