Recently I attended and presented a keynote paper at the Masculinities in the British Landscape conference co-organised by the superbly amazing Kate Weikert and the amazingly superb Edward Bujak. The venue was Harlaxton College, formerly Harlaxton Manor, the UK campus of the University of Evansville and venue for conferences and events. See my blog about Harlaxton here.
The conference was all about the archaeological, historical and literary evidence for the interaction of masculinity and landscape. The event incorporated a fascinating field trip to Belton Park on the other side of Grantham, to be discussed in a future blog. There was also the added bonus of an outside pair of talks by the co-organisers Edwards and Kate about the evolving landscape of Harlaxton Manor itself and how it reveals dimensions of the conference theme. The indoor papers addressed a wide range of source materials and themes in exploring the relationship between masculinity and landscape.
The first session explored Bloodied Landscapes of masculinity. Margery Materson looked at landscapes of the British duel in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, John Martin exploring battue gaming shooting and its impact on the late Victorian and Edwardian countryside, and Kaja Franck investigated the lupine dimensions of wilderness in the novel Dracula. Also considering imagined landscapes was Lucy Ryder investigating the folklore of masculinity in the British landscape. More me this quartet of papers provided so much food for thought I will be full for months and all identified relationships between death, masculinity and real and imagined landscapes, which are key to my research interests.
An afternoon session of four papers explored Property in the Landscape opening with Linsey Hunter on gendered language in medieval charters of the Anglo-Scottish Border region. She was followed by Spencer Gavin Smith exploring the architectural symbolism of royal display in the castle of North Wales and Rachel Moss looking at the orchard as a setting for father-son relations and the construction of masculinity in late medieval England. Alexandra Logue then explored contestation over property and masculine identities in early modern London and Essex. Together, while eclectic in their source material, these papers explored architecture and space in the performance of identities in the medieval and early modern world.
Following these sessions, I then gave my keynote lecture on ‘From Stonehenge to the National Memorial Arboretum: Megalithis and Martial Masculinity in the British Landscape’. I will discuss this separately in a future blog.
The next day, after the conference wine reception and dinner, we have two more sessions. Colonial Landscapes began with a paper by Xavier Guégan exploring photography in the construction of Indian masculinities and Rosalind Carr on masculinity in the colonial landscapes of late 18th-century New South Wales. Jessica Streibel McLean gave a fascinating archaeological paper on white creole masculinity in the 18th-century Little Bay Plantation of Montserrat, West Indies. The last paper in this session by Helen Goodman had the best title of all (‘Exploring Sheba’s Breasts’) and explored literary portrayals and interactions between masculinity, adventure and the African landscape.
The final session considered Emotional Landscapes of masculinity, comprising a triad of papers. Oliver Knight considered rural geographies of sexuality through autoethnography, focusing on rural Essex. Nathan Booth considered the diaries of a 19th-century resident of Stalybridge and the relationships between landscape and masculinity thus revealed. Nicola Bishop considered literary potrayals of rambling clerics in the books of the early 20th century.
It is difficult to sum up and appraise such a wide range of literary, historical and archaeological approaches to masculinity in the landscape. There were many highlights for me and I wouldn’t like to select out some papers for fear of appearing to disregard the others. Still, many authors considered the active role of landscapes and built spaces in the construction and performance of memories and identities of male individuals and concepts of masculinity in different social realms. My archaeological bias meant that I got a great deal out of papers by Spencer and Streibel McLean, while the theme of death and landscape was most relevant to my research came across clearly in the papers by Masterson, Franck and Ryder.
On reflection, while I make no claims at being a gender theorist, there are a wide range of ways my work dabbles in the theme of masculinity and its relationship with, and constitution through, various material and spatial media. From understanding early Anglo-Saxon weapon burial, tenth-century stone sculpture, medieval effigy tombs and conflict commemoration in the 19th-21st centuries, I have and continue to explore a wide range of materials key to the mortuary performance and reproduction of masculinity. This conference gave me both thinking time and listening time to mull over these dimensions and consider new trajectories for my research.
On all these grounds, it was a superb success as a conference. I do hope to explore more of these ideas in print in the near future. Certainly, the organisers are planning an edited book comprising select proceedings of the conference. This is a project that deserves support and nurturing. Congratulations to Kate and Edward on a fascinating, rich and varied conference.