S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

The business of conferences... and museums...

The heat broke overnight, and today's weather was absolutely perfect. Sure, indoors is still a little stuffier than I'd like, but I can no longer gripe about the swelter of high temperatures and no air-conditioning.

Today was the last full day of the conference and I'd made it to none of the bookrooms until now. I spent the better part of an hour drifting through the rooms in the main part of the conference complex, reading titles and covers and occasionally being tempted to look up book prices. For better or worse, the book which tempted me most cost over 100 - pounds or dollars, I don't know. At that price, I didn't need it in either currency. It hadn't tempted me that much. There were a few books I know I will eventually need to acquire - but there's no hurry. I can use a library version for now. If only the Penguin Gerald of Wales was still in print, the three-for-the-price-of-two might have tempted me.

My morning session mused over the architectural and social origins of Gothic architecture, the role of pentagons, lost wall paintings, and a thriving wine industry.... only that's mixing the three topics excessively. Still, they were all well-presented. We were all jealous of the presenter who'd noticed the residue of wall-paintings in a church he'd been working on - and only noticed them two weeks ago, in time to revise his paper for us accordingly, complete with photos.

I lunched on the lawn with a pair of Canadians, and we talked about how many Canadians there were at the conference. Roberta Frank gave one of the plenaries - her first time at the congress - which probably helped up our overall numbers. (It was at the same time as the Medieval food event.) Still, Toronto wasn't the only place represented. One of my companions teaches in Quebec. She'd run into a Nova Scotian and two scholars from the prairie provinces. M.D. technically lives in Tennessee now, but she's from Canada.

I meant to spent the early afternoon working on my second conference paper, but was instead inspired to substantially rewrite tomorrow's. I like it much better now; it put me in a decidedly good mood for the rest of the afternoon. So did scoring reservations at two of Leeds' most talked-about restaurants. (At least, they're talked about quite a bit on eGullet.)

With the exception of an Avista meeting around dinnertime, discussing ways to further twine related scholarly work in North America, the UK, and Australia, the rest of my day has been devoted to museum. Or rather, talks about museums, and trials of effectively and innovatively presenting Medieval material within them. The Sutton Hoo museumlet has small but intriguing exhibits which are replaced every six months, thanks to a five-year grant. Coins are underused in the study of historical periods, but can reveal all sorts of really nifty information about societies not easily otherwise identified. The Walters Museum has put an enormous amount of thought into their Medieval galleries - and they own some extraordinary pieces.

The evening's plenary was given by the director of the British Museum, a clear-spoken, articulate, thoughtful, well-informed speaker. His core points didn't seem as simple as the way they could be summarized because he did an intelligent job of presenting them. Most striking point: the increasing frequency with which artifacts, especially Medieval pieces, are being misappropriated to define national heritage. The most memorable instance of this for me: the Lewis chess set, a Medieval group of parts of four different chess sets, presumed to have come from Scandinavia en route to Ireland, was buried in Scotland at some point. Now, almost every session, a Scottish MP offers a motion to have the Lewis chess set brought back to Scotland from the British Museum because it is of great importance to the Scots heritage.

Now, strains of dance music drift in through the open door from the cafeteria. And I have only this evening left to rehearse and edit tomorrow's paper as much as it will ever be.

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