Conference Review: ISSEME 2021

Recently Cassandra Schilling of the Cerae General Committee attended this year’s biennial conference of the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England (ISSEME), 17-18; 21-22, June 2021. In this post she shares her thoughts and impressions.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending and participating in the twentieth biennial conference of the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England (ISSEME). Once again, the limitations caused by COVID-19 meant that the conference was designed for an online format, but in this case the challenge facilitated the hosting of the conference in a collaborative way, across four virtual venues: Winchester, Montreal, Adelaide and Leiden, with each venue hosted by a home institution, the University of Winchester, Concordia University, Flinders University, and Leiden University, respectively.

The overarching theme of the conference ‘Contributions’ was taken up by all of the venues, with each offering a selection of papers focusing on different aspects of the broad and versatile topic. Particularly, the conference also considered less traditionally ‘academic’ subject material, welcoming content on relevant, modern adaptations. For instance, Montreal’s keynote speaker was Maria Dahvana Headley, author of the recent publications, The Mere Wife, a retelling of Beowulf as well as her own translation of the poem. Over the four days, over sixty papers were presented either as pre-recordings or live, with each session also having the usual time for discussion and questions. Rather than attempting to give a reflection on individual papers over the course of the four days, which encompassed over 60 papers, I will instead focus on my overall impression of the conference.

The conference kicked off with day one hosted by Winchester, which was broken into parallel sessions. A point at which I would normally be faced with the challenge of carefully choosing what papers to see. However, due to the Vimeo set-up that ISSEME had arranged, allowing pre-recorded papers to be accessed early and live papers to be made available after the conference for attendees to view until the end of June. This meant attendees were able to pick a stream without worrying about missing out on conflicting sessions, taking the pressure off when it came to managing time zones and conflicts from general commitments that impeded attending live. Nevertheless, it was great to see that all four sessions had consistent live attendance with good representation in the allocated discussion times for each paper, with the additional social aspect of WonderMe as an online meeting space in which discussions could be had or continued without impeding the flow of sessions, acting much as the interim breaks of an in-person conference.

Each of the host committees managed to present a wide range of papers in terms of themes and disciplines. Winchester and Adelaide, having parallel sessions generally ran sessions of more niche areas of interest simultaneously which seemed to make it easier for attendees to prioritise what to what live when necessary. Adelaide also offered two, rather than one keynote lecture; the first by distinguished literary scholar and Redmond Barry Professor Stephanie Trigg to open the conference and then closing with an ECR keynote by Dr Sam Leggett who specialises in biomolecular archaeology. These two keynotes exemplifying the conference’s support for research at all levels, in all areas of study pertaining to early medieval England. Leiden also offered some extra engagement with their Scholarship Slam in which contributors were able to pitch forthcoming publications and projects.

The twentieth biennial conference of ISSEME was a varied, welcoming, and supportive event, and it was hosted with a clear level of commitment, passion, and awareness by the organisation. The event opening from Katherine Weikert articulated ISSEME’s desire to generate a more supportive space to foster research of early medieval England, and the conference showcased the fresh, enthusiastic and professional tenor that the organisation aims to encourage. If this conference is an indicator, there should be good things to come from ISSEME.

Cassandra Schilling, Flinders University

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