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