Friday at Kalamazoo Part II

28 Oct

I left off with my last Kalamazoo Session Post about five months ago. I intend to finish these which will be an interesting experience. A couple of weeks ago I gave an agrosecurity presentation for a bunch of university types. I was able to go back to past programs I’d been to over the previous 5 years, look at my notes and instantly figure out what they meant. I’m less confident about being able to similarly decipher my Kalamazoo notes a few months later but I intend to give it a shot. I imagine there will be a few papers I won’t be able to figure out and will ignore and others where all I’ll be able to give are a few key concepts without an overall theme. So picking things up from 11:30 Friday morning …

After the morning session I took advantage of the two hours before the next in the same building and made my one foray into last year’s antisocial behavior by grabbing a chair to make some calls and make sure the program I’d strung back together with duct tape for the following week was still in one piece. Following this I grabbed a bite, ran into Cullen Chandler and proceeded to Session 282, Late Antiquity II: Christian and Pagan Culture in Late Antiquity.

First up was Doug Jarvis of Carleton University. Doug (I can call him Doug because we chatted for ten minutes or so before the session started) is a Law History student which gave him a bit of a different perspective in his paper, “The Politics of Empire and Desire in Late Roman Antiquity: A Post-sexual Revolution Era Reading of St. Augustine’s Confessions.”

My notes for this are sparse and I won’t editorialize so this will be a brief list of some key concepts. He approached this topic from the basis of two historical shifts; the modern sexual revolution and a late Roman change in faith combined with the disintegration of Roman family structures. Augustine’s conversion story was a reaction in response to failures of the Romano-Pagan society. In joining the Church an individual found him or herself with immediate value while as a member of society one’s best hope was to become a friend of the Emperor. Lust and the response to it was prominent in The Confessions. My notes related to sexuality are rather thin however I do have that a theme of The Confessions is that sexual desire is the basis of original sin and that Carleton argued that Augustine’s discussion of his personal issues were a response to the contemporary political situation. Bleh – really poor synopsis there. Sorry folks but keep reading, the rest of this post is better. I recall that Carleton faced tougher questioning, more aggressively challenging, than I’m accustomed to at Kalamazoo but I don’t remember the specifics.

Craig Gibson from the University of Iowa followed with “Art and Rhetorical Education in the Late Antique Greek East.” He looked at how education was evolving during this period to focus on the artist and art as having a responsibility to teach morality. He opened with a focus on the Progymnasmata which was a handbook of writing exercises Libanius put together to use in his school and which later became widely disseminated. Libanius emphasizes that the artist will struggle with passion and must take care that this will not destroy his capacity to create. The artist cannot escape passion, particularly love, but must be transformed to be able to create meaningful images (Gibson had a handout which emphasized visual images but Libanius must have also meant written representations). Pseudo-Nicolaus, a student of Libanius whose writings are believed to make up part of Progymnasmata, adds morality into his writings. He depicts Hera as lawfully married, a preferred status to the unlawful seeking after pleasure which existed previously. In order to honor Hera, she must be depicted as lawfully married. Ps-Nicolaus also discussed modesty, describing Athena as possessing womanly modesty however, as one breast is often exposed, she is also engaged in a battle with lust, which must constantly be guarded against. Gibson believes that this (and a couple other examples he used, such as Choricius) shows a new understanding of the role of art. The artist has become a public figure with a responsibility to perform art in such a way as to benefit their community, morally as well as by providing beauty or inspiration.

The next paper continued to focus on art. Simon Zuenelli, a Phd candidate from Leopold-Franzen University in Innsbruck, presented on, “The Dionysiaca of Nonnos as a Typical Poem of Late Antiquity.” The main purpose of this paper was rehabilitation. The Dionysiaca has a very negative reputation these days. Zuelli admitted that there are some grammatical errors however he feels it qualitatively fits in quite well with other Late Antique poetry. This poem is very digressive however this is fairly standard for poetry of this time and should not be used as a criticism.

The final paper was my favorite of the session. Robert Winn from Northwestern College in Iowa gave, “On Avarice: Eusebius of Emesa and John Chrysostom.” The primary question this paper tried to answer was, Did Eusebius’ On Avarice influence Chrysostom’s later denunciations of greed in his sermons? Winn proceeded to examine this by taking a close look at Eusebius. He denounces his audience. For Eusebius, Christians are greedy but don’t have any idea that they are wrong. He tells them that wealth causes war and divides families. Christians believe they can bribe God through offerings using money they’ve stolen from others. People are selling their souls and are willing to sell the truth. Redemption is possible however and people can achieve this by following models. These include Christ, John the Baptist, Martyrs, and the Apostles. For Eusebius, modern Christians are the Apostles’ successors, should they choose to behave in such a manner. Chrysostom uses many of Eusebius’ themes in some of his sermons, including that wealth causes war and greed results in violence. Chrysostom echoes Eusebius’ descriptions of those to model good behavior on, particularly John the Baptist. Winn believes it is possible that Chrysostom’s inspiration may have been Origen but thinks it much more likely that it was Eusebius. Really good paper and I suppose I should mention that I marked in my notes to look for Winn’s book which you can find on Amazon. I’ve wishlisted, but have not purchased it – one of the benefits of being too busy to read much on history has been that my book purchases have gone way down over the past few months though I expect that will change before too long.

I had debated what session to go to for the 3:30 session and chose wrong. Instead of heading to the third Society for Late Antiquity Session I decided to go to Session 327: Networks of Travel and Communication in the Early Middle Ages. I’ve mentioned before that a few months after hip replacement, when I really had to hustle to walk somewhere the hip started to bother me pretty significantly. So I decided that rather than walk from Bernhard to Schneider I’d take the shuttle. Well, the shuttle didn’t show up outside Bernhard until it was about time for the next session to begin so I walked in late. I’m a stickler for punctuality. One of my peeves I guess. It is a very rare meeting where I’m not on site 15 minutes or more ahead of time – the only exception is when it’s in my building. So I was very unhappy that I walked in 10 minutes late, which was not helped by the fact that the door was locked and someone had to get up and let me in. And when I walked in late I didn’t walk in on Andrew Gillett talking about, “Making Networks: Strategies of Communication for Western Embassies to the Imperial Court in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries” which was the reason I chose this session. And no, this change was not in the Congress Corrigenda.

However two speakers were there and their papers were pretty good. Although I walked in late, I enjoyed “Reconstructing Networks of Travel and Communication in Early Medieval Ireland” by Rebecca Wall Forrestal of Trinity College at the University of Dublin. She used some nice visuals to help describe archaeological evidence for local networks. When I entered she was discussing textual evidence from the Life of Bridget. Based on this, regional rulers were responsible for road maintenance. They were subject to fairly strict requirements detailing what a particular road should be able to do and instructions for building. A big issues is that while placenames may be used to indicate where roads may have been, it’s difficult to use names to date them. She provided a more detailed examination of County Waterford which includes the Blackwater Valley. As a summary, mills generally served as a community center, churches were generally located close to roads and ringforts were also fairly close. Several long distance roads (20-50 km) have been identified but they have not been able to solidly establish dates for them. While towns/villages have not been identified, they have found that many homes on farms were built fairly close to each other. She suspects there were many local trackways which archaeology hasn’t been able to find. The overall impression she had of the area is that it was a series of interlocked clusters of homes and communities.

Matthew Harpster from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M gave a very interesting paper on, “Maritime Connectivity and Regionalism in the Mediterranean.” Harpster related what recent finds in the Mediterranean revealed about naval trade networks. By analyzing the origin of materials found in shipwrecks they are able to re-construct trade linkages. What he found was that trade by sea was regional. Materials originating in the East tended to be found in the East while materials originating from the West were found in the Western Mediterranean (his East-West boundary was the Italian peninsula). He contrasted this with the fact that a great deal of eastern amphorae are found in the west along land routes. I regret that I did not write down the dates which his finds covered. Good paper (actually he gave a presentation – not sure it was a paper) and a good session even though I showed up late and didn’t hear what I’d hoped to.

Following this session I headed back to Valley and the books. I worked my way through the rest of the exhibit by the time it closed, except for Powell’s. I debated grabbing something to eat and decided to drive up to Fetzer instead. They have a bunch of social events there in the evenings, complete with a cash bar so I thought I’d grab a beer (ended up having two) while I waited for the Projects in Digital Medieval Studies poster session. I ran into Guy Halsall on my way in and chatted with him for a few minutes. Then after I sat down I talked to a woman from Kalamazoo who home schools her kids and brings them to the Congress every year which I thought was very cool. Unfortunately, the session itself was a disappointment. It was designed for all digitally oriented sessions from Congress to have displays at and when I showed up there were only three, though a couple were pretty interesting.

I headed back to the dorm, planning to clean up a bit and then call some people and find out if anyone was as late for dinner as I was, or at least thinking of going out where there was food. Near the entrance to the dorm I heard some grad students lamenting that they hadn’t gotten to Bilbo’s. I told them that I wouldn’t take them there (figured there’d be no tables by that time on a Friday) but I’d pick up a pizza if they wanted. So I ran up there (was surprised to see that there were empty tables after all), ate with the grad students for a bit and then headed for bed.

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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Conferences


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