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Final Berks Post (what I love about the Berks)

12 June, 2011

All right… so despite my grumpiness at feeling marginalized because of my scholarly interests, which grumpiness increased when I overheard the following comments:

“I need one of those handouts — the one with the funny writing” (for two incredibly normal-to-ANY-pre-modernist documents)

“…at least you can ignore all that irrelevant medieval stuff” (‘irrelevant’ definitely modified medieval rather than stuff)

Despite that, I enjoyed the Berks as I have before. There were tons of cool people, and the medievalists (and some other pre-modernists) who were there at least had the chance to see each other and hang out together a bit more than we would have at the Zoo. There was an antiquity paper, two (TWO!) Carolingian papers, a couple of charter papers, and some later stuff. The nice thing about being a medievalist (especially if you’re one like me who started in the 19th C, then moved to Tudor, then to Classics, then forward to Anglo-Norman before settling in the EMA) is that there’s a pretty broad range of stuff that is familiar. The panels I went to were all really good, and almost every paper was solid, interesting, and well worth hearing. There were a couple that were less good, but none were poor. I heard a gorgeous paper on Late Antique cosmetics and pharmacology, a really interesting one on the ways Chinggis Khan used marriage networks, another on Baldwin of Flanders’ marriages… The quality of papers is a real tribute to the program committee(s). I went to a workshop today, and can’t say I loved the format, but that might in part be because the one I went to was sort of cobbled together from a solid panel and some papers that needed homes, I think.

Besides that, though, Berks did offer one of the things it does really well — the opportunity to meet other scholars, make connections, mentor and be mentored, and in my case, get my butt kicked about my inability to move papers to publications. I’m not sure why, but Berks does tend to attract a group of women scholars who just don’t have time for bullshit. It results in a different sort of dynamics — maybe because women in groups, or maybe those women? are really good at being blunt without hurting feelings or egos. So if you are thinking of Berks, then keep an eye out for the CFP. The only way to get more pre-modern on the program is to get involved. And the benefits generally outweigh the costs (which can be semi-pricey, depending on where it is — UMass was expensive, but Minnesota was really cheap). Besides, if you’re anything like me, you teach enough non-medieval stuff that you can still still ask questions at panels 🙂

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 June, 2011 11:52 pm

    The next Berks will be in Toronto in 2014 which is surprisingly cheap if you aren't a frequent visitor to Canada. Check out and see if the start-up airline, Porter, is flying from a city near to you to the Toronto Island (Billy Bishop) airport!Like you, I was saddened that there were a few timeslots where I had to work to find something fit to my interests. Considering that I teach 5500 years of history, that's saying something! More non-North American history, please? Maybe we can cook up a roundtable or even a workshop for 2014?I liked the no-nonsense aspects that you highlighted, but I also appreciated the bonding opportunities. Other women who've had very similar experiences in their personal as well as professional life? They give me hope that I can do so, too. Plus I have to say that all of the receptions were worth the time. It wasn't holding court around a few bigwigs, but a real chance to mingle and talk out interesting ideas.

  2. 14 June, 2011 12:03 am

    I think there were a lot of non-North American sessions, but they were still mostly modern. I seem to recall more Asian, Central/South American, and general PoCo papers than in the past. Still, it feels like some of the same-ol' 'expand the non-North American offerings by cutting irrelevant pre-modern Europe,' shit that we see in academic departments when a pre-modernist retires.

  3. 14 June, 2011 1:37 am

    I need to be much less shy at these things. I tend to duck in, love the papers, and then flee asap. But I thought the organizers did a great job of spacing out the medieval sessions. AND there were far more pre-modern papers this year than there were in 2005, when I think there were only TWO sessions. It was great to see so many medievalists in action, though!

  4. 15 June, 2011 4:57 am

    Yeah — there wasn't a lot of conflict, at least, except on Sunday! *ponders which of the people I probably saw at each session could be Meluseena*

  5. 16 June, 2011 4:00 pm

    ADM, thanks for the updates and also the open letter to the organizers. I haven't been to Berks yet, but am hoping to go the next time. It bums me out when I got to big meetings and there are maybe four papers on medieval subjects, so maybe the more medievalists who go, the better?

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