The other session I attended was a really delightful one titled "Women and Community in the Middle Ages." I made a special point of going as it promised discussion of nuns. As it turned out, all three of the papers were very good, and all three posed some worthwhile challenges to common tropes of discussion medieval women.
Fiona Griffiths, in the midst of some interesting work on relations between male and female religious in the twelfth century, argued that we need to pay more attention to money. She suggested that financial issues underlie a number of criticisms of nuns, and that financial considerations contributed to concerns about purity on questions of separating male and female religious. While this was definitely a work-in-progress kind of paper, the general point seems potentially very important.
Anne Lester discussed how, in northern France, women following informal religious lives tended to be organized into Cistercian nunneries rather than Franciscan or Dominican ones. According to her, bishops in this region took an active role in encouraging/requiring such women's communities to adopt Cistercian customs, including lobbying the Cistercian General Chapter for inclusion; such houses, however, continued to be visited by bishops rather than Cistercian abbots, and modified their customs somewhat to allow practices of apostolic poverty. Overall Lester indicates that we shouldn't assume older orders like the Cistercians have nothing to do with the apostolic poverty movements of the twelfth century.
Katherine French finished up, building on her work on medieval English parishes to situate Margery Kempe in her parish. French pointed out that Margery is often discussed as an anomaly, eccentric, utterly unique, and that in fact she was very active in her parish church and shared similar concerns with many other women and men of her parish. This was also a really interesting paper.
The following discussion was good, although most of it blurs together for me; but I found all of the papers to be quite thought-provoking, potentially having ramifications for my own research.