Dear Berks Organizers
For next time, could you please try to get more pre-modern — and especially pre-16th C — papers? The program is really embarrassingly imbalanced towards the modern and the American. I like the conference, and it’s pretty awesome. But honestly? All you have to do is read Judith Bennett’s History Matters to get an idea of the contributions of medievalists to women’s history. We’ve been doing it a long time.
This is something that seriously pisses me off, because it shouldn’t happen. Medievalists were doing postmodernist work before modernists got the clue and gave what we’d been doing a cool name. Medievalists and Classicists have been doing interdisciplinary work since long before it became cool and necessary. Um, duh. Medievalists have been looking at women for kind of a long time, and there is an awful lot of good work on women in the MA that might even — dare I say it? inform some of what our modernist colleagues are only just discovering.
And yet, a conference that grew from the marginalization of women historians and women’s history makes me feel very marginalized in the very same way I feel in my department and on my campus. It’s a good reminder that privilege comes in many forms.
I can go to pretty much any panel here and feel comfortable with the topic and be able to ask questions. I teach World Civ. I am a woman of a certain age and a feminist. I have a good grip on modern stuff because I live in the modern era. These things are part of my everyday life. They are also, to some extent, current events to me, and almost political science rather than history. If it happened after I started school, I have a hard time seeing it as “history.”
But here, as in my department, on my campus, and at AHA, I feel like I have to apologize because what I do is not necessarily as accessible. I feel like I have to apologize for reading and using Latin and German (and no, I’m not doing handouts of the texts as I would at a medieval conference; I’m just doing quick translations in the text). I feel like I have to convince my colleagues here — if they even ask — that working on kinship and family and remarriage in the MA is relevant.
The last Berks wasn’t so much like that, I think in part because one of the organizers was the amazing Ruth Mazo Karras. There were enough pre-modern, and even medievalist, papers that I had to make choices. This year? not so much. It’s more about digging to find something that I can use in teaching. The best panel is a roundtable on Sunday — and I will have to miss part of it because the conference is in BFE in terms of transport. I really hope that the organizers think about these things a bit more next time. /grumpy rant.