Steph Appleton provides the second in our series of summer blogs. This week we look back at the EMREM Forum Annual Symposium, which this year took place on May 22nd – 23rd.
Although we at EMREM run a wide variety of events throughout the academic year [see Beth’s post last week for a recap of our summer trip to Worcester Cathedral], the annual symposium is an undoubted highlight for us. Ever since our inception over three years ago, our member numbers have risen year-on-year, and this is reflected in the attendance at our symposium. What began in 2011 as a one-day conference had turned into a full-blown, eighteen-papers-over-two-days event by the time it came to host our 2012 symposium: we simply had to expand to keep up with the demand!
Our theme this year was ‘Birth, Sex and Death: Rites of Passage in the Medieval and Early Modern World’ and, as anticipated, the response to our call for papers was great. It’s always so fantastic to receive abstracts from postgraduates studying in all disciplines across the broader EMREM time period (early medieval – early modern). We feel it’s really important to keep on providing a space for this interdisciplinary discussion, and the continued high attendance at all of our events, not least the symposia, reflects that the demand is there.
This year’s symposium was opened with an enthusiastic welcome address by Professor Wendy Scase, the Geoffrey Shepherd Professor of Medieval Literature here at Birmingham University. And the enthusiasm continued across the two days as we heard papers on subjects as diverse as childbirth in the eighteenth century; death narratives from the ‘History of the Yuan Dynasty’; and sex in Scottish court poetry. Postgraduates came from across the UK to attend, and there was a strong Birmingham contingent too – it’s always good to have a bit of ‘home support’! A variety of approaches highlighted the interdisciplinarity of the event: material culture, music, literature, and social and cultural history all rubbed shoulders and made this year’s symposium vibrant, diverse and intellectually stimulating. Many of the delegates told us that this diversity helped them to identify areas of further exploration in their own work, by producing unexpected parallels in subject matter or methodology.
It wasn’t all work and no play, however. Both days’ proceedings were eased along by vast quantities of tea and biscuits and a couple of rather delicious lunches (if we do say so ourselves!), while our wine reception on the evening of day one (kindly funded by CeSMA at Birmingham University) gave delegates an opportunity to relax and socialise before we all headed off together for an evening meal. I wouldn’t want to single out any particular paper as a highlight, because all speakers presented work of the highest standard. For me, it was just great to see everyone getting involved in such a supportive, productive way, and to meet so many other like-minded postgraduates. We look forward to welcoming faces old and new to next year’s symposium. Finally, we EMREM core committee members couldn’t have done it without our wonderful team of helpers, so we’d like to say a huge thank you to them all!