This past month and a half, I haven’t had time to breathe, let alone blog. Before it all slips from my mind, I wanted to jot down some of the talks and conferences I’ve been to and what I got out of them.
Medieval Association of the Pacific
This conference, which took place in Reno about a month ago, let me present my research on Francis to an audience of historians rather than theologians. Since my research encompasses both, I enjoyed getting a more historical focus. The first talk I went to, “Criseyde Becomes Cresseid Becomes Criseyde: Chaucer’s, Henryson’s, and 16th-century English Printers’ Negotiation of Shared Literary Space,” was given by Jacquelyn Hendricks, my own Chaucer professor at SCU. She spoke on how Scottish retellings of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde fashioned his language in a more Scottish colloquial English. I hadn’t learned much about Middle English dialectical variations, so that was interesting. UNR’s Special Collections also had an exhibit for all the antiquarians and bibliophiles in town.They passed around several leafs of medieval manuscripts, but the jewel of the collection was the Hughes Breviary, a 15th-century breviary and psalter. (More on it here.)
That afternoon, I lucked out since one of the speakers in my session failed to appear. So the other presenter and I had a lot more time for questions and discussion. The other presenter, Doaa Omran, is an Egyptian-born student of medieval European literature at UNM. She spoke on parallels between the European and Arabic medieval tales on King Arthur. I didn’t even know that was a thing. The Arabic King Arthur (his Arabic name now slips my mind) lived in the 500s, and he united Arab tribes against invading Christians. Like the European King Arthur, the Arab one is the product of a long oral tradition, culminating in a 14th-century epic poem about the nationalist hero. If that isn’t cool enough, the story also includes a prophecy about Muhammad’s birth. However, none of the Lancelot/Guinevere stuff made its way into the Arab version.
My talk went very well. The toughest question I was asked in my Q&A: was Francis unique for his time in how he approached other religions? My preliminary answer is no. But it was one of those obvious questions that I hadn’t even thought about. Duh.
The evening plenary by Teo Ruiz, “Peasant Resistance in Late Medieval Castile,” probably would have been better for my fiance (the Spanish history buff) than for me. But Ruiz was funny and really interesting. He mentioned living as a peasant in a Spanish village for a year when he was writing a book on peasants in Spain; he wanted to feel what a peasant’s life was like. Wow.
A month later, two talks from Saturday still stand out in my mind. One is Leslie Ross‘ “Elegant to Enigmatic: Text and Image in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts.” I met Leslie and her friend, Becket scholar Kay Slocum, at the banquet on Friday evening, and she said I should come hear her talk. She spoke on the complex interplay between text and image in illuminated manuscripts, how image did far more than simply ornament or illustrate, and that the two are often not separate at all. For example, what about the ornate capital letters that open many medieval manuscripts? Those are both art and image. She showed examples of decorative letters that seemed to have no meaning at all.
The evening plenary, “By That Fatal Fire: Manuscripts in the Aftermath of Destruction,” was given by Sian Echard, a professor at UBC. She examined several cases where we do not have originals of a particular document, but copies, copies that are always distorting and miss something of the original. We know what gets lost in translation, but what gets lots in transcription? Even today, she pointed out, digitization techniques distort the original colors of medieval manuscripts. All copies are interpretations or encounters. If we forget this, we mistake the mirror for the reality.
As a last note, I met a real live Viking Archaeologist at the conference. Now there’s a sexy research area if I ever heard of one. Check out her blog.
I’m glad I went to the MAP, because it exposed me to a lot of ideas and thinkers I really knew nothing about. For any academic field, there are always the core conferences where we go are in our comfort zone. For me that would be SBL. But there is also a value and vulnerability in going to a place where I am an outsider and an amateur rather than an expert. I hope to keep that a habit.