Blogging the AHA
Let's see -- the AHA. I never got to any of the professional panels, because there was too much going on! Yes, there was a whole lotta medieval. Seriously -- On Thursday, not so much on Friday, and again on Saturday and Sunday. Not just Medieval, but Early Medieval cleverly slipped in under the radar (because no one wants to hear that stuff). Plus blogger meetups and plans for a Kazoo panel!
So here's the short (for me) version of my AHA this year (and can I say how much better AHA is when not on either side of the interview table? Still, the only reason I can think of to go is to see non-medieval folk, because there's something about it ...more on that later).
Day One: The student who accompanied me really wanted to go to the first panel. I'm glad s/he did. Ran into Extremely Cool Colleague from Jesuit U while registering. Yay! Then a very decent panel, especially the papers on portents and forgeries. I was less enthused about the comment, because post-Postmodernism is only slightly more interesting to me than Postmodernism. I think it's because I'm not really convinced that our approaches to texts is legitimized by Postmodern theory -- perhaps more in the eyes of lit people, but ...?? Then, I think you all know by now that I tend to use whatever approach works, and feel no need to worry about how things get into my toolbox, as long as the tools are there. Jargon aside, I really didn't agree with some of the comment anyway, because I thought there was too much lumping of Classical sources with Late Antique, and sometimes I think they have to be considered separately.
Day Two: Due to a nosebleed, I only made it to part of the first panel -- outside my normal choices, but on a subject that does hold my interest, plus a friend was presenting. Made it to her paper, and joined into lively discussion, then went to an overpriced lunch with nice people. After, met up with the student to go to the book room -- to which s/he had already gone. So we went to a panel of the student's choice -- on late Medieval Spain. Enjoyed watching the student absorb the fact that Europeanists are expected to speak other languages -- one of the papers was in Spanish, and the question and answer session was bilingual. Still, the papers I understood (I got about a quarter of the third, but Castilian is hard for me to follow, and I really don't speak Spanish properly anyway) were pretty good, especially -- and this is hard to admit! -- the one on customs (the tax sort) after the unification. Even better, I ran into Pilgrim/Heretic on the way in, and we firmed up our plans for meeting for dinner.
Dinner was fantastic! We went to one of my favourite places in DC (thanks to Tiruncula for the idea!) -- Two Amys. Food pix to follow. Let's just say it was affordable and very tasty. Plus I met the famous LWI, who is one of the most charming people I have ever met.
Day Three: Blogger meetup was me and Belle. Apologies from many, who had either overslept or had interviews. Still, that was fun. Then off to the first Medieval Social Justice panel. All the papers were good, although really, they needed to be seen in the context of the second panel as well. The second paper was the one I appreciated most in terms of my own work, as it dealt with law and showed very convincingly, I thought, that there was a good deal of unease in the Carolingian period over the extents to which the judicial system seemed at the mercy of political tides. The third paper, on hostages, led to a really interesting discussion about what hostage-taking even means. This paper and the first fit best into the purpose of the session, which was looking at the MA in terms of approaching social justice issues now.
The aims of the panels became much clearer in the second session, where we were given not one, but two calls to action -- to speak out against social injustice. Or at least, the aims of some of the panelists. The paper on marriage equity was, I thought, fantastic, and it and the very first paper, on prisons, made me think an awful lot about the role of faculty in exploring ideas of social justice. They also -- and this is true of most of the papers that explicitly addressed social justice issues -- made me more convinced that we really do have to keep our roles separate. I think, and I said this, that there is a huge difference between introducing certain themes, and arguing whether they are right or wrong. This is especially true when dealing with the MA -- and honestly, I think that we do our subjects an injustice when we try to make the past too relevant. Yes, some of the same, or similar, issues were important to them as to us. BUT -- I think it shortchanges the importance we must place on context if we try to draw too many parallels. I think this is why I appreciated the approaches in the hostage, prisons, and marriage papers the most (in terms of raising issues). Yes, in at least two of them, there were implicit parallels being drawn; but they remained on the side where the parallels were used to explore the questions, and how they were conceived in the MA. They were good reminders that these were not new issues, and that there have been different, and sometimes better, arguments made around those issues in the past. Yet they remained separate: the audience could make the connections, but in a way that raised questions, not that supplied answers.
One of the more eminent audience members contributed fairly eloquent responses to the issue -- although it was noted that he himself has spoken up on social and political issues. Moreover, it was noted many times that, for many of us, being historians does inform our world views and often helps to hone our arguments when it comes to social and political issues. But whether it shapes our ideas of social justice, or whether we should in turn use our positions as academics to legitimize our ideas of what are essentially issues of right and wrong is a different matter. Happily, the sessions proved especially beneficial in raising those questions -- what are our rights and responsibilities? Where do we draw the line between scholarship and politics? They were indeed 'thinking' sessions, and were worth the price of admission.
After that, lunch. Then back to roam around, unsuccessfully try to catch up with old friends, unexpectedly meet up with Ralph Luker and Sepoy and another friend for coffee, run through the book room (which I found far too overwhelming) and then to meet the student for a reception. The reception was fun, but I didn't eat enough, and then was unable to meet with some folks for dinner, so ended up going to another reception, then running into Sepoy and some of his colleagues in the lobby, where they kindly included me in their group and we sat and talked for a very long while. Should have eaten more! But I think I have a good idea for a session for Kalamazoo in 2009, which is always a good thing.
Day Four: Ugh. Far too tired, so met Pilgrim and LWI for breakfast, then went off to the last session -- Really good. All Carolingian! All the time! Stuff I could ask questions about AND comment on without feeling an idiot! And I'm chairing a panel with two of the panelists in May, so that's a good thing. Plus, I got to meet somebody else I'd wanted to meet for a long time, and had a very helpful talk on sources, my current project, and other such things. Had to leave before lunch, but still was happy to have been there. Got home hours and hours later, fed cats, collapsed.
How was your holiday conference?