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Looking back at ISSEME 2021 ‘Contributions’ (17-18;21-22 June, 2021)

Mid-June 2021, the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England (ISSEME) organised its twentieth biennial conference. The conference was a unique, online and truly global event, with the hosting spread across four different universities in four different countries and three different continents. With over 150 participants, 55 papers, 5 keynotes, 4 project reports and 16 contributions to an open-mic ‘scholarship slam’, ISSEME 2021 was one of the biggest events in the field of early medieval English studies.

The theme of the conference was “Contributions”. Under this broadly conceived and inherently positive rubric, the conference committee accepted papers that focused on individuals, groups, sources, events, artifacts, and phenomena that have contributed and/or continue to contribute to the study of early medieval England. These contributions—academic and popular, medieval and modern, English and non-English,—, taken together, dispel myths of an early medieval England that was exclusionary, isolated, and culturally homogenous. The 55 papers (listed below) were selected after double-blind peer review. Speakers and participants were a mix of experienced and new voices, hailing from across the World, anglophone and non-anglophone, all united in pursuit of knowledge about early medieval England.

These papers were buttressed by five inspiring keynote speakers: Michael Wood taught us how to communicate our field to a wider audience; Maria Dahvana Headley showed us the importance of different perspectives and how that can enrich our understanding of texts we thought we knew well; Stephanie Trigg demonstrated how we can think across (often artificial) period boundaries and look at our field from a wider perspective to discover continuities and discontinuities; Sam Leggett demonstrated the importance of collaborative, transdisciplinary research and how this approach can enhance our field; and Sara Pons-Sanz reminded us of the multi-faceted and multilingual nature of early medieval England and showed how this can be reflected in one and the same text.

In addition to regular papers and keynotes, ISSEME2021 also welcomed members to present project reports and organized an open-mic event where participants could share news about ongoing and new projects as well as recent and forthcoming publications. Lastly, the event also celebrated outstanding publications in the field through its award scheme. As per tradition, prizes were attributed to the best book, best first monograph, best article and best edition and/or translation published in the last two years. Additionally, following suggestions from the membership, two additional categories were introduced this year, to better highlight the work of ECRs and the importance of teaching respectively: best article by an early-career researcher and best teaching aid (find out about the winners here: https://isseme.org/2021/06/23/isseme-publication-awards-2021/ ). As a whole, ISSEME 2021 highlighted and celebrated the spirit of collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and dialogue between diverse parties that has typified our field at its best.

The circumstances under which ISSEME 2021 were held and organized were not ideal, to say the least. The global pandemic meant that the event had to be moved online and the conference committee has tried to accommodate participants in various ways. Since the conference took place in four different time zones, recordings of most papers were made available to participants before or after the event – this allowed participants to watch the papers at their own leisure and avoid Zoom fatigue – the discussions following papers were live. In terms of accessibility, we were able to keep the attendance fee relatively low and we also instigated a scheme which allowed the Executive Director of ISSEME to waive the fee for participants under financial duress. In order to facilitate social interaction, the conference made use of the Wonder.Me platform that was used during breaks. ISSEME’s climate committee had also put a mentoring scheme in place, which meant that ECR researchers were able to get guidance and support from more seasoned scholars.

            Of course, ISSEME 2021 also came at a difficult point in the history of this society. The last two years have also been a time of change for the society. We have changed our name from International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS) to International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England (ISSEME), but we have also made more fundamental and meaningful changes. We have tried to keep what was good about the society, but we also introduced a number of changes requested by our members – a climate committee has been formed to work on improving the professional lives of ISSEME’s members and our colleagues in the field (its first initiatives include surveys of the membership and the introduction of a mentoring scheme) and we are opening up the society to a wider community of scholars. ISSEME remains rooted in tradition, but it is open to new and bright futures; the biennial conference has been but one of many steps towards building a more inclusive and constructively pluralistic field.

ISSEME 2021 would not have been possible without a great number of people being willing to spend time and energy into organizing this event under difficult circumstances. With no fewer than fifteen organisers, this conference was a truly collaborative effort. In addition, the organisation owes a lot of gratitude to the people who are behind ISSEME’s Climate Committee and Mentoring Scheme (Judith Kaup, Elise Louviot, Chelsea Shields-Más and Emily Thornbury) for their advice and effort. Next, Sarah Gilbert’s technical support was fundamental for the conference: she has taken care of the conference website, made sure the registration was up and running, uploaded videos and made Zoom links. Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that everything listed above has been conducted under the guidance and leadership of our Executive Director Kristen Carella – she is the beating heart of this society.

Of course, the final debt of gratitude is owed to all speakers and participants of ISSEME 2021 for their contributions to this event and the field in general. We are very happy that many of our members took the time to share with us their opinions on ISSEME’s latest conference and on those yet to come by filling in a questionnaire – you can find a summary of their views HERE – two early-career researchers published their individual experiences of ISSEME2021 here and here. Of course, we welcome more feedback from members and participants – please send an e-mail to our Executive Director Kristen Carella.

Conference organizing committee

Conference coordinating committee: Lilla Kopár, Thijs Porck and Chelsea Shields-Más

Winchester committee: Carolin Esser-Miles, Eric Lacey, Ryan Lavelle and Katherine Weikert

Montréal committee: Bruce Gilchrist and Christopher Vaccaro

Adelaide committee: Matthew Firth, Cassandra Schilling and Erin Sebo

Leiden committee: Marcelle Cole, Judith Kaup, Elise Louviot and Thijs Porck

Keynote lectures

  1. Ms. Maria Dahvana Headley, ‘Centuries of Contributors: On the Collective Parentage and Ownership of Stories with Staying Power’
  2. Sam Leggett (University of Cambridge, UK), ‘The Future of Studying the Early Middle Ages? Inter and Multi-Disciplinary Contributions and Collaboration’
  3. Sara Pons-Sanz (Cardiff University, UK): ‘Aldred’s Old Northumbrian Glosses: Devotional, Scholarly and Pedagogical Interests in a Multilingual Context’
  4. Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne, Australia), ‘Face, Mouth and Lips: Facial Gesture and Rhetoric in Early English Writing’
  5. Michael Wood (Professor of Public History, University of Manchester, UK), ‘Why the Early Middle Ages Matter’

Papers (selected after double-blind peer review)

  1. Abby Ang (Indiana University, Bloomington, USA), ‘Scholarship and Activism: Mutual Aid in Indiana’
  2. Daniel Anlezark (University of Sydney, Australia), ‘King Alfred the Great and Asia’
  3. Max Ashton (Stanford University, USA), ‘Domestic Ruin in the Exeter Book Weapon Riddles’
  4. George Beckett (Leeds University, UK), ‘Manuscript Memory: Reading Beowulf as “Intratext”’
  5. Tom Birkett (University College Cork, Ireland ) ‘On Engliscre spræce? Old English and the Politics of “Intralingual” Translation’
  6. Dieter Bitterli (University of Zurich, Switzerland), ‘Human/Non-Human Interaction in Exeter Book Riddle 62’
  7. Birgitte Breemerkamp (independent scholar), ‘Runes, Riddles, and Rhymes: The Five Rune Poems as Pedagogical Tools’
  8. Samuel Cardwell (University of Toronto, Canada), ‘Where Did “Mission” Come From? Bede and the Idea of Evangelisation in Early Medieval England and Beyond’
  9. Megan Cavell (University of Birmingham, UK) & Jennifer Neville (Royal Holloway, UK), ‘Virtue in the Face of Vice: Group Identity and Boniface’s Riddles’
  10. Marilina Cesario and Elisa Ramazzina (Queen’s University Belfast, Ireland), ‘Fiery Skies and Bloody Waters in Old English Literature’
  11. Giovanni Collamati (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy), ‘Basileus Anglorum or just rex Anglorum?: Looking for the True Meaning of a Greek Title in the Anglo-Saxon Chancery’
  12. Brian Cook (Auburn University, USA), ‘Animal Lessons from Early Medieval England’
  13. Robert DiNapoli (independent scholar), ‘“Well, that’s cast rather a pall over the whole evening, hasn’t it?” The Curious Matter of Death in The Fortunes of Men’
  14. Claudia di Sciacca (University of Udine, Italy), ‘Connecting Sanctity: St Oswald from Seventh-Century Northumbria to Modern Age Italy’
  15. Daniel Donoghue and Ravi Mynampati (Harvard University, USA), ‘Unearthing Style in OE Poetry using Machine Learning’
  16. Conan Doyle (independent scholar), ‘Classical Medicine in Early Medieval England: The Reception and Vernacular Fortunes of Galen of Pergamon’
  17. Matthew Firth (Flinders University, Australia), ‘Intertextual Archetypes: The Royal Woman as ‘Wicked Queen’’
  18. Roy Flechner (University College Dublin, Ireland), ‘The Re-Written Bible of Insular Canon Law’
  19. Rachel Fletcher (University of Glasgow, UK), ‘Unusual applications of Old English in dictionary annotations’
  20. Karel Fraaije (University College London, UK), ‘How to Turn a Skin Lump into a Bird: Multilingual Puns in Against a Wen’
  21. Nickolas Gable (University of California, Berkeley, USA), ‘Non-Human Consent: Visual Communication and the Will of Objects in Beowulf’
  22. Anca Garcia (University of South Florida, USA), ‘The Dreamer’s Trajectory: Between Trauma and Sublime Experience in The Dream of the Rood’
  23. Trisha Gupta (New York University, USA), ‘Penetrating, Piercing, and Androgenizing: The Linguistic Defining, Redefining, and Blurring of Gender in The Beowulf Manuscript and the Skylitzes Chronicle’
  24. Brittany Hanlon (University of Cambridge, UK), ‘The Violent Act Of Reaflac: Old English Accusations of Illegitimate Land Seizure In Tenth-Century Property Disputes’
  25. Millie Horton-Insch (University College London, UK), ‘Early Medieval English Embroideries and Reassessing ‘The Winchester School’
  26. Daria Izdebska (Liverpool Hope University, UK), ‘Emotion Vocabularies in the Old English Prose Saints’ Lives: A Corpus-based Investigation of Affect’
  27. Emily Kesling (University of Oslo, Norway), ‘Writing Alfred’s Texts in the Tenth Century’
  28. Emma Knowles (University of Sydney, Australia) ‘Crossing the readan mare: The Old English Exodus and Latin Biblical Poetry’
  29. Kevin R. Kritsch (McNeese State University, USA), ‘The Wood of the Cross: An Apocryphal Motif and its Reception in Early Medieval England and Ireland’
  30. Gesner Las Casas Brito Filho (LABORA-USP, Brazil), ‘The Temple of the King: Notes on Architectural Images in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Junius 11’
  31. Tristan Major (Qatar University, Qatar), ‘Textual Transmission of Frithegod’s Breviloquium vitae beati Wilfridi’
  32. Austin Mason (Carleton College, USA ‘Transformation by Fire: An Experimental Archaeology Approach to Pottery and Cremation in Early Medieval England’
  33. Francisco J Minaya Gómez and Javier E Díaz Vera (University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain), ‘Weaving Wondrous Worlds: Aesthetic Emotion Research in Old English Texts’
  34. Neville Mogford (University of Birmingham, UK), ‘A Brutal World: Non-Human Violence in the Bern Riddles’
  35. Martine Mussies (Utrecht University, The Netherlands), ‘Saints, Sisters and Sluts: Male-Female Friendships in the Context of Alfred the Great’
  36. Kauê Junior Neckel (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil), ‘Beyond gens Anglorum: Bede’s construction of otherness in the Ecclesiastica Historia Gentis Anglorum (731)’
  37. John D. Niles (University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of California, Berkeley, USA), ‘Plants as Combatants in a Cosmic War against Infectious Disease: An Integrative Look at the ‘Nine Herbs Charm’
  38. Elisabeth Okasha (University College Cork, Ireland), ‘Early Medieval Sundials’
  39. Eleni Ponirakis (University of Nottingham, UK), ‘An Englishman, an Irishman, a Frenchman and a Greek –How Greek Neoplatonic thought created intellectual links between England, Ireland and the continent’
  40. Andrew Rabin (University of Louisville, USA), ‘Uncertain Judgment: The Ordeal in Hagiography and Law’
  41. Rachel Scoggins (Lander University, USA), ‘Female Isolation in Beowulf and Judith’
  42. Cassandra Schilling (Flinders University, Australia), ‘“At Your Service”: Women as contributors to the culture of exchange in Old English Literature’
  43. Joseph Shack (Harvard University, USA), ‘Time, Eternity, and the Thematic Sequencing of Texts in Cotton Tiberius B. I’
  44. Grant Simpson (University of Göttingen, Germany), ‘Building an Orthographically Indifferent Search Engine for Old English: Lessons from the ECHOE Project’
  45. Tatyana Solomonik-Pankrashova (European Humanities University, Vilnius, Lithuania & Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania), ‘Christian Hymnody in the Old English ‘Boethius’ Metre 20’
  46. Harriet Soper (Lincoln College, University of Oxford, UK), ‘Forms of Death in the Exeter Book Riddles’
  47. Jake A. Stattel (Trinity College, University of Cambridge, UK), ‘Thegns and Kings: Legal Authority in the Danelaw’
  48. Emily Sun (Harvard University, USA), ‘“And They Wended Home”: Saintly Reorientations and Translations in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints’
  49. Alex Traves (University of Sheffield, UK), ‘Kingship and the Family in Early Medieval England: Competition or Co-operation?’
  50. Carolyn Twomey (St Lawrence University, USA), ‘The Old Minster, Winchester, and its Baptistery’
  51. Paul Vinhage (Cornell University, USA), ‘Alcuin’s Contribution to Aelfric’s Latin/Old English Grammar’
  52. Stefany Wragg (St George’s College, Weybridge, UK), ‘Between Kin and Queen: The Mediatory Position of Early English Queens, 650-850’
  53. Jonathan Wilcox (University of Iowa, USA), ‘Objects that Object, Subjects that Subvert: The Contribution of Heroic Riddles to Questions of Agency’
  54. Abigail Williams (University Nottingham, UK), ‘Quantity and Quality: Examining Representations of Women and ‘Instruction’ in Old English Texts’
  55. Carol Williams (Monash University, Australia), ‘Osbern of Canterbury (d. 1094), Musician and Theorist’

Project reports

  1. Megan Cavell (University of Birmingham, UK), ‘Group Identity and the Early Medieval Riddle Tradition’
  2. Daniel Donoghue (Harvard University, USA), ‘Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library Report’
  3. Martin Foys (, USA), ‘Old English Poetry in Facsimile Report’
  4. Winfried Rudolf (University of Göttingen, Germany), ‘ECHOE – Electronic Corpus of Anonymous Homilies in Old English’

Contributions to open-mic ‘Scholarship slam’

  1. Project RuneS (Gaby Waxenberger & Kerstin Kazzazi)
  2. Forthcoming publication “Early Medieval English Life Courses” (Thijs Porck & Harriet Soper)
  3. Project ‘Alfred the Great and the Emergence of English Prose’ (Francis Leneghan and Amy Faulkner)
  4. New publication series ‘Studies in Old English Literature’ (Francis Leneghan)
  5. Insulae research group (Kauê Junior Neckel)
  6. Research project “How to trace Latin sources of OE medicine?”(Conan Doyle)
  7. Forthcoming publications by Elisabeth Okasha
  8. Project ‘A Thesaurus of Old English and the Digital Platform Evoke’ (Thijs Porck & Sander Stolk)
  9. Forthcoming publications by John D. Niles
  10. Project CLASP: A Consolidated Library of Anglo-Saxon Poetry (Rachel Burns)
  11. Forthcoming publications and current research by Christina Lee
  12. Project ‘The Vocabularium’ (Karel Fraaije)
  13. Forthcoming publications by Birgitte Breemerkamp
  14. Update from the Oxford English Dictionary (Inge Milfull)
  15. CFP ‘Spirtis and Spirituality’ (Eleni Ponirakis)
  16. Project ‘Deciphering the Leiden Riddle’ (Marcelle Cole & Thijs Porck et al.)
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