Report on the Modernist Life Conference
University of Birmingham 29 June – 1 July 2017
by Helen Saunders, King’s College London, September 2017
The weather may have been mixed, but the British Association for Modernist Studies’ biannual conference - this year on the theme of ‘Modernist Life’ - was a bright, lively, and provocative meeting of scholars currently working in modernist studies.
The conference began on Thursday 29th June with a postgraduate morning. Comprising a talk about the REF and publishing (run by Daniel Moore, Deborah Longworth, and Andrzej Gasiorek), a careers panel (featuring the above as well as Helen Saunders, Sophie Oliver, Chris Mourant, and Ellie Dobson), and a lunch, this event allowed postgraduates to meet and find out more about each other’s research prior to the conference starting proper. We had a good attendance and the future of modernist studies is looking very healthy.
For two and a half days, the range of panels, papers, and discussion was both focussed and expansive. At any one time there were four or five parallel sessions, meaning that, able to attend a maximum of roughly 20% of all panels, every delegate got a unique experience of the conference. We enjoyed a range of author-focussed panels - Woolf, Beckett, James, and Bowen were among those who had dedicated sessions - while new single author projects were also presented. These included panels on the new May Sinclair editions from Edinburgh University Press and a presentation of the work of the Ford Madox Ford society. As well as this, newer areas of research also featured, with sound studies and ecocriticism both on the programme, as well as a range of interdisciplinary panels, with film, dance, music, visual arts and more all being discussed. The conference also featured a Round Table on ‘The Long 1930s’; this format marked a refreshing change to standard panel set-up, while its content reflected a continuous theme of the conference, a desire to push the boundaries of modernism as far as productively possible.
Delegates enjoyed two keynotes during the conference. The first of these was ambitious in both intellectual and technological scope, as Claire Colebrook discussed, via Skype, ‘Modernist Time and Planetary Memory’, while on the final afternoon of the conference, Martin Stannard presented a keynote on ‘Lives and Works: Editing Modernist Texts’. These two plenaries were perfectly pitched against each other, yet also represented something of the delicate range and balance in modernist studies that the conference itself testified to.
I speak on behalf of all delegates, and all those following afar via the hashtag #modlife2017, when I thank the Centre for Modernist Cultures at Birmingham, especially Daniel Moore, Chris Mourant, and Ellie Dobson, for all their work in making the conference happen. The BAMS Executive Committee provided support behind the scenes. The BAMS postgraduate representatives and Birmingham postgraduates who helped organise the postgraduate morning also deserve a big thank you. Above all, the delegates, supporters, and speakers made the event. See you at the next BAMS conference -- watch this space!
BAMS membership starts from £23 per year (January - December). Perks include:
- A print subscription to Modernist Cultures which is published three times a year
- Online access to Modernist Cultures
- Free or reduced access to all BAMS events including postgraduate training days, conferences, and the ‘New Work in Modernist Studies’ graduate symposia
- Access to members-only content on the BAMS website, including training resources and publisher discounts
- Eligibility for entry to the new BAMS essay prize for early career researchers
- For more, please visit https://bams.ac.uk/membership/