I should explain that the International Congress on Medieval Studies, as it's called, is a lot like summer camp for medievalists. There are somewhere around 2,000 attendees, and it's been even higher in the past. Many people stay in the dorms. In addition to over 550 panels covering multiple disciplines and stretched out over four days, there is a gigantic book display, movie showings, a standing-room-only 900-seat auditorium panel sponsored by the "pseudo society" in which folks give satirical papers (usually skewering their own research or things they're known to care deeply about), events and workshops, innumerable wine hours (featuring bottled beers and boxed wine) and a dance. There are plenty of medievalists who don't care for it because it's not considered a "serious" conference. But in some ways, that's what I like about it.
But there's plenty of good intellectual work going on here. I've been coming to this medieval studies conference off and on since... May 2000, when I gave my first paper here (and, incidentally, the first paper ever on the dissertation project that would become my first book). I've given 8 papers here total since then. Some have been very good, and at least one has been a clunker (fortunately, that one was scheduled for Sunday at 8:30 a.m., so no one was there to see it). It's a great place to pitch books, and to meet up in a short time with people you might not have seen for years: sometimes you arrange to meet up intentionally, but more often someone just turns a corner, and there's a happy smile and a hug and 15 unplanned minutes of catching up. It will make you late to the panel you want to attend, but it's worth it, and everybody here gets it.
I'm typing this at the end of day two, and I've been having a great time mixing the fun with the work. In addition to the many happy chance meetups, I've seen:
- Two panels full of uniformly interesting papers on Mediterranean topics -- and all by grad students!
- A panel on medieval charlatans, which I had to leave halfway through for...
- A meeting with my publisher about the new book project, and he's interested in seeing it.
- Breakfast with my dear friend Little Bear, who is smart, compassionate, and possessed of a wildly inappropriate sense of humor, even at 7:30 a.m.
- An amazingly inspiringpanel on writing about the Middle Ages for non-scholarly audiences
- Dinner (and lots of laughter) with a former M.A. student who's now cranking away on her doctorate
- A workshop on how to use an astrolabe, complete with demo models