Friday, April 06, 2007


Each May, Kalamazoo, MI plays host to a truly gigantic international conference of medieval scholars. Around 3,000 scholars show up every year to present papers, peruse the book displays, weary nerdy shoes, and grope each other during the Saturday night dance, aka geek prom.*

I'm not technically a medievalist, someone who studies the middle ages. I'm a medievalismist, a word I coined** for someone who studies the medieval revival. In other words, I study the modern people who write about or paint the middle ages, like Tennyson or Swinburne, Dore or Waterhouse. I pretty much stay focused on nineteenth-century England, like Rossetti's painting above, Arthur's Tomb.***

There's not a whole lot of medievalism sessions at K'zoo, so for the past few years I've also been going to the DISTAFF sessions. DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics,and Fashion) is an odd group even among medievalists, and they tend to have a lot of independent scholars, but I find them charming.

They organize a huge number of sessions and a very popular yearly fashion show. Best of all, it's very likely that people will be knitting in the audience and there have been papers on netting and nalbinding.

I can't go this year, and likely none of you are either, but it's fun to see what papers they're sponsoring:

Dress and Textiles I: Clothing and Politics
  • Female Costume and Royal Patronage in the Fourteenth Century: The Case of Elizabeth the Elder, Queen of Hungary
  • The Devil Made Them Wear It: The Politics of Satirizing Fashion in Poetry
  • Cloak and Dagger: Treason and Clothing in Tudor England

Dress and Textiles II: Fabrics in Text and Life

  • Fabrics in French Medieval Literature: Toward a Taxonomy
  • Morality and Material Culture: Representation of Dress and Metaphorical Worth in Three Middle English Poems
  • Changes in the English Fifteenth-Century Cloth Industry and the Effect on Urban and Rural Clothmaking

Dress and Textiles III: Dress in Art and Life

  • The Marriage of the Year (1027): Clothing and Society in Medieval Apulia
  • Dressing Up: Representations of Fashion on Some French Gothic Ivory Writing Tablets
  • The Development of Men's Dress and Armor in the Quattrocento in Italy: Form and Function

Dress and Textiles IV: Extant Garments and Accessories

  • Hooked on Eyes: Scandinavian Decorative Hook and Eye Sets from the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
  • The Medieval Shepherd's Purse: Artifact or Artistic Motif?
  • The Bare Essentials: The Sixteenth-Century Italian Underwear Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of New York

Costume in Chaucer, with an Emphasis on Griselde:

  • Griselde in The Clerk's Tale and Alison in The Miller's Tale: Reading Smocks in Chaucer
  • Griselde's Exchange "Povre Array" and "Heigh Noblesse" in The Clerk's Tale
  • Griselda's Smok: The Naked Truth
  • Note: DISTAFF's Robin Netherton will model reproduction 14th-century clothing as a visual aid during this session.

Medieval Textile/Textile Arts Display and Demonstration

A display of reproduction textile and dress items, handmade using medieval methods and materials. Items will include textiles, decorative treatments, garments, and dress accessories. Exhibitors will demonstrate techniques and be available to discuss the use of historic evidence in reproducing artifacts of material culture.


  • Gender and Material Culture in the Viking Age
  • Looking to the Past, Looking to the Future: The Significance of Gendered Display in Viking-Age Burials in Britain
  • Cultural Identity and Gender in the Danelaw from an Archaeological Perspective: The Small Finds Evidence
  • From Warrior's Sword to Weaver's Sword: Constructions of Female Roles in Early Skaldic Poetry
  • The Ring, the Sword, the Fancy Dress, the Posthumous Child, the Herdsman's Foster Daughter, and the Birdman: A (More) Refined View of the Celtic Background of Yonec
  • Commercializing Domestic Space: The Enigma of the Three Hundred Captive Silkworkers in Chretien's Yvain
  • Merchants of Venice: Silk, Miracles, and the Amadi Family
  • Sewing and Flowing: How Medieval Clothes Affected Those Who Wore Them
  • Robes as Party Favors: Celebrations and New Clothing
  • Two Beheadings and a Funeral: Dressing Scenes as Funerary Preparation in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Turmoil in Talavera: Subversive Worms and Societal Silk
  • Fashion Maid: The Art of What Joan of Arc Wore to War
  • Religious Textiles and Relics in the Carolingian World
  • Objects of Adornment? Detached Body Part Pins and Pilgrimage Badges
  • Reading between the Threads: New Research on the Bayeux Tapestry
  • Embroidery Errors in the Bayeux Tapestry: Their Relevance for Understanding the Tapestry's Design and Production
  • Behind the Bayeux Tapestry
  • The Invention of Fashion as a Post-Traumatic Reaction
  • Till Eulenspiegel: An Old Hero in New Clothes
  • Paternoster Beads: Lauds, Loops, and Loose Ends
  • Shape-Shifters and Fur Coats in the Niflung/Nibelung Tradition
  • Unfolding Identities: The Roles of Clothing in the Nibelungenlied and Volsunga Saga

Don't you wish you were there?
*I can say all this because I'm a geek too.

**I can say this because I'm an English teacher and can get away with such nonsense. Also, it wouldn't really be a scholarly article if it didn't have footnotes, would it?

***And don't even dream of mentioning the SCA to anyone at the congress, lest you get the withering sneer of doom.

1 comment:

Larry said...

Hey, Deb, I doubt I ever attend that conference, but I enjoyed reading your take on it!