Thursday, May 11, 2006

K'zoo Round-up

Generally, I try to get in at least three days worth of the International Congress on Medieval Studies -- this year, I got in less than six hours of conference proper, and one dinner. Unfortunately, this drive-by conferencing meant that I missed a lot of people I really look forward to seeing every year, especially Elizabeth Sklar, Kate Laity, and Leslie Lockett (who got a brief hug as I sprinted by her) ... as well as many others.

Still, the Kalamazoo Congress always leaves me feeling pumped and ready to take on the world -- and as always, I committed to working on more projects than any one man could possibly do. Just to give you a sense of it, I agreed to host a medieval Carnivalesque (in principle only, so I don't know when I would do this), agreed to attend TWO international conferences abroad (with only the small matter of not having enough time or money), agreed to work on a vaguely-conceived "East meets West" project (so vaguely conceived that I'm not really sure what I agreed to), and agreed to turn the Global Perspectives in Medieval Literature and Culture book into a series. All in one afternoon. I had a friend ask me this weekend how it is possible to write a dissertation on a topic no one has researched before; hasn't everything already been done? I laughed and laughed.

So, how will I get all this done? I won't. The truth is, most academic initiatives die in the cradle, so I won't have to do most of these. Still, by the time the Congress rolls around next year, I'll have done a lot of them -- at which time, I'll foolishly agree to do more. When I die, I expect I'll have a whole career's worth of work done, and a whole career's worth of work undone.

What you readers really want to hear, though, is about the blogging session. The blogging session had decent attendance, and ran over time without anyone realizing -- which is the sign of a good session. First, about the presenters:

Shana Worthen, at Owlfish, moderated over the session. During the session, she resisted the urge to talk about her own blog, and instead asked questions that were informed by her own blogging. At the time, I appreciated her sensitivity, because it would be easy for a moderator to dominate the session. In retrospect, though, I missed hearing her take on the issues raised, so, Madame Owlfish, I hereby formally request that you respond to your own questions on your blog. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to read what you think.

Michael Tinkler, the Cranky Professor, was a delight with his good-natured crankiness about students. Besides having a lot of interesting things to say about using blogging in pedagogy, it was just really fun sitting next to him. Next time I walk into a session and Tinkler is there, I plan to position myself right next to him and exchange snarky comments -- er, I mean cranky comments.

Elisabeth Carnell, Another Boring Academic, had a really interesting perspective juxtaposing the political blogging of her husband with academic blogging. She seemed to have a really grounded view of the blogosphere generally (probably because of her husband's prolific blogging), and so had the ability to see the forest for the trees. I'm hoping she posts a bit more on that topic in the future.

Michael Drout, of Wormtalk and Slugspeak, finally cleared up for me the allusion of his title. Hooray! I'm a true insider now! He said the most provocative and crowd-pleasing things. My favorite Drout response was to a question about why there are so many medieval bloggers as compared to other fields: "Because we're better than them." Damn straight!

Alison Tara Walker, the moderator of the Medieval Studies Livejournal, combined two necessary perspectives: the grad student, and the moderator of a more-or-less open blog. She brought up the ways in which blogs can introduce graduate students into the academic culture, by answering such questions as, "I'm going to my first conference. What should I wear?" My answer: Pretend it is a job interview. If you are a grad student, it just might be one.

Finally was Lisa Spangenberg, the Digital Medievalist. Contrary to her blog title, she wasn't digital -- she was flesh-and-blood. Perhaps the Analog Medievalist came in her place. In any case, she was the most knowledgable about the nuts-and-bolts of blogging, and offered some sobering advice to anonymous bloggers about the difficulty in maintaining anonymity if someone REALLY wants to find out who you are.

Other issues:

Pseudonymous bloggers really are a shy lot. Only two "came out" to me at the session, though I was told that several others were there. I had expected more people to sidle up next to me to say: "Psst. I'm Blogger So-an-So." Of course, they would have had no guarantee that I'd keep their secret, so perhaps I should not be surprised.

The Blogosphere as meat market. A couple of female bloggers mentioned to me the problem of men hitting on them (electronically) because of their blogs. I gotta admit, that one blindsided me. I had no idea such things were so common. How does one craft that e-mail? "Dear Miss Blogger, I have been reading your blog for several months now, and it is clear to me that you've been flirting with me though coded messages in your posts. I think we should get together and knock some very sensual boots. If my font arouses you, please reply privately via e-mail. Please also include a nude photo and a copy of your CV..." I myself have had no proposals through my blog, but then again, I have posted an accurate picture, which no doubt frightens away potential mates and small children.

I wanted to hear more from non-academic users of medieval blogs. I met one non-academic pseudonymous poster, and really wished I had time to pin him down and talk to him about his community. I also wanted to hear more about how people have used their blogs as a form of public outreach. I think Drout and I are pretty much in agreement that such public outreach could invigorate the field, and I had a conversation with a VIM (Very Important Medievalist) at dinner that night in which the VIM (not a blogger) also declared the the field needed more things like blogs for public outreach. Perhaps in some future year we should have a session about how to use blogs as public outreach, or how to do public outreach generally. Hmmm, now there is a session idea: Non-Academic Public Outreach for Medieval Studies. Get a blog paper in there, as well as a couple of other ideas, and we're in business.

In any case, I enjoyed the session, and enjoyed meeting people in the flesh. At future conferences (both K'zoo and regional), let's get together, drain a bottle of gin, and plot the future of medieval studies.


  1. I was very glad to meet you, and I second your suggestion that Shana should answer her own questions on her blog; that's an excellent idea.

  2. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Anyone have thoughts on why the US has a much more bigger/more active medieval blogging community compared to other parts of the world?

    There are, insofar as I'm (un)aware, no prominent (or otherwise) medievalist bloggers outside the USA.

  3. There are several in Toronto, and I know of one in, umm . . . Ontario, I think. The others I read that are in Europe post in Welsh and French.

  4. Anonymous7:39 PM

    You got it - I'll bring the gin!

    No one flirts with me, either. ;) And not at Congress - I just have no luck!) I might need to work on that topless public-access online photo spread. Or Not.

  5. Anonymous5:52 AM

    Je pense que my French isn't quite up to it without a good deal of effort. As for Welsh - fuggedaboutit! I don't have the hwyl! (and have never studied it at all).

    I would be interested in the addresses of the French blogs if you could post them here perhaps though?

  6. My blog may or may not be prominent, but it is out of North Bay, Ontario and concerns anything I consider Early History. (As opposed to stuff after railways.)

    I was mostly motivated to blog not to get into the blogging action with other bloggers, but so that I have someplace to post additional material that I'd like my students to have access to.

    Of course, it is open to the world.

  7. "Contrary to her blog title, she wasn't digital -- she was flesh-and-blood. Perhaps the Analog Medievalist came in her place." I'm such a nerd that that totally cracked me up!

  8. Anonymous6:41 AM

    Thankyou professor Muhlberger: very nice site.