Late Medieval Fashion Redressed

Impressions after the Medieval Congress

For the third time, I attended the International Congress on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, which went from Thursday, May 9th through Sunday May 12th. My first time there was 2004, when I was five months pregnant with my son. I experienced the conference with the sense of being an outsider, since I was not affiliated with any academic institutions, nor was I presenting as an independent scholar. I was merely a tourist, eager to see the DISTAFF panels. I enjoyed myself more than I probably would have, had I been in ideal health. I was just coming out of a long haze of pregnancy nausea (it’s not confined to “mornings”, folks), and being able to TRAVEL somewhere and DO something was novel.

Last year I attended as the assistant to Gregory Mele, publisher of Freelance Academy Press and also my sweetheart. We had a booth in the Exhibitions Hall, which is more commonly called “the book room”, though it spills out into other areas beyond the main hall. Once again, I was not presenting, but not for lack of material – I had signed on to present as part of the DISTAFF sessions at the sister conference in Leeds, UK, in July of that year. I must confess: I wanted to present in Leeds so that I would have an excuse to finally see the Royal Armouries in person.

Assisting in a book room booth is deceptively hard work. The hours are grueling: 8AM to 6:30, and since someone must always be present, there is no opportunity to go out to lunch. All we could do, both last year and this year, was catch as catch can, gulping down a sandwich perched in our laps as time permitted. The upside to this endeavor was the networking. If you sit still long enough, people will eventually come by and see you.

Hanging at the booth
Hanging at the booth

Both years, Greg met a number of scholars who had manuscripts appropriate for Freelance. One of those scholars, Noel Fallows, has a book forthcoming as a result of meeting Greg last year (you can see the printer proof on display in the photo above: The Twelve of England). Excellent connections continue to be made. Last year, I found myself asked by a mentor of mine, Robin Netherton, whether or not I would want to present the following year. I agreed on the spot, though my research for the next paper was still an unformed blog rumbling around in my head. The encouragement to present was the fire lit under me that would guarantee I would sit down and actually write something of value, rather than just continue to think about it in a nebulous fashion.

This year, aside from booth assistance, I also had commitments in sessions: 1) As an actress (albeit without lines) in the judicial duel demonstration presented by Greg with assistance from his senior students of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, David Farrell and Jesse Kulla, as well as key players in La Belle Compagnie, a living history group who were also at Kalamazoo that year to present a century’s worth of armour harnesses; 2) As a participant in the DISTAFF exhibit (my Charles VI pourpoint reconstruction); and 3) As a presenter of the paper that finally coalesced into something reasonably coherent: “Martial Beauty: Padding and Quilting One’s Way to a Masculine Ideal in Fourteenth Century France”.  The paper was well-received by the audience at the DISTAFF session in which I presented, and I got a fair number of thought-provoking questions during the Q&A afterwards. I have been invited to submit a fleshed-out version of the paper to be considered for publication in Medieval Clothing and Textiles, a yearly journal published by Boydell & Brewer. Robin and Professor Gale Owen-Crocker are the co-editors, and they have been very kind in encouraging my work over the past few years.

It was a busy but intensely gratifying few days, and it was made all the more wonderful by the great people who came out and supported Greg’s and my efforts.

Sparky, Matt, and Josh
Sparky, Matt, and Josh

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