Congress Reports: The International Arthurian Society Congress, Bucharest 20-27 July 2014
This was my first experience of a congress organised by the International Arthurian Society, and I was extremely impressed by the breadth of topics undertaken at the conference. Given that we all work on the single field of Arthurian literature, often within the discipline of medieval studies, I wondered whether the conference might portray a small critical area. However, the opposite was in fact true. Speakers from all over the world demonstrated that there is still much to write about how the ways in which the mythical or historical figure of Arthur has influenced our imaginations over the centuries. It also seemed natural to be around so many people who study this area of literary history, to the point where I forgot the exclusive nature of the conference.
If I had to draw out a few highlights, the first would have to be the multilingual nature of the conference. Terms such as “intercultural” and “interdisciplinary” are academic buzzwords at the moment, but the multilingual element of the conference really came alive. The idea of “writing on the margins” was another particular point of interest for me, exemplified in a session about the Late Arthurian Texts in Europe project. Of the other modern approaches to the field, I loved the history of art papers and the explorations of Arthurian tourism that question the ways in which people attribute meaning to icons in the landscape, such as Stonehenge or the ruins of Tintagel.
In the city, the Old Town of Bucharest was beautiful. During evenings after the conference, it was possible to explore various gems of the city, such as the Byzantine churches hidden among Parisian-style cafés and restaurants. On the fifth day I visited the largest structure in Europe, and second largest in the world—the Palace of the Parliament. The conference was both academic and cultural, a wonderful feast for the imagination.
Phoebe C. Linton
Since it was my first international congress, I found the sheer range of papers overwhelming. It was a daily challenge to pick just one panel to attend. There were so many opportunities to hear about new movements in my own field and in related fields. It always amazes me just how much Arthurian literature exists and in so many genres and languages. While it is always nice to hear papers in your own field, I found that the particular advantage of the International Congress was that I was offered a chance to learn so much about fields very different from my own. I particularly enjoyed panels on subjects that went far beyond my medieval British focus – papers on Arthurian film, television, art history, and many other subjects I have little other opportunity to come in contact with.
Of course, another major benefit of the international congress was the ability to meet and converse with so many Arthurian scholars. I lost count of how many different nationalities I met on the first day alone. I particularly enjoyed meeting fellow postgraduate students from around the world, hearing about Arthurian scholarship beyond the UK, and comparing the postgraduate experience in different places.
Finally, Bucharest provided a wonderful backdrop to the congress. Filled with beautiful churches, traditional and trendy restaurants, and elegant architecture, the city itself never failed to provide an interesting experience, whether I was looking for a cultural experience or a cup of coffee. The excursion to Peles Castle offered a chance to see Romania beyond the countryside – definitely one of the highlights of my time at the conference.
University of St Andrews