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Monday, May 19, 2014

Recapping: My second year of the PhD and International Congress of Medieval Studies 2014

Photo: Spring!

This was my first time going to Congress while actually attending Western Michigan University. It is good to have your own apartment. My mother once described the dorm rooms (she came with me the year I decided to go to WMU) as soul crushing. I was just pleased to see the sun on campus. It has been a long, cold winter.

This was possibly the most challenging year of school I have ever undertaken. This is evidenced in the frequency of my blog posts. Next year I start my comps. Ahh. But one person said that actually, it just isn't as hard as having to produce three graduate length seminar papers at the end of a semester. I will see, I guess.

And it looks like I will be able to write my thesis about characterizations of Haraldr hardrada. So that is the plan, though one hates to make such definite statements going into it. But I already researched a bad Victorian poet who writes about the Conquest, and also looked at his characterization in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. So I have done some work on this so far. Not only am I super interested in him, I am hoping it will tie in my English, History and Public History training. In my fantasy dream world I imagine me writing a book that comes out just when they release that movie that is rumoured to be going into production, or that they let me help on the movie set (a career dream of mine, to be an advisor on a movie set) but I am also aware of how unproductive such thoughts are. Helpful hints and suggestions about sources are welcome for now.

This summer is full of all those extra projects that come from working on a PhD. I am attending two conferences, entering essay competitions, and trying (as we are all trying) to make someone publish one of these. The first conference was the International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. I saw a lot of good papers. I apologize if I don't remember what your paper was about, as it is more likely due to paper burnout than poor papers.

Thursday May 8, 2014

1:30 - Session 79: New Voices in Anglo-Saxon Studies I

Portents and the Natural World in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - M. Goodrich, Univ. of Conneticut

I was interested in this paper because I mentioned the portents of 1066 mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in my own paper. I thought it was interesting, though I had a bit of a hard time following it, mostly because my paper was at 3:30. But what I understood was that the portents can be subdivided by type, and that they do correspond with political events, particularly turmoil in the upper echelons of power.

Counting Crows and Crakes: Measuring Norse and English Vocabulary in Minor Names - Eleanor Rye, University of Nottingham

From one of my old alma maters, I could recognize the influence of the Institute for Name-Studies in her work. She was presenting on a section of her PhD project, showing the Norse influence in minor place names in England. Using many lovely graphics, she was able to demonstrate the influence on one of the regions of England, but for the life of me I can't remember which one.

I skipped out on the third presentation, leaving my diet coke behind, because I had to go make copies of my extensive handout.

3:30 - Session 139: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's Shifting Rhetoric of Danish Ethnicity during the Reigns of Alfred and Edward - Britt Mize, Texas A&M University

My co-presenter in this panel. we thought afterwards since the third presenter wasn't there, we could probably have actually named this session characterizations of Scandinavians in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This was an excellent paper that showed that during Alfred's reign, immigrant Danes were called Danes when they were an attacking enemy force. However, in times of peace the people of Northumbria lose the epithet of Dane. However, this pattern changes towards Edward's time, as Dane is used as a descriptor even for groups that are not attacking, but that are settled. It is of course used for those literally coming over on a boat from Denmark, but the focus of the study was on the descriptors of people living in England.

The 1066 Norwegian Invasion of England and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - Megan Arnott

I, of course, thought this went quite well. I'm not sure I was good at answering questions, but that is always the hardest part. I had a handout placing the Chronicles next to each other, and a powerpoint, just because I think you should always have a powerpoint to keep people interested in what you are saying. For an earlier version of this paper you can see my blog. It has of course been revised, but the arguments are the same.

A special shout-out to M. Wendy Hennequin from Tennessee State University, who was very friendly and very helpful as the presider of the session.

7:30 - Session 149: Norse Bishops' Sagas and Their European Contexts

The Translated Bishop: The Icelandic Saintly Bishops, (Inter)nationality, and Locality - Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Háskóli Íslands

This was a very interesting paper, showing that some of the miracles performed in the Bishop Sagas have an international flavour in the way that they are presented in the texts. A.k.a. the way the miracle is described has parallels in European tradition, though some are distinctly Icelandic.

Lárentius saga and Social Networks - Erika Sigurdson, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum

This paper mapped the connections between the characters to show Larentius's international flavours. It showed Larentius as at the centre of the map, but showed that he had ties to a great many people in other places in Europe. It was a great way to visually represent the saga, and it showed many things about the text. The visual mapping is a great tool to show who is at the centre and who isn't.

Friday May 9, 2014

10:00 - Session 219: Social Contracts and Contacts in Old English and Old Norse Literature

The Old English Julianna and the Economy of Debt - Fabienne Michelet, University of Toronto

This demonstrated that Julianna's actions are reacting to a society which monetizes everything, including people. She is offering people an alternative, a life of religion, in direct opposition to this economy, and borrows vocabulary from this economy to make her points more poignant.

I Did Not Convey the Feud: Changing Perceptions of Fæhð in Anglo-Saxon Literature - David DiTucci, University of Western Michigan/State College of Florida

This was a really interesting exploration of feud, tracking the feud from its elevated status in Anglo-Saxon literature, or Germanic culture, and its subsequent descent either with the introduction of Christianity, or at approximately the same time as that, and the shades fo grey in between.

'O Mighty Mud-Dweller' : Non-Sexual Insults in the Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Hitardal People - Becky Straple, Western Michigan University

A great exploration of the often overlooked non-sexual insults, this paper showed that the contest, while part of a love triangle, is actually more about the relationship between the two men. While it is hard to separate out the non-sexual insults, it is easier to see the relationship between the two men when that subset of insults is focused on. Go Becky!

1:30 - Session 261: Bilingual England: Translation and Beyond

'Forsothe wythoute Lye': The Increased Importance of Truthfulness and Exactness in Two Middle English Romance Adaptations of Old French Sources - Drew Maxwell, University of Edinburgh

This paper compared English Romances with the Old French sources. It compared specific lines to show how the emphasis had been moved to truthfulness.

A Failure to Communicate: The Implications of Trilingual Identity in the Auchinleck of Arthour and of Merlin - Patrick Butler, University of Conneticut

Looking at romances to also help understand the history, this paper was showing a progression of the way people understood and accepted each other after the Conquest. For instance, the issues that manifested early in English - Norman interaction were lessened over time. The romance shows an interestingly complex implication for trilingual identity in the Romance.

Storming the Castle: Eros and Allegory in Spiritual Discourse - Claire Snow, University of Denver

The allegory of castle storming is very clearly a sexual one, with the castle standing for the female body. The paper demonstrated this. However, in spiritual discourse, the allegory becomes more nuanced, and is not necessarily about actual sex, but the overcoming of defenses, etc. important to spiritual allegory.

This whole panel is less in my field, so was a little harder for me to follow, but very interesting.

Saturday May 10, 2014

10:00 - Session 374: Old English and Old Norse Connections

Wandering Exploration, and Dependence in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian Comitatus Relationships - Scott Douglas Reu, University of Cambridge

This paper looked at the importance of the comitatus relationship, and the idea of exile from it. It looked at how this seems to differ in different places, as in Iceland people are evidencing much more independence in the sagas, and exile is not the burden that it is in the Anglo-Saxon literature.

Treason at the Gifstōl: Beowulf lines 168-170, Genesis B, and the Stōll in Old Norse Sagas - Mary Helen Galluch, Western Michigan University

I recognize this in part from our Beowulf and its Old Norse sources seminar. This paper looked at these very difficult to translate lines, and traced why they are often thought to have religious overtones, by comparing the idea of the stoll in other Anglo-Saxon literature and Old Norse literature as well.

The Dead Speak: Soul and Body in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Literatures - Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar - Western Michigan University

This paper demonstrated the intimate connection between soul and body in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse literature, looking also at word choice.

1:30 pm - Session 421: Scandinavian Studies

Being a Poet: Snorri's Mead Myth as an Esoteric Guide to Poetic Craft - Eirik Westcoat, Independent Scholar

I was very interested in this because of the work I did on Icelandic Mead this semester. This was about the way that the mead myth was in many ways allegorical for the production of poetry, including the association of poetry with something sweet.

Agency and Social Constraint in Laxdaela saga - Melissa Mayus, University of Notre Dame

Looking at the interactions between the characters the social constraints, that of having to avenge oneself for insult or injury, are so strong that they take away characters' agency. Compare this to Njals Saga, where the characters can maintain good ties between two families, despite feuding wives. This is not the case in Laxdaela Saga.

Unraveling Narratives: Contexts of the Scandinavian Conversion in Adam of Bremen - Matthew Delvaux, Boston College

Adam of Bremen's concerns, and motivations, are outlined here in this paper. It is showing that Adam had certain local political concerns for his account of the Scandinavian conversion.

3:30 - Session 451: The Medievalism of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Volumes

A Better Band of Hall-Thanes: Harry Potter and the Comitatus Bond - M. Wendy Hennequin, Tennessee State University

I am convinced that the organizations in Harry Potter are reflective of a comitatus band, such as the Order of the Pheonix, Dumbledore's Army, and even the Death Eaters. However, it is also convincing that while the bond is important, after the influence of WWII, you can't just follow blindly your lord, as you would in Anglo-Saxon literature. You must be loyal, but also on the side of good. Voldemort is a terrible lord because he forgot the reciprocal part of the bargain.

Reappropriating the 'Sword in the Stone' and 'Broken Sword' Motifs in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter - Alexandra Garner, Independent Scholar

Harry, Ron and Neville both find swords, and break 'swords' (wands), indicating that they are the inheritors of an Arthurian tradition. The found sword (of Gryffindor) signifies their righteousness and conveys authority, while the broken sword (wand) indicates difficulty in acting (though, for Ron and Neville it is because the wand wasn't their wand, and for Harry, since it is his wand, he gets it back in the end). That Harry chooses his own wand, and not the elder wand, shows a breaking with the Arthurian tradition, that Harry is not Arthur, as he will not be king.

Harry Potter and the Feast of All Saints - Susan Yager, Iowa State University

The saintly nature of many of the characters, especially the reverence due to them, and their acts of martyrdom, is evidence, and is drawn attention to by Rowling, who starts events on All-Saints Day.

Harry and the Theologians: Medieval Representations of Evil in Harry Potter - Joshua Fullman, Faulkner University and Maegan Detlefs, Independent Scholar

This was perhaps a little harder to follow, but the essence of it was that evil in Harry Potter is not absolute, but can be based in Augustinian ideas of good and evil.

Sunday May 11, 2014

10:00 - Session 543: Viking Age Iceland

Viking Archaeology in Iceland: The Mosfell Archeological Project - Jesse Byock, University of California - Los Angeles

Updating us on the project, Jesse Byock demonstrated where the harbour was in the Mosfell valley, and also some of the Hinterland farmland. It was very interesting, using a lot of great visuals to tell the story.

Social Space and Social Status at Viking Age Hrísbrú, Mosfellsdalur, Iceland: Interpretations Based on Integrated Geoarchaeological and Microrefuse Analyses - Karen Milek, University of Aberdeen

This was complimentary to the first presentation, going into detail about how in some finds you can establish the extent of the power relations, but how at the site that they are working on, it is harder due to the smaller scale of the finds.

The Viking Age Settlements of Western Norway - Søren Diinhoff, Universitetsmuseet i Bergen, Univ. i Bergen

While I didn't find anything here inflammatory (though I am not an archaeologist) this presenter presented his findings as if they were going to be inflammatory, so may be they were. He did keep looking at Jesse Byock. But the argument here is that there is no link between the buildings of Western Norway and the ones built in Iceland. It wasn't a style they brought over, but the style of turf buildings that are in the North Atlantic were dictated by materials, not the preferences or traditions of the settlers from Norway.

There was no time for questions, since all three presentations went long. Good thing the fourth one didn't show up. But very interesting.

Photo: How I spent last weekend. Listening to talks, like this one by Jesse Byock.
Jesse Byock and Magdalena Schmid.
At the end of the conference I also got some great deals on three books: Every Inch a King: Coparative Studies on Kings and Kingship in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds edited by Lynette Mitchell and Charles Melville; The Partisan Muse in The Early Icelandic Sagas (1200-1250) by Theodore M. Andersson; The Growth of the Medieval Icelandic Sagas (1180-1280) also by Theodore M. Andersson. 

All in all successful Congress. 

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