Conference Review – AEMA 2019, Monash University

In this article, Cerae committee member Cassandra Schilling reflects on the 2019 conference of the Australian Early Medieval Association (3-5 Oct)

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).

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 14th International Conference of the Australian Early Medieval Association, held this year at Monash University, Melbourne. It was my second time attending the AEMA conference and I found myself warmed by the welcoming and collegial atmosphere I remembered.

A three-day affair, this year’s conference theme, ‘Legitimacy – Illegitimacy’ brought a variety of papers applying the theme to all aspects of the Early Medieval. With two parallel streams of papers being presented, the difficulty lay in deciding which to attend. Given the wonderful selection on offer, my choices came down to what was most closely related to my own research area, or honestly, a hasty last moment coin flip. As much as I would love to have a discussion of all the papers I attended, I’m going to try for efficiency and limit myself to the three Keynote presentations, and a few others that really stood out for me.

The three keynote papers attest to the breadth in subject matter that the conference theme allowed for. Adrian Boas ofthe University of Hafia presented his paper, The Founding and Early evolution of the Teutonic Order, energetically discussing how excavations at Acre’s recently located Germanic Quarter and at Monfort Castle demonstrate how the Teutonic Order legitimised themselves as separate from their Templar-Hospitaller origins in the crusader context.  The second keynote Legitimate Violence and the Bodies of the Servi Dei, presented by Lisa Kaaren Bailey, examined the religious body in late antiquity, drawing insightful parallels between the treatment of slaves and free women. She focused on what constituted legitimate and illegitimate violence towards religious women, and the poignant distinctions made regarding sexual violence.  The closing keynote delivered by Clare Monagle of Macquarie University brought the medieval context into the present day as she discussed the highly relevant issue of cultural memory in her paper Notre Dame is Burning. Her emotionally rich conversation on the distortion of medieval narratives of history and ‘the West’ left attendees with a sense of weight and purpose in our roles as historians and educators of this period that we all hold so dear.

But the diversity and quality were by no means limited to the keynote presentation. I had the pleasure of attending the Literary Legitimations I session, opening with Elise Jakeman’s paper Anarchy in Anglo-Saxon England, which examined the hierarchical models commonly used to draw conclusions about Anglo-Saxon burial practices (a paper marked not to be missed on my programme given its relevance to my own field of study of Anglo-Saxon literature and culture). Her discussion on the inconsistencies between commonly held and applied theories pertaining to gendering based on grave depth and grave goods as well as determining of social status through burial position were fascinating well argued. Elise was awarded the conference’s best postgraduate/ECR paper prize. Also in this session, Cerae’s own Matthew Firth gave his paper, Legitimacy through Forgery. This discussed the somewhat scandalous efforts of the monks of Malmesbury who forged a series of Æthelstanian land grants in their attempts to strengthen the legitimacy of their land claims in post-Conquest England. Matthew convincingly identified a series of five grants as forgeries, through telling discrepancies in witness lists, dating and unconventional phrasing.

The second session on Legitimacy in Transition was kicked off by the ever-entertaining Chris Bishop and his paper Decolonising the Dark Ages. He looked at the ‘modern origins of the middle ages’ by deconstructing naming patterns in Early Medieval tribes, such as the Visigoths, and their acceptance or rejection of the title of King. This was then followed by Julian Calcagno’s very different but equally thought-provoking paper Authority and Legitimacy in Germanic Honour Systems after the Fall of the Roman Empire, in which he shared his current thesis research on the ‘barbarian narrators’ Bede, Gregory of Tours and Paul the Deacon. His presentation examined the way these authors contributed to the formation of new Christian honour codes, replacing their pagan antecedents.

The session on Legitimising Authority had me venture out of my familiar Anglo-Saxon context as Caroline Foster took a look at Frankish succession in her intriguing paper Who may be Rex Francorum? She examined the line of kingship from Clovis, and convincingly argued that prior to the seventh century, Franks were not only aware of, but accepted shared kingship by inheritance and the feuds it generated.

I presented my own paper Lessons in Leadership on the third day of the conference in the Literary Legitimations II session alongside Jennifer Hekmeijer and Bob di Napoli (by happy coincidence a repeat of my panel from last year’s conference). Jennifer’s presentation, The Enigmata Eusebii focused on the contention that the riddle collections of Eusebius and Tatwine are not designed to comply with the ‘century of riddles’ assumption as a composite text. While Bob’s paper Telling Tales, looked at the way that Old English stories are layered with meaning relating to both the ideologies of the new Christian milieu, and those of pre-existing pagan cultural norms.

Again, I reiterate that this review contains only a sample of the plethora of fantastic research presented at the AEMA Conference this year. The phrase ‘hot off the press’ was rampant as numerous presenters eagerly shared new findings made as recently as mere days before the conference was held. I should also take a moment to thank Monash University for being such an accommodating location to host the conference, and give a special thanks to Andrew Lynch for organising their wonderful Special Collections manuscript viewing. With the research I’ve had the pleasure to see, the Early Medieval period seems very much alive and well, and I’m certain there is plenty more to come in future years.

Cassandra Schilling

Flinders University

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