Many years ago, there was a well-known meeting of the minds for medievalists. Unfortunately, that conference (which will go unnamed) only catered to Ivy-League snobs and was far too inclusive for the rest of us who don't follow the exploits of the Harvard Rowing Team. For some reason, the gauntlet was thrown down in Kalamazoo Michigan when a few medievalists got together to talk in Old English and discuss their research without the looming presence of judgmental highbrow types who would only criticize them for not having their loafers shined. The conference grew in size each year, and now 3,000 of us descend upon the campus of Western Michigan to talk in Old English and
Though my colleagues thought I was crazy, I was more than happy to stay in the dorms on campus, and I was lucky that my room was one of the few that didn't share the bathroom. I set up office as soon as I got in. Walking around the dorm, I noticed a surprisingly large number of professors (some of them quite old) staying in the dorms
I was nervous - and I don't really get nervous. I've been through enough tough situations to get over nervousness when it happens, but this place really made me timid. I hear horror stories of going to conferences and having professors shut down your ideas and brand you for the rest of your career as a hack. Some never get over the dismissal they receive at these conferences. Would they stick me in an iron maiden if I didn't read my paper well, or if they hated my research?
I was worried over nothing. Kalamazoo is fun, everyone is relaxed, and after I attended a few panels I knew that I was going to do fine. My paper, which discussed the first Christian nunneries (they were started by this guy, in case you're wondering), was well researched and it received an excellent reception when I read it. (There are monastics who show up to these things, and every time I looked up while reading my paper I noticed a little Benedictine nun smiling at me. That was good for my self-esteem.) I couldn't have asked for a better result. I made good connections with people doing similar work and learned a great deal from my peers. An excellent conference.
But Kalamazoo really came to life at night after the panels were over and the merchants were closed. More on that in part 3.