Friday was such a busy day that I didn’t have a chance to post any blog reports from the conference, but I did tweet a couple of sessions which I enjoyed greatly. If you haven’t already done so, check out the #Berks2011 twitter feed which compiles all the updates shared by historians who’re here and sharing!
First off, click through to the Berkshire Conference Digitial History Showcase which offers an in to all sorts of amazing digital tools from blogging platforms to virtual classroom tools. I was taken by their explanation of tools for exhibits and tours, particularly Omeka. I’m itching to give this a whirl with one of my classes in the fall: maybe my graduate students in historical methods?
I posted a series of summaries from my Friday sessions to Twitter already. One key element threading through all of this is a worry that maybe we read too much agency into how women appear in the legal and economic record. Simply because a woman is on record as having been part of a loan or donation, can we know how much she was involved in the planning and approval of the action? Shannon McSheffrey of Concordia, in her comments to the last panel I attended on Friday dealing with Generative Labor, also wisely cautioned that we need to remember that our modern interest in economic resources as desirable end isn’t always so much of a focus in medieval lives where chastity and religious aspirations figured greatly. This morning’s session where I presented my research on early modern English stepmothers provoked all sorts of interesting insights from the audience directed at the larger issues the panel raised (and our discussant, Lynn Botelho, carefully teased out) about how we are concerned with questions of language (stepmother is a loaded word, for instance, in the early modern English records) and sources (I want to cast my own net wider and bring in local records from a couple of parishes and/or villages that might support a prosopography of blended families beyond the very dysfunctional relationships the Old Bailey Online records document).
Tenured Radical has already filled readers in on some of Friday’s activities, up to the blogger meet-up at 5:30. We were sad that Historiann couldn’t join us, but we still had enough people there in force to take over the big table in the Grad Lounge. Knitting Clio, cliotropic, Clio Bluestocking, Scattered and Random, Another Damned Medievalist, Tenured Radical, Tanya Roth and one other non-blogging historian sampled the fine beverages from the bar while discussing strategies to make digital history more accessible to our colleagues.
After grabbing a quick dinner at the Dining Commons, I convinced some of our group to follow me to a presentation by Deborah Harkness whose A Discovery of Witches was a novel that I read this spring and adored. Romantic paranormal suspense woven into a world of archival research and historical alchemy: what more could you want? Especially when it’s written by a historian who knows her field and has a way with words. She read some passages from the book and discussed a bit of how she brought it into being. Best of all? She told us that she’s heading off to finish up the second book in the trilogy. I can’t wait for it!
ADM compiled some of her thoughts about what we could do better to represent premodern history in her open letter, Dear Berks Organizers. Since the next Big Berks will be in Toronto in 2014, I have good hopes this will come to fruition since Toronto is where Judith Bennett and many other scholars (including yours truly) learned something of the craft of history. We can come full circle there in 2014 to highlight the best in women’s history from across the globe and across the eras!
I have to praise the fine work of the site committee and volunteers for working so hard on supporting the conference. Heroic endeavours brought people in at the wee hours of Friday morning from the airport and some of those same volunteers were up and at them to make sure the 8:30 sessions started smoothly. I volunteered a few hours, myself, to assist people with technology but that was just a drop in the bucket with so many people lending a hand, whether officially a volunteer or not. There’s a wonderfully supportive attitude amongst the conference-goers at the Berks!
But now it’s lunchtime and I have much more of the conference to enjoy, including the infamous Saturday night dinner and dance. See you anon!