Ok, so it’s been a couple weeks too long since I began my report from the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress…and it’s now about 2:30 on Thursday, and I’m waiting for the Society for Military History’s annual conference to start, in Lisle, Illinois. In other words, a PERFECT time to finish a lot of outstanding business, including a book review, some applications, an over-due conference paper, and, oh yeah, the dissertation. That kind of trip. Add to that that I somehow have to keep training despite my back once again deciding that this is the perfect time to seize up, as I have testing next week. Sigh…Don’t give me any sympathy, I give myself plenty as it is.
Anyway, Kalamazoo…I left off on Thursday night, as I recall, feeling very miserable by the end of the day. That being the case, I still went to the gym that morning, as I didn’t yet feel at the point of collapse. Then clean up, breakfast, alone—it must have been my timing, but this ‘Zoo I never really saw anyone I knew at breakfast, except folks I didn’t know well enough to just walk up and sit down. “Hi, how ya doo’in, mind if I join you, oh wait, I already have…” The first order of business was the 10 a.m. White Hart session, “Politics, Culture, and the Arts in Late Medieval England.” Truly excellent session, one of my favorites I think. First was Christopher Berard, from the University of Toronto, giving a paper on “Edward III’s Abandoned Order of the Round Table.” Chris’ premise is deceptively simple: in 1344, Edward had tried to form a chivalric order based on Arthurian themes. A few years later, he founded the Order of the Garter, which quite noticeably had no Arthurian connections. What happened? His answer was interesting, pointing to the gradual change in army composition, which moved Edward away from the sort of Arthurian display still beloved by the French military. Thought-provoking, I have to say. There are many nuances, of course, regarding the social composition of the English army—the superior ratio of 3:1, archers:men at arms, doesn’t become a standard fixture till later in the century; Edward III’s armies tended to be 1.5:1 or often 1:1. But the changes of emphasis, and the established trends in military composition, seem to ground the discussion well, and I think Chris is raising an interesting challenge to our normal conception of Edwardian chivalry. Not a challenge that is easily answered, either. I’m looking forward to hearing and reading more of his work in the next few years. The next paper, by Kristin Pinyan, was entitled “Affinity, Nationalism, and Religious Devotion: Sir William Porter’s Book of Hours, c. 1420-25.” Also very interesting, in that, if memory serves, she analyzed the saints included in Sir William’s devotional, and traced them back to various personal and Lancastrian connections [for some reason, I don’t have any notes connected to this talk, why I’m not sure—it was certainly an interesting one. One of several anomalies in my ‘Zoo records this time around]
The final paper was by the inimitable Craig Taylor, on “Henry V and Chivalry.” Craig shares a Rochester connection with me and other Kaeuper students, having been one a good while back. His speaking style is mesmerizing, and he’s always interesting to hear. The thrust of his paper was a list of books recommended to Henry V as essential reading on war and chivalry. And this is a very problematic list of books, if you think about it—there’s no crusade (though I have my own opinion on why that is, and it’s not a popular one), and the books disagree with each other on the essence of martial culture. Vegetius and the Prose Lancelot make strange bedfellows (I wish Bernard Bachrach had been present to hear that…would have been interesting). From here, Craig went on to elaborate on the misconceptions which beset chivalry, and how we need to ditch those in order to understand how a list such as this would have made sense to a medieval warrior. He argued in particular that we need to get away from using and studying “chivalry” as such, and focus more on “honor” and “masculinity,” which inform the medieval warrior’s outlook. In many ways I think the field is already moving in that direction, without taking up Dr. Bolton’s vigorous comment that we should ban the word “chivalry” altogether. I for one won’t do that—I agree with Kaeuper that it’s not only useful, but also how medieval knights described and classified themselves. It’s a term that must be dealt with…Kind of like “feudalism,” which I still use as well, because, well, what the heck. We haven’t found a better term. And no, “feudo-vassalic relations” is NOT a better term. But I digress.
Another anomaly in my notes: nothing for the 1:30 session…Ah, right, I was finishing prepping my paper, which had grown much more complicated because I noticed in the 10 a.m. session that the room didn’t seem prepared for A/V equipment, even though I was quite sure I’d requested some. It was one of those Valley rooms—those who know the layout of WMU for this conference know that what you see is what you get in that case. So, any additional time I may have had to slip into the back of the 1:30 sessions went into making and assembling a make-shift handout—not a bad thing, on the whole, but I didn’t have time to staple them, which was awkward. As it was, I missed another White Hart session on “crown and country” which included doubtless excellent papers by John Leland, Peter Fleming (who I’d met the night before. Great chap), Joel T. Rosenthal, and Adrian Jobson. If anyone has notes from that session that they’d like to share, I’d appreciate it!! Other notable sessions I missed included a round table on “Approaching Six Hundred Years of Joan of Arc,” and the Oakshott Institute’s session on scholarship and swordsmanship in the Lichtenauer martial arts. Ditto my request for notes…I was really disappointed to wind up missing ALL the sword sessions.
So, I walked into my session with about 5 minutes to spare, in a white shirt and waistcoat, with pocket watch, just dripping with sweat as the heat and humidity were reaching their climax, and feeling like I was going to cough my lungs out anyway—stupid tickle in the back of the throat, you know how that is. The session, from what I heard, went really well. I certainly enjoyed the other papers—by Jonathan Goode on propaganda during the English occupation of Northern France, and by David Green on “Legislation throughout the Later Plantagenet Dominions.” Jonathan considered the competing propaganda messages of Bedford’s administration and the dauphin’s government at Bourges, and concluded that the English lost the propaganda battle badly in occupied France—they relied on pictorial means, rather than on broad sheets or written polemic, they couldn’t squelch the rival coronation, and Henry VI’s coronation as king of France was a PR flop. David led off with a question asking what were the late English government’s priorities? His answer to that was that, as legislation shapes and is shaped by attitudes toward government, the top priority of late Plantagenet legislation lay in ‘establishing, defining, and regulating allegiance.’ This allows us to look at the broad sweep of crown legislation, as well as the relationship of the various crown dependencies to the central government (in some ways, David’s approach seemed to complement well Ormrod’s article in the James Campbell festschrift from about 10 years ago…). When we take this approach, we can see a steady increase in laws aimed at regulating, defining allegiance, excluding based on outward markers of allegiance (or lack of them), etc. Good papers.
The rest of the day was bit confused, as I got the time slots of the White Hart business meeting and annual lecture mixed up, and wound up missing both anyway. Right after my session I went off with David and Doug Biggs, who chaired the session, and Peter and Sandra from Medievalists.net, to do a video recap of our conference experiences so far. That was fun—Peter and Sandra have posted that, as well as recaps with Kelly DeVries, Dana Cushing, and others on Youtube. Look for the “Medievalverse Roundtable” videos. After that, things got very confusing, as I got an email from one of my St. Louis friends, asking if I wanted to go to the Crusades Society dinner, as there were a few empty seats courtesy of people who couldn’t make it. That was a fun time, though again by the end of the evening I was really dragging. Got to spend the whole evening with Dana, Kelly, and John France, and it was both educational and entertaining. Among other things, we got the back story to just how exactly Kelly wound up doing that Castillo Loarre documentary for Kingdom of Heaven. The rest of the evening was spent at the receptions, but by the time I got there they were basically out of drinks—first time THAT’S ever happened to me. Got to talk to more folks, run some ideas past people, etc. Aaaaaand there was waaaaaay too much drinking going on in some quarters. My crew were fine, as always, but there’s always a few folks who get utterly sloshed, and I found myself backing away from several…I guess “conversations” is the right word…I’m totally with Jeffrey J. Cohen (on a post-Zoo Twitter dialog) that we shouldn’t get too uptight, and what happens at the dance doesn’t seem to have hurt anyone’s career over the years, but all the same I think there are limits. At some level it’s still a professional setting.
Saturday began around 4:00 a.m., with a group outside my window giving their all in a lively rendition of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” And it got better from there. Oh, that’s right. I DID make it to Bartlett’s plenary talk about Gerald of Wales; very entertaining, and I liked his “comparative ethnographies” approach. After that, Meg wasn’t feeling well, and the day got a bit unraveled. We went to our friend Kristi’s session on teaching and performance in medieval literature, and I think I picked up a lot of interesting tips and techniques. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to use some of them in the not-too-distant future. The main session of the day for me was the 1:30 De Re Militari Session, with Nicholas Agrait, Steve Muhlberger, Lars Wolke, and my friend Ilana Krug all giving great papers. Agrait gave an interesting assessment of intelligence and espionage operations along the Castilian-Granada border in the later Middle Ages. Steve gave another great paper on Charny’s Demandes, and certainly one that keeps getting under the skin of those who tend to view concepts such as “honor” and “prowess” as cultural abstractions. Steve certainly doesn’t, and sees Charny’s concerns as very practical in nature. That’s always been the problem with the Demandes, of course, since if you don’t regard them as an academic exercise (which neither I nor Steve do), then what practical function did they serve? Steve’s assessment is that these questions regarding what, in a given situation, is more honorable, are meant to serve as a guide to what gentlemen should expect, and how they should be expected to act, when they join the king’s host. If you belong to the club of worthy men at arms, then you are expected to behave in the ways he establishes in the situational questions. The consequences of this for battlefield performance could be significant; say there are two groups of scouts who meet the enemy. One group stays and fights, the other keeps to the mission, withdraws, and makes its report. Which one deserves more honor? Yet curiously, Steve seemed to shy away from saying that Charny was seeking to instill some kind of cultural military “doctrine” in the king’s army, which is where I thought this was going. I look forward to hearing more of his work. Lars Wolke was discussing military change in Denmark and Sweden in the later Middle Ages, with a lot insights into their place in broad military developments of the late Middle Ages. Ilana gave a really interesting paper on the use of honey in military provisioning (a technical talk right up my alley, as she and I have spent a lot of time looking at the same records!). She notes that it’s always part of castle garrison provision accounts, but it’s not clear at all just how it was used—as a sweetener, doubtless, and as mead eventually, but the quantities used and supplied don’t add up to large-scale use in those ways. There might be a different explanation, however, and that might be medicinal use, as we know that honey has great medicinal properties. She’s still looking for any relevant manuscripts or treatises, though, that explicitly talk about using honey for wound treatment (aside from the famous account of Henry V’s wound…I think honey was used there, I might be misremembering).
I went to Meg’s session at 3:30, as I was still kind of worried that she might still be under the weather, and it’s always a good thing to support one’s significant other. As it happened, she was fine, and gave a great presentation (as always). But I did wind up missing the De Re session with Dana’s paper on the crusades as an aspect of maritime strategy, and Peter’s paper on the Mongols and Edward I, and I still feel bad about that. But, sometimes there’s nothing to be done, and I’d gotten an advanced copy from Dana as it was. It would have been nice to see the full presentation, though, since she always does a wonderful job integrating the slides with the paper, greatly enhancing the argument. But I heard it went well, no surprise there. The rest of the evening was a blur, kind of literally. By evening, I was really down for the count, but was still determined to go to the dance and the SLU reception. And I learned something in those next twelve hours: if you drink a lot of red wine (preferably Cab or Merlot), and then engage in a dance marathon, you will wake up next morning feeling about 200% better. No kidding. Of course, I did wind up missing most of the 8 a.m. session, in which was Tom Madden’s paper on “competing narratives” of the Fourth Crusade. As I said, I missed most of it, and heard just enough to wish I’d managed to hear the whole thing, but c’est la vie. The thrust of it seemed to be that medieval folk didn’t have our more holistic view of the crusade, because we are able to pick up a book that has many different accounts, whereas most people at the time had just one account, I think he said Villehardouin’s. I finished up the conference by attending the Mandeville session at 10:30, and it was actually quite good (it’s not technically my area, hence the qualifier). The various papers looked at the Mandeville author’s exploration of gender, the Muslim “Other,” and “Eastern Religions” in general…And they were all well done, made eminent sense (the presenters were Nathan Ristuccia, Andrew Klein, and Chelsea Alexander. I was particularly impressed with Klein’s talk, “Romancing Islam in the Middle English Mandeville’s Travels.”). It’s always refreshing for me to hear a literary “take” on such texts outside of my own institution, since there are many different ways to approach the topic, and one develops “blinkers” after a while.
I only got about eight books this time, but they were worth it—I even found the rarest of books, Juliet Vale’s Edward III and Chivalry, which is virtually unobtainable. Bless The Compleat Scholar; and I did break down and purchase Loud’s translation of sources for Barbarossa’s crusade. And got a lot of good TEAMS books. And a couple of other titles, including a newer edited volume on the early Staufen.
And that was it. We packed up and loosely caravanned back to Rochester, in some of the worst driving weather I’ve seen in a LONG time. Awful. But, we all made it back safely, and then it was on to the next project. All in all, a great ‘Zoo, memorable for all the right reasons. I just wish I hadn’t felt like death warmed over until Sunday morning!! My SLU friend Dan Webb and I are doing a session on medieval Germany and the crusades, which thanks to Dan’s connections is supposed to be one of the Crusades Studies Forum’s batch. If that does go through, and if you have a paper you’d like to give on some aspect of that topic, let me know.
Pax vobiscum till next year.