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Calling all Medievalists

18 June, 2008

Calling all Medievalists

Hi all — I am reprinting (with permission), parts of a letter I received regarding the Berks conference. If you are looking for a fantastic conference and do anything on the history of women — and this doesn’t mean you have to be a women’s historian or even a feminist historian per se — please consider adding this conference to your roster. I had a fantastic time this year, and hope I can go again.

Dear Colleagues,

I just returned from the 14th Berkshire Conference on the History of Women at the University of Minnesota, where I was happily surrounded by medievalists, and not just those who study the European Middle Ages. I’ve been going to the Berks since 1992, when it was at Vassar, and it is always an intellectual high. But this year, thanks to Ruth Mazo Karras and a superb program committee, there were not only more panels devoted specifically to medieval women, there were more medieval historians, art historians, literary scholars, and theologians taking part in an impressive array of panels, workshops, and seminars that crossed temporal and geographic boundaries. The theme of the conference, “Continuities and Changes,” is evident in the following panels that directly addressed or touched on medieval feminist scholarship (see the Berks website for details here):

* Foreign Queens of the Bible as Political Tropes (session 13)
* Women’s Authority, Authorship, and Authorizing (29)
* Women, Royalty and Politics in Comparative Perspective (32)
* Feminist Provocations: Judith Bennett’s History Matters (47)
* Interrogating Women’s Agency: Voice, Choice, and Power in the Premodern World (56)
* Mothers, Wetnurses, and the Evolution of Reproductive Medicine in Premodern Europe (81)
* Seeing Women in Byzantine Society (112)
* Gendering the Plague (152)
* Using the Archives of Medieval Religious Houses to Reflect on their Secular Sisters (182)
* Discovering Women’s Lives amidst Premodern Numbers: The Application of Demography to Premodern Europe and North America (185)
* Managing Property, Constructing Gender (196)
* Singlewomen (199)
* Women and the Law Courts in Global Historical Perspective (202)

Many SMFS members presented papers, were discussants or chairs, and if the blogs (see the Berks website) are any indication, the conference will continue to generate the sorts of ideas and conversations that make our field so vibrant and vital.

If you have not been to a Berkshire Conference, put this on your list of things to do. And, believe it or not, start thinking now about the Berks of 2011. That may seem a long ways away, but it’s not. The conference organizers get to work very early and solicit session proposals roughly 18 months before the conference, so start brainstorming now. It is best to submit complete panels, and since these can sometimes take a while to put together, it’s not too soon to begin to sound out colleagues about potential panels. As a rule, participants may take on only one role in a panel, although anyone can organize it. (But a presenter will not be a chair, for example, nor a commenter.) At this point in the calendar, we don’t know yet where the Berks will take place, but it will most likely be on the east coast, and it will be around the second weekend in June. The schedule then, will look something like this:

* Summer/Fall 2009: Call for papers/panel proposals
* February 2010: Deadline for submissions
* June-July 2010: Panels accepted
* June 2011: Conference

The Berks conference is held every three years (this is called the Big Berks, not to be confused with the annual retreats called the Little Berks). If you are not a historian per se, don’t stop reading. Non-historians can deliver papers and act as chairs and comments. They also welcome proposals from independent scholars, whether or not they define themselves as historians. As a general rule, though, individual papers (and the panels and roundtables in which they appear) need to be intelligible to an audience made up largely of historians of women, and to be relevant to the current historical enterprise, broadly conceived.

Panels typically involve a chair, two to three papers, and a comment. Often panels focus more narrowly on a specific historical problem, field, area, or time period (though many are comparative across regions or periods, and they can be interdisciplinary). Roundtables tend to take on “larger,” and somewhat more speculative (and sometimes more controversial) subjects, and they often feature shorter, more informal presentations by a larger number of people, and they usually include more discussion time for audience members. This year, for the first time, the Berks held a series of seminars and workshops based on pre-circulated papers; this format was generally successful, and it is likely conference organizers will do it again. These were held simultaneously on Sunday morning for 2 1/2 hours.

And, in the spirit of what Miri Rubin, in her plenary address termed the “generous history” of feminist scholarship, the Berks is not just for or written by women. I was impressed by the number of men, among them many graduate students and junior faculty, who study women’s history.

For those of you who subscribe to the medfem-L but have not yet joined the SMFS, please consider making us part of your array of professional organizations. We are devoted to keeping medieval feminist scholarship at the forefront of scholarship on the European Middle Ages and we not only welcome your expertise and your voice, we need you to continue to keep feminist scholarship at the forefront of intellectual life.

And finally, stay tuned to medfem-L. As the Berks organizers get ready for 2011, we will send you information so that you, too, can be part of a tremendous intellectual and feminist experience.

My colleague says this far better than I, but I have to say, she’s absolutely right.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 19 June, 2008 9:19 pm

    Wow, thanks Blogenspiel and Friend of Blogenspiel! That letter is a wonderful compliment, for which the entire Program Committee will thank you, I am sure, as well as a wonderful primer for thinking about the next Big Berks. Your timeline is just about right. Please let me know if your friend would like to serve on the Program Committee for 2011, as I’m collecting the names of volunteers to pass on to the next Program Committee co-Chairs. It was great to see so much medieval and early modern history at the Berks–we tried hard to make that happen, and I’m very pleased to hear that our efforts were appreciated. But, as always, the conference rises or falls on the strength of the papers and commenters, and fortunately we at the Berks can count on people showing up to do their jobs brilliantly.Historiann from Historiann.comalso known as Ann M. Little,Program Committee co-Chair for U.S. and Canadian history.

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