|J Hsy and the Tiny Shriner, c. 1 AM|
For the benefit ITM readers or anyone who might be interested, here are some of my thoughts and reflections on Kalamazoo 2012.
1. 2012 = Year of the Roundtable
More than anything else, I found that this year's Kzoo conference demonstrated the vitality of the roundtable format. I attended only one "traditional paper format" session during the entire conference - the rest were roundtables featuring as many as 13 presentations (!) or multimedia sessions that involved a bit of pedagogical/technological show-and-tell alongside traditional papers. After attending many great sessions this year I'm of the mind that the roundtable is totally "the way to go" - not only do you get a greater variety of speakers in one sitting, but there is more time for audience participation afterwards, and - if things go well, as they did in the GW MEMSI "Ecologies" session <http://www.gwmemsi.com/2012/05/ecologies-roundtable-kalamazoo-2012.html> you walk out of the room feeling as if you attended a stimulating and coherent mini-conference.
I'm already talking with a few people about co-organizing a session or two at the next Kalamazoo - and I think I might even entirely avoid giving a "traditional format" paper at Kzoo 2013.
2. Non-Traditional Presentation Formats
Related to 1. above. In the sessions I attended I was struck by a wide range of presentation styles and genres, most notably in the BABEL and postmedieval sessions organized by Eileen A. Joy and Myra Seaman <http://www.siue.edu/babel/KalamazooMay2012Panels.htm>. In the "Burn After Reading" roundtable, I was most struck by Chris Piuma's lyrical (or, as Shyama Rajendran has put it, "Seuss-ical") manifesto re: de-centering "English literature" and the group performance by the art historians in the Material Collective. In his plenary, David Wallace - who is really speaking on behalf of himself as well as a polyglot and international assemblage of contributors - uses this interactive map website <http://www.english.upenn.edu/~dwallace/europe/index.html> to trace a series of transnational literary trajectories. I've seen three different versions of this talk at this point (GW 2009, Padua 2010, and Kzoo 2012) - and admire how he adopts the "rock star" (or "standup comic") approach: shuffling bits and pieces around depending on the venue, incorporating some reliable "hits" as well as topical material.
In the Gower Project sessions (more on these below), I appreciated how presentation styles were made amenable to pedagogical discussions: unscripted talks on teaching and research related websites and resources, and a two-voiced presentation on a nascent student sourcebook of texts about medieval interfaith encounters (Martha Driver spoke about the process of translating Gower's Middle English into modern English, with her collaborator-poet Eugene Richie reading the verse translations aloud). I found this two-voiced approach to the theory, practice, and performance of translation quite engaging. Of course, I certainly see the value of traditional paper formats (my own paper on Gower and disability was in traditional presentation format), but I find that experiments in presentation format - voice, form, use of technology, number of speakers - can push us to think in creative ways while not sacrificing old-fashioned notions of "scholarly rigor."
3. Digital Humanities
Interesting to see the place of digital humanities (DH) this year. Gower Project shows a growing cluster of digital enterprises within Gower studies - I believe it's a very healthy thing for Gower studies we now have multiple sites of online engagement here, and we need not consolidate everything into a single website, database, or approach. The Gower Project website has been beautifully re-designed and re-organized <http://www.gowerproject.com/>, the International John Gower Society page created and maintained by Brian Gastle continues to be updated <http://www.wcu.edu/johngower/index.html>, Malte Urban's crowd-sourcing work on Confessio Amantis manuscripts <http://confessioamantis.org/> looks very promising - even though I'm not sure how it's all supposed to work just yet. Tamara O'Callaghan offered a great presentation on data visualization resources for dealing with unwieldily texts, including Many Eyes <http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/>. I'd say the next step - as far as Gower is concerned - might involve crowd sourcing translation projects. For me, the immediate pedagogical ramifications are the most exciting. Why not have students submit their own translations of a shared passage in, say, one of Gower's major or "lesser" French or Latin works - or (an excerpt from) some other text that has not yet been edited/translated - and make student translations the basis for a class discussion?
There are other aspects of DH that (from my vantage point at least) could use greater attention. As much as we literary scholars use "interdisciplinary" as a buzzword, much of our efforts to date still default to text-oriented approaches (even if we are "visualizing" or "mining" said text in some way), and we could work more concertedly to engage with music, art history, and other fields. I'm also very intrigued by the opportunities that crowd sourced knowledge might continue to produce: for instance, one idea that emerged out of the disability studies roundtable discussion was the idea of a crowd sourced, publicly accessible glossary of terms relevant to medieval disability studies - one that would entail a critical assessment of terms used by medieval people themselves to connote varying notions of "disability." This glossary would also encompasses the many different languages already represented in the field (Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Old French, Italian, Old High German, Latin, and Middle English). Might a similar project on the iconography (cultural signs) of medieval disability be a possibility? (One could easily dream up a project on the "miracle" and healing images in the stained-glass windows of Canterbury Cathedral, for instance.) One issue that came up in the Gower Project was making digital resources more accessible to the disabled: creating websites in line with UDL principles <http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html> and WAI <http://wave.webaim.org/> or thinking more concertedly about cross-platform translatability to, say, tablet devices.
4. Online Publishing
Many of my (real life and online) friends will know that "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects" (AVMEO), ed. Jeffrey J Cohen, has just been published; this volume grows out of a conference organized and hosted by GW MEMSI <http://www.gwmemsi.com/p/conference-page.html> and was published by independently-run Punctum Press; you can download AVMEO as a PDF and/or purchase a hard copy for the reasonable price of $17 (such purchases help support the press): <http://punctumbooks.com/blog/now-published-animal-vegetable-mineral/>. Note that this a "legit" essay collection in every way (very attractive, with ISBN and everything!) and it's available online as an open access publication - read the statement on the copyright page for the details. This seems like a great model for disseminating work in an efficient way - and in a "new" mode that still does two important things: 1. preserves recognizable standards and conventions of academic scholarship, and 2. attaches each contributor's name to her/his work in a way that should not make authors nervous. I'm not as familiar with open access journals - but there was a bit discussion of this in the Gower Project session, and I hope this sort of effort picks up steam.
5. The Land of Broken Promises (Social Etiquette)
I've heard some people refer to Kalamazoo as "The Place Where Good Intentions Go To Die" - that is, people make all sorts of provisional plans to meet up and/or see presentations, but the program pits so many great sessions against one another - and in the shuffle of moving from one session to another plans can shift, people miss each other's messages or calls, and things otherwise fall through. This was the first time I actively had to *schedule* my own social engagements - including, I will add, some blocks of pre-ordained alone time - before arriving at Kzoo. Still, I'm bummed that I still didn't make it to everything (I even missed one engagement after accidentally falling asleep in my hotel room). I guess this is just to say 1. do your best not to be a flake if you'd actually made arrangements with people; and also 2. if you find yourself "stood up" try not to take things all too harshly/personally either. I've learned over time that Kzoo is a social space of improvisation - as Alan Montroso describes it in his blog posting <http://bacchanalinthelibrary.blogspot.com/2012/05/kalamazoo.html>, a concatenation of "micro-assemblages and swiftly shifting networks." Perhaps other people don't bounce around so much hang out with a single "posse" the entire time, but that's certainly my experience. In any case, I find it takes a while to learn how to manage one's ever-shifting social groupings and to come to terms with dynamic ebb and flow of human contact that Kzoo engenders.