Diverse folk diversely they demed;
As many heddes as manye wittes there been.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Squires Tale

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Worth the Trip

For the past two days I've been at the International Society for Studies in Medievalism conference in Canton, Ohio. By the time I get home I will have spent more time in transit between here and Sydney than I was actually at the conference, but I feel like it was worthy the trip. I've had a habit of jut missing major conferences that are themed perfectly for my work - and were important to it. I began my Phd on postcolonialism in Middle English romance a year or two late to go to a conference here in the USA on postcolonialism in the Middle Ages. The 2010 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts was themed Race and Fantasy, and was just at the start of my thinking about my current project, before I'd put in my first funding application, let alone had the second succeed. The conference I've just been at was themed Medievalism(s) and Diversity. It would have been hard to come up with a theme that worked better with what I've been doing this year.
I gave a paper titled " 'Yo! It's the Middle Ages': Talking about Race in the Fantasy Genre." I looked at the ways fantasy fans claim that the 'real' Middle Ages (European of course) were exclusively white: no diversity (racial or any other kind) allowed. It's not a completely new theme for my work obviously, although in this paper I looked mainly at various thread on the Bioware Social Network. Dragon Age is an interesting example because the game has been both criticised for not having enough diversity, and praised for its inclusiveness and attempts to address themes around prejudice. If Bioware aimed to please everyone they failed (surprise), but they did get people talking (and flaming each other) about diversity - in terms of gender and sexuality as well as race - as well as privilege and the assumptions both players and the wider community make about fantasy RPGs and the their fans.
There were some really interesting parallels between what I was talking about and another paper in my session: Elizabeth Emery from Montclair State University speaking on 'Goblets, Tankards and the Green Fairy: Inclusion and Exclusion in the "Medieval" Cabarets of Belle Époque Paris.' Both then and now, the 'real' Middle Ages were constructed to suit the needs and desires of particular contemporary groups, in ways that often had little if anything to do with historical fact. The 'medieval' has been more about feeling than fact for centuries apparently.
I've come away from the conference with at least four different ideas for research and publication that I didn't have when I got here, which is the other reason it's been worth the trip. I'm just about to leave for the first flight in my journey home, oping I can remember any, or even all of them, by the time I get there.

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