COLSONOEL 2024 in Review

Putting a halt to in-person events, face-to-face conversations unmediated by a digital screen, and forcing people around the world to re-think how the interacted with each other, COVID-19 also placed a stranglehold on much academic dialogue and conferences experiences. One of the victims of the pandemic era was the Cambridge, Oxford, and London Symposium on Old Norse, Old English, and Latin (COLSONOEL). The last COLSONOEL was due to take place in St. John’s College, University of Oxford in May 2020 but which was sadly cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In 2024 a new committee at the University of Oxford, headed by Natasha Bradley, and comprising of Ashley Castelino, Simon Heller, and Mary Catherine O’Connor, took up the reins to bring this symposium back to life. In the spirit of its return to the world of conferences and academic discourse, the theme of COLSONOEL 2024 was ‘Rebirth, Renewal, Renaissance’. This symposium for post-graduate students and early career researchers was set up as a supportive and welcoming academic environment for presenters to test new ideas and to share their research. And it is in this vein, that COLSONOEL began again and hopes to continue for many years to come.

COLSONOEL 2024 kicked off on a wet and dismal Friday 3rd May in St Hilda’s College in the Garden Room Suite, which transformed into an exciting day of papers and conversations. Exquisite views stretching over Oxford with its dreaming spires rising to the rain-sodden heavens framed the speakers and their presentations at St Hilda’s as we welcomed ten speakers from Oxford, Cambridge, and Birkbeck.

Considering the question of reception and intertextual relationships in the first session, David Bond West opened COLSONOEL with his paper on ‘Rhetorical Storytelling in Bergr Sokkason’s Mikjáls saga’. Moving from Old Norse to Old English, Mingwei Lu examined the relationships between psalms and elegies in the paper ‘“Hu lange wilt þu, Drihten” – A Comparison of Religious Revival in the Old English Psalms and the Old English Elegies’. Leaping forward to the modern era, Emily Dixon asked what it meant to think through soil and landscapes in her paper ‘Rebirth through soil: The earth of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Beowulf and The Wanderer’.

Following this line of movement to earth-centred evidence and thinking about what can be uncovered through archaeology, Katie Beard opened the second session with her investigation into amulets, ‘Armaments as Amulets in Old Norse in Old Norse Literature and Archaeology’. Daisy Bonsall worked through the theme of the conference in thinking about the multiple uses and re-purposing of textiles in Anglo-Saxon England in ‘A Case for Regifting: Reusing Textiles to Create and Renew Connections in Anglo-Saxon England’.

The inter-relationship of life and death and the possibility of comparing through these ontological concerns took centre stage in session three as Alexia Kirov discussed images and themes of birth and death in ‘Re: birth and death – from (pre-)cradle to grave in Early English Literature’. What are the appropriate responses to the death of king and what is the emotional performance a poet may engage in when his king dies? Molly Bovett looked at some of these questions and more in ‘The Death of the King in Hallfreðar saga vandræðaskálds’. Staying in the realm of Old Norse literature but migrating from the historical world of medieval Norway and Iceland to the world of the mythological texts, Kendra Nydam closed the third session with her paper ‘Thrice-burnt, Thrice-born: Revisiting the Fateful Role of Gullveig in Norse Mythology’.

How different medieval historians and societies think about and write about the past formed a key concern of the concluding papers in the fourth and last session of the day. In ‘Reviving the Gothic Past and justifying a Swedish present in the Festum patronorum regni Suecie’ Adrián Rodríguez turned attention to historiographical concerns in fifteenth-century Sweden. Moving one last time from Scandinavia back to medieval England, Emily Clarke gave the closing paper ‘Reforming the Past: History and Antiquarianism in the English Benedictine Reform’.

An intellectually curious atmosphere and friendly environment created a fertile and productive day of discussions in the form of question-and-answer sessions after the papers as well as more informal conversations in the tea breaks and lunch. The COLSONOEL Committee would like to thank everyone who attended this year’s symposium. We would also like to extend a special thanks to our sponsors, Oxford Medieval Studies and TORCH, who made COLSONOEL 2024 possible. We look forward to the return of COLSONOEL 2025.

Mary Catherine O’Connor, June 2024

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