By Patrícia Iliašová
At the end of August 2018, Brno welcomed around 660 delegates from 55 different countries to the 14th ESSE Conference which ran from 29 August to 2 September. The conference was organized by the Czech Association for the Study of English (CZASE) and the Department of English and American Studies (DEAS), Masaryk University. The conference took place in several venues scattered across the city centre, and consisted of over 60 seminars, 18 parallel lectures, 4 plenary lectures, workshops and a rich cultural programme. Re:Views was fortunate enough to take part in some of the preparations and to have attended some of the sessions. However, to give you an overall insight into the conference, we asked the chair of the Organising Committee, Ivona Schöfrová to answer some questions about the preparations and the conference itself.
About the Preparations and the Organization
The ESSE Conference is a biennial event, arranged by the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE). The first ESSE Conference was held in 1991 in Norwich, UK. Since then, the conferences have been held in different European cities with the most recent being held in Brno, CZ. The 14th Conference was opened by president of ESSE Liliane Louvel and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, MUNI, Milan Pol. The 14th ESSE conference was co-organized by DEAS and CZASE – a member of ESSE – of which our department head Jana Chamonikolasová is the president. Associate Professor Jana Chamonikolasová was also the main mediator between ESSE, CZASE and DEAS during the preparation of the Conference and for the duration of the event itself.
According to Ivona Schöfrová, the first preparations for the conference began as early as two years ago, but as she said: “the last 10 months were gradually more and more demanding”. Originally, the conference was supposed to take place in the newly reconstructed building D at the Faculty of Arts. As Ivona Schöfrová stated:
“The idea of welcoming the international audience in the new buildings with modern equipment was really encouraging. To make sure everything is manageable, we decided to inspect the construction site in winter. We spent several hours in the construction site wearing safety vests and hard hats checking the rough construction of building D and examining whiteprints. It was freezing cold but the whole project seemed really promising. However, the reconstruction took longer than expected”.
The remaining faculty buildings surrounding building D did not offer enough space to accommodate a conference of this size. In addition, the access to the building complex was at that time restricted by roadworks and the reconstruction of underground piping which was taking place in the adjacent streets. For that reason, new venues had to be found, and in the beginning of Spring 2018, it was decided that the conference would take place in three buildings simultaneously; Building N (Janáčkovo square) for linguistics, building K in Komenského square for literature and cultural studies, and the University cinema Scala for registration, plenary lectures, poster sessions, conference opening and selected parallel lectures. As Ivona Schöfrová mentioned: “It was not the ideal solution, there were complications as well, of course. The decision to have three venues was demanding in terms of logistics and catering. And there were roadworks in front of Scala, too”. Some parts of Brno city centre were undergoing major reconstructions at that time and these affected the area around Scala in particular. The organizers were concerned that it would be difficult for the attendees to move between and locate the three venues. “However, thanks to measures taken by the Organising Committee (signposts, student assistance), conference participants had no problems finding their way to the venues. No one complained and most participants actually appreciated the locations of the three venues right in the city centre,” Ivona Schöfrová concluded.
About the Conference
While the 14th ESSE Conference officially began on Wednesday morning with registration at Scala, the organizers and some of the participants had already been busy for a few days with other events related to the conference itself. The annual ESSE Board Meeting, the ESSE executive meeting, Doctoral Symposium along with the reception in Villa Tugendhat and Welcome reception for the participants involved in these events which took place in the Old Town Hall, all preceded the main conference.
The ESSE Conference was a major event with over 660 attendees that came to Brno from various European countries, as well as the United States, Japan, India and Australia. The academic and cultural programme of the main conference began on Wednesday and lasted until Sunday afternoon. Each day (except for some slight differences in the organization of the first and the last day of the conference) was organized in a similar pattern; the early morning was reserved for parallel lectures – there were at least 4 parallel lectures happening at the same time – which were followed by seminars. The plenary lecture always took place in Scala, and the rest of the afternoon was dedicated again to seminars, which took place simultaneously in two different buildings. The seminars were created by small groups of academics with closely related research areas and one or two convenors in charge of the session. Apart from the active participants, the seminars were also open to any other attendees of the conference who could listen, make notes and ask questions during the discussion. The themes of the seminars varied greatly and covered a wide range of topics from teaching to literary, cultural, translation and linguistic studies. From the 64 seminars, participants were sure to find something that interested them.
The biggest academic sessions of the conference were the four plenary lectures, each dedicated to a different area of English studies. The lectures were as follows:
Wednesday lecture (literary studies): Anne Fogarty, University College Dublin – “Modernist Aftermaths?: Joyce Effects in Contemporary Irish Fiction”.
Thursday lecture (translation studies): Marta Mateo, University of Oviedo – “The sound of English literature in musical translation”.
Friday lecture (literary and cultural studies): Alfred Thomas, University of Illinois, Chicago – “Shakespeare’s Bohemia: Religious Toleration in an Age of Confessional Polarization”.
Saturday lecture (linguistics): Josef Schmied, Chemnitz University of Technology – “Functional Linguistic Approaches to Non-Native Academic Writing: Global Comparisons of Abstracts, Theses and Articles”.
While other events ran simultaneously, plenary lectures¹ were the single lectures happening after lunch, so that anyone of the participants could attend them. Other academic events of the conference were the poster sessions, round tables, ESSE General Assembly and ESSE Book Awards for 2018.
Each day, the lectures and seminars of the day always ended early enough in the evening to allow the participants some time to relax before the evening programme. On Wednesday, the evening was reserved for the official welcome reception, which was held at the Governor’s Palace and was open to all participants. The following days offered theatre performances of Love Letters by Best Divadlo (taking place in Kabinet Múz) and Physical Poetry by Petr Váša (held in Centre for Experimental Theatre), and cinema screening of Kolya, (which took place in Scala). On Friday, the attendees had the opportunity to join the Conference Dinner in the Hotel International. In addition, tours of Vila Tugendhat and a guided walking tour of Brno organized by the Tourist Information Centre were offered to those interested.
About the Feedback
The planning and organization of an event of this size is never an easy task and complications, many beyond the reach of the organizers, occur in the process. But despite that, it is always the positive feedback which is most rewarding for those who worked the hardest to prepare such a conference. When asked about the response to the conference, Ivona Schöfrová commented:
“The general feedback has been extremely positive so far. 14th ESSE 2018 Brno Conference seems to be a huge success. There was a friendly atmosphere, conference participants were patient, kind (some of them even bringing gifts) and very supportive. I know that the members of the Organising Committee had many sleepless nights, but the conference was worth it. There were many difficulties and complications to deal with, but I hope we managed to eliminate their impacts. The conference seems to be a success, that is rewarding”.
It required a lot of work to make the conference possible and a great number of people were involved. Apart from the Organising Committee, of which Ivona Schöfrová was the chair, the final preparations of the conference also relied on the help of the students from DEAS:
“Regarding the organization, there is one very important thing worth mentioning. The conference was unique in many ways, but I would highlight our students and their help. What seemed to be really surprising for the conference participants was the number of student helpers (nearly forty MA and BA students, and ten PhD students). It would not be possible to organize the conference without their kind help and cooperation. They were involved in final stages of preparations preceding the conference and they also volunteered to help during the conference itself. The work was sometimes stressful and demanding (especially students at the registration desks know what I am talking about), but I hope it had also positive aspects. I assume that the whole project was great experience for all the students. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Acadeemic Programme Committee, the Organising Committee, our department, and everyone who participated!”
On a final note, Ivona Schöfrová added:
“From my point of view, the most important thing is that the conference achieved its main goal. It gathered those researching and teaching English languages, literatures in English and cultures of English-speaking countries. The conference strengthened and expanded research-networks in specialist topics which brought together scholars, intellectuals, researchers, young academics and talented doctoral students to facilitate intellectual and international cooperation.”
The 15th ESSE Conference is planned for 2020 and it will be held in Lyon, France.
More photos from the event can be found here.
1 The abstracts to all four plenary lectures are available here.