By Irene O’Daly
Last month (28-29 September) I had the pleasure of attending a conference entitled Transmission, Translation and Dissemination in the European Middle Ages, 1000–1500 AD at University College, Cork. The conference was organised by the Forum for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Ireland, in conjunction with Elizabeth Boyle of the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Studies at the University of Cambridge, and generously sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust. The conference presented a fascinating array of papers ranging from studies of the material transmission of texts to dissemination of ideas by migratory scholars from places as far afield as Toledo and Glendalough, while covering a broad range of subjects, including medieval Dutch mysticism, the medieval science of optics, and Old Welsh vocabulary. The papers were of high quality throughout, the atmosphere was friendly and conducive to constructive discussion of the ideas presented, and the setting, the Aula Maxima in the Main Quadrangle of UCC, was beautiful.
One of the most interesting aspects of the conference, however, was the debate it prompted on the state of historical research in Ireland. While the economic climate is currently unfavourable for arts and culture funding, it was apparent that the FMRSI might shine as a bright light in the otherwise drab landscape of the future. Its membership is broad – drawn from those who are currently working on medieval and renaissance studies in Irish education and research institutions, those who have received degrees from such institutions, and those who are, through their study or teaching, currently associated with such organisations in Ireland. Therefore, even though the organisation is “Irish” in character, it is far from limited to Irish medieval studies.
There are currently about 160 members listed on their wordpress-hosted homepage, all of whom have a page indicating their current interests and affiliations, thus creating a virtual community of researchers. Generously, membership is free; the lack of prohibitive joining costs can only be a boon for young researchers. In addition to providing a listing of researchers, the website is a valuable resource for news with job listings, calls for papers, and conference, colloquium and public lecture announcements regularly updated. Furthermore, the FMRSI publishes a digital newsletter delivered as a pdf to its members and a digital, peer-reviewed, journal: Óenach; presumably the use of a digital format is an innovative way to, again, limit costs. The FMRSI also uses a Facebook account and a twitter stream to keep in contact with its members.
What I admire most about the organisation, aside from the dedication of its coordinators (Ann Buckley, Carrie Griffin and Emer Purcell), is the fact that it goes some of the way towards filling a gap in discourse about medieval studies in Ireland, and does so in an economical fashion – indeed, it could be described as a ‘recessionary solution to a recession’. It recognises that there is a community of researchers who need networking opportunities, it promotes events that are taking place, and it does all this through a range of easily accessible social-networking tools. I would recommend, therefore, the FMRSI as a potential model for effective, low-cost academic networking.