Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Berks 2008

A week and a half ago I was at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women.  I don't normally think of myself as good at networking.  But this conference was excellent for meeting people!  Medievalists were well represented at the conference, and since we knew we had interests in common, it was much easier to meet and chat than at a more general conference like the AHA.  I managed to have productive and delightful conversations with a lot of people in my field, both junior and senior.  

But what about the research, you ask?  That was excellent, too.  A session on "Gendering the Plague" showed how using the lens of gender helps wring new insights out of a very well-worn topic.  A session on motherhood and nursing proved particularly lively, provoking a fascinating discussion on what medieval people thought made someone a "good mother" and various aspects of wet nursing.

For me, the highlight was the Sunday workshop with the lengthy title: "Using the Archives of Medieval Religious Women's Houses to Reflect on Their Secular Sisters."  That's a mouthful.  Though secular women were nominally the focus of these papers, many of them dealt with patronage of nuns, or cooperation between nuns and secular women.  The ensuing discussion tended to come right back around to nuns, as one participant remarked.  

Unfortunately, the papers are no longer available from the Berks website.  Here are some of the common themes from the papers and the discussion:
  • The boundary between "religious woman" and "secular woman" is quite porous
  • Women of high, middling, and low status all had connections to nunneries
  • There is still a lot we don't know about how and why medieval women became nuns
  • There is still a lot we don't know about how and why lay people supported nuns
For me, this was a very stimulating and thought-provoking session.  I am very glad I went; I really needed a source of inspiration like this to motivate me to write write write this summer.

No comments: