Part 1: #IMC2016
On the first Sunday of July I made the pilgrimage that all medievalists must at some time make, journeying North to Leeds and to the International Medieval Congress (otherwise known as the IMC). The congress, this year a gathering of an astonishing 2,205 medievalists from 49 countries, was the first big conference I have attended since beginning the PhD. It was both exciting and exhausting.
I presented a paper as part of a strand of three panels titled ‘Guiding the Mind of the Beholder’, with all nine speakers focussing on the materiality of texts as determinant of their meaning and use. My session, #S309, was the last of the strand, taking place on the Monday afternoon slot in a very warm room, which I was very happy/nervous to see full of people. It is by far the most fun I have had giving a paper. I received lots of insightful and helpful questions, and was able to situate my paper against the other 8 speakers of the strand, resulting in interesting conversations and intersecting ideas. Not only this, but I got to meet people working in my specific field from all over Europe, with members of the panels coming from Germany, Austria, Italy, and France, as well as the UK. To be immersed in a room with people speaking different languages across one another, united by their interest in codicology, was something rather special and was the perfect antidote to my post-Brexit blues.
I was grateful for the scheduling of my paper on the first day of the congress as this gave me very little time to worry over my paper (written in classic me-style; last minute in the early AMs) and meant I could enjoy the rest of the week completely relaxed, able to soak up all the congress had to offer (which is an awful lot).
I have posted a version of my paper here for all those interested in reading it.
The sheer scale of it all. Seamless in its organisation, with so many people on hand to help, there are so many fascinating sessions that you can’t possibly attend them all. This is, however, all part of the fun. One of my favourite panels, #S525: ‘Women Who Hunt: Ecocriticism, Gender Theory, Posthumanism’, I attended out of pure interest, rather than relevancy – IMC gives you the time and space to explore peripheral topics, which are often the most enjoyable, and it is one of the best things about having a conference span four days.
The political engagement. Far from being stuck in the medieval past there was a distinct buzz in the air of medievalists discussing the latest political shit-storm that is Brexit. I overheard and engaged in numerous conversations that showed the strength of feeling of the academic community against the recent political disasters of the UK and the determination to overcome the negative consequences it will no doubt cause to the europeanness of things like the IMC. The #femfog discussion that took place further showed the power of the community voice, with #femfog trending by Wednesday lunchtime. This, along with the sessions I attended at both IMC and the New Chaucer Society Congress organised by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS), has encouraged me to more closely align my Feminism with my identity as a researcher, the papers given in these sessions demonstrating that the two can be brilliantly brought together to the benefit of scholarship.
The atmosphere. I suspect I am not alone in disliking ‘networking’ – the term as much as the action. It is often forced, awkward, and the very prospect of having to do it makes me uncomfortable. Yet, at IMC it felt much more natural; the atmosphere was unlike that of any other academic event I have so far attended, with the overwhelming majority being open to talking to complete strangers. The wine receptions certainly help with this, as does, of course, the infamous IMC ‘disco’. But more, I think it is the open spaces, the sunshine, and the people who were all there for the same reason, that is, to enjoy research.
On my first day, before my fellow UKC PhD and partner-in-wine SK arrived, I wandered the campus alone feeling slightly overwhelmed, observing the many people embracing and animatedly chatting with friends and colleagues they had not seen since the previous years’ congress. By the end of the Thursday, as I sat on my train, slightly hungover and struggling to stay awake, I could completely understand why people make the trip year after year. I was a congress convert. And I imagined that next year, when I returned, there would be several people who I would greet with equal enthusiasm, having not seen them since the last IMC…perhaps there will be a slightly overwhelmed PhD student observing us who I can smile at, walk over to and strike up a conversation with.