Monday, May 14, 2012

Even for Kalamazoo, this was weird.

I'm back from Kalamazoo.  The paper went well.  I regret not having spent more time with my fellow bloggers, as I got in after the meetup this year (and Vaulting and Vellum, if you're reading this, my deepest apologies for being vague and scattered every time I saw you -- my brain was simply not working correctly).

But, this year produced one truly memorable incident, probably the most memorable of my many Kalamazoo experiences to date, and so it bears sharing:

I was giving my paper, and we had a good roomful of people in the audience.  Now, for those of you who have never been, one of the things I like about the Medieval Congress is its lack of exclusivity.  Graduate students and independent scholars mix with tenured Ivy League professors, and everyone gets to show off what they're doing.  Interested amateurs also are welcome at the conference, so long as they pay the registration fee.  I don't think there are a huge number of these in attendance, but since there are a lot of medieval history buffs out there, we probably get more than your average conference.

One such interested amateur was in attendance at the panel I presented at.  He was somewhere in his 50s or so, somewhat stout, with a big gray beard.  Afterwards, he made a point of coming up to tell me he had enjoyed my paper, which was nice.  I knew he was not a professional historian, because the upshot of what he wanted to say (after his general appreciation) was a bit of advice for me.  You see, his wife had been a historian (it was unclear whether they were divorced, or she was deceased, or retired), and she had told him that the best material for writing history wasn't found in the public library; you had to go look at things like tax records and such.  Really, I'd be amazed at how much you could figure out from these things.

I responded with several polite versions of "That's absolutely true," because really, the comments were well meant.  But here's the thing:

He was dressed as a pirate.

Well, maybe "musketeer" would be a better description: He was wearing a leather hat with a big ol' feather in it, a leather vest over white shirt with puffy sleeves, and tall boots with big cuffs.  And face it: without a ship in evidence or a parrot on one's shoulder, it's hard to tell whether the swashbuckler that one is facing is land-based or sea-based, right?

Either way, though, this was one for the books.

14 comments:

sophylou said...

Maybe his wife told him that that's what all the historians are wearing these days?

clio's disciple said...

I saw that guy, and that was truly a fantastic hat.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

My only regret is that I didn't get a picture of us together. I'm sure he would have been pleased to let me do it.

Curt Emanuel said...

He was hard to miss and unless there are two individuals fitting this description, I believe his wife was there (at least he was generally in the company of a woman of similar age). BTW, sorry I never ran into you - I believe I saw you once but you looked to be in a deep conversation.

Susan said...

I'm sure you never would have thought of tax records, would you?

Meanwhile, I'm getting my brain around those medieval pirates!

Contingent Cassandra said...

I was at a conference with a similar mix of attendees (but addressing a much later time period, for which tax records are also useful, and sometimes more than a bit creepy, since they list human beings as property) a few months ago. I didn't see anyone quite as colorful as you describe, but did witness a rather higher incidence of sideburns and/or mutton-chop whiskers (among both civilians and grad -- mostly M.A. -- students) than is prevalent in the larger population. I suspect a few of those gents may, on occasion, don blue or gray uniforms for a spot of reenacting, for which opportunities should be plentiful in the next few years. But where a wannabe medieval pirate would go to swashbuckle, I'm not sure.

Comrade Physioprof said...

Now, for those of you who have never been, one of the things I like about the Medieval Congress is its lack of exclusivity. Graduate students and independent scholars mix with tenured Ivy League professors, and everyone gets to show off what they're doing.

One of the meetings I attend regularly is like this. It's definitely more fun to not only listen to my senior colleagues' predictable droning. But we do still lack well-dressed pirate dudes!

Squadratomagico said...

I'm not sure how I would have responded in this situation - it depends a lot on intangibles, like the person's demeanor. But I can't help but feel that this guy was being a little onnoxious, actuallly. It's one thing to welcome non-professionals, and I agree that that is a fun aspect of Kzoo. On the other hand, why is he telling you how to do your job?

Kendra said...

I saw that guy too, and since this was my first time at Kalamazoo, I wasn't sure if his clothing was commonplace or out of the ordinary. Now I know. Wow.

Dr. Koshary said...

Bizarre but fantastic.

And CPP: I think it's pretty obvious that the task of being a well-dressed pirate now falls to you at your conference. Get on that.

Historiann said...

A-HAHAHAHAhahahahaaaaa!

But I'm with Squadrato: you were probably too nice to him. (Still, it's difficult to diss someone who's clearly so enthusiastic. I probably would have been too nice to him, too.)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

H'ann & Squadrato: I read it a little differently. Here was a guy who just wanted to be a part of the conversation. If he had done this during the Q & A, I probably would have been a little annoyed, or maybe embarrassed for him. As it was, it cost me nothing to be courteous.

And I got an EXCELLENT story out of it!

Historiann said...

I hear you. It reminds me of a story a (female medievalist) friend (whom we both have in common) told me about being lectured about good research by an adjunct in her former department who taught 19th C U.S. History. He couldn't understand why she hadn't looked at any letters or diaries from the women she writes about, and wondered in a public seminar about this huge hole in her research.

(Hope you feel better soon.)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Ha! That's hilarious! It sounds like the inspiration for a Pseudo-society paper: "Made aware of this gap in my research, I decided to take my colleague's advice and look into the diaries and correspondence of foureenth-century millers' wives, as well as the minutes from their book club meetings. What I found was astounding..."