Tales from the Conference.

Regina Corallo, DA student in the department and an adjunct instructor, was kind enough to share her experience at the Annual Medieval Guild Conference earlier this fall.  Enjoy!

Last month I was invited to participate in the 21st Annual Medieval Guild Conference at Columbia University entitled What is better than gold? Economies and Values in the Middle Ages. I presented a paper that I had written the prior semester for a medieval seminar with Dr. Nicole Rice.  I am not a medievalist although I have taken several graduate and undergraduate courses on medieval studies, and have thoroughly enjoyed working on a variety of subjects such as hagiography and medieval drama. I’m writing about this experience for two reasons.  First, I wanted to discuss the experience of participating in an academic conference and share ideas about the process and its benefits.  Second, similar to what conferences aim for, I wanted to share my work with the readers of this blog in the hopes of encouraging other graduate and undergraduate students to talk about the type of work they are doing, and what they are passionate about.    

Over the spring semester, I had the opportunity to study medieval drama more formally with Dr. Nicole Rice through a study and analysis of the York Corpus Christi plays.  Just to provide a brief synopsis, these play were an extravagant and complex theatrical and ecclesiastical event comprised of forty-seven pageants that enacted biblical stories from The Creation to The Last Judgment.  Craft guilds were responsible for the financing and staging of the pageants and the event displayed the social body under civic auspices. The guilds, which made up a large portion of a medieval urban community (and were made up exclusively of men), were a regulated trade organization in which highly skilled craftsman were responsible for all modes of production – from the acquisition of raw material to the finished product.  
I wrote a paper about The Crucifixion, a play that emphasizes a guild’s distinct preoccupation with ideas about productivity.  I argued specifically how the tools in the play used to crucify Jesus are explicitly linked to performances of laboring-class masculinities. It was a paper that I thoroughly enjoyed working on because it allowed me to explore and experiment with my interests in Gender Studies. Over the summer, I kept thinking about this paper, and reached out to Dr. Rice about the possibility of submitting my work to a journal.  Time constraints for Dr. Rice and myself dampened any eagerness to begin reworking the piece, so she suggested submitting a proposal for the upcoming graduate conference at Columbia.  What would I have to lose? It was worth a shot, so I submitted an abstract entitled Tools of the Trade: Occupational Masculinity in the York Crucifixion Play.  A couple of weeks later, I received an email with an invitation to participate.  It was a fantastic opportunity, for not only was it conveniently located in NYC, but also I would have the chance to network and engage with other students and faculty who had similar academic ambitions. This is a benefit that a journal can’t provide.  
Another benefit to participating in a graduate conference is that although individuals subscribe to the seriousness of their work, it is accompanied by an overall laid back feeling.  It’s less formal than traditional conference settings, and a nice opportunity to get your feet wet if you are new to the conference circuit. I also invited relatives and close friends.  It’s good to have support so make sure to ask friends, family, and faculty to attend.  I shared the panel with four other participants from various institutions, each of us having about 15-20 minutes of presentation time.  It was great to hear their work, which was vastly different from mine, so it made things interesting. After each presentation, we gathered for a Q&A session.  The panel attracted about 20 people so there was a nice array of questions. This is an aspect of the conference that might provoke anxiety, but in my opinion, this part of the session is the most fun because although you might get questions that are challenging, nine out of ten times this dialogue is friendly and not hostile.  Participants look to engage in discussion because they are either interested in your work or it might pertain to their own studies.  In my own short experience attending conferences, this portion of the conference always provides thought provoking and insightful dialogue. 
The conference wrapped up with a wine and cheese reception (where I met some old and new friends), and a lively musical performance by the Guildsingers, a professional early music ensemble ( HYPERLINK “http://www.guildsingers.org” www.guildsingers.org). I felt transported back in time as they performed a wonderful repertoire of songs about love, fortune, dancing, and drinking.  My favorite performance was “Of Ale (Tosse the pot)”
Toss the pot, toss the pot: let us be merry
And drink till our cheeks be red as a cherry…
I’ll finish by saying that without the help of Dr. Rice this opportunity would not have been possible.  She was most gracious with her time, and I thank her again for her guidance and support.  For students thinking about participating in a conference, faculty members are more than willing to help in any way they can so its important to reach out. Most importantly, if you have accomplished work that you or your professor feel proud of – pursue it!  Explore ways in which you could participate in an activity that will foster your personal and professional growth.  Hey, ya never know!
About Steve Mentz 650 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and early modern literature at St. John's in New York City.

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