In this guest article, Daniel Johnson reflects on the recent conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (ANZAMEMS) at the University of Sydney.
I am a part-time PhD student from the UK, studying the theology of the hymns of Isaac Watts (1674-1784) at the University of Leicester. I first came across ANZAMEMS via twitter, and when I saw the Call for Papers, I thought I would apply. I had nothing to lose in submitting a proposal, and so long as I was able to secure funding for the trip, I could score a trip to Sydney. My application was successful, funding came through, so off I went.
Here are a few scattered thoughts and observations from the conference.
- The breadth and depth of scholarship was so impressive. Each session I attended made me want to develop my own academic skills. The rigour and enthusiasm with which research was presented was genuinely exciting to observe.
- The conference had a global feel, underpinned by Keynote speakers from different continents. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Australia and New Zealand’ dimension to the conference title, this was an international conference, with scholars and subjects representing all corners of the world.
- For a history conference, it felt energetic, contemporary, and forward-facing. The conference tackled subjects such as race and gender. Each session began with a Welcome to Country, acknowledging the Aboriginal land on which we stood. ANZAMEMS is committed to an honest and accurate understanding of the past, and therefore an equally honest and accurate understanding of the present, and the future.
- In some quarters, especially in the UK, academia still suffers from a gender imbalance, but here it took until my third day to hear a man present a paper.
- The blurred lines between post-graduates and professors meant that those more established in their fields and careers were genuinely cheering the rest of us on. It never once felt like those with ‘proper academic jobs’ had pulled the ladder up on us lowly PhD students, but instead they asked questions of our papers, tweeted their praise, and paid for our wine in the restaurants. Instead of feeling inferior to those more established than I am, which I have felt at other conferences, here I came away feeling encouraged that I have a long list of people I can turn to for academic counsel.
- The snacks were excellent. Whoever decided to put Nutella and peanuts on top of a brownie is an absolute genius.
A few sessions stand out in my mind. For me personally, the papers from Jennifer Clement and Kirk Essary fed directly into my own research, so I was delighted to hear those. Seeta Chaganti’s opening keynote address was inspiring to hear, as she addressed issues of whiteness, race, and interpretation in medieval lyrics. And as a demonstration of the simultaneous breadth and depth of the conference, the session on Early Modern Medicine and Theology demonstrated to me the uniqueness of academic conferences, where scholars can rigorously engage with narrow subject matter in direct conversation with a discerning audience.
Having attended and presented at a few conferences now, ANZAMEMS was quite unique. Now that I’m back in the UK (and almost over my jet-lag), I find myself rather missing it. Thanks in part to the twitter hashtag and the generous refreshment times, a sense of community quickly established itself, and rather than it being a community closed off to an outsider like me, it was warm, generous, and collegiate. Academia is a funny old game, rife with competitiveness and seclusion. What I’ve brought home from ANZAMEMS is that academia works best when it’s a team game, and the stronger the community, then so too the individual scholar becomes stronger. I can’t wait to start turning my own paper from the conference into a chapter for my PhD, having had my initial research probed by searching questions from those who attended my panel. I also can’t wait for Perth 2021, when hopefully I will have another chance to attend the next ANZAMEMS conference.
Daniel Johnson is a PhD student at the University of Leicester, UK, studying the theology of the hymns of Isaac Watts. Alongside this, Daniel is Head of Worship Studies at Nexus ICA, Coventry. He tweets at @danjohnsonhymns