Leeds report 4 and final (Thursday 16th July 2009)

The last day of the International Medieval Congress at Leeds is a half-day, unless you’re on one of the excursions. I never do these because of being conscious that I could visit the Royal Armouries or Conisborough Castle any time I liked, and more specifically when it didn’t clash with conference papers, and yet of course left to myself I never do. Anyway. It was the last day, there were only two sessions, and I went to one each.

The first of these was perhaps a mistake. I always regret that there isn’t more archæology presented at Leeds, but often when I go and seek it I find that the papers aren’t very good. I have yet to work out whether this is just because I am a historian and see merit in papers differently from archæologists, or because I am trained to expect quite a lot of analytical rigour and don’t always get it from archæology as presented, in easy-to-consume chunks, for historians. Anyway, my first venture was this:

1522. Hagiography and Archaeology: contrasts and convergences (4th-11th centuries)

  • Sébastien Bully, “Entre vitae et archéologie : le case des tombes saintes des abbés Lupicin (Ve siècles et Valbert (VIIe)”
  • The main lesson from this one is that if you have too much material, even switching unannounced back out of English (which annoyed two Scandinavians in the audience who were there expressly because it was French archæology in English—one’s audience in Leeds is not all English and US no matter how much the comments make it seem so, and a lot of people are already listening in their second language) will not prevent you over-running. I got far less of this than I should have because it’s a long time since I’ve had to listen to scholarly French and scholarly French delivered nervously at high speed is not the best way back in. I think the guy had a really interesting site in which one cult more or less appropriated the space used by another older one, but I’m not sure about this or about anything I wrote down. My poor language skills mostly to blame, but also his lack of preparation.

  • Michèle Gaillard, “The Tomb of the Martyr Quentinus from the 4th to the 10th Century: hagiographic evidence and recent archaeological investigations”
  • A particular Picardy site where archæological digging has substantiated two different Merovingian saints’ lives by finding the saints’ burials, though the modern church is basically as restored after the Great War and therefore full of its own complications of periodization; a real link between past memory and living memory here.

  • Pascale Chevalier, “The Tomb and the Miracles of the Cluniac Abbos Maieul and Odilo in Souvigny in the 11th Century: a confrontation of texts and material evidence”
  • Basically the exploration of a particular possession of Cluny which came to hold the bodies of two of Cluny’s most famous abbots, and the points where their lives and histories tie up with the actual archæogical evidence for cult, which the monks of Souvigny progressively separated from the general public with screens and translations out of the public area of their church where the cults were first established. Lots for someone to draw out of this.

The Cluniac abbey of Souvigny, west front

The Cluniac abbey of Souvigny, west front

Then coffee then the last session of the conference, It was good to see a decent showing for this, in fact, especially given that two of the speakers were relatively unknown locally, but the first one may have helped make up the difference, or it may just have been the interest of the theme:

1629. Methods of Christianization

  • Julia Barrow, “How Coifi Pierced Christ’s Side: another look at Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, II, 13
  • Occasionally Dr Barrow brings a voice of authority to comments here and now she was doing the same to the famous episode in Bede’s History where King Edwin’s court converts, arguing that it hadn’t been seen allegorically enough and that the whole thing is a Biblical reference to John spiced with symbolism. I asked stupid questions showing that I don’t know either text well enough but it was really interesting, and while distancing us inevitably from the actual conversion brought us that bit closer to Bede, which rarely seems like a bad thing.

  • Cullen Chandler, “Orthodoxy in Doctrine and Practice in the Carolingian Spanish March”
  • Cullen is of course my principal rival in print, and so far he’s winning. This is the first time I’ve actually seen him present, and of course I had quarrels with it but it was an interesting attempt to show how the Carolingians, here as with many other places, brought an ideological conquest as well as a political one, and how here also as elsewhere the former wound up taking a deeper root than the latter. I felt that the biggest thing missing here was an awareness of the parallel battlefront between Adoptionism and Carolingian-style orthodoxy being waged in Asturias, which fed into the Carolingian one at both ends—Alcuin responds to Beatus of Liébana as well as Felix of Urgell and the Asturian kings and clergy seem to have used the new orthodoxy as part of their legitimation process.1 But as Cullen said, in twenty minutes you can only cover so much, one can be excused for not suddenly moving two hundred miles east for five minutes only to conclude that more work needs to be done.

  • Asya Bereznyak, “From Paganism to Heresy: the conversion of Bulgaria as an example of Byzantine Christianization Methods”
  • I can’t help feeling that this is the paper the session was originally built round: it was certainly the one that most closely addressed the session title. The principal focus was a study of what themes most interested Bulgar converts—principally the Apocrypha it seems—but also by way of passing pointing out that Christianity in Bulgar territories seems to have predated the Byzantine missions to an extent, and so we don’t really know what kind of background those missionaries were pushing against. This fits quite nicely with work of other sorts I’ve mentioned here before and when my most relevant colleague gets back from digging bits of the relevant area up I’ll have to pass this on…

And so it was over. Lunch with Cullen, at which we both agreed to vilify each other in print like Vroomfondel and Majikthise so as to keep each other on the gravy train for life, was followed by a very kind lift back home by one of the many Cambridge ASNaCs with whom I seem to have friends in common by other routes, which, as my bicycle managed to find a nice piece of glass to skewer its tyre with even as I rode up to the car, was much appreciated, and then a scant few hours of gossip and philosophy later, I was at home considering what I’d achieved.

I think chief among achievements was having fun, to be honest. I haven’t always managed this and even at this one I felt quite glum about my place in the whole history business, or indeed life more widely at times, but there were people around who helped me feel better. After this long chasing the impossible some of the people in the same pursuit are genuine friends, and several of them were there. I won’t embarrass them by naming them as such, also but I owe specifically academic thanks to Julio Escalona, Wendy Davies (as ever), Alex Woolf and Teresa Earenfight, and it was good to meet Jeffrey Cohen, Eileen Joy and Mary Kate Hurley of In the Medieval Middle, Stuart Airlie, Cullen Chandler (know thine enemy! :-) ), Anine Madvig Struer, and a bunch of other people too who deserve better than to be anonymised like this, sorry. And of course especial thanks to those who either spoke in or moderated my sessions and thus saved me all the nerves that could be saved. And I managed a publisher’s meeting, two (I think) invitations to submit to a journal, a lot of well-chosen but ill-timed book purchasing and only a sensible amount of drinking, and recognised the references of most if not all of Guy Halsall’s t-shirts, which probably means that I get onto some special hitlist or something. I’m not sure I did so much of meeting people as introducing people I knew to other people I knew (someone complimented me on my memory for the catalogue of research interests I seemed to be carrying round in my head, which only goes to show that not all of these people knew me very well) and that’s also good.

All the same. I’ve kind of done this now. I’ve run sessions, I’ve given papers, I’ve networked, and ultimately though it is important to be seen, it is still not winning me the game. And, despite widespread advice that it is vital to do, it may not really be the best use of my time. I think I need to be working on stuff for print almost to the exclusion of everything else. A friend of mine brought this home by being much less well-known than I am, but still getting an interview while we were there for a job that I didn’t; the main difference between us in their favour is recent publication and I can only assume that’s what swung it. People are asking me if I’m running sessions again next year and I don’t know. I don’t myself have anything I can think of to present for it, because my sessions are not on my core research topic; I wouldn’t mind doing a paper that was, but it would have to be for someone else’s session. I don’t have enough speakers to make much of a showing of Problems and Possibilities for next year. People higher up structures than me across the pond are now wondering whether they really need to do Kalamazoo; I think I may have squeezed all the immediate use out of Leeds. Ironically, I am likely to be doing Kalamazoo for the first time just as they all quit. But in this game, or the European instance of it at least, it really isn’t teaching experience as long as you have some, or outreach or activity at conferences though again it’s wise to have those items on the CV somewhere. From where I am nothing counts so much as print. Now, by next year—though how many years have I been saying this?—my print presence will be much advanced, by hopefully three papers and a book. And it would be nice to rock up and see my book on sale, I’ll admit. But, the work that needs to be done now to attend then is probably not the best use of my time. I must communicate with other people about this, and we’ll see.

Bit too much like catharsis there again, sorry. But when it clearly isn’t working one starts looking for things to change. It’s a pity though, because it seems to me that this sort of exercise is what research and international collaboration should be about, but as with many of the things we actually want to do in our jobs, or the jobs we want for those of us that don’t have it yet, it’s not something that the system rewards.


1. I have in fact just been reading something about this that I should have read ages ago, Julio Escalona, “Family Memories: inventing Alfonso I of Asturias” in Isabel Alfonso, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: Political Discourses and Forms of Legitimation in Medieval Societies, The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1500, 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 223-262, and now I know that there is much more for me to know about this subject even though there is so little evidence and that my “Neo-Goths, Mozarabs and Kings” still has a long way to go before it’s ready to submit, alas.

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24 responses to “Leeds report 4 and final (Thursday 16th July 2009)

  1. “I haven’t always managed this and even at this one I felt quite glum about my place in the whole history business, or indeed life more widely at times, but there were people around who helped me feel better.”

    It’s quite possible to feel this way when you are ‘winning the game.’ So have that fun.

    • Oh, I know, I’ve managed it at earlier stages in my success :-/ but thankyou for the encouragement. I’m less bothered than I used to be about having fun where academics can see me, too; I figure by now it’s by my works they’ll know me, not my deportment. That helps.

  2. Thanks for blogging Leeds. And thanks for hanging out at Stables with us as well. As to Kzoo … Well, the reasons I’m not going are personal rather than professional. I love that conference and will miss it, but it’s only one year off.

    • I shall have to come again after this coming one then… But I shall hope to catch up with you guys at some point anyway, and the pleasure of hanging out was at least as much mine I assure you.

  3. Cullen Chandler

    Nice blog. I saw the one on _The Heroic Age_ too. Usually, I don’t keep up with blogs, for no good reason, but I think I’ll monitor this one. Know your enemy, indeed!

    Good luck with getting out those papers and the book. I have to beat you to the book, though, and I hope I can finish mine in the next 12 months or so.

    If you’re going to Kalamazoo next May, look me up. I’ll be there with some Carolingian Studies folks. See you there!

    • They tell me my book will be out in February, but this seems a little unlikely given that there’s still one set of revisions to jump through before proofs. All the same you may need to move fast. The articles, though, who knows? Who can ever tell with these things? I believe one in December, one next July, one some time in 2010, one Real Soon Now. It’s disheartening. But I dishearten easily, and with that little lot out I hope heartenment will be easier. Here, have you got any offprints of your most recent article spare? :-)

      • Cullen Chandler

        The only thing close to an offprint I can offer you is a photocopy. You may be better off trying to obtain it via interlibrary loan or some such device.

        I must concede the point to you on the book. Yours will certainly appear before mine. When I realized I wouldn’t have the book finished by the time I was reviewed for tenure, I started to concentrate more on articles… which for some reason draws me away from the Spanish March a bit. Once I finish revising my current paper, I’ll be back at finishing the book. At least I’ll get the second word, after you book has appeared!

        • Indeed, I shall be at my most vulnerable then! As to the article, I guess I can just try the old-fashioned ‘read it in a library’ approach—since I last checked Cambridge UL’ve actually admitted to receiving this year’s issue but I was hoping to have a handy reference copy. Still: photocopiers there too…

  4. I will be at Kzoo next year too. I might even manage to meet up with you before the eleventh hour this time! :)

  5. Gents, gents, gents….how’s things?

    Jonathan, thanks for blogging the conference. I’ve only made it once to Leeds, but loved it, and wish I could go back. Sadly, the hop across the pond is prohibitive for an adjunct’s salary.

    I do know what you mean about conferences. When I started the journey to PhDom and a hoped for career in academia, I networked, I went to conferences, read papers, did sessions, have publications, a book deal, bucket loads of teaching, service to field and dept, and yet I have yet to feel the magic touch awarding a position. I have no answers, but for me at least, attending the conferences is a positive experience even if not necessarily helping me in the job market.

    One of the differences though, between you Europeans and us NAers, and this is just an impression, is that you folks don’t tend to go to conferences unless you’re involved someway, even if it is practically in your backyard. Whereas, we’ll go should the fancy take us.

    If you do make K’zoo next year, let me know and we’ll meet up.

    Ironic how you and Cullen made it into the same Heroic Age issue…..and it wasn’t even by design!

    • I know what you mean about the salary and you know what I mean about the investment. The salary is also the thing that in my case meant that I didn’t use to go to a conference unless I was presenting, because I couldn’t really afford it; I could just about justify it if there was a paper and exposure to my work coming out. These days, also, I am a lot more confident talking to people high up in the profession so networking actually starts to seem like something I can do. All the same, it’s only this year I’ve been to a conference where I wasn’t presenting, and I utterly would have at that one if invited as it was bang on my subject area. Otherwise, though, I like to try and hang on to the other things I used to do for leisure…

      Once Cullen and I have properly established our rôles in opposition I’m sure we can organise a proper set-to in The Heroic Age for you :-)

      • Wel get busy gentlemen! I think that I want first publication rights to the next great scholarly war between minds! Wait for it….LEGENDARY! (sorry, reference to a character portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris on the US sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”)

  6. You know, how is it that I am NEVER on the Carolingian mailing lists? *Are* there Carolingian Studies mailing lists? At least we know that there will be Carolingian panels this spring…

  7. Jon, I realise the whole session thing for next year is still very much up in the air, but if you are looking for people, I chatted with Dave Woodman yesterday, and he said he would be interested in presenting a session on charters (for his details: http://www.asnc.cam.ac.uk/people/research/woodman.htm).

    If it doesn’t happen, that’s no worry – I’ll probably then just organise something either charter or Anglo-Saxon themed with Dave and anyone else I can rope in.

    • Ah, no, there is in fact news about this, and I will mail you tonight if not before to let you know. However, yes, good, we can use this I think. Thankyou for canvassing for us.

  8. Cullen Chandler

    If I had logged in earlier, I would have beaten Larry to the recommendation of the EMF. It is very quiet most of the time, but helpful when it needs to be, I’ve found.

    • Cullen Chandler

      Damn… should have hit ‘reply’ to Larry’s post. I must get more into this blog thing.

    • Here, Cullen, passing thought: you work on charters, you’re a man with a critical eye for the source’s agendas; are you also someone who might want to take part in our Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic strand at Leeds next year?

      • Cullen Chandler

        You flatter me! It’s safer to say that I’ve “looked at” charters–there’s no way I’ve studied them as closely as you.

        As for Leeds next year, I’d be delighted, but the budget very likely will not allow it. I’m doing Kalamazoo, and I don’t think there’s enough money for both. We’re a small school that prioritizes teaching, and while we do get some support for conferences, it is limited. It won’t hurt to ask, so I might hit up the provost one of these days. Just nobody hold your breath.

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