Final Berks Post (what I love about the Berks)
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 🙂