As the caffiene levels begin to settle, and the inbox returns to its normal level of activity, I think it is time to reflect on ‘The Medieval Brain’, a conference that I organised at the University of York over 9th, 10th, and 11th March 2017.
The conference brought together scholars from a range of backgrounds spanning medieval literary studies, history, linguistics, art history, electronic engineering, neurology, hearing-studies, psychiatry and pscyhology, to explore diverse topics relating to the central theme. I’ll spare you a run-down of the titles and contents of the papers given at the conference, as some of that can be gleaned from the conference programme, by searching for #MedievalBrain on Twitter, and by perusing the wonderful Storify summaries made by Jonathan Hsy here (day one), here (day two), and here (day three) – thanks Jonathan!
Instead, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts and feelings about the conference, as well as a few photographs.
Firstly, I’d like to thank the keynote speakers, Corinne Saunders, Carole Rawcliffe, and Jonathan Hsy for leading the conference in the right direction with three stimulating, engagingly-presented, and informative, talks. The presentations were very different, yet spoke to each other and to the conference theme through their focus on medieval mental health, communication, and religious life. Corinne’s talk promoted discussions and debates about retrospective diagnosis and experiences of medieval and modern voice-hearing; Carole’s presentation gave new glimpses of how mental health was preserved, and ill health was remedied, in late-medieval monasteries; and Jonathan’s talk addressed misconceptions about ‘loss’ and deafness, and spoke instead about deaf ‘gain’.
The 15-20 minute talks given by conference attendees were wide-ranging and some sessions were very diverse. However, there were synergies and talking-points within each session – so many, in fact, that the coffee was often postponed in favour of extended question time! I would like to thank the numerous conference Tweeters for recording many of these talking points, for me to reflect on in tranquility now that the conference is over.
On a personal note, by the time the first keynote ended and good-natured, lively, and challenging questions ensued, I began to form the impression that I’d invited a really good bunch of people. This impression grew and grew as the days went on. The importance of kindness and friendliness can not be over-estimated when it comes to conferences, which can be intimidating and intense. I saw real warmth and congeniality amongst this group that had gathered to talk about medieval brains. I hope everyone else felt the same.
I never felt that, as the organiser, I was taken for granted. On the contrary, I was thanked many times, which made me feel very good. Indeed, when the chair of one session had to change her travel plans, she took it upon herself to swap with the chair of another session – thereby ensuring that I did not have any last minute organisational headaches! Lastly, it was refreshing that the conversations flowed naturally amongst people from very different disciplinary backgrounds. I think it is a sign that interdisciplinary conversations are flourishing and growing stronger within medieval studies, even those that at first sight seem unconventional.
Conference lunches were provided by Divine Dining – the only external catering company approved by the university – and were delicious. Great brain food! An informal conference dinner was enjoyed at the York vegan restaurant El Piano, with 34 people attending – making for a lively event! The manager of front of house at El Piano even gave me a bottle of wine to enjoy at home – even better for reflecting on the conference in tranquility!
Before signing off, I’d like to thank the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2), the University of York, and the Wellcome Trust for financial and practical assistance. Huge thanks go to conference assistant Tim Wingard and to Vicki Blud for her intellectual assistance. Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who presented and/or attended the conference for making it such a memorable and friendly event.