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Saturday at Kalamazoo

One perennially unobtainable goal at the medieval congress is enough sleep. Receptions last well into the evening and it's so easy to be sidetracked talking to a new acquaintance or long-lost friend when otherwise en route to sleep. So my Saturday began very nicely with a nap, a fine start to a very good day.

After buying a modest two books at the bookroom, I ran off to the Avista business meeting. If any of you work on food technologies in the Middle Ages, do let me know - I'm now organizing a session for Avista on it for next year.

The afternoon was fabulous: how could I resist a panel comprised of Chris Given-Wilson and Terry Jones? Neither could several hundred other people. I perched on a step. Given-Wilson is hilarious, and argued, among other things, that the Wilton Diptych* is a paean to virginity - everyone depicted in it is a virgin. This logically led to speculation on what the collective noun for a group of virgins might be. Also, "Richard" was a name only given to younger sons - it wasn't a kingly name. Jones spoke with alarming rapidity, but his well-labeled Powerpoint was easy to follow: Richard II was a good, responsible monarch, and all this talk about being a tyrant is besmirchment by Henry IV. Afterwards, there was wild applause, and then a book signing.

A year ago, in the late hours in the night which were contributing to last year's lack of sleep, Elisabeth Carnell and I hatched plans for a weblog session at this year's Kalamazoo. On Saturday afternoon, six panellists**, one moderator, and a good twenty-four-or-so audience members*** I'm not the best person to tell you how the panel went since I was moderating, and it was my first time chairing a session. But I can tell you that the roundtable participants were forthcoming, satisfyingly opinionated, and didn't require too much prompting to keep the dialogue going. We made it through all the most important questions I wanted to deal with****, and kept the discussion fairly well focused on weblog use as it pertains to medievalists and medieval studies in particular. There was clearly a great deal of interest in the pedagogical uses of weblogs.

We knew there'd be plenty of bloggers in the audience. Meeting Baraita was one of the unexpected highlights for me - and, of course, the pleasure of meeting the roundtable participants I didn't already know. Afterwards, I wandered briefly over to wine hour - where I ran into childeric. C.M. and I were en route over to nab seats for the Pseudo Society when S.W. pulled up in a car. Thanks to him, dinner was civilized and quick at an all-you-can-eat salad, baked goods, soup, and ice cream bar. The cheese biscuits***** were really good. We still managed to get some of the last groups of seats, a block way up in the very front row, where I chatted with History Geek and Digital Medievalist Project members until the evening's entertainment got underway.

For those who have not previously encountered it, the Pseudo Society is an annual tradition at Kalamazoo. It's a session of all fake papers, delivered with straight faces and - when successful - designed to be really funny. "The Sentinel's Tale: A Chaucerian Forgery by a Post-Post-Chaucerian Forger" was full of good puns, mostly related to shoes. "The Passions of Thomas Becket" included alcohol, sailing, fishing, and massage. It was funnier than my summary makes it sound. The image documenting massage was a highlight; also, Becket using a human cannon and shooting out into the air. As for the last paper... well... I laughed a few times and completely failed to get the rest of it; this says a great deal about my lack of immersion in critical theory.

I tired early at the dance, but not before catching up with lots of the Toronto crowd, meeting more of the UCLA crowd, bonded with dark_age_gal over gaming, and appreciating the coconut notes in ballincollig's BPAL-of-the-day.

* Because no study of Richard II is complete without a new suggestion for the meaning of the Diptych.
** H.D. Miller was, sadly, unable to join us, thanks to a family emergency.
*** At least one of whom kept wanting to post comments in reply to things which had been said.
**** Does blogging provide an effective form of personal publicity? Do you wish you'd chosen to blog anonymously instead of under your own name? What does the medium of blogging do better for Medieval Studies than forums, discussion boards, and other types of web-based interaction? Why is there so much more blogging about academics in general than specific research subjects? Why is blogging important for the field of Medieval Studies in particular?
***** In the American sense of biscuit


May. 8th, 2006 08:10 am (UTC)
We made it through all the most important questions I wanted to deal with

So what were all the answers? :)
May. 8th, 2006 02:46 pm (UTC)
= blogs are good, I'm guessing
May. 9th, 2006 05:24 am (UTC)
Huh. Sounds very sunny. Were there no criticisms or concerns at all? I love blogging, of course, and spend a lot of time doing it, but that doesn't mean it's a flawless system.

I'm reminded of the time, a decade or so ago, when educators confidently declared that online learning was going to solve all the world's problems. Just get the students into a chat room or a web board and the course'll damn well teach itself! We don't need to pay to heat the room or photocopy any papers! We can show pictures! The MTV generation thinks like this so they will automatically love it!

We know better now (and some of us, I add bitterly, knew better even then). I understand the honeymoon thing but I think it's a good idea to get past it. If there were concerns about blog culture expressed at the panel (drama, TMI, 'friend' language, stalking, boundary/authority issues, and so on), I'd love to hear more about them. If not, then maybe I oughtta present my opinion next year and be all curmudgeonly and shit. :)
May. 10th, 2006 05:11 am (UTC)
There was extensive discussion of security issues. Many weblog hosts are happy to roll over and tell all about their customers if they are convinced you work for an ISP. One advantage of LJ is locking/privacy. Weblogs are particularly good tools for specific things - I spun the question towards what are they specifically good for; obviously there are many other fine tools out there, and few of them are interchangable for most needs. Anonymity - or lack there of - can be a problem; there are real advantages to not giving one's identity away with a blog - empowers more specific discussions. There was a passing discussion - with a few examples - of stalking problems. Didn't get into boundary/authority issues, only passing mention of "friend" language, but then that's particularly bad on LJ and the panel didn't really get into comparative weblog hosts in great detail.

So that's some of the concerns that came up. It was only an hour and a half, and I was trying to keep it focused on medieval studies in particular, but there's certainly room to discussion other issues, as you mention. We're considering panel options for next year.
May. 10th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
Which is to say, if you have concrete ideas for format other than a pedagogy one, do tell!