Medieval and Renaissance conference returns to New College bigger, better than ever

all photos Martin Steele/Catalyst

For some, the word “Medieval” conjures mental images of kings, peasants, knights in shining armor and damsels in distress. Others may be inclined to think of watching underpaid actors joust while wearing a paper crown and eating greasy food without napkins or utensils, or perhaps a climactic scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. As for the term “Renaissance,” it might well evoke the image of a fun time at an outdoor fair, such as the one Catalyst staffer and thesis student Alexis Santos attended this week (for this writer, it primarily brings to mind the Ninja Turtles).

For the nearly-200-strong group of professors and scholars flocking to the Sudakoff Center this past weekend, however, all things Medieval-minded and Renaissance-related represented an opportunity to take center stage and demonstrate one’s impressive knowledge to a crowd of like-minded peers. Such was the concept driving the 18th Annual New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

The conference has taken place at New College every other spring semester ever since the inaugural event 36 years ago. “Lee Snyder, who was a professor of Medieval History before Professor [Carrie] Beneš and Professor [Thomas] McCarthy, started it as, basically, just a little thing to try to bring local Florida Medievalists together,” Professor of English and Conference Committee Co-Chair (alongside Beneš) Nova Myhill told the Catalyst. “It was originally something like for a day, a day and a half. As it led on, he discovered that actually, not that many people from Florida wanted to come, but people from all over the country … and also a lot of different countries wanted to come … so it just grew.

“We assume it was partly because of the draw of the Florida weather in March,” she noted (somewhat) jokingly. “By the time I got here [for the 2004 conference], it was already at the three-four days, five simultaneous sessions model.”

The conference officially began at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, Mar. 8, and concluded at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday. The bulk of the proceedings consisted of nine 90-minute sessions eclipsing five simultaneous presentations each, each taking place in one of five different sectors of the Sudakoff Center. These presentations, run by either individual participants or panels, covered a vast array of topics focusing on the presenters’ areas of expertise. Participants represented academic institutions from Florida as well as more far-flung locales, both in America and abroad.

Of particular importance were this year’s two plenary speakers, who were paid to present at the conference by the Division of Social Science. Duane Oshiem from the University of Virginia ran the first session, entitled “The Papacy, the Plague, and the Prehistory of the Miracle of Loreto,” at 2:15 p.m. on Friday, while Jody Enders of the University of California, Santa Barbara ran the second one, entitled “The Devil in the Flesh in Medieval Farce,” at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday.

Other activities during the weekend included guided tours of certain exhibits in the Ringling Museum, dinner receptions at the museum on Thursday and Friday, and a book exhibit by Scholar’s Choice in the Sudakoff Center auditorium. An activity introduced this year, with the help of the recently-opened Black Box Theater, involved two live performances, the first of which featured the students of Adjunct Assistant Professor of English Ann Basso’s Medieval Drama class undertaking a dramatic reading from the 1470 play Mankind. The second play, a 10th century work entitled The Fall and Redemption of Mary, involved a trained troupe of actors, Shepherd University’s Rude Mechanicals Medieval and Renaissance Players.

Novocollegians too late to attend the 2012 conference may be disappointed to know that participation in the events was free for students; on the bright side, the same will presumably hold true for the conference when it returns in 2014.

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