IONA: Seafaring is a three-day international conference on the islands of the North Atlantic that brings together scholars of early medieval Ireland, Britain, and Scandinavia to imagine cooperative, interdisciplinary futures for the study of North Atlantic archipelagos during the early medieval period. The conference will be held at Simon Fraser University at the downtown campus in Vancouver, BC, April 11-13, 2019.
The last few years have presented a series of challenges to the study and understanding of the early medieval cultures and literatures of northwest Europe. Even as early medieval studies is being treated as irrelevant to the aims of the STEM-driven neoliberal university, isolating scholars in the field, a series of political and cultural crises have put early medieval studies back at the centre of the academy and society. The inception of medieval studies as a discipline emerged in the late nineteenth-century, roughly when modern ideas of nation and race became widespread; thus, the field has long been conditioned by the mutually constitutive formations of race and nation. These origins have allowed medieval art, literature, and history to be appropriated and deployed by far right and white nationalist groups in Europe and North America.
Early medievalists have begun to come together, deconstructing the white supremacist fantasies of the early Middle Ages and exposing the disciplinary elements that are implicated in such fantasies; however much more needs to be done. This IONA conference seeks to develop knowledge, networks, and skills to reinvigorate and rethink early medieval studies of the islands of the North Atlantic by denationalizing, decolonizing, and deperiodizing the field. Medievalists need to break down the periodized and nationalized isolation between each other and other fields; they must also acquire the specific training and skill-sets to produce potent and useful knowledge and criticism in and of their field. The centrality of early medieval art, literature, and culture to this present politically charged moment only demonstrates how crucial connections and renewal are for the field. In the academy, early medievalists are committed to work in contemporary arts and politics, strengthen individual scholars’ theoretical and methodological tools, and interrogate national and period divisions. And in public discourse, an engaged, critical and decolonized early medieval studies is central to correcting and countering the problematic and ahistorical interpretations of race and nation in contemporary populist politics.
Designed less around traditional conference presentations and more as a “workspace,” IONA: Seafaring is designed to provide time and space for nascent and developing work, intellectual risk-taking, collaboration and cooperation. In addition to workshops, seminars and labs, three plenary themes with speakers and workshops will shape the conference; our tentatively slated plenary speakers are indigenous studies/medieval studies with Abraham Anghik Ruben, an artist whose work fuses Inuit story and Old Norse myth; Nicola Griffiths, award-winning novelist of Hild (2013), set in seventh-century Britain; and Elaine Treharne, the Roberta Bowman Denning Professor of Humanities, Professor of English, and Director of Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis whose work is in book history, text technologies and early English and Welsh literature. With its non-traditional formats and inclusive experimental approaches, IONA: Seafaring aims to forge reciprocal connections between artists and scholars in contemporary art and poetics, indigenous studies, and new media, broadening, complicating, and enriching those fields in counterpoint to academic work in early medieval North Atlantic studies. These kinds of networks between early medievalists, and between early medieval studies and other disciplines can give scholars foundations to build robust and productive new knowledge in the field and reshape its role in the contemporary academy, society, and politics.