IONA Vancouver

Last week I spent five days at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, to attend IONA: Early medieval studies on the islands of the North Atlantic—transformative networks, skills, theories, and methods for the future of the field. If you are an early medievalist, you should go the next one at King’s College London, November 2021.

The new IONA Association website explains that:

IONA is a professional organization of early medieval scholars whose work extends from the islands of the North Atlantic; however, we do not perceive our field to be limited by periodization or by place. IONA seeks to develop knowledge, networks, and skills that will not only reinvigorate and rethink early medieval studies but also denationalize and decolonize the field.

Their aim is transformative. And they are not kidding. I’ve never been to anything like IONA Vancouver. It was a purely academic conference that felt like the best WisCon or ICFA ever. Super collaborative and cooperative. (I’ve already started talking to a couple of people about Hild-based collaborative projects. It’s exciting!) If you’re even remotely interested in either the early medieval or the future of academic conferences, you should go read the full IONA conference programme. And perhaps start planning to attend the next one.

I was one of the plenary speakers. Here’s the description of my lecture:

This plenary presentation discusses how Griffith’s most recent novel, Hild (2013) operates as a second-order discourse on the illusory nature of history’s immutability: how the novel deconstructs the intersectional development of oppressive discourse on gender, sexual orientation, race, and (with forthcoming Hild sequel Menewood) disability. Central to Griffith’s address is why she chose a queer female protagonist for these novels set in seventh-century Britain, and era of ethnogenesis and cultural change. In doing so, Griffith focuses on the embodiment of the novel, protagonist, and author to argue for the urgent necessity of acknowledging and incorporating one’s understanding of embodiment—and, therefore, identity—into not only the creative arts but scholarly inquiry. [Links to full PDF of plenary, plus slides.]

I talked for 45-50 minutes, and the rest was a lively back-and-forth with the audience.

I was very tired at the conference (I’d just come back from 10 days in the UK for my father’s funeral and was emotionally drained, as well as jet-lagged out of my mind) so didn’t get to go to as many sessions as I would have liked. I did get to all the plenaries and the welcome reception, and a three-part seminar The Contemporary Medieval: Critical and Creative Methods, Practises, and Environments, organised by Joshua Davies, Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing. Every morning from 8:30 to 10:30 about 20 of us crammed into a small room to explore and develop ideas about the contemporary medieval. In each session, four or five participants each gave a 5-minute position paper and then we all just talked, asked questions, and figured out how things like communities of attention, birds, American/Medieval, and humour in early Irish texts might fit together and/or illuminate one another. I loved it. This is just the kind of connect-the-dots idea-testing that works for me.

There were so many sessions I longed to attend but perhaps the three I was most interested in but had to miss were:

  1. a workshop/seminar on fibre and decorated textiles where participants had a hands-on opportunity to learn about tablet-weaving, fish-leather, spinning and carding, etc.
  2. a multi-part seminar on borders and indigeneity in the early middle ages
  3. a multi-part seminar reconstructing history through landscape and practice

Maybe next time…

Meanwhile, thanks to Clare Lees for the lovely introduction, Matt Hussey for organising a splendid conference and inviting me to speak, Gillian Overing for the Champagne, Jay Johnston for the welcome, all the participants in the Contemporary Medieval seminars, and to the many people I had a series of splendid conversations with. Thank you!

One thought on “IONA Vancouver

  1. This caught my attention because, first of all, I loved Hild—the woman and the book. It was a gift from my favorite sister. Second, I’ll be visiting Iona next October.

    I would love to know more about Iona before I go.

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