Conference Review – Leeds IMC 2019

In this article, our deputy reviews editor Kirsty Bolton reflects on her experiences at the 2019 edition of the Leeds International Medieval Congress (IMC) (1-5 July)

A reminder that, if you are thinking of turning your conference paper into an article, Cerae is open for submissions year-round (postgrads and ECRs especially encouraged).

Everyone’s IMC is different. With up to 54 concurrent panels in each session, it would be nearly impossible for any two people to experience the same congress (unless they specifically planned to). As my research focuses on medieval romance, I was giddy to be involved in two full days of panels on romance, presenting my paper on motherhood at sea as part of Olivia Colquitt’s stream on women and the natural world in romance (s510, s610, s710, s810), and chairing a panel for Hannah Piercy and her stream on relationships in romance (s1010, s1110, s1210, s1310, s1410). A few of us have been working hard to establish more literature panels at the IMC for a couple of years now, so to fill two full days with papers about romance was amazing. This was my third IMC and I was told before my first that the panels are heavily skewed towards history and archaeology, but we’re definitely tipping the balance now! The wonderful thing about the IMC is that, because there are so (so) many sessions, more literature doesn’t mean less of anything else.

That said, there were a few themes that I would have attended all the panels of if I hadn’t been immersed in romance, but, alas, I am not in possession of Hermione’s time-turner (an item that I’m sure every congress attendee mourns the lack of). I was able to attend just one of Rachel Delman’s series on Gender and Domesticity (s1222), in which I not only learnt a lot about history and archaeology that is hugely relevant to my work on motherhood and space in literature, but I also heard the fabulous Karen Dempsey talk about putting the people back into castle studies. I was also very happy to sit in on a session on Anglo-Saxon minds (s1634) that was incredibly interesting but that I didn’t feel compelled to take notes on, being outside of my thesis scope. I was very tired by Thursday afternoon (I hadn’t taken my own advice about rest and self-care!), but it was lovely to hear three speakers so enthusiastic about their work, including my fellow Southampton PGR, Merel Veldhuizen.

It was fantastic to attend so many raw and beautiful LGBTQIA+ focused panels and events this year. A particular highlight for me was the roundtable ‘Queer Textures of the Past’ organised by David Carillo-Rangel, with papers from Jonah Coman, Roberta Magnani, Diane Watt, Olivia Robinson, Matthew Storey of Historic Royal Palaces, and Helen Leslie-Jacobsen. These academics delivered thoughtful and often tender insights into how queer readings of medieval texts can enhance our understanding of people, both in the past and the present. They navigated the tension between anachronistically applying modern terms to medieval communities and recognising that the established reading is never the only interpretation. Their research does amazing things to humanise the medieval past, from which we can often feel quite disconnected. Given recent attempts by a handful of sour academics to oppress our trans colleagues and students, it was really heart-warming to feel that so many of us in attendance this year were determined that the IMC should be a safe and inclusive environment. The work is by no means done, of course, and there are issues that both the Leeds IMC and Kalamazoo ICMS organisers seem resistant to engaging with, particularly the concerns of academics of colour, many of whom do not feel welcome or safe at these important gatherings. This needs to change, as both Leeds and Kalamazoo are poorer without the presence of these brilliant academics who bring so much to the field.

The book fair and the craft fair are huge temptations, but I was very restrained this year! I bought a single book and a sad little dragon from Marginalia Paraphernalia. I was lucky to win the rabbit knight pin in Alison’s prize draw, which made 2019 my best Leeds IMC so far!

medieval pins

Kirsty Bolton

University of Southampton

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