Student’s First Impressions of the Leeds IMC

Kathleen Neal recently asked Sam Baudinette, MA candidate, for his first impressions of the Leeds International Medieval Congress (IMC), at which many CMRS members presented their work in early July. He writes:

The theme of the IMC this year was “Pleasure,” an apt subject for a conference that most everyone who attended would have agreed was pleasing in the extreme. The Leeds IMC prides itself on offering the largest inter-disciplinary forum in Europe for those engaged to some extent in research on matters medieval, and with roughly 1,800 delegates and four full days jam-packed with numerous panels and lectures on a wide-range of topics, this year certainly lived up to its reputation. 2013 also marked the move of the Congress to the Main Campus of Leeds University, an occasion marked by all manner of festivals and celebrations. Despite the organisers’ concern over the potential for ‘teething issues’ the conference operated (or, at least, seemed to operate) like a well-oiled machine and the move to the main campus was a resounding success. Most everyone I spoke to agreed that the IMC this year had a feel about it- a buzz. My supervisor, Prof. Constant Mews, confided to me at the end of the conference that it was by far the best IMC he had ever attended.

Myself, I attended the IMC this year purely as a spectator- I had no paper of my own to deliver and was thus free to wander from session to session without stress or concern. I had written a plan in advance (right from the initial release of the IMC program in February) of which sessions and papers interested me the most. However, it quickly became apparent when I arrived at the Congress that I would need to lay it aside and go with the flow- not because the sessions or panels I had originally intended to see were cancelled, but because sessions grabbed my eye on the spur of the moment, or because new acquaintances urged me to see them speak. Often I discovered that the best sessions were those which had no relationship whatsoever to my own research interests, or those which I and wandered into by mere whim. Thus, instead of focusing on sessions on Medieval Philosophy and Theology as I had planned, I found myself in sessions discussing the history of the Mendicant orders, leprosy and St. Thomas Beckett, vernacular prophetic and eschatological literature, the Venerable Bede’s guide to Jerusalem (which he had never even visited!) and a roundtable on the employment of medievalism in the creation of national and regional mythologies.

By far the most enjoyable part of the conference, however, was the opportunity to establish new academic networks and friendships from people from all over the globe. I met like-minded people from Germany, Italy, Israel, France, America, Argentina, England and even Australia. It is these new connections which I will especially cherish, whether because of expert advice given for my research after the delivery of a paper, or because of sharing a glass (or several) of Congress Ale together of an evening in the Old Bar. In fact, it is this chance to meet and network with new people which makes the IMC so very important for Medieval scholars.

2013 was also an especially exciting year for Monash University at the IMC. With several panels organized by many of those attached to the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Prato Consortium, as well as a reception in the evening hosted by the Consortium, Monash University had an unmistakable presence in the Congress proceedings- and with 10 candidates and 7 papers it was no wonder that when I introduced myself as “from Monash University” to my many new friends, they would often respond- “Oh, you’re one of THOSE people. You guys seem to be everywhere this year!” There was also a prominent wider Australian presence with panels and receptions from the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

There were many highlights for me at the Congress this year: debating fine points of Talmudic law with a Rabbi from Israel in a session on the Medieval Jewish liturgy, exploring the cloister of the ruined Kirkstall Abbey with two of England’s most prominent archaeologists and a Benedictine monk, learning how to successfully weave my way around a medieval farandole, meeting an academic in the flesh whose research has greatly influenced my own, and enjoying a rare sighting of Monash University’s very own Prof. Constant Mews kicking up his heels at the IMC Dance. (And do I dare mention the obscene amounts of money I spent on academic and antique books at the Congress’ two bookfairs?) But pride of place this year amongst all my experiences at the Congress at Leeds goes to the excellent, engaging and exciting lecture from the team at Leicester University responsible for the now famous discovery of the ‘lost’ King Richard III under a metropolitan carpark.

In sum, my first International Medieval Congress was rich in all manner of pleasurable experiences, as befitting a conference concerned primarily with pleasure. If pursuing a career in Medieval Studies entails annual trips to the IMC, I have certainly made the right choice in my studies.

— Sam