sml logo Dark Ages Re-Creation Company sml logo

Monday, May 22, 2017

Let's Talk About ICMS, baby!

OK we admit it isn't as fun as the actual song but ICMS is always a fun time.

For those who don't know ICMS is the International Congress on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo each May. You can see the conference website at

We were going to summarize it but frankly the Congress writers do a good job already:
The International Congress on Medieval Studies is an annual gathering of around 3,000 scholars interested in medieval studies. The congress features around 575 sessions of papers, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops and performances. There are also some 100 business meetings and receptions sponsored by learned societies, associations and institutions. The exhibits hall boasts nearly 70 exhibitors, including publishers, used book dealers and purveyors of medieval sundries. The congress lasts three and a half days, extending from Thursday morning, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m., until Sunday at noon.
The PDF with the whole schedule can be seen at

Sessions we sponsored:

This year on behalf of EXARC Neil facilitated a session and co-sponsored another one.

155: Archaeology and Experiment: Moving beyond the Artifacts - Thursday 7:30-9 pm
  • Symmetry and Asymmetry in Viking Age Dress V. M. Roberts, Independent Scholar
  • The Growth of Yeast and Mold on Viking Age Flat Bread versus Modern Sliced Bread Marci Lyn Waleff, Independent Scholar
  • Minimalist Survival Gear: Three Points in Time Stevan E. Waleff, Independent Scholar
Although attendance was lower than in past years (the joy of moving to an evening session) - it was a good session with lots of Q & A from the audience. No-one simply read a paper. These were people passionate about their topics (even the mold) talking WITH the audience about those topics. And the questions at the end really showed the level of audience engagement we got in return. We could have stayed longer answering questions.

41: Medieval Tools (A Roundtable) - Thursday 10-11:30 am
Sponsor: AVISTA: The Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science, and Art; DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion); EXARC; Medica: The Society for the Study of Healing in the Middle Ages; Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica

A roundtable discussion with Constance H. Berman, Univ. of Iowa; Carla Tilghman, Washburn Univ.; Frank Klaassen, Univ. of Saskatchewan; Linda Ehrsam Voigts, Univ. of Missouri–Kansas City; and Darrell Markewitz, Wareham Forge

DARC had planned on two sessions

DARC Fibre Stitch and Bitch Team did a "gathering" in Valley I Shilling Lounge over lunch on Friday. Attendance was lighter then Karen would have liked, but we all had a good time. Lisa-Anne and Jen brought prizes to raffle off, and everyone walked away with something new. Valley I is a bit out of the way to catch the noon hour crowd, but no worries, we have a new plan for next year to catch the eye of the textile geeks at the conference!

We also planned on:

224: Casting an International Congress on Medieval Studies Pilgrim’s Badge (A Workshop) -  Friday - 10-11:30am
Sponsor: Dark Ages Recreation Company
A hands-on workshop led by Darrell Markewitz, Wareham Forge, allows attendees to learn the process of casting pewter tokens in a soapstone mold as was done in the Middle Ages, allowing attendees the opportunity to cast a pilgrim’s badge they can take away for a cost of $5.00.

That one died when the folks at the border stopped Darrell from crossing. Very disappointing.

That leaves the question of what we were up to when we weren't running sessions?

First Darrell's border problem had a cascade effect in that he obviously couldn't attend session 41. Neil stepped in for him at the last moment and had a lot of fun speaking to the value of EXARC. Some wonderful questions from the audience on a number of topics including how museums can use EXARC. Frank spoke very well about the museum exhibit development Magica did and the fun that 3D printers can bring to the work. We also discussed their value in rapidly prototyping and the problems that come because of the materials involved.  That also led to a discussion on experiential versus experimental activities; skills versus technologies; and some other fun topics.

Beyond that we attended sessions, walked around _a lot_, and enjoyed the new Valley dining centre. 

So let the Reviews begin. 

Thursday 1:30-3pm 

Encounters with the Paranormal in Medieval Iceland I: Definitions and Categories 
  • Doomsday in Medieval Iceland Kolfinna Jónatansdóttir, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Sacramental Showdowns: Catholic Priests versus Icelandic Undead Kent Pettit, St. Louis Univ. 
  • “Cherchez (Pas) la Femme”: Defining Fylgjur in Old Icelandic Literature Zuzana Stankovitsová, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Trolling Guðmundr: Paranormal Defamation in Ljósvetninga saga Yoav Tirosh, Háskóli Íslands 

Were the papers read or talked about? Read/Read/Read/Read 
First suggestion - make sure your Presider can talk loudly enough to be heard past the second row of seats or use the microphone technology in the room. Second - don't let your presenters sit down. Bad enough they are reading at us, sitting down just kills their vocal volume and any hope of passion/change of tone/etc. [Karen] Actually, I thought that the guy who sat through his reading was quite animated and I could hear him better then the Presider. I was skeptical about his biases in the paper. He was talking about the transition from Paganism to Catholicism in Iceland, and he was quite a bit biased in favour of Catholicism. [/K] All of the papers were interesting enough topics but it was really hard to engage with them at any depth. At this point Neil will go download them from Academia read them, and he will get a lot more out of them then we did from the "presentations". 

[Neil] I know I drone on about this but honestly when you have 15 minutes - don't use it to read the stiff, formal words of your paper at us. Summarize it for us, hit the high points, show us pictures and graphs, get us excited to go get a copy and read all the little details. If you don't think you can do this - talk to me and I'll help. Or start by reading these two articles.... [/N] 

Thursday 3:30-5pm  

Encounters with the Paranormal in Medieval Iceland II: Social Concerns 
  • “Who is Selkolla, what is she?”: Disentangling Traditions in the Sagas of Guðmundur Arason and Elsewhere Shaun F. D. Hughes, Purdue Univ. 
  • 45 Geocentric Topographies in Barðar Saga Snæfellsáss: Locating the Paranormal from Snæfellsness to Hellalund Daniel Remein, Univ. of Massachusetts–Boston 
  • Cognitive Contingencies: Íslendingasögur’s Speculative Realism and the Value of Uncertainty Miriam Mayburd, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Glámr and the Uncanny Valley: A Cognitive-Semiotic Reading of Grettis saga Sarah Bienko Eriksen, Univ. of California–Berkeley 
  • Talking to Death in Alvíssmál Andrew McGillivray, Univ. of Winnipeg 

Read/Read/Read/Read/Read some with and some without powerpoint presentations.
Better presider but the rest was mostly the same. Again we'll download the papers and we'll see.  The first paper is a better speaker but he does tend to speak regularly.  An interesting look at a class of character.  Paper two was a standard survey type paper collecting useful information.  No clue about the third paper - but it was the presider from the previous session and she sat down.  So really hard to hear.  We don't remember too much of the last couple of papers.

Friday 10-11:30am

Neil attended:
Fancy Pincushions Part Two (A Demonstration) 
Organizer: Cameron Christian-Weir, Grey Goose Bows/Augsburg College 
Presider: Andrew Barwis, Grey Goose Bows 
A demonstration of the findings from an ongoing experimental archaeology study on the ballistics complicity of warbows and arrows of the Hundred Years war. Featured are a warbow (unbraced) from the study, as well as two war arrows also from the study (a MR livery arrow and a west minster style shaft) to illustrate the weight and design on the shafts. 

Cameron is always fun to listen to. Definitely not one to read a paper at you. Frankly he's often as scattered as Rig can be and for the same reason. There is so much data in his head and it is all banging to be let out. Neil is trying to get him to submit the research to date (even one cell at a time) to EXARC as it would be a good read. Part of this year's talk though would also be a fun (at least for us) read. During testing (at full draw) his original (120#) warbow broke on him. He had copies of the x-rays showing the damage to his spine that was caused by that one incident. He is better now, but still coming back up to form (only able to shoot a 60# bow right now). Overall his work is a good penetration study being done very rigourously using accelerometers, ballistics gel and different forms of armour. He has years ahead of him still but some fun interim findings are popping up. Including impact force/energy even when there is no penetration. 

Karen attended:
  • A New Type of Hoard: Europe's Northernmost Pre-Viking Hacksilver Alice Blackwell, National Museums Scotland
  • The Private Lives of Hoards Rory Naismith, King's College London

Respondent: Catherine E. Karkov, University of Leeds

Alice Blackwell's presentation included a delightful powerpoint presentation, complete with a lot of pictures of various hoards found in Scotland in the pre-Viking Era. Rory Naismith read his paper, and it was entirely an esoteric approach to hoards as they show up in manuscripts - very boring.
The Respondent was a surprise new feature of these sessions for Karen. I'd been looking forward to the Q & A from the audience to clarify some things, and perhaps bring new life to Rory's paper-reading. The Respondent read from a prepared paper, and droned on forever. I left mid-Respondent, being anxious to get to the DARC fibre stitch and bitch in a timely fashion.

Friday 1:30-3pm  

Neil attended:
Mappings II: Medieval Maps, Their Makers and Users 
  • Seabirds to Starboard: Notes on Norse Navigational Technique Gaetan Dupont, Cornell Univ.; Oren Falk, Cornell Univ. 
  • The Geography of Devotion in the London Psalter Maps LauraLee Brott, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison 
  • Russian “Old Drawing”: The Problem of Attribution Alexey Frolov, Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences 

Mixed/Read/Read  (all had powerpoints)
Oren's presentation (for all he mostly read at us) was interesting. The more so since his co-author was a first year undergrad when he wrote the original version of the paper. The paper focused on the different kinds of seabirds, their use in navigation, and blended in with Norse literary sources. A very fun topic. 

As you might guess, my eyes glazed over while LauraLee read a paper that isn't something I'm interested in. In one ear an out the other just as fast. 

The Russian Old Drawing is one of those places Neil is ready to cut the 'reading my paper' people some slack. English was clearly not his first language. It should also be called out that he wasn't reading his paper at us. He was reading a lecture/presentation about his topic to us. And he had clearly practiced enough so that he knew it well enough that he occasionally came off script. That gets a "Very well done" from Neil. On the topic itself it also gets a 'weird but cool' rating. They are attempting to reconstruct a drawing that was lost in an archive fire using the surviving descriptions of the document. 

Friday 3:30-5pm 

Neil attended:
Medievalism and Immigration II 
  • Medievalism, Brexit, and the Myth of Nations Andrew B. R. Elliott, Univ. of Lincoln 
  • “I’m 20% Viking”: Englishness, Immigration, and the Public Reception of Historical DNA Michael Evans, Delta College 

Read (powerpoint)/Read (no powerpoint)
Waste of my time. Sociological analysis of the appearance of medieval elements in the Brexit campaign, and a look at how people perceive their DNA results/identities. I'm sure that is very interesting to a number of people - just not Neil.  This is, however, a normal occurance at ICMS - you try and judge interest by paper titles not abstracts (just think about how big that PDF would be if it had abstracts for the 1500-2000 papers.....) - sometimes you get it wrong.  It is all part of the fun.

Karen attended:
Materiality and Place in the Northern World II
  • King of the Island(s): Arthur and Glastonbury Abbey Genevieve Pigeon, University du Quebec-Montreal
  • Sanctus Locus, Santus Corpus: Saints, Relic and Religious Devotion in Tenth-Century England Abigail G.Robertson, University of New Mexico
  • Magic-Making and Place-Taking: Celtic Women in the Old Norse Sagas Brianna McElrath Panasenco, University of California-Berkeley

The first presenter largely read from her paper and I've largely lost all memory of it. I started to wonder, during the second presentation, if she got points for using a powerpoint presentation if all she had on it was the title of her paper, and her name/association but eventually she did have a few slides with weak drawings of some relics.
The third paper was a delightful surprise. Brianna read from a paper, but she was engaging and the topic was interesting. She covered the place of Celtic women in Norse society, the assignment of 'magic' to these foreign women and used major Sagas and well known characters in the Sagas to make these associations. She talked about the textile process as a form of magic - in Njal's saga, for example, there is a description of 3 women using a warp-weighted loom to intercede in a battle. The warps were intestines, and the weights were the skulls of the dead.
I was so taken by her paper's look at women and textile work and magic that I gave her contact information for another scholar that I know (Michele Hayeur-Smith) who is working in the same general area.
Neil should have picked this session. He would have been equally delighted by Brianna's paper.

Friday 5:30 - 6:30pm

Karen attended:
DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics and Fashion) Exhibition

I have an awkward relationship with DISTAFF, and I don't always enjoy their sessions or exhibition but at this one, I had a great time. I talked to Jen about her dyes, and to Christine about the pin beater (we disagree on it's use as a textile tool for weaving). I admired Christine's overall presentation - examples of her tools, some notes on dying, other weaving samples, and she had her warp-weighted loom in the room to work/talk about. I left quite satisfied but tempted to try weaving again - always a dangerous path for me. I love the weaving process, but hate the warping process, and there really isn't room in the house for my loom.

Friday 6:30-8:30pm 

Neil attended:
Manuscripts to Materials 
Sponsor: Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica 
Practical Magic: Making Magical Artifacts and Using Them Frank Klaassen, Univ. of Saskatchewan 
Responses: Claire Fanger, Rice Univ.; David Porreca; Marla Segol, Univ. at Buffalo 

Talked/Talked/Talked/Talked (no powerpoints)

Much fun. This included a display of the museum exhibit mentioned way back on Thursday morning with more information about the hands-on work the students did to create it, how it is received. How to form more solid connections to the audience. Look for extensions into VR and Icelandic materials if I can talk them into it. This exhibit will be coming to both UWaterloo and UToronto in the near future - watch for it. A very good job both for the session and for the exhibit.

Saturday 10-11:30 

Karen napped in the room.

Neil attended:
Gender at the Borders of Christendom 
  • How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the King: Synthesis, Paradox, and Cultural Integration in Late Viking Age Kingship, ca. 990–1050 Devon R. Bealke 
  • 119 Christian Women as Occupying Forces in the Thirteenth-Century Book of Deeds of James I of Aragon Emma Snowden, Univ. of Minnesota–Twin Cities 
  • Not Transvestite, But Transgender: Early Byzantine Narratives of Transmen Catherine Burris, Univ. of Central Missouri 
  • Morphia’s Daughters: Matrilineal Social Ties in Twelfth-Century Jerusalem and Antioch K. A. Tuley, Univ. of Minnesota–Twin Cities 
The 2nd and 4th papers did the usual 'in one ear and out the other' things that happens with bad presenters reading topics that don't interest me. Sorry. Paper 4 also gets this years prize for most useless slide.  She attempted to put all of the social ties on a single slide (tree graph) and her comment was that she couldn't read it.  No kidding - about 6 or 8 point font.  That's the sort of thing you want to know before you stand up to present. If you can't read it EASILY on your computer screen it won't project well.

Paper 3 was interesting. Less for the topic than some of the reactions. Catherine reviewed a number of byzantine sources of stories about women who took on male roles. She set them in context for us (short, tightly edited tales speaking about Christianity from a distance). She grouped the stories into women who tried male roles but "failed" and wound up back in female roles, and those who 'succeeded' and died as men even when they could have chosen to return to female roles. It was a really interesting overview. The "succeed" vs "fail" really bugged people in the audience. A lot of the Q & A session was around how modern people saw themselves and how they wanted to see elements of themselves in the past. The presider did an interesting job at one point of asking the presenter now that we saw how the modern mind saw these issues could she speak those how those from the time period saw these issues - which was a very good way of framing the conversation. 

Paper 1 was what brought me to the session.  The presenters opening comment was well delivered - he was a bit optimistic about what would fit in the time allowed.  Instead of 60 years he was going to talk about 3 years.  The focus was on praise poems about a single king over those three years in the 1020s - in fact just 3 praise poems.  He charted what they chose to praise and how it changed over those years.  They went from praising him as a warrior chieftan to a church appointed king.  Fascinating.

Saturday 1:30-3pm 

We both attended:
Teaching the Edda and Sagas in the Undergraduate Classroom: Strategies and Approaches (A Roundtable) 
  • Using Tolkien as a Gateway to the Edda and Sagas in the Undergraduate Classroom Lee Templeton, North Carolina Wesleyan College 
  • “I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take this council”: Teaching College Writing and Research Using the Eddas Gregory L. Laing, Harding Univ. 
  • Teaching Germanic Mythology 101 Johanna Denzin, Columbia College 
  • Material Culture and Norse Mythology Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar 
Talked/Talked/Talked/Talked (No powerpoints)
This was a wonderful roundtable. And not just because everyone talked to us about their experiences rather than reading a paper at us. These were people who were interested in the sagas and were working to find ways to use them in another context. Questions from the audience were a lot of fun as well. Exploring strengths and weaknesses of different books on myths (I'd agree with the idea that Gaiman's North Myths would be fine for a second year class but is a bit light for a third year class); different ideas about using the sagas, etc. Good conversations. 

Saturday 3:30-5pm 

Hit the book vendors because none of the sessions grabbed us.  Lots of vendors and it takes time to work through the book lists.  The next book of the Kaupang archaeological reports is out.  Found a whole book on iron smelts.  Several more books about this or that aspect of Viking Archaeology or Viking studies. Neil got into a boring conversation with a book vendor so Karen had to go and spend money at Griffonstone. Oh darn. ;) Nice to chat with Jesse Byock again (he was there with his Old Norse text books which I recommend).  As usual wound up spending money with ISD (he was waiting for Neil with books set aside...). Neil found a new book about women in the Viking Age that Karen ended up buying. 

Saturday 5:00pm 

Sponsored by the Medieval Brewers Guild; AVISTA: The Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science, and Art; and the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan Univ. 

All of the meads were rather sweet for both our tastes. The galengale mead was very interesting - very strong flavour. Raspberry was also nice. As insanely crowded as you might expect. We wound up outside enjoying the great weather talking with a number of people who drifted by.   Sampled a number of different beers and meads.

Saturday 8:00pm 

Annus Mirabilis 
Sponsor: Societas Fontibus Historiae Medii Aevi Inveniendis, vulgo dicta, “The Pseudo Society” 
  • Anchor-kitties: New Origins of Ancrene Wisse Emily R. Huber, Franklin & Marshall College 
  • From Gongan to Gungan: The Surprising Medieval Roots of Star Wars Nathan E. H. Fayard, Univ. of Arkansas–Fayetteville; Timothy J. Nelson, Univ. of Arkansas–Fayetteville 
  • A New Medieval Source for Shakespeare’s Greatest Tragedy Mary Douglas Edwards, Pratt Institute 
Pseudo sessions as always a lot of fun. Frankly I'd call this one "mixed". First presentation was wonderful. The tale of the anchor-kitties and their manuscript was well illustrated and reasonably well presented (although she did laugh a few times). The Star Wars session was also pretty well done. The final one was just sad. It went insanely long, was just a political commentary, and the presenter was constantly getting feedback through the mic. A sad way to end a fun evening. 

Sunday 8:30 

Skipped the session [nothing all that interesting], packed, and picked up some books

Sunday 10:30-12 

The Second Sex: Women and Power in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature 
  • Draumkonur as Dream Anima Suzanne Valentine, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Maðr þóttumk ek mensskr til þessa: Reclaiming Gender and Genealogy in The Waking of Angantyr William Biel, Univ. of Connecticut 
  • Með leynilegri ást: Love, Marriage, and Authorial Agenda in The Saga of Viglund the Fair Andrew M. Pfrenger 
First paper was OK. [Neil]  Since I don't know much about Jungian archetypes I took a limited amount out of it but the idea that these roles might be Anima expressing the suppressed side of interior dialog of the main character is something to think about.  The second paper, by William Neil, is a fascinating idea. William took a character who changed gender roles. Now he filtered this through a view that this must be 'trans people' rather than just say a women who wanted to do things she wouldn't normally be able to do who adopted a 'role' for a time before dropping it when she was done. This involved a very close reading of the text. Figuring out when the author used male vs female pronouns, when a name was used instead, etc etc. Then trying to judge what the character wanted vs what the author is trying to say vs what the listening culture might be looking for. Frankly not at all sure I agree with his premises, nor his conclusions. But I'm going to call this one 'groundbreaking' and look for some similar ideas and papers to come along. [/N]
[Karen] I found the second paper remarkably annoying. Just because a woman in the Sagas steps outside of her assigned gender _role_ in order to pick up a sword, this doesn't mean that this is a transgendered person. If we re-conceive women's place in society and give them more freedom of choice, this is feminism. If we re-conceive women's interest in men's gender roles as a tell-tale sign of transgenderism, then we only serve to re-enforce stifling gender roles. This is not feminism, this is not social progress. And for heaven's sake, once we invent a time machine and go back and talk to the women in question, maybe then we can really get answers. Without the time machine, this kind of post-historical re-analysis is just a painful hogwash of trying to find present day justification of social justice issues in history. [/K]  

Andrew's 'paper' actually came out of an early session on SagaThing. It was a talk about the concept of consent (particularly around marriage) in the Norse culture. It is an interesting idea and an interesting point of change within the culture. Andrew is a very engaging speaker, who is passionate about his topic - one of the many reasons that the SagaThing podcast is a good listen.

Quotes picked up during the sessions (from speakers) 

"I'm sorry I'll be reading my text but I'm a scholar not a presenter" - Neil calls BULLSHIT loudly. If these people stood up in front of a class and read at the class they would be immediately hauled into their boss' office for doing a bad job. Part of the job of a scholar is learning how to share their knowledge with others. Whether that is PRESENTING a paper (not Reading a Paper); lecturing in front of a class; being interviewed on TV/Radio/Podcast; or in front of a granting committee. This stuff is not rocket surgery - anyone (and I do mean anyone) can learn to at least make the first steps away from reading at the audience to talking to them about something that is a shared interest. Again I say do not accept these LAME excuses. Demand better. Worse is that these lame excuses get propagated to the next generations of scholars. I am rather sure that basic presentation skills are taught in most business departments - borrow a business prof for a half hour lecture for your class if you won't learn to do it yourself. Or buy a simple $20 book like "Presenting to Win" and lecture on it the same way you would lecture on any other short book. GRUMBLE GRUMBLE!!!!! 

"I'm trying to get through this quickly" (as the presenter flips a couple of pages forward in their text thus losing their monotone flow and pacing, stumbling before picking up their monotone anew) If your content is so uninteresting that the PRESENTER is hurrying to get through it why are you wasting my time listening to you? 

Contrast that with Andrew Pfrenger in the final paper I attended. "I'd love to talk about this more with you folks but I can't keep you here all day". There speaks a person interested in sharing what (at least to him) is fascinating stuff but who acknowledges that there is limited time so he must let some threads go un-tugged.  Both were trying to say (sort of) the same thing - one just said it badly.

"Sorry this is only 1 paragraph from a book" great way to open.  Now we are all primed to be disappointed.  Contrast that to the guy who said he was too ambitous considering 60 years.  He got a laugh.  Consider instead "I got so fascinated by this single paragraph that I ran out of time to talk to you about the rest of the book!"