Elizabeth Carney and Caroline Dunn are the main organizers of the next Kings & Queens Conference, coming to you this April, 8th/9th at Clemson University in Greenville, SC, USA.
They are also both teaching and researching at this university; Elizabeth with a focus on the ancient world, especially on Greece and Macedonia as well as on Alexander the Great. Caroline is a scholar of medieval Europe, especially gender history in late medieval England.
We caught up with them to ask about their research and, of course, about what to expect at the next Kings & Queens Conference!
Cathleen: Hi Caroline and Beth! Thanks for doing this interview.
The Kings & Queens conference is leaving Europe, crossing the pond to Greenville, South Carolina and gathering at Clemson University. Could you tell us a bit more on how this happened?
Caroline & Beth: Several years ago, Beth, who works on queens in the ancient world, asked if I was interested in hosting a conference on premodern queenship. Since I had just returned from the first Kings and Queens at Corsham Court and enjoyed it so much I told Beth about the Royal Studies network and the conference series and said maybe it would be possible to bring the group to Clemson, it seemed an ideal base for creating an international conference involving monarchy and dynasty from many periods and places.
Caroline approached Ellie Woodacre at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds in the summer of 2013 and, happily, she was enthusiastic about the idea of bringing Kings and Queens to North America and also perhaps expanding knowledge of the Royal Studies Network further among the classical historians in Beth’s field of research.
Cathleen: So, what happens behind the scenes of organizing such a conference? For example, how many are in your team and what exactly do they do?
Caroline: The first decision we had to make was whether to host the conference at the heart of Clemson University, which is in the small town of Clemson, or at the modern Clemson University building located in the heart of the larger city of Greenville. We chose the Greenville location primarily because it is very close to the airport and we hoped to attract international scholars who might want to avoid renting cars (sadly there’s little to no public transportation in our part of the world). In addition, Greenville is a fun, vibrant little city so we are hoping that everyone will enjoy their downtime during the conference weekend too.
Beth and I are the primary organizers and for the most part we have worked in concert although Beth spent more time organizing the caterers while I have spent more time on the financial side. We also have assistance from Dr. Brandon Turner, who teaches in the department of Political Science. We are running a 1-credit course alongside the conference that has 6 undergraduate student helpers enrolled (Alex Beaver, Haskell Ezell, Polly Goss, Jennifer Iacono, Sarah Marshall, and Cameron Weekley). The course, part of the “Creative Inquiry” program at Clemson, is mutually beneficial. Students gain knowledge and professional experience with the the research side of academia, while we get to have them help out at the conference. We also have two graduate students, Lauren Martiere and Katrina Moore, helping us finish conference preparations.
Beth: Caroline and myself are doing most of the work, but we also have a graduate student designated by our department and help from another (doing her thesis with Caroline) and a group of six undergraduates who will be around at the conference and helped with planning. Brandon, a member of Clemson’s political science department is assisting and doubtless members of our department will as well. In addition, we are working with the caterers and the contact person at Clemson One and Aloft Greenville’s staff. My daughter—an event planner for NYU’s film school—may give some last minute assistance. While it is certainly easier to get to downtown Greenville from GSP airport than it is to work with a conference on Clemson’s main campus, there are still logistical problems for us arising from the fact that we are not basing the conference on the main campus. Caroline lives in Greenville and I will be staying at the hotel Thursday and Friday nights.
Cathleen: That does sound like quite a big event, especially in regards to the international focus of the conference! Which brings me to my next question concerning the field of Royal Studies situated in the US historiography, and especially at Clemson – also considering that the US of A kind of became famous for being anti-monarchical in the late 18th century? Which interesting projects are going on right now in this field?
Caroline: This is an interesting question. The late twentieth-century trend towards social history was very prominent in the US and led historians away from studying monarchs in favor of exploring lower down the social scale, but for much of American history I’d argue that a traditional top-down model of scholarship has prevailed, with personal political beliefs about monarchical systems not conflicting with topics of interest. I don’t have statistics to support this feeling, but it seems to me that now many American historians are returning to the field of royal studies, but infusing it with more modern approaches (for example in the gender history seen in Theresa Earenfight’s studies of medieval queens).
Beth: For a country that rejected monarchy, a surprising number of its citizens dote on the British royal family and news about its members. Undergraduates will fill courses with monarchy or kings or queens in the title or course description. I think in terms of scholarship, it’s been more of mixed bag though for Graeco-Roman antiquity, particularly the Hellenistic period, there has been much more work in recent years and the growth in studies of ancient Persian monarchy has led to lots of interest in the cross-fertilization of monarchies and courts.
Cathleen: That does sound a lot like developments here in Europe, be it the turn from more non-elitist social history to cultural history focussing on underrated aspects, or the growing interest from students in Royal Studies. Personally, I blame The Tudors!
So, how does your work relate to all this? What are you working on right now?
Beth: I’ve got a contract with OUP for a book about Eurydice, mother of Philip II of Macedon and grandmother of Alexander—Eurydice and the Birth of Macedonian Power. It’s not so much a life as an examination of her historical but also her remembered and commemorated role in the growth of Macedonian power.
Caroline: Right now I’m taking a break from investigating the ladies-in-waiting who served late medieval queens of England to look lower down the social scale. I’m exploring the lesser status female servants who waited upon the medieval English aristocracy and I plan to present these findings at the Harlaxton Medieval Symposium in Harlaxton, England this coming July. I hope that both avenues of research will produce a comprehensive book on the experiences of ladies-in-waiting throughout medieval England.
Cathleen: Wow, these topics really close research gaps on women and their influence to royal power. Since Eurydice as well as ladies-in-waiting/female servants are more or less marginalized by traditional historiography, how do you go about gathering this new research? Which sources do you turn to?
Beth: Well, in the case of Eurydice it is partly a question of asking new questions about existing evidence but also that new inscriptions involving her and a tomb some have attributed to her were discovered in the mid 1980s.
Caroline: I was surprised at how many ladies-in-waiting I’ve been able to uncover – my database includes nearly 800 female attendants from medieval England. But of course from medieval sources we learn very little about each specific woman, so I am building a prosopographical study. Sources include financial accounts that document annuities paid to long-serving servants or other rewards (such as a financial gift upon marriage), bequests made in wills, wardrobe records that list livery distributions, and (rare) references to female servants in the few surviving letter collections that we have from medieval England.
Cathleen: Back to the conference this April: what can we expect? Are any special events planned?
Caroline & Beth: We have planned a welcome reception for Friday night at the conference, but we will also try to make various kinds of entertainment and information about it accessible to participants. Ellie Woodacre has informed us that she has important information about prizes that will be made known then. We are hoping to provide a lot of informal networking opportunities and that participants can make and renew connections with fellow scholars at the coffee shops, wine bars, and restaurants that make Main Street a surprisingly lively place for such a small city. For example, on Thursday and Friday evenings there are free outdoor concerts a few blocks up the street from the conference venue and hotel at NOMA square (corner of Main St. and Beattie St).
Cathleen: Looking out of my window at a stormy February afternoon, I do hope, the weather will enable the participants to really enjoy Main Street and the concerts! On this topic, could you please tell us a bit more about the city? What do participants of the conference absolutely have to bring and what do they have to see?
Caroline: Great question! Bring your hiking boots or bicycling attire if you like the outdoors and plan to spend an extra day. We are in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounded by beautiful scenery – long and short hikes with waterfall views and mountain views abound. Greenville is also at the heat of the nationally-recognized Swamp Rabbit Trail – a 20 mile cycling (and jogging) trail that runs along a former railroad line and bicycles are available to hire throughout Greenville.
The weather is normally at its most glorious at this time of year – we are keeping our fingers crossed that participants will enjoy the outdoor piazzas in Greenville even if they’re not into hiking.
Bring an appetite – Greenville is a foodie town. Numerous restaurants provide traditional American fare, New South cuisine, and international options. Local breweries and distilleries serve craft beers and legal “moonshine.” We will be providing participants with a selected list of favorite options in the delegate packets.
Beth: They absolutely should walk down to Falls Park, see Liberty Bridge and generally walk along the river. Enjoy the crowds and festive atmosphere in the streets on Friday and Saturday night. Greenville is a city that was once completely dead and has had a tremendous revival. It is often used as a model of redevelopment of city centers for other downtowns.
Weather in early April is unpredictable—google weather before you come, but usually it is coolish and pretty. The dogwoods might be out. I would suggest bringing some comfortable shoes, so you can walk or, if you like, rent a bike.
Cathleen: Thank you both so much for doing this interview! And hopefully lots of sunny weather, interesting discussions and in general a great time in April at the Kings & Queens 5 conference “Dynastic Loyalties”!
Caroline & Beth: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share this information, Cathleen!