The International Association for Robin Hood Studies, Tenth Biennial Meeting: “Outlaws in Context” (2015)
Reviewed by Valerie B. Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The International Association for Robin Hood Studies meets biennially, alternating between North America and Europe; the subject of this review is the tenth meeting, “Outlaws in Context,” held 30 June – 2 July in Doncaster, UK. Doncaster is in South Yorkshire, and the area is considered prime “Robin Hood Country” due to local references in a number of early ballads, abundant references to Robin Hood in local site names, and a rich tradition of highwaymen (real and romanticized) through the 18th century.
“Outlaws in Context” offered seven sessions, with no concurrent panels to split the attention of attendees. Nineteen papers were presented, and enthusiastic conversations followed each panel. Like many organizations, the IARHS encourages the participation of graduate students alongside seasoned academics; however, the IARHS is also open to independent scholars or enthusiasts, and several routinely attend and present at the biennial conferences. This open approach mirrors the history of Robin Hood scholarship, and encourages a diversity of voices in discussions.
The European meetings of the IARHS are generally smaller and more intimate conferences than North American counterparts. Consequently, “Outlaws in Context” represents organizer Lesley Coote’s choice to replicate the success of past European meetings, such as Gregynog in 2007 and Beverley in 2011, by selecting a residential conference center as the site of the meeting. European meetings of the IARHS thus often qualify as “boutique conferences,” since their small size and centralized location ensures that all attendees can meet and speak to each other within formal and informal settings. This allows a rich exchange of ideas in various stages of development, and genuinely collaborative discourse. The North American meetings are often larger and by sheer size limit the depth of casual conversations even though they balance this through increased opportunities. (A notable exception to this trend was the 2013 meeting in St. Louis.) The great value of the small residential conference center is the natural flow and development of the conversation. A discussion begun over breakfast can flow into panel presentations and questions, continue during lunch, and further resonate in afternoon conversations.
Presenters and audience members were able to make connections between papers throughout the conference. Because Robin Hood is a subject well suited to historical, literary, and media study, the range of attendees is typically quite broad: medievalists are the largest contingent by far, with eighteenth century studies and modern media studies rounding out the remainder. The IARHS is not limited to members of the academy alone; at any meeting, independent scholars, dedicated enthusiasts, and casual fans are present, offering a more inclusive model for scholarly conferences of the future.
“Outlaws in Context”: