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Kalamazoo Eve

Thought I’d drop a quick note before I start running through my program book and finalizing which sessions I’m attending tomorrow.

Got away from home around 2:30 p.m. after I finished mowing my pasture. After a stop at a McDonald’s that didn’t realize they’re part of a fast food franchise I got here a little after 6. Saw Lisa Carnell and Marca of Medievalist in Transit and chatted a bit, plus gave Lisa my bottle of wine for the Blogger meet-up. Saw ADM very briefly as well a bit later.

I almost left my fan at home. I figured that with highs in the mid-70’s and low’s in the 40/50 range I wouldn’t need it but I threw it in at the last minute. Good thing. My room’s on the West side of Eldridge and with the sun shining in all day and the windows closed it had to be 90.

So I opened the window, turned the fan on and got the heck out of there. I sort of hung around the lobby for a few minutes, didn’t see anyone I knew so I decided to head to Bilbo’s. I looked around for a bit and still didn’t see anyone I knew (though I think I later saw Scott Nokes – his table was full anyway, if that’s who it was). So I sat down next to a guy at the bar and it was James McNelis. Now I’d never met James before but his name was sure familiar as he and Larry Swain run the Congress Facebook Group. James and I talked about a whole bunch of things before he left. Then I started chatting with some grad students but when they started doing what students are predisposed to do in a bar I got out of dodge. At one time alcohol was fun – now it’s a poison, at least more than the one beer I’d had.

I have decided to return to my old Congress standby where I introduce myself as “the least intelligent person here.” I’ve appointed myself the Colonel Klink of Kalamazoo.

I’ve also decided to finally come out with it and call medievalists crazy. See, they write these papers, THEN present from them. That’s just plain backwards. It is SO much easier to present first and write second.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work. A couple of weeks ago myself and a colleague from the University of Wyoming gave a webinar titled Enhancing Biosecurity at Fairs and Shows. There were maybe 40 or so on the live show though hopefully more will watch the recording. Anyway, after we were done we stayed on the line to debrief and one of the first comments from one of the organizers was, “That was great, you guys should put together an article on it.” Present first – that’s the easy part, THEN put a paper together.

The humanities have been doing things their way for a long time so I don’t suppose a note from Colonel Klink will get them to change things but this process sure seems easier to me. Guess that’s one of the reasons why I’m not a historian.

If you’re at Kalamazoo hopefully I’ll run into you over the next four days. The description still fits – fat guy wearing a baseball cap who describes himself as “the least intelligent person here.” That’s OK, I’m on vacation. And starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow, that means the book exhibit. I just hope I can control myself.

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Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Conferences

 

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Thursday at Kalamazoo: Books, Sessions and Bloggers

Before I get started I want to mention that if anyone happens to read these and feels that I’ve been inaccurate, please either e-mail me or comment. I’ve been corrected plenty of times. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Thursday morning I went to breakfast and ran into a friend who was among a group of people Paul Gans first dragged to Kalamazoo over ten years ago. By 8:00, as has been the case for every Kalamazoo since I began attending, I was at the doorway of the exhibit area. I don’t have any cute stories about hunting for specific books like last year. I did meet an individual who I’d interacted with on Library Thing, David Kathman. Of course I then had to inform him that as he was talking about the 14th century I wouldn’t be hearing his paper in favor of a session organized by Ralph Mathisen. Somehow Dave managed to go on living (I know this because I saw him again Sunday).

After the usual perusal of half-price Ashgates, $5 Penguins, etc., I walked up to the Bernhard Center for Session 43, “Medieval Environments I: Food Shortage and Subsistence Crises in Medieval Europe”, which has also been discussed by Michelle Ziegler. Choosing sessions is always interesting. In picking where I was going pre-conf, I had thought I might not go to a Thursday morning session as nothing seemed that interesting to me. More time for books, right? But the night before, as I was marking my brand new program book, I found this one and wondered why I wouldn’t have wanted to attend it. I just pulled out my original book and I hadn’t identified this as a possibility. I have no idea why.

Kathy Pearson of Old Dominion opened with, “After the ‘Fall’: Feeding Rome in the Early Middle Ages.” This was a discussion of the food supply for the city of Rome in the 6th and 7th centuries. She discussed how, while Rome’s population from the period of Justinian’s Gothic Wars was radically reduced from that of the Empire, it was still substantial. With an estimated population of 25,000 to 40,000 it was the largest city in Western Europe at the time, and periodically it would swell significantly due to pilgrims and refugees. She discussed evidence of trade networks (diminished but still present) such as from North Africa and Sicily, the existence of papal estates, demolition of buildings within the walls in favor of arable ground, and crop yield estimates. This paper was heavy with information. Ultimately, Pearson believes that it is likely that as much as half of the land area within the walls was used for agricultural production. If this is the case she believes that if the population of the city was 25,000, then the city (this includes the surrounding countryside) would have been nearly self-sufficient, however with a population of 40,000 Rome would have needed to rely on larger networks.

From Tim Newfield of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor we received a new look at the Carolingians in “Shortages and Population Trends in Carolingian Europe, ca. 750-c.950.” Newfield believes that theories describing a fairly steady population growth during the Carolingian period should be regarded with caution. His main thesis is that the Carolingian Empire was subject to fairly regular and significant food shortages, which he divided into two categories; famines and lesser shortages. I won’t include all of his information however he identified 10 famines from 762/4-939/44 and 12 lesser shortages from 752-919, usually the result of unfavorable weather. He believes that these food crises would have generated in a strong demographic response, likely in the range of a 5-20% population reduction, and that while a post-shortage baby boom was likely, population recovery would have required twice the duration of the shortage (for a 2-year shortage it would take 4 years to regain the lost population). He believes that in order for relatively continuous growth to have taken place shortages must have occurred a minimum of 5-9 years apart while he believes it is very likely that they were more frequent. This was an interesting paper. There seems to be a growing body of evidence which shows that things may not have been quite as good during the Carolingian period as has sometimes been argued. I’m hopeful that a form of this paper shows up in EME or another journal where he can provide more details. The validity of this paper hinges on the quality of its information, particularly regarding the shortages, which there’s little time to explore in a 20-25 minute paper.

I can’t help wondering if the later time period for the final paper was the cause of my not identifying this as a session to attend. In any case, Philip Slavin of McGill University took us into the later Middle Ages with, “Alternative Consumption: Fodder and Fodder Resources in Late Medieval English Economy, ca. 1250-1450.” Slavin examined the use of fodder in feeding draft animals, how these changed over time, and what these changes may indicate. He divided fodder into two categories; grassland, consisting of pasture and meadow hay and; crops, consisting of oats, legumes and straw. 1 There are some interesting changes which took place during this period which he discussed with the help of some useful charts and graphs. One of these was that in 1300 over 2/3 of all fodder was sold by Lords with the remainder being fed while by 1400 roughly half was sold. He believes this points to a decline in the demesne economy and a possible increase in peasant wealth. Between 1300 and 1400 the percentage of oats in rations declined radically while pasturage and hay fed increased, indicating a shift of land from arable to pasturage, possibly due to a labor shortage. As a result of the reduction in the level of oats fed, animals became weaker, something he believes is supported by archaeological evidence from Wharram-Percy as this has revealed skeletal pathologies in animals including lesions and weakened bones.

This was a very good session and made my forgetting my program book well worth the trouble. This session was sponsored by the Environmental History Network for the Middle Ages (ENFORMA), a group I may have to keep an eye on. They sponsored several other sessions during Congress though this is the only one I made.

Following this session I headed back to the Exhibit area to resume my prowl through the books. I found that in addition to Ashgate and Cambridge selling books at 50% off, Brill had the same discount for its display copies, resulting in me finally owning one of their volumes. Yes, I have indeed arrived. I made it through a bit less than half the exhibit and decided Loome might take too much time so I returned to Bernhard, had some lunch and headed to Session 95, “The Ties That Bound I: Early Medieval Prosopography”.

Unfortunately only one of the three presenters made it to this session. However the one paper, “Becoming Barbarian: An Examination of Stilicho in Fifth-Century Latin Sources” by Deanna Forsman of North Hennepin Community College was very good and made the walk worthwhile. She discussed source mentions and descriptions of Stilicho to assess his historical portrayal as a barbarian rather than as a Roman. A portion of this was a comparative analysis of Stilicho and Aetius. She had a really good slide which showed substantial parallels between the two, yet Aetius is generally referred to as a Roman while Stilicho is not. In examining the literature, Forsman found that source material is generally positive about Stilicho and almost all refer to him as a Roman. The only negative depictions come after Stilicho’s death and of those, only Orosius refers to him as a barbarian and he is the sole source for his being considered half Vandal. 2 Forsman believes that Jerome’s reference should be interpreted as Stilicho being called semi-barbarian, like a barbarian, or even equating to “barbarian-lover”, not that he was half barbarian as this has commonly been interpreted as. 3 Even Rutilius Namatianus, in a vituperative condemnation, doesn’t refer to Stilicho as anything but Roman.

Ultimately Forsman does not believe it likely that Stilicho was referred to as a barbarian while alive and that his being half Vandal is somewhere between unproven and unlikely. Stilicho certainly thought of himself as Roman and the bulk of the sources seem to support him. Good paper and Forsman gave an excellent presentation. There is a followup question of why, with so little evidence for this, did Stilicho come to be known as a barbarian? I can make a couple of conjectures (for example, Orosius wrote his Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri septem at the request of Augustine who may have helped disseminate this) but nothing concrete.

Next I looked outside, didn’t see a shuttle and set out for Valley III for my next session. I think this was the trek which woke my hip up. I can walk a long time with no trouble at an amble but when I need to push the pace a little it doesn’t take long for it to start speaking to me. I went to a four-paper session and I only have notes which would allow me to post a coherent summary of one of these. I have a bunch of data points but not much in the way of the overall themes or messages of the presentations. This was a 3:30 session which is a low energy time for me, at least when I’m short of sleep but I don’t recall dozing off or even having a hard time concentrating (as opposed to a session Saturday – not sure if I’ll mention that when I get to it). However I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of useful summaries so I’ll just leave this one alone entirely.

In any case, once the session ended I dropped my notepad in my room and headed to the Valley III registration area for the Blogger Meet-up. We hung around in the lobby for a bit before heading to the room. I’ve previously mentioned the Bloggers who were there but I think I left out one. At least I think Lisa Carnell has a blog, titled The View from Kalamazoo.

Several folks who don’t (but should) blog were in attendance. I’m not sure on the protocol for this so I’ll leave them unmentioned but I did appreciate meeting them. ADM did a nice job organizing this. Good snacks, a couple of wine selections and a variety of beer choices. We hung around, told stories/lies and I started to trot out what would become my 2012 Kalamazoo conversational theme, a combination of, “How I go about doing my job is very different from you,” with a liberal dose of, “My University doesn’t expect me to know how to write.” This last isn’t completely true but we have communications people who review our more formal pieces before they are unleashed on the general public. I only thought of this because at the time I thought I was meeting with my Comm. staff person and a graphics designer on the Tuesday after K’zoo (said meeting has been pushed back to this coming Friday) about a publication I’m currently working on.

There were also some creative ideas for new blogs which I shall allow to remain in the room for the time being. However Vaulting had a really good one which I think she should have a go at. We had a bit more time than at last year’s meetup, or at least this seemed to be the case. Afterwards several folks headed for Postmedieval’s “Burn After Reading” session which I had originally intended to make but following a couple of beers and with my hip making a bit of a commotion I decided to head for my room instead where, after putting together a quick update post, I went to bed.

1. I was surprised that oats were considered fodder as today they are classified as feed concentrates as opposed to roughages such as hay, pasture and silage.

2. I was unprepared when I first read Orosius on Stilicho (I believe this wasn’t long after reading Claudian so that may be the reason) but in 7.38 of his Seven Books of History Against the Pagans he comes down on him hard, accusing him of using Alaric and other barbarians as a tool to terrify Rome and of plotting to place his son on the throne and restore paganism (a bit contradictory re Namatianus accusing him of destroying the Sybilline Books). At one time up to 8-10 years ago I had this half-formed notion that if Stilicho hadn’t been assassinated the Roman Empire would likely have survived. I have since reformed my thinking (though if he actually had killed Honorius and been successful in placing himself or his son on the throne the possibilities remain interesting to think about).

3 This is in Jerome’s letter 123.17, where he asks Ageruchia, a wealthy widow, to not remarry. My version is from the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Second Series, Philip Schaff, ed., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson (2012) and says, “This humiliation [payment to Alaric’s Goths] has been brought upon her [Rome] not by the fault of her Emperors who are both most religious men, but by the crime of a half-barbarian traitor who with our money has armed our foes against us.” Unfortunately this does not have an accompanying Latin original (the Loeb editon of selected letters didn’t select this one). I’ve found myself increasingly wanting to check translations against the original and this is one of several Congress papers which sent me looking.

 

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Kalamazoo 2012 – Day One; The Arrival, Accommodations and Other Miscellany

Folks will be getting sick of me posting about Kalamazoo, if they aren’t already, and this one will have almost no educational content. However I want to get this out while it’s fresh on my mind, particularly since there were some significant changes which I think reflect favorably Lisa Carnell and the Congress organizers. Lisa is flat-out awesome. I’m annually impressed with what she puts together. In some ways this post follows the format of Jonathan Jarrett’s recollection of his first Kalamazoo experience.

I had some trouble getting away from home, which led to minor troubles once I arrived. Literally half an hour before I’d planned to depart I received a call about a major snafu regarding a program I’m hosting this week. I won’t go into details but basically the site where I was bringing a hundred or so attendees, several pieces of equipment and several speakers to was no longer available. The host site had a very good reason for this and there’s no blame here but I had to find an alternate site and notify speakers and attendees. This helped me to forget several items, among those being my Kalamazoo Program Book, which is essential. I realized this was absent literally on arrival. There’s a simple fix – buy a new one – but I also had to go through it and re-mark which sessions I was planning to attend. And somehow I managed to forget deodorant. This may not have mattered much to me but I’m fairly certain it would have to those around me. Luckily I have wheels so at about 10:00 I found a grocery store open (the first I came to had already closed which began to concern me) and took care of that issue. I also had thought I might pop by a winery to help ADM a bit with the Blogger Meetup but this didn’t happen either. In essence, I had a bit more stress on leaving, left later than I’d wanted to, brought work with me, contrary to my plans, and was without a few items, though I did remember my soap dish.

Shortly after getting to my room and on discovering that I could not give myself a deodorant “booster shot” (do people really want to read this? how mundane some aspects of us as a species are) I decided my attitude needed some help and I went down to the wine hour sponsored by Witan Publishing and Scott Nokes. There I had my first of several Cullen Chandler encounters and I enjoyed briefly chatting with him. I had initially thought I’d run into town Thursday morning but instead I ran up to my room and did an inventory; toothbrush-check, razor-check, shampoo-check, etc. On finding that deodorant was indeed the only personal hygiene item I was lacking, I made my town run (don’t worry, I’d had just one of those little plastic cups of wine so I think I was safe). On returning I filled in my shiny new program book with sessions to attend the following day and made my bed, thus ending day one. Now on to some accommodations/amenities details.

The food has improved. The dining hall meals were as I remembered them, however the snack bar in Schneider was open through the week where in the past it was only open Thursday. This is a major improvement. The food there isn’t exactly good – you grab a sandwich which has been pre-made and sealed in plastic – however it is a way of consuming calories without having to run off if you happen to have your last morning and first afternoon session in Schneider, as I did on Saturday. Bernhard has a complete food court with multiple options (long lines but you have two hours for lunch).

The provided soap was brand-name. I always bring my own soap as I have literally dozens of little bars of the stuff at home from hotel stays and might as well use it up – same for shampoo(I actually like the stuff Sheraton provides, maybe I’m weird) – but I was impressed by this anyway. My bed/mattress was the best I’ve ever had there. They had bolted plywood to the bedframe to eliminate the pesky sagging issue and I actually had a real mattress, not one of those thin foam things. I also had two beds which always helps as a location to put books.

Wireless Internet access is now available in most of the dorm rooms. There were only a couple of dorms without and happily mine received it. I have a feeling as I read other reports that this will be HUGE. Of course there was the inevitable letdown when I returned home to 3G access through my aircard but it’s not Kalamazoo’s fault that I live in Siberia/rural Central Indiana. The same held true for the exhibit area. Most used digital credit card readers. I only had a couple of mechanical card swipes.

Now a word of caution. Among the items I forgot was my leg weights. Since my hip replacement I have some exercises I do and even 5 months post-op, doing these absolutely makes a difference. If I ever forget them again for four days and have wheels I’m finding a sporting goods store; for some reason I didn’t think of this until I was driving home. I walked to sessions Thursday and realized this was about all I wanted to put the hip through once I’d come back from Bernhard to a late afternoon Valley Session. However I didn’t want to drive for some reason. I soon found that the shuttle service is fine to get to things first thing in the morning, and fine for the two-hour lunch break, but on Friday I tried to use it to get from Bernhard to Schneider in the half hour between the two afternoon sessions (my hip was speaking to me rather loudly at the time) and ended up walking in late to that session (where the speaker I really wanted to hear was not in attendance, more on absent speakers later). I hate walking in late. It’s rude and disrespectful and shows a lack of concern for the others in the room. Sometimes this is unavoidable. For instance, a speaker may end up talking to several folks following their session and just not be able to make it. I had no such excuse though the young lady whose talk I walked in on accepted my apology graciously. In any case, that was the last time I used the shuttle for the half hour between sessions. This is likely more my fault than theirs and I don’t want to come across as blaming anyone for it but offer this for future reference as to what the shuttle can and can’t do. I ended up making at least one “half trip” (usually back to Valley) each day. It was OK and there was never any risk of any injury/harm, it was just uncomfortable, particularly when I had to set a decent pace.

So the accommodations were improved (my camping with walls reference may no longer be applicable), as were the meal options. The wine and free coffee service continue to be good; I only availed myself of the coffee Saturday morning following my ill-advised pizza and beer dinner when I had no interest in breakfast.

I’ll follow with posts on sessions and what I did Thurs-Sun in the coming weeks. If I recall anything to add regarding facilities/accommodations/amenities I’ll insert those but I think this is most of it. Lisa Carnell and the Conference Committee deserve a lot of credit for continuing to work to improve Congress. I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Conferences

 

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