Thursday, May 16, 2013

2013 Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo

Douglas Gallagher, Professor Richard Scott Nokes, Linda C. McCabe, Alexis E. Fajardo, Brandon Spars

I have a quick announcement before I give my report on the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies:

I will be doing a reading and book signing at the English Bookshop in Milano, Italy on Monday, June 17th at 6:30 pm. The address is 12 Via Mascheroni (the store opens on Via Ariosto!). Please help spread the word to anyone you know who lives in Northern Italy and might be interested in hearing me speak. Note: I do not speak Italian, so they would have to understand English. If they intend on coming, please let Peter Panton know in advance to help him determine how many chairs to set out and how many books to order. Another way to RSVP would be to send me an email or to join the event on my Facebook page.

 Okay, back to my report:

I recently returned from my first ever Medieval Congress held on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

To give you an idea of how large this gathering is, here are a few statistics:

There are approximately 3,000 medievalists from all over the world who attend this four day annual event.

This year's program had over 250 pages

There were over 500 sessions with roughly fifty running simultaneously
The deadline to submit proposals for next year's Congress is June 1, 2013

It is so large that it not a conference, it is a congress.  I do not know at what point the classification changes from conference to congress, but perhaps it is with the sheer number of sessions offered.

If you couldn't find something you wanted to attend, you didn't look hard enough.

I grew up in the state of Michigan, but it was only after I moved to California and started reading medievalist blogs that I  learned of this annual event.

It took a fair bit of advance planning over a year ago for me to be a participant in this year's congress. Thankfully, I found some like minded people who all happen to live in Sonoma County to agree to join me in a panel. We all had adapted the legends of Charlemagne in the hopes of introducing these tales to twenty-first century audiences. I also approached a regular attendee of these congresses and asked if he would be our organizer and preside over the session.

Thankfully, Professor Awesome agreed.
Schmoozing with Professor Richard Scott Nokes AKA Professor Awesome.

We were session #402 out of 582 sessions. I think we were lucky in our schedule because it was Saturday morning at 10 am. It could have been an evening session after the wine hour or we might have had an 08:30 am Sunday morning session when people are recovering from the popular Saturday night dance.

I helped Lex Fajardo staff a table in the exhibit hall. We took turns staffing the table during meal times and when one of us wanted to attend a session.

Lex Fajardo and me at the exhibit table

There were several sessions I attended that I want to highlight. The first was "Constructions of Women Warriors in Medieval Eurasia 2.0." In particular, there were two papers that seemed appropriate to my interest in the women warriors in Carolingian legends.

Suzanne Hagedorn of the College of William and Mary gave a paper titled "The Amazon as Temptress: Thalestris in the Alexander Romance Tradition." I had never heard of Queen Thalestris and the story of her approaching Alexander the Great asking to bear his child since she regarded him as being the epitome of male strength, valor and prowess.

It was an interesting paper and it that reminded me of a portion of Orlando furioso that I did not use in my novel.  Canto XX details the history of an Amazonian tribe that warrior Queen Marfisa came across during her travels. Men were scarce in this tribe and those who were allowed to live after venturing near their shores had to pass tests of surviving combat with ten men in a single day and then satisfying ten women later that night.

(While this passage is interesting and humorous, it did not further my plot of Bradamante and Ruggiero's love story and so it was cut by me.)

The second paper from that session that I would like to mention was delivered by Diane Wright of Grand Valley State University. It was titled "Early Iberian Models of the Female Warrior: History, Myth and Legend."

I look forward to corresponding with Diane in the future about those legends.

Schmoozing with Professor Diane Wright

Another session I attended was the French Cultural Traditions in Italy: The Era of Andrea da Barberino. I do not speak or read Italian, so I was unfamiliar with the source material mentioned in the various talks. However, I met scholars interested in the Matters of France and how they were disseminated into Italy and Italian literature. I anticipate having a good correspondance with those contacts.

On Friday I attended a panel regarding E-publishing and Medieval Studies. I wanted to show support for Professor Nokes as well as meet Peter and Sandra from the wildly popular blog fame.

Peter and Sandra from and Professor Nokes

Saturday was the day of our session and while I had been hoping for better attendance, those who came were enthusiastic about our topic.

I spoke about the challenges of adapting two epic poems into a novel suitable for 21st century audiences. This included correcting continuity errors with geography, culling extraneous subplots, and balancing the needs of drama vs. historical accuracy.

Lex Fajardo discussed his approach to blending the Beowulf story with heroes of other legends in a graphic novel form. In his Kid Beowulf series, Beowulf and Grendel are twelve year old twin brothers and his stories are "prequels" to the classic legends.

Lex showing images from the prologue of his first graphic novel Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath
Doug Gallagher discussed how he and his students adapted Orlando furioso into a stage production using Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon  as a soundtrack.

Doug showing a picture of the many visual elements of that incredible stage production.

Brandon Spars then talked about how he taught the Song of Roland to his class. It involved using a tin foil horn as a prop as he read the classic poem and then squirting ketchup on his face to simulate Roland's temples bursting. I am sure none of his students will forget that day's lesson.

Brandon Spars with "blood" on his face

After our session, I participated in a lunchtime roundtable discussion sponsored by Kalamazoo's local independent bookstore Kazoo Books. There were seven (or eight?) authors on the panel discussing writing historical fiction. Most of the authors were also professors, and I believe I was the only one whose genre extended into the fantasy realm. There was a good give and take between the presenters and the audience who asked some thoughtful questions. For the next two days I had people who recognized me from that talk and I was able to extend the conversation with them about our shared love of books.

Here are two other photos of people that I met who helped make this a special time for me.

Here I am with Medievalist blogger and grad student Jennifer Lynn Jordan

I had read Jennifer's Per Omni Saecula blog for many years and grew to appreciate her humor and love of all things medieval. It was even better meeting her in person. She's cool and I hope once her busy academic year is over that we can share a bad medieval movie mash up like she did once with Carl Pyrdum.

I had so many wonderful conversations with medievalists from all over the globe. I was thrilled to meet Italian and French medievalists so that I could talk about the legends of Charlemagne with them since it is a part of their shared heritage.

I also met a man who is descended from the Noble House of d'Este.

Yes, as I read his name badge, I asked James Estes if he was a descendant to the patrons of Boiardo and Ariosto. He admitted that he was.

This led to a spirited exchange with many laughs and this photo.

Schmoozing with James Estes, descendant of the patrons of Ariosto and Boiardo
How many times do I have the opportunity to geek out over the Noble House of d'Este?

More photos from the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies can be found on my novel's official Facebook page with this open link. (Meaning you don't have to be a member of Facebook to see this album.)

I plan on going back to the Medieval Congress again, but perhaps in 2015 to help spur on the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the original publication of Orlando furioso. Plus by that time, I should have my sequel published.

Please let me know your experiences with the Congress and any other pages with photos, remembrances, etc.

Thank you,



John said...

Thank you for sharing this! I bet there were hundreds of talks from which I would have learned a bunch, especially with respect to alchemy and chiasmus. Where is next year's gathering?

John, wishing I could have been there

Rob Loughran said...

Cool stuff, Linda!

Linda C. McCabe said...

It will once again be held at the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Going to K'zoo is a term used by medievalists to describe attending this huge annual gathering.

There was at least one session on Harry Potter this year. I think they've had sessions in prior years as well. The title of the session was" "The Medievalism of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Volumes" and was organized by Carol R. Dover of Georgetown. The three papers were: "The Heremitic Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling and the Ancient Occult Sciences" by Jon Porter, Butler University
"Monsters and Monstrous Races in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter" by Gloria Allaire, University of Kentucky
Teaching the Middle Ages through Harry Potter" by Teresa Rupp, Mount St. Mary's University

I met and chatted with Gloria Allaire at the Congress. If you are interested in getting in touch with her, let me know.

I can also get you in touch with the organizer for the exhibit hall if Zossima Press is interested in having a table there.

Linda C. McCabe said...

Thanks Rob!