Medievalists from around the world delivered a welcome gift to Kalamazoo, Michigan, in early May–spring! When we arrived on Wednesday the 7th, very few trees had leafed out. But by midday Sunday, as we were bidding farewell to colleagues many of us see but once a year, the trees were sporting delicate leaves, and a riot of sudden blossoms perfumed the air. It’s the least we can do in return for the city’s generosity in hosting the 3 1/2 day International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.
Some of this year’s highlights for me: we might think of the mercenary John Hawkwood as an entrepreneur. Hawkwood noticed that the Italian merchants were too busy making money to defend their city-states, so he went into business doing it for them. The “aelf” element in Anglo Saxon names refers to elves, or those who become soul wanderers in death. They were guardians of morality, executing their harsh judgments by inflicting illnesses and altering mental states. But they could be brought to settle into the body of a newborn among their kin and so be quieted by conferring their name on the child, prefixed by the “aelf.” There were rules about the frequency within immediate families, the father and one daughter, or the mother and one son might serve this purpose. After Christianity muddied the waters, the prefix no longer carried this significance. A wonderful session by members of the department of archaeology, University of Reading (UK), about what they are learning from the graves of adolescents. How hard they worked, the types of injuries they suffered, and the fact that they had a longer adolescence, as far as body development, than we do. A young man did not grow into his full musculature until his early 20s. The fusion of the iliac bone on the pelvis of young women, which is the signal for a safe pregnancy, was in the late teens, which might explain the later marriages or the practice of delaying consummation, and why some royal brides who bore a child at an early age never bore another.
I managed to pick up a copy of my dear friend Laura Hodge’s new book, Chaucer and Array: Patterns of Costume and Fabric Rhetoric in the Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde and Other Works, so that she could autograph it for me.
And from Oxford University Press I ordered two new books on York: York: the making of a city 1068-1350 by Sarah Rees Jones, and Medieval York by D M Palliser.
Later this week I’ll try to make some sense out of my copious notes from the Society of the White Hart sessions.