Laura gives a researcher’s perspective on what it’s like to attend the largest medieval studies conference of its kind in Europe.
From 3rd-6th July, I attended the 24th International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. I have been attending the Leeds IMC for several years now. The conference used to be held at a now-demolished block of university residences and classrooms towards the north of Leeds, in Adel. A colleague liked to call it ‘medieval boarding school’, but there was an interesting 1150-1170 parish church to go and visit whenever you started getting cabin fever.
Since moving to the city centre, Leeds has only got bigger – more talks, more delegates and more round tables, events and field trips. These days, the final day of the conference is marked by a celebration of all things medieval.
So what keeps me coming back year after year? I find Leeds is a great way to keep in touch with the range and variety of work being done in the different areas of my research interests. In sessions sponsored by research networks and societies such as the Society for Fourteenth-Century Studies, I can meet PhD students and early career researchers, and find out about unpublished work that is still-in-progress. I can also meet archivists and scholars working outside universities, in places such as the London Inns of Court or the History of Parliament Trust.
The internationalism of Leeds is also a major draw. Research projects from across the globe come to sponsor panels and sessions and present on their work at the IMC. In just a few days in the same place, I can find out about interesting research projects that I might never hear about otherwise.
A longer-term benefit of going to Leeds is the improved ‘general knowledge’ of medieval studies you gradually acquire. Dropping in on interesting-sounding sessions that are completely outside your research area, and listening to papers on Carolingian clerics or medieval Ethiopia, is a great way to keep your intellectual horizons open. Some of the specialist insights and approaches found in these papers can be applied to your own work, or they may inspire something new.I also get to appreciate the breadth of medieval scholarship as a whole. Turning to a random page in the conference programme, there is a choice between papers on ‘Byzantines and Seljuks on the Roads of Central Anatolia’, ‘Arabic Love Poetry at the Norman Court of Palermo’ and ‘Middle English Hippiatric Treatises’.
They also enrich your teaching, for academics never teach only on the subjects that they research and write about. A paper heard at Leeds on very specific details of pilgrimage to Rome, for example, may suddenly come in useful if you are asked to teach an introduction to the medieval cult of saints and relics. It also means that your students will get taught the latest research and thinking on a topic, even if they might not realise it. They are more likely to think what a strange person you are for knowing such obscure facts…