*Keynote Speakers: Prof. Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University, London); Prof. Roser Salicrú i Lluch (Institució Milà i Fontanals,CSIC,Barcelona); Prof. Teresa Shawcross (Princeton University)
Life in the central and late Middle Ages was characterised by high levels of mobility and migration. Shifts in political, economic, cultural and religious life encouraged and sometimes forced individuals and groups to move ‘abroad’ permanently or temporarily, to places nearby or further afield.
The position and impact of these ‘foreigners’in societieshas been widely discussed. However, what isless consideredis how theyunderstood and (re)presented themselves. Ourconference aimsto explorethe construction, expression, and practical significance of different forms of social identity among individuals and groups living ‘abroad’ in Europe and the Mediterranean in the period between the eleventh andfifteenth centuries.
We invite proposals for 20-minute papers from graduate and early career researchers working across all relevant disciplinesin the Humanities and Social Sciences. By bringing together a variety of different perspectives, the conference not only aims to consider how ‘identity abroad’ functioned in specific contexts, but also to emphasise developments, patterns, and divergences. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:
• Individuals and groups living ‘abroad’, such as merchants, artisans, pilgrims, scholars, diplomats, soldiers, exiles, ethnic and religious minorities, and captives and enslaved people
The Public Affairs Directorate (PAD) would like to hear from research staff who would be interested in writing a blog for publication with the University Bulletin. This is a fabulous opportunity for research staff to give insight into their area from their perspective.
Those interested in writing a blog should contact Rakiya Farah, PAD. Rakiya will need a one-line description of the subject of the proposed blog and an indicative time line that would work for the researcher.
About the blog: We send out a weekly blog with University Bulletin, usually written by a senior member of staff. Several hundred staff read it every week and we are now keen to ensure that our colleagues hear from a broader range of staff at Oxford.
We’d particularly like to profile more Early Career Researchers in the blog to give more visibility to their work, and because research stories are consistently among the most popular articles we share in the Bulletin.
With this in mind, we would like to invite you to write one of our blogs. This would be a platform to describe your work to a (predominantly) uninitiated audience, to reflect on your experiences as a researcher, your motivations, and to share your perspective on research at Oxford.
The brief: • Informal, personal style and tone • A reflective piece that gives staff some insight into your area – we tend not to use the blog as a place for formal announcements • Content: a guiding question, when writing your blog, might be good to think about what staff across the University would find most interesting about your work and experiences • Around 250 words, but can be longer – they can be up to 450 • Deadline: end of Thursday preceding the Monday edition – unless you are drafting a blog not for inclusion on a set date • We are finding that staff are really responding to this style and have been asking to hear from a wider range of staff.
Timing: We would welcome a blog that you draft at your leisure, which we can slot in as appropriate. But if you had a particular week in mind, we could also pencil this in provisionally. All of our blogs are subject to final approval by the Vice-Chancellor.
Introduction On a chilly Autumn day, two postdoctoral fellows (Lena Vosding and Godelinde Gertrude Perk) were conversing in their shared office. They were very fond of their group of fellow supervisees, its camaraderie, and the support it provided. Nevertheless, the two early-career researchers still struggled on occasion to improve the argument of the articles they were working on and wanted additional peer feedback and an additional space for sharing ideas. “How about we start a WIP (work in progress) group ourselves?” A pen was seized from a nearby desk, and, after a little brainstorming and scribbling on a scrap of paper, the first outline for Pre-Modern Conversations emerged. Joined shortly thereafter by Lewis Webb from Classics, the duumvirate of convenors became a triumvirate, who quickly submitted a description to the OMS booklet.
What is Pre-Modern Conversations? Pre-Modern Conversations is an interdisciplinary group of early-career pre-modernists, offering an informal, supportive environment for helping each other revise, refine, and complete a work in progress. In the past, we’ve found that whether one works on medieval religion or Republican Rome, one tends to encounter similar theoretical and methodological questions. What is more, the challenges one encounters when writing or revising tend to be similar across fields. We, therefore, defined “pre-modern” very broadly and included any period up to 1800. Since the convenors’ research shared a focus on pre-modern gender, we were particularly interested in hearing from other scholars with a similar or adjacent focus. We had initially decided that the format for the one-hour session would alternate between a presentation to the entire group (for conference contributions) and a discussion of a pre-circulated written text. For Hilary Term, however, the WIPs submitted were mostly written texts, which we discussed in detail, focusing mostly on content and argument.
Experiences so far To our delight, the four available slots filled up very quickly. Both medievalists and Classicists joined the group, which led to lively interdisciplinary synergy. Topics varied widely, from Roman law and urban space in Asia Minor in the late Antique period through medieval recluses to early-modern refugees and twentieth-century poets, yet similar themes emerged. We also decided to spend the last twenty minutes discussing more general concerns, for instance writing grant applications, and sharing our experiences as ECRs. The phase following one’s DPhil or PhD can potentially feel stressful, precarious, and directionless, and many ECRs feel lost at sea, a problem our friends in the ECR Network of Medieval and Modern Languages also seek to alleviate. A forum for sharing ideas, knowledge, experiences and alternative perspectives can help ECRs find their bearings and navigate this uncertain stage of their career.
Plans for next term We’re thrilled to continue in Trinity Term! We will again convene in weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8 on TEAMS. The programme looks very promising already, but there are still slots left. Interested in joining? Send an abstract (up to 300 words) of your WIP, accompanied by a short biography to lena.vosdingATmod-langs.ox.ac.uk by Friday 30 April. You are also very welcome to participate without contributing a paper.
The TORCH Oxford Medieval Studies Programme invites applications for small grants to support conferences, workshops, and other forms of collaborative research activity organised by researchers at postgraduate (whether MSt or DPhil) or early-career level from across the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford.
The activity should take place between April 2021 and October 2021. The closing date for applications is Friday of Week 1 of Trinity Term 2021.
Grants are normally in the region of £100–250. Recipients will be required to supply a report after the event for the TORCH Medieval Studies blog. Recipients of awards will also be invited to present on their events at the Medieval Roadshow in 1st week of Michaelmas Term 2021.
Applicants will be responsible for all administrative aspects of the activity, including formulating the theme and intellectual rationale, devising the format, and, depending on the type of event, inviting speakers and/or issuing a Call for Papers, organising the schedule, and managing the budget, promotion and advertising. Some administrative and organisational support may be available through TORCH subject to availability.
Image from the Rushall Psalter, Nottingham, Me LM 1, f. 20v
Nottingham Medieval Studies is the UK’s longest running medieval studies journal. Published by Brepols, NMS is an interdisciplinary journal for the study of European history and literature from Late Antiquity through the Reformation. It also features articles in related fields such as archaeology, art history, linguistics, musicology and philosophy. It is flexible in publishing scholarly editions of texts and longer articles. Proposals for special issues based on conference proceedings or specific themes which fit the general remit of the journal are welcomed.
We invite submissions of articles of around 8,000 words in length in any of the above.
Deadline for submissions: 31 July 2021
NMS 65 (2021) will also feature a prize-winning article composed by a postgraduate or early career graduate. The deadline for next year’s competition, the winner of which will be published in the 2021 volume, is 1 February 2021.
Please send articles, preferably by email attachment, to the editors at
‘Global’ and ‘middle ages’ are not an obvious fit. How can we refer to ‘global history’ in an era when the Americas remained largely unknown to the rest of the world, and in which contact between Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa was relatively fitful? Since 2012, however, the AHRC-funded project ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’, involving thirty academics from institutions across the UK, has sought to outline what a global history of the period between 500 and 1600 might look like, and, in doing so, to question definitions of a ‘global’ approach to history designed with the early modern and modern periods in mind. This May, two talks have provided medievalists at Oxford with the opportunity to learn about the fruits of this collaborative research network and to contemplate the consequences that a ‘global approach’ might have for the discipline of medieval history as a whole.
Professor Naomi Standen of the University of Birmingham, one of the members of the ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’ project, was in Oxford on 3 May to give the History Faculty’s Annual Special Lecture, taking as her topic ‘Options and Experiments: Defining the “Global Middle Ages”’. Ranging from China to the Swahili coast to the Mayan empire, Professor Standen argued that the Middle Ages was a period of global networks and intense cross-cultural interaction, but that historians often fail to recognise this because in the medieval era, unlike in those which preceded and succeeded it, centralised states were not the primary agents of connectivity. The period between the fall of the Roman empire and the rise of the early modern nation-state, Standen said, was characterised by political fragmentation and religious diversity, meaning that people across the globe were exposed to a wide variety of different cultural traditions and, mostly unconstrained by coercive institutionalised governments, were able to pick-and-choose from amongst these paradigms to best suit their own particular needs. The result was a ‘globalisation’ defined by multiculturalism and experimentation, rather than the imposition of a standardised dominant culture. In Standen’s view, a global history of the middle ages proves that globalisation need not be the product of conquest, expansion, and integration, but can also stem from choices made by individuals at all levels of society.
Professor Standen’s talk was followed on 17 May by ‘The Global Middle Ages: A Discussion’ at St John’s College, in which Dr Caroline Goodson (Birkbeck, University of London), Dr Catherine Holmes (Univ, Oxford), and Professor Chris Wickham (All Souls, Oxford)—the latter two being members of the ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’ project—each gave short papers. While Professor Standen focused on placing the Middle Ages within long-term narratives of global history, the speakers at the St John’s event were more concerned with outlining the opportunities and pitfalls that global history presents to medieval historians working on shorter time spans or on a particular region. Dr Goodson, examining archaeological and textual evidence from the central Mediterranean region in the early Middle Ages, found that while there was some inter-cultural contact in this region, economic activity was steadfastly local and cultural assimilation between Romans, Byzantines, and (Islamic) North Africans, minimal. While Goodson argued that a global history approach based on connectivity, such as that proposed by Standen, was of limited relevance to the society she studied, she did think that a global study of the Mediterranean could be useful in demonstrating how the different cultures active in this region responded in similar ways to common pressures and stimuli, producing ‘inter-related chronologies’ for all societies in the area. Dr Holmes, like Goodson, addressed the relevance of global history to a regional case study, this time examining the Byzantine Empire from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Holmes argued that a global approach could encourage historians to think of the Byzantine Empire not as a centralised polity, but as a as polycentric entity that needed to negotiate with local agents from a wide variety of cultural traditions in order to maintain power. This set-up contributed to a hybrid political culture in the region, with rulers of all kinds of polities borrowing liberally from the repertoires of Catholic, Orthodox, and Islamic communities to justify their power. Holmes’s presentation emphasised that a global history of the middle ages should be concerned as much with a ‘micro-history’, redefining the relationship of local space to larger polities, as with a ‘macro’ narrative, comparing the development of cultures and empires. Professor Wickham took a broader view of what global history could mean to medievalists. He stated that there are three main types of global history—one tracing the ‘common development’ of all world cultures towards modernity, one identifying (and usually celebrating) the networks formed between different cultures, and one comparing the histories of unconnected polities or regions from different parts of the globe. Each type of global history, Wickham argued, contains dangerous tendencies for the unwary practitioner: a ‘common development’ approach often becomes a narrative of the triumph of Western civilization and also fails to account for why certain areas do not follow wider global trends, a connective approach ignores the fact that most people do not move from their localities or have direct contact with other cultures, and a comparative approach is overly reliant on secondary literature. Wickham ended by stressing that not all medieval historians need become global historians, but that a global approach can provide new points of comparison or new potential explanations for phenomena in particular historical societies, prompting historians to question perceived orthodoxies in the history of their region of specialization. Professor Nicholas Purcell (Brasenose, Oxford) brought the event to a close with a series of concluding remarks, which stressed that a global history of the middle ages should be one that seeks to explain why globalisation doesn’t happen as much as why it does, and echoed points made by Goodson and Holmes in emphasising the importance of conducting global history at a local level and rooting it in the actions of individuals.
So, what can medieval historians make of all this? The talks by Standen, Goodson, Holmes, and Wickham certainly presented a global history as a tempting prospect—particularly as a means of elucidating the relationship of local political and economic processes to a wider global milieu. All of the talks emphasised local contexts and individual agency as the keys to a medieval global history, challenging ancient and early modern narratives of globalisation as a product of conquest and empire. But have we been too quick to write coercion out of the ‘Global Middle Ages’? The papers discussed above implied that individuals and groups could choose whether or not they wished to engage with the outside world through economic and cultural exchanges, and that power structures were formed in response to local needs and on-the-ground negotiations between ruler and ruled. We must remember, however, that even though the middle ages was not characterised by imperial hegemony or consolidated nation-states, political domination and socio-economic oppression still very much constrained the options available to individuals, either denying them access to networks in which they would have liked to participate or forcing them into contact with other cultures against their will. Robert Bartlett’s book The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (1993) is perhaps an important corrective to the emerging view of the ‘Global Middle Ages’ as a period of diversity and individual agency. The world that Bartlett presents is also one of political fragmentation, but non-state actors (aristocrats, merchants, and the Church, in particular) use force to conquer peripheral lands and enforce cultural standardisation—Ireland’s inclusion into an Anglo-Norman world of trading contacts and cultural practices, for example, was hardly a matter of choice for most residents of the island. While the attention of historians involved in the ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’ project to local contexts and non-state agency is laudable, it is also imperative that today’s historians of the ‘Global Middle Ages’ do not reinstitute the nineteenth-century Romantic’s view of the Middle Ages as a period of personal freedom before the onset of bureaucratised modernity.
Another point of contention, raised at both events by Dr Hannah Skoda (St John’s, Oxford), is the fact that the study of medieval global history has been undertaken almost entirely by scholars from Western academic institutions, particularly Anglo-American ones. Does this result in an essentially European vision of the histories of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the pre-Columbian Americas, and devalue the research performed by scholars from these regions? It’s certainly an area of concern, but scholars from the ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’ project did indicate that they hope in future to collaborate with academics from outside Europe and North America.
For those wanting to know what, exactly, constitutes ‘global history’, the ‘Global Middle Ages’ events hosted by the History Faculty and St John’s did not provide easy answers. ‘Global history’, after all, doesn’t have its own methodology or a clear range of topics associated with it. This ambiguity, however, may be a benefit rather than a problem. The goal is not to construct a meta-narrative of globalisation, but rather to prompt historians to approach their own work from new angles and to ask new questions of their material in light of developments occurring elsewhere in the medieval world. In short, it’s not creating a definition for ‘global history’ that’s important, but rather the process of inquiry that it generates.
Dr Eliza Hartrich is a Fellow by Examination at Magdalen College, University of Oxford