Guest Post: Nicole Guenther Discenza (University of South Florida)
The biennial meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists fulfilled its theme for this year: “Anglo-Saxon Traces: ‘Her mon mæg giet gesion hiora swæð.’” The 199 participants heard a number of papers focusing on the material culture of Anglo-Saxon England, especially archaeology and manuscript studies. My own teaching and research focus on literature and language, so the conference presented me a welcome opportunity to learn about other disciplines within Anglo-Saxon studies as well as keep up with research within my own specialty. All ISAS sessions are plenary; that limits the number of papers but gives the conference a kind of coherence that many larger conferences lack. (You can see the preliminary Program online.)
The midweek excursion to Sutton Hoo (my first visit there) brought us physically close to the past we study. These early Anglo-Saxon burial grounds do not necessarily look impressive: the burial mounds were leveled in succeeding centuries, and the most dramatic one, Mound 2, is actually a reconstruction done by archaeologists at the end of the most recent excavation. To my untrained eyes, the heirloom sheep looked like, well, sheep. Yet looking up at Mound 2, and standing on Mound 1 looking at the markers that show where the bow and stern of the large buried ship would have been, I felt a sense of awe that I hope to be able to share with my students. We walked through a burial ground that held high-ranking nobles in its early Anglo-Saxon history and criminals later, guided by an archaeologist. (We also learned that the horse buried in one of the mounds probably looked impressive but was not in good health: it may have been lame and deaf!) Other highlights of the conference included a reception at the British Museum, in the Early Medieval Galleries that hold some of the Sutton Hoo finds; and a reception at Lambeth Palace, where we had wine and hors-d’oeuvres while looking into the glass cases holding early medieval manuscripts on display. (Yes, some of us felt very strange eating and drinking so close to the manuscripts!)
My own session was late Friday afternoon, where I gave my paper on “Following in the Tracks of Bede: Science and Cosmology in the Benedictine Reform.” The session was well attended though it was late in the conference and I think many of us were nearing exhaustion. Useful questions and conversation followed the papers, both in the session and after, as in many sessions of the week. I was very interested to learn from more than one person that some modern gardeners still pay attention to the phases of the moon when they cut wood, a point that Bede develops at some length in his De temporum ratione and which I had thought very odd when I read the text—but I am not a gardener.
One of the most valuable aspects of the conference for me was the presence of numerous progress reports and updates on research projects and tools. As someone who has worked on the Alfredian Boethius myself, I was delighted to hear from the directors of the Boethius Project that the new edition of the OE Boethius will be submitted to Oxford University Press later this year for publication in 2009—and that Malcolm Godden and Rosalind Love have obtained a five-year grant to edit early commentaries on the Consolation of Philosophy. Toni Healey’s demonstration of the forthcoming Dictionary of Old English Online: A to G revealed that the ongoing DOE project will add a powerful set of searches to the excellent work that it has already produced, first with its microfiches and now with the A to F CD-ROM. Roy Liuzza demonstrated Old English Newsletter online and particularly its Bibliography while asking for readers to offer comments and suggestions for the future development of OEN and help improving the classifications of entries already in the online Bibliography.
The conference concluded with a business meeting where prizes were awarded: the book prize was shared by Martin Foys (Virtually Anglo-Saxon: Old Media, New Media, and Early Medieval Studies in the Late Age of Print) and Daniel Anlezark (Water and Fire: The Myth of the Flood in Anglo-Saxon England); the translation prize went to Scott DeGregorio (Bede: On Ezra and Nehemiah); and the article prize went to Joyce Hill (“Authority and Intertextuality in the Works of Ælfric,” Proceedings of the British Academy, 131 , 157-81; The Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture for 2004). The next two venues were announced as well: ISAS 2009 in Newfoundland, and ISAS in 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin!
Nicole Guenther Discenza is the author of Literature Compass article, ‘Alfred the Great’s Boethius‘, Literature Compass 3.4 (2006): 736-749, doi: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2006.00343.x