(7-8 January 2022) Identity Abroad in Central and Late Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean (Cambridge(venue TBC))

*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

• Voluntary orforced, temporary orpermanentmigration

•Importance of political allegiance, language, cultural heritage, and faith in identity construction

•Means of identity expression, such as writtenproduction and material culture

•Relations between different ‘foreign’ individuals and groups

• Interaction and assimilation/resistance to assimilation with ‘local’ populations, institutions, and rulers •Impact of gender, socio-economic background, and other types of differences

• Theoretical explorations of the concepts of ‘identity’, ‘foreignness’, and ‘abroad’ in the Middle Ages

Abstracts of 250 words and a short biographical note should be sent to identityabroad22@gmail.com by 12 September 2021. For more information, visit https://identityabroad22.crassh.cam.ac.uk/ and follow @identityabroad on Twitter.

22nd / 23rd April: The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference *Memory*

The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference is taking place on Thursday and Friday this week!

To register; https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/memory-17th-oxford-medieval-graduate-conference-tickets-149951710603
To register; email: oxgradconf@gmail.com

OMGC Twitter Handle @OxMedGradConf #OMGC21

Conference Report: Found in Translation

By Diana Denissen

Professor Henrike Lähnemann’s interactive keynote lecture (picture by Henrike Lähnemann)

On Saturday 19 October, I attended the morning of the first conference of the Greene’s Institute, ‘Found in Translation’ (full programme). As the call for papers stated, scholars working in any field of the humanities are often very aware of ‘translation loss’: the precise meaning of important ideas and concepts shifts when translating them from one language into another and the literary language of the original cannot be fully grasped when reading a translation of a text. ‘I am frustrated that my students are not able read important texts in the original language any more’, said one of the conference participants. However, only thinking about translation in negative terms, using words as ‘loss’ or ‘compromise’ is too limiting. The aim of the ‘Found in Translation’ conference was, therefore, to take another, more positive angle and ask what is actually found in translation. In the remainder of this blog, I will briefly describe some recurring themes discussed during the morning of the conference.

A number of participants discussed the orality of medieval narratives and what happens when elements from this oral tradition are transmitted, or rather ‘translated’, to a written tradition. ‘The enclosing of the saga within codicological boundaries’, Brian McMahon named it in his paper. Julie Dresvina pointed to the fact that some stories from an oral culture ‘slip through the cracks’ such as in The Book of Margery Kempe, a text in which Margery Kempe is a ‘compulsive storyteller’. Godelinde Perk’s discussion of Modern Devout Sister Books from the Low Countries, which contain biographies of exemplary members of religious communities, revealed similar elements of orality. In addition to this, Godelinde stressed that her paper, which focussed on Middle Dutch texts for an English-speaking audience was, of course, already an act of translation – and therefore interpretation – in itself. Ilya Sverdlov also pointed to this in his paper on the complex practice of translating Icelandic compound (place) names into English.

Another interesting aspect discussed during the conference was how the present can inform an understanding of the (medieval) past. Julie Dresvina explained how modern day memes helped her to grasp both the centrality and the marginality of medieval misericords (small wooden images on the underside of a folding seat in a church). Sander Vloebergs used modern dance to establish a connection between modern and medieval bodies, transmitting the female saint’s life of Lutgardis of Aywières to contemporary dance: https://artistictheologylab.com/portfolio/videos/.

The morning ended with professor Henrike Lähnemann’s interactive keynote lecture on the impact of Luther’s Bible translation (watch the first part of the keynote on youtube and follow the exercises on the handout). When we were asked to write our ideas about Bible translation on post-it notes, they varied widely, ranging from ‘translating the Bible is impossible’ to ‘we should translate the Bible in as many ways as possible’. According to Luther, translation was a process of ‘letting go of the letters’ (the title quote of the keynote lecture, taken from the Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, fol. b2r) and focussing on a translation that would make sense to a contemporary audience. During her final reflections, Professor Lähnemann stressed that ‘translation is political’. What is found in translation is a world that is more open and more connected. Translations allow for more dialogue and understanding across language boundaries, across space and time, and even across different media.

Thank you to the Greene’s Institute for organizing this wonderful conference.


Diana Denissen is a Swiss National Science Foundation post-doc mobility fellow. She works on late medieval religious literature and women’s writing from England and the Low Countries. Her monograph Middle English Devotional Compilations will be out in November of this year. You can follow Diana on twitter under @folioscribbles or on her website.found in translation

Lively discussion during the conference (picture by the Greene’s Institute)

Disiecta membra musicae: conference report

27 March 2018 TORCH team

Disiecta membra musicae: conference report

Open any book bound before the 18th century and there is a good chance that you will find fragments cut from another book and re-used to support the binding or to protect the pages from the wooden boards. Often this binder’s waste will be taken from printed books, but in many cases the added strength of parchment made it more effective to chop up a medieval manuscript. A remarkable proportion of medieval binding fragments have musical notation on them—music went out of fashion, liturgies were proscribed, and large choirbooks provided a more versatile format for dismembering than a smaller text-book. Very few complete music books have survived intact from the Middle Ages, and so it is small wonder that musicologists have been working on medieval binding fragments ever since the birth of their discipline. A conference at Magdalen College on 19–21 March 2018 brought together almost 50 specialists to discuss the particular problems raised by disiecta membra musicae.

Margaret Bent opened proceedings with a tour d’horizon of the many vicissitudes affecting manuscripts over time. As founding director of one of the first ever manuscript digitisation projects, DIAMM (the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, which in its early days had the specific purpose of gathering images of polyphonic musical fragments, she could demonstrate the range of applications and innovations which have been used to make worn texts visible again, and to connect fragments cut from the same book and now strewn across the world. These techniques reached previously inconceivable levels of sophistication in Julia Craig-McFeely’s presentation on her latest advances in digital restoration.

Several speakers covered the pleasures and pitfalls of gathering information on musical fragments. Paweł Gancarczyk considered polyphonic fragments from late-medieval Bohemia, and the extent to which they can be associated with the Utraquist brotherhoods from which many complete manuscripts survive. Jurij Snoj has systematically searched through all the libraries in Ljubljana, and most other collections across Slovenia, to produce a database listing more than 550 fragments from around 140 manuscripts. A catalogue of a comparable number of sources from Hungary was published in 1981, but many more have come to light since that date, and Zsuzsa Csagány discussed the means of updating the older records for a new database. In the Nordic countries the scale is altogether greater, with some 50,000 fragments now accounted for in databases in Norway, Denmark, Finland and especially Sweden: Sean Dunnahoe provided a helpful overview of what can and cannot be said by means of statistical enquiries of the Swedish database of medieval fragments, MPO (Medeltida Pergamentomslag/Medieval Parchment Cover Database). The biggest project to date, building on the success of the Swiss manuscripts website e-codices, is Fragmentarium, deftly presented by its director Christoph Flüeler.

It was through e-codices that Susan Rankin came across images of an unusual 10th-century fragment used as a wrapper for documents and preserved in the Swiss nunnery of Müstair. In its format and content it relates to no other manuscript, and thereby raises important questions about the assumptions we make when assigning other fragments to particular types of book which happen to survive in complete form elsewhere. David Hiley took a similar line in discussing fragments of saints’ offices, which might have been attached as easily to codices of saints’ Vitae as to antiphoners. In the case of notated songs, Helen Deeming demonstrated that fragments sometimes assumed to be witnesses to a widespread tradition of song anthologies in medieval England are just as likely to have come from miscellanies of prose and verse.

Reinhard Strohm took a seemingly incongruous collection of musical materials in MS 5094 of the Austrian National Library, and demonstrated that there may in fact be more connections between them than first meets the eye. Other presentations included Daniele Sabaino on the annotations to a charter in Ravenna which may well constitute the earliest musical setting of a text in the Italian language. Karl Kügle discussed a newly discovered group of polyphonic fragments in the binding of a manuscript in the Landeshauptarchiv of Koblenz, and the extent to which the binder may have deliberately chosen particular leaves from his pile of binding materials on grounds of the appropriateness of their texts. Christian Leitmeir introduced us to the complex and idiosyncratic programme of dismemberment and rebinding undertaken by Amplonius Rating de Berka in forming his library, preserved to this day in Erfurt. David Catalunya reconsidered the position of ars antiquapolyphony in Castile, in the light of several recently discovered fragments, and later demonstrated his considerable talents as a performer on the clavisimbalum as part of the ensemble Tasto Solo, which provided a superb concert in the evocative darkness of Magdalen chapel under the direction of Guillermo Pérez, interspersing keyboard arrangements from the Faenza codex with madrigals and ballate by Jacopo da Bologna, Landini and others.

The symposium The Study of Medieval Music Manuscript Fragments ca. 800–1500, organised by Giovanni Varelli, took place on 19 to 21 March 2018 in Magdalen College. The full programme is available on the ‘events’ page of the Oxford Medieval Studies Programme. The full booklet with abstracts and further links can be downloaded here.

This conference report was written by Nicolas Bell (Nicolas.Bell@trin.cam.ac.uk). 

Gender and Medieval Studies Conference: Gender, Identity, Iconography

By Rachel Moss


The Gender and Medieval Studies Conference is an annual peripatetic event that has been running since at least the late 1980s and traditionally takes place in early January. It welcomes scholars working across the whole Middle Ages and from any discipline. This small but well-respected conference is a key part of the calendar for medievalists and gender scholars alike. The steering committee of GMS asked me if I could host the conference at Oxford, and I was pleased to accept after drafting in Gareth Evans (Faculty of English) as co-organiser, with able assistance from Ayoush Lazikani and Anna Senkiw. Sixty-five delegates, ranging from masters students to tenured professors, from all around the world, eventually made their way to Oxford this January for three days of stimulating discussion on gender and identity in the medieval world.

This year’s theme was Gender, Identity, Iconography. Constructed at and across the intersections of race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, national identity, age, social class, and economic status, gendered medieval identities are multiple, mobile, and multivalent. Iconography – both religious and secular – plays a key role in the representation of such multifaceted identities. Across the range of medieval media, visual symbolism is used actively to produce, inscribe, and express the gendered identities of both individuals and groups. The aim of this conference was to provoke conversations across disciplines and time periods to understand the ways in which gender identity could be understood through image and iconography. We were also committed to providing a conference for everyone: accessible to all academics at any stage of their career in terms of price point, disability access, and in providing a safe and welcoming environment.

Corpus Christi College was an excellent venue, as its auditorium is very accessible and the conference office was very helpful in accommodating all dietary needs. Delegates were pleased to be able to make use also of Corpus’s beautiful historic spaces, such as the dining hall. As early career researchers ourselves, Gareth and I were keen to ensure the conference was affordable, and with support from Oxford Medieval Studies, the Leverhulme Trust, the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship and Castle Hill Bookshop we were able to provide a comprehensive programme while keeping the registration fee down.

The Call for Papers attracted a high number of good quality abstracts. We eventually selected thirty-two speakers out of almost ninety abstracts submitted, organised across ten panels over three days. Speakers talked on topics ranging from Amazon queens to public nudity to imperial eunuchs, in panels organised by theme, allowing for some fascinating cross period and interdisciplinary discussion.

We also secured three plenary speakers – Prof Annie Sutherland (University of Oxford), Prof Patricia Skinner (University of Swansea), and in a new initiative, an Early Career Plenary Speaker, Dr Alicia Spencer-Hall (Queen Mary, University of London). GMS has always been committed to supporting early career scholars, and offering a plenary spot to an outstanding early career researcher was a way to further this aim. Feedback on this initiative at the event and on twitter (we extensively covered the event at #gms2018) was extremely positive, and we would like to encourage other conference organisers to consider following our example by establishing an ECR plenary spot.

On top of all these exciting papers, we were able to commission Dr Daisy Black (University of Wolverhampton) to perform Unruly Woman, a riotous, funny and touching one woman interpretation of medieval fabliaux and romances, and with Dr Charlotte Berry hosted a workshop with medieval seals at Magdalen College Library, allowing delegates to get up close and personal with some fascinating gendered iconography in their impressive collection of seals.

The conference wrapped up with a roundtable on teaching medieval gender, allowing for a reflective conversation about how we communicate our research to our students in empathetic, responsible ways (one of our contributors, Dr Laura Varnam, has a great blog post about that session here). It was a fitting end to a conference that, as one attendee put it, left them feeling “empowered, inspired, and happily cocooned within a supportive and fierce community” and another described as “amazing, inspirational and motivational”.

Report by Rachel Moss, Faculty of History

Celts, Romans, Britons: Classical and Celtic Influence in Britain, 55 BC – 2016 AD

By Rhys Kaminski-Jones

This interdisciplinary conference, kindly supported by the TORCH Oxford Medieval Studies Programme, hoped to unite classicists, archaeologists, celticists, historians, and literary scholars in investigating the profound influence of Celtic and Classical heritage on the development of British identity. Three chronologically arranged panels attempted to trace the respective importance of Ancient Britons and Romans in British culture over the centuries, starting in the pre-Roman period and ending in the present day. Covering such a vast expanse of time presented a particular challenge to our medievalists, whose papers were separated from each other by centuries. However, they made sure that medieval legacies loomed large throughout the conference, with ideas about Roman influence in post-Roman Britain and the long shadows cast by medieval origin myths recurring again and again.

The first panel, chaired by Prof. Thomas Charles-Edwards (Oxford), featured Sir Barry Cunliffe (Oxford) on the theory that Celts first emerged in western Europe, Dr. Alex Woolf (St. Andrews) on how a British people might have developed in late antiquity, and Prof. Helen Fulton (Bristol) on the use of Troy by medieval English writers.

The second panel, chaired by Rhys Kaminski-Jones (University of Wales), featured Prof. Ceri Davies (Swansea) on the reception of Trojan origin myths by Welsh renaissance humanists, Prof. Philip Schwyzer (Exeter) on the politics of British antiquity under James I, and Mary-Ann Constantine (University of Wales) on how eighteenth-century travellers to Wales and Scotland imagined the Celtic and Roman past.

The third panel, chaired by Dr. Nick Lowe (RHUL), featured Prof. Rosemary Sweet (Leicester) on how nineteenth-century antiquarians reconsidered Roman Britain as a domestic and commercial society, Dr. Philip Burton (Birmingham) on the complex Celtic themes and echoes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and Prof. Richard Hingley (Durham) on how Hadrian’s Wall is used today as a symbol of national division and international co-operation.

The discussion sessions following each panel provided a wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary analysis of this aspect of British identity, touching on the problematic nature of “indigenous” Britishness from the Middle Ages to the present day, the exclusion of women from a male-dominated Celts v. Romans historical narrative, and the role of contemporary heritage bodies in emphasising Celtic or Classical aspects of the British past. The conference was enthusiastically received, with all 60 available places filled, and with the possibility of published conference proceedings being actively considered. The organisers would like to thank everyone involved in making it a success, and especially the Oxford Medieval Studies Programme who helped make it possible in the first place.