What happens when several hundred medievalists from all different fields gather in one place for a weekend? The Medieval Academy of America meeting – dozens of fascinating panels and papers on a wide variety of topics.
The 2016 MAA meeting kicked off with a call for open data by Will Noel, of the Schoenberg Center for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Treat digital images as primary sources in and of themselves, not simply surrogates of medieval manuscripts, he said. Call for more information, he exhorted the assembled medievalists, you demand access to the manuscripts, so demand access to metadata about their images!
In Noel’s view, data should be complete, sustainable, promiscuous, re-useable, and communal – and it’s hard to argue against his model, especially as it applies to newly created images and their use by researchers.
The afternoon panels included two contributions from Fordham medievalists: Professor Suzanne M. Yeager (English) presented “En route to Jerusalem: The Transformative Potential of the Medieval Mediterranean” and Lucy Barnhouse (History) presented “Disordered Women? The Hospital Sisters of Mainz and Their Thirteenth-Century Identities.” Both talks were well-attended and well-received.
Friday morning’s CARA Plenary on the Parameters of Premodern Magic discussed astrology, witchcraft, and the “slicing up” of medieval history into magical and non-magical bits, and the morning sessions that followed spurred active and fascinating discussion about disabilities in the medieval period over Twitter.
Alongside more traditional “tracks” of panels on Carolingians, Monasticism and Lyric Transformations, the MAA meeting this year also included a track on Digital Humanities, which included papers by Laura Morreale (Medieval Studies) and David Wrisley (past Medieval Studies Fellow). Laura’s paper on the use of “Italy” as a place name in thirteenth and fourteenth-century chronicles spurred active discussion about understandings of place and national or regional identity.
Late panels included medieval-inspired poetry, digital humanities visualizations of the construction and reconstruction of Romanesque and Gothic churches, and a vibrant discussion of the “ghosts” of the nineteenth century, which, like the debates on disability studies, became a lively Twitter debate and exchange.
The banquet featured period music and traditional Boston foods, including baked beans and Boston Cream Pie.
On Saturday, I was delighted to see Dr. Nicholas Paul (History) received the John Nicholas Brown Prize for his book, To Follow In Their Footsteps.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Saturday, from a digital humanities perspective, however, was the interactive session chaired by William P. Stoneman, which brought together eight different projects, each of which gave a three-minute pitch and description, followed by the opportunity for the audience to discuss the projects with the makers, which was fascinating and allowed for vigorous discussion
Robin Fleming’s closing plenary, “Vanishing Plants, Animals, and Places: Britain’s Transformation from Roman to Medieval” was an intriguing look at the material evidence for dramatic shifts in diet, use of land, and the consequent changes in lifestyle that followed Rome’s departure from Britain. Among other things, we learned that strawberries were not eaten prior to the Roman’s arrival, and that apple trees are not native to Britain!
The closing reception at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a magical backdrop against which to talk with other medievalists, catch up with friends, and see a wide variety of artworks while wrapping up a fantastic conference.
While I was intially a bit daunted by the sheer number of impressive scholars at the MAA meeting, I am delighted to have been able to attend, and look forward to future meetings.
By Alisa Beer