This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Seventh Undergraduate Conference in Medieval & Early Modern Studies at Moravian College. I had no real expectations, but I understood the conference for what it was—a chance for undergrads to cut their teeth. It was that and much more. Here is a summary of my experience.
There were more than 80 presenters spread out over the day. Like most conferences, many sessions were concurrent, so you had to pick and choose. The ones I saw demonstrated a wide variety of scholarship from passionate students.
For example, Victoria Yuskaitis from Lycoming College presented “Joan of Arc: A Spiritual and Military Leader.” The crux of Yuskaitis’ thesis was that we cannot separate the spiritual identity of Joan from her military identity, and vice versa. Essentially, without one, there would not be the other. I found this interesting, as my research on Joan focused entirely on the military aspect. Yuskaitis also stressed that women in war was nothing new in medieval France. For example, women often defended attacks from the English over the years. However, what was unique about Joan was that she was a peasant and she was not defending, but attacking.
Faith Baldini from Chestnut Hill College sparked an interesting conversation with her paper, “The Great Peasant Uprising of 1381.” In it, she explained how the English peasants revolted and attacked London after excessive, unbalanced taxes to support the war against France. However, the peasants failed to depose the king and there appeared to be no plan as such. This was a much different situation from today where coups often end in the death of a ruler (e.g., Gadaffi). Afterward, students and professors alike discussed the “center of gravity” of 1381 England in an attempt to determine if there was any chance of stripping the power of the government or gaining concessions without killing the king.
Military Organization and Strategies
My paper was at the tail end of the “Military Organization and Strategies” session. This was the only session that explicitly focused on military history, but as shown above, war came up throughout the conference. Michael Viteritto from Lafayette College presented “Of Monks and Military Orders: The Search for the Ideal Religious Organization in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries.” His focus was on the influence of monks on groups such as the Templars. Ben Toth from Lycoming College presented “Evolution from Roman Legion to Byzantine Tagmata,” which broke down the changes in military organizations and tactics from the Eastern Roman Empire to the Byzantine Empire. I felt privileged to present next to such topics.
In that same session, I presented what was my senior thesis, “Infantry Dominance: The Predecessors to the Battle of Falkirk (1298).” The paper reconstructed the battle based on the medieval sources and one of the possible locations of the battlefield. Then we examined more than a century worth of analysis, which stated emphatically that the Scottish infantry tactics were something new and revolutionary in warfare. Then we demonstrated how they were not.
The session was remarkable for several reasons. First, my fellow AMU schoolmate, Patrick Swan, showed up and surprised me. It always feels good to have support. Second, based on the responses during and after the session, there is a clear interest for learning about medieval warfare, which remains the least tapped period for military history.
The conference ended with some medieval music and a dinner, which were all superb. Overall, it was a very inviting and friendly atmosphere. I strongly recommend that all history undergrads take the opportunity to attend this conference, at least once.