This year was another great conference for the Material Collective, and this time, we brought buttons (thanks Asa!). So, if you didn’t find us to get your swag, you can head on over to the store for all kinds of stuff.
We sponsored a roundtable called “Faking It,” organized by Nancy M. Thompson and Maggie M. Williams. The papers were lively and playful, offering four very different takes on fakes, forgeries, recreations, and even the impostor syndrome. Our presenters explored the creative process from multiple angles, considering whether the things we make and study are in any way “authentic,” and whether or not this perceived authenticity (or inauthenticity) matters. As we said in our call for papers, “Our objects of study–ivories, sculpture, stained-glass windows, texts–often turn out to be lies and forgeries, in part if not in whole.”
Here’s a general overview of what took place in the session, but we know there are other recollections out there, so add more to the comments!
Martha Easton began the session with a beautiful paper on medieval and postmedieval ivories, working through how, as she wrote, “ideas about model, mimicry, homage, and forgery are applied to this art form.” Martha deftly wove together a discussion of the materials (ivory, bone, narwhal tusk, even plastic) with a sophisticated discussion of euphemistic depictions of sexuality. She also asked us to consider the value of reproductions, which are often just as complex as their prototypes.
Mary Shepard invited us into her long-term relationship with Alexandre Lenoir by opening her talk with an image of the roses she recently placed on his grave. Lenoir’s Musée des monuments français is well known to many medievalists, and Mary offered an insightful reading of Lenoir’s particular brand of curating. In particular, Mary explored why we shouldn’t dismiss Lenoir’s inclusion of things from 12th-century St. Denis in the room dedicated to the 14th century as simple errors. My favorite element was Lenoir’s description of the Sainte Chapelle as a “perfect example” of an Arab building. Huh?? How wonderfully and inexplicably medieval!
Lois Leveen described her experiences as a historical novelist, asking us to consider the many ways in which we all tell stories about the past. Her new book, Juliet’s Nurse, gives readers a chance to flesh out the story of Romeo and Juliet before we meet them in Shakespeare’s dramatic events. Telling the tale from the point of view of the nurse lets readers consider the ways in which any story unfolds from a myriad of perspectives. Lois also detailed the issues that face historical novelists, including the fact that she (and others) create “fake” historical characters that many readers perceive to have been real people.
Damian Fleming presented his incredible work on fake Hebrew alphabets in English manuscripts (one of which is accompanied by a remarkable scribal note reading “Find a better Hebrew alphabet”). As the image at right shows, some Christian scribes did eventually find a person, a certain Abraham, who was a capable Hebrew scribe. Damian’s work was not only academically rigorous, but also so pleasantly engaging that we found ourselves talking about Klingon and Galactic Basic Standard.
Lastly, we were treated to a demonstration video by–and a google chat with–Jesse Meyer of Pergamena. For generations, Jesse and his family have been making parchment using both medieval and modern methods. He offers workshops, and Pergamena has even been featured on the Discovery Channel show, Dirty Jobs. The work of Jesse and Pergamena helps us, as modern medievalists, gain a greater sense of the experiences of medieval parchment producers as well as manuscript users.
We also co-sponsored a reception with the BABEL Working Group this year, where we had the pleasure to raise a glass with many of the Facebook group members in person. We also had a wonderfully productive business meeting that resulted in some fantastic seed ideas for next year’s congress. Look for our CFP and submit your stuff for 2015!
One particularly interesting moment for the Collective happened in Jeffrey Cohen’s session on Impossible Words. Our own Anne Harris plans to blog about that–as well as another amazing session on materiality and aesthetics–at medievalmeetsworld, so stay tuned.
Naturally, we also had tons of fun at all the dinners, parties, and the dance, and we’re already planning and pining for Kalamazoos to come.