Conferences can pass in a blur even though they also involve periods of sustained concentration while listening to papers in sessions. So it was for me at ANZAMEMS 2015 at the University of Queensland, which was an experience crammed into one day, the Friday of the conference, the day I delivered my paper and the only day I could attend. That still comprised three lots of sessions, each with three papers, which is a lot of listening.
I’ve attended each ANZAMEMS since 2008 (which actually still makes me a newcomer in terms of the long history of many Australasian scholars with ANZAMEMS and its predecessor organisations) and while it’s good to see the conferences never get any smaller, it’s also interesting to see the themes and ideas get broader. To an extent this growth testifies to the broadening in both medieval and early modern studies, and the way both fields have fruitfully harnessed the methodologies and ideas from other disciplines. For example the final session I attended on Friday comprised papers by Aidan Norrie, Helen Young and Douglas Eacersall on (respectively) portrayals of the Virgin Queen (Elizabeth I) in film, crowd sourcing multimedia productions with medieval settings, and the revival of medieval style martial arts in Australia. Yes, Australia, not normally a setting or subject to be expected in even an Australasian medieval and early modern conference. That is not to say there is any type of artificial division between ‘traditional’ medieval and early modern studies and more contemporary approaches to subject matter, but given how extensively or even exhaustingly researched many aspects of early modern history are (the reformation for example) it seems timely and necessary for other questions and other approaches to develop.
Another aspect of this conference was that even though there are discernible and exciting developments in medieval and early modern studies, the background news that UWA is planning a reduction in majors, including early modern studies. In doing so it joins a trend notable at other ‘sandstones’ but other universities as well in diminishing the space and weight given to particular fields, including the early modern. The sadness is that each successive ANZAMEMS takes place where the enthusiasm of Australasian academics and postgraduate students remains undiminished but where another program or major in European studies may have disappeared. By the next conference what will the attrition be? What momentum can be built at each hosting institution about this subject matter?
Marcus Harmes (University of Southern Queensland)