Monday, May 24, 2010

Medieval Academy and Arizona Politics

So, in the wake of Kalamazoo, I post on the other big stateside meeting, the one that Kalamazoo was invented as a more casual response to (or so the story goes): The Medieval Academy meeting.

I've never actually presented at Medieval Academy (though I attended once) because it seems so darned hard to get on the program. But this year, it seems, may be different.

Medieval Academy's 2011 meeting is in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Conferences like the Medieval Academy are planned and booked years in advance. Like the AHA's San Diego Hyatt debacle this past January, academics (many of them with progressive politics) found themselves already committed to a location when a boycott-worthy political situation blew up. In both cases, a prestigious conference may end up with low numbers and low revenues. Professors and grad students will have to make some decisions about whether they want to register (either hoping that the situation resolves itself by next April, or just holding their noses and going). Organizers -- well, I feel for these women and men. Putting on a successful conference is a ridiculous amount of work, and it must be frustrating to have that work undermined.

So, medievalists: what are your thoughts on this? Any conference organizers want to chime in?


Historiann said...

I support the boycott on travel to Arizona. But, as someone who had a role in organizing a big conference for 2-1/2 years in advance, I also sympathize with the Medieval Academy program committee and local arrangements folks. They were exited to get to host such a prestigious conference--and now they're looking at all of that going down the drain. (Or some of it, anyway.) They might send a survey out to their e-mail list to see what effect, if any, the boycott on travel to AZ might have on the numbers of people who will participate.

The way to respond as a conference organizer is to acknowledge the political issue and do like the AHA--sponsor several sessions discussing and even critiquing the problem at hand. This would be more of a challenge for a medieval European history conference than for a North American gathering, but I think it can be done: add a keynote speaker and/or sponsor a few sessions talking about the problem of immigration and insiders-vs.-outsiders over the longue duree. Unless I'm mistaken, transnational/transcultural studies have been just as hot in your field as in other subfields of History. (Isn't this part of the rise of the Medieval Mediterranean, because of its engagement with Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East?) For example: what about panels on the expulsion of the Jews from the 12th-15th centuries? What about panels on medieval travelers and immigrants? What about the original reconquista?

The organizers will want to seriously consider doing this for two reasons: First, it's a way to save their audience and registration numbers, because it will possibly encourage those who otherwise would honor the boycott to attend. Secondly, it's an exciting and very local issue that might serve to energize the meeting, if the organizers can find a way to reach people who might skip it this year because of the boycott.

The organizers need to give those folks a way to save face while participating. And those who agree with the new Arizona laws can just skip the special sessions if they don't want to participate.

Dr. S said...

Somehow, the situation that comes to mind is when MLA was scheduled to take place in New Orleans in 2005--and then Katrina hit. MLA relocated to Philadelphia because disaster had made New Orleans no longer possible as a place to go.

The parallel isn't exact, of course. But it's damned close.

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