The Medieval Academy of America Annual Meeting – A Recap


Want to know what a medieval conference is like? Our correspondent, Danielle Trynsoki, attended the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy of America, which was held this month in Los Angeles, California. She reports back about the papers, the people and the food at one of this year’s most important events for medievalists.

medieval academy of America

I was fortunate to attend a conference on April 10-12, 2014. I was fortunate in several regards, the weather was beautiful, the University of California Los Angeles campus was blooming, and the conference was a joint annual conference for the Medieval Academy of America and the Medieval Association of the Pacific with the theme ‘Empires and Encounters.’ The annual meeting for the Committee on Centers and Regional Associations was also held in conjunction with the MAA-MAP conference. I had the opportunity to see thoughtful presentations, hear musical performances in Susan Boynton’s opening address, learn about the past and futures of medieval museum collections in the U.S., and feel ocean breezes from the Getty Villa’s Outer Peristyle garden.

maa_map_posterThe MAA-MAP conference began with a welcome from Massimo Ciavolella, the director of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and Scott Waugh, the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at UCLA. After their opening, Sharon Gerstel (UCLA) introduced the opening speaker, Susan Boynton from Columbia University. Professor Boynton’s presentation, “Music as Text and Music as Image,” was accompanied by performances from the UCLA Sounds Early Music Ensemble ‘e.g. de Musica.’ In her paper, she examined those instances where music is portrayed in images, text (lyrics and notations), and sculpture. Her examples included ivories, column capital carvings, manuscripts, and paintings. The live performances added a nice audible illustration to her paper. Since much of the music under discussion did not have a specific place in the liturgy, Professor Boynton concluded that the interpretation of music was a response to visceral images of religious icons and images. When this music was combined with specific images, such as lyrics combined with images from the Hours of the Cross, the interpretations changed again.

On Thursday afternoon, there were concurrent sessions followed by an opening reception on the Grand Horizon Room Terrace in the UCLA Covel Commons. With beautiful views over the campus, conference attendees were treated to hors d’oeurves and drinks.




Friday opened with a continental breakfast spread and the Plenary Session of the CARA conference: ‘Encountering Difference in the Middle Ages.’ Session chair Teofilo F. Ruiz of UCLA introduced the speakers, Jessica Goldberg of UCLA, Annemarie Weyl Carr of Southern Methodist University, and Barbara Weissberger of the University of Minnesota. The presentations addressed such diverse topics as Cairo Geniza society, Orthodox monasteries under Latin rule, and the Inquisition’s trial of Yucé Franco, respectively. Concurrent sessions followed, with titles including ‘Sites of Encounter: Framing the Mediterranean,’ ‘Competing Archives, Competing Histories,’ and ‘Digital Humanities.’ The lunch break offered a ticketed entry luncheon, and a business meeting for the MAA. The early afternoon sessions included presentations on “The Case of the Summoner’s Syphilis” by Bridget Whearty of Stanford University, “In or Out? Encounters at the Castle Door with Malory” by Molly Martin of McNeese State University, and “No Longer Our Eastern Nemesis: The German Humanists’ New Image of Byzantium” by Julie Tanaka of the University of Notre Dame, to highlight just a few. After one of the many coffee breaks offered between sessions and events, the late afternoon sessions had titles like ‘Charlemagne,’ ‘What’s New in Medieval History?’ and ‘Museums and the Presentation of the Middle Ages.’ The afternoon sessions were followed by a reception at the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library highlighting the new exhibit, “Illuminated Manuscripts in he UCLA Library Special Collection.” This reception offered a glorious selection of illustrated manuscripts, and a glorious dessert bar to accompany it. After the reception at the library, the conference banquet offered dinner, drinks, and fine company.

Saturday morning’s main features were the fully stocked continental breakfast, and the MAA Presidential Address from outgoing president Richard W. Unger of the University of British Columbia. His presentation “Commerce, Communication, and Empire” explored some past theories on those topics in medieval studies, including the much-discussed Pirenne Thesis and his own research on specific economic items such as ships and beer. Following another requisite coffee break, titles in the morning concurrent sessions offered ‘Architecture and Encounter,’ ‘The Impact of Empire on Anglo-Norman Monasticism,’ and ‘Teaching the Middle Ages to K-12.’ Lunch was a foray into the California sushi hotspot SugarFish! and great discussion with new friends Lucas Wood, Alexandra Kaczenski, and Nicholas Pelullo. The last concurrent sessions of the MAA-MAP conference on Saturday afternoon wrapped up several multi-part sessions and explored botany, issues of space, illuminated manuscripts, and the Crusades. The MAA Fellows’ Session was the lest event on the UCLA campus, and featured Dumbarton Oaks’ Margaret Mullett presenting “’As in the gold mosaic of a wall’: Literature as Text and Literature as Performance.” After the end of the Fellows’ Session, the conference crowd started heading out to the closing reception at the Getty Villa. The new exhibit “Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections” had just opened and was open for the reception. A salmon dinner with lemon orzo was served, and the Roman style of the Villa, the sunset, and the ocean views all contributed to a lovely close to the MAA-MAP annual conference.

Getty Villa - photo by Bobak Ha'Eri

Thanks are in order to the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Medieval Academy of America, the Medieval Association of the Pacific, and the Getty Villa. The conference was well-organized, with sessions hosted in buildings in close proximity and multiple coffee stations with many types of tea, lemon slices, and honey. Despite some very noisy lanyards, this conference was illuminating and thought-provoking. The University of Notre Dame, host of the 2015 event, has high standards to meet!

Check back over the next several days to read reports by Danielle Trynsoki on some of the interesting papers given at this conference. 

Sharan Newman