CFP: AEMA 2016

Call for Papers

Throughout history humans have struggled to describe the world, but the concepts of space and time have persisted as touchstones. The 11th annual conference of the Australian Early Medieval Association in February 2016 at the University of Sydney will explore medieval conceptions of space and time across all disciplines.

Submissions are invited for papers on the broad theme of space and/or time in all aspects of the Late Antique and Early Medieval periods (c. 400–1150) in all cultural, geographic, religious and linguistic settings.:

  • issues of chronology and historiography
  • literary representations of space and time
  • calendars and cartography
  • cosmology, theology, science, and philosophy
  • town and country divides; rural and urban landscapes
  • colonisation and postcolonial attitudes
  • architecture and art history
  • rituals and traditions
  • religion and space
  • cultural spaces
  • timekeeping; recordkeeping
  • archaeological issues
  • the dating of sources

Abstracts of 250-300 words for 20-minute papers should be submitted online at by 11 December 2015.

The conference will also include some special sessions on digital methods related to the conference theme. If you would like to contribute to these, or for more information about the conference, please contact the conference organisers at

A Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar on manuscripts will be held prior to the conference at the University of Sydney. For information about the PATS please contact Nicholas Sparks:

Limited financial assistance may be available for postgraduates and early career researchers travelling interstate or from New Zealand for this conference. For more information, please contact the conference organisers.

AEMA 2016 CFP pdf

October Events

This is a roundup post of medieval studies related events held across Australia in October 2015.

New South Wales

Wednesday 7 October

“Matilda of Tuscany: Commemorating the 9th Centennial of the Great Countess Heresy and Reform,” at the University of Sydney.
For details see the attached flyer: Mat of Tusc-v8-POSTER-7Oct 2015.


Thursday 15 October

“Witches as ‘Others’: Mobilising Emotion in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Images,” public lecture by Professor Charles Zika at the University of Queensland Art Museum.
For details see the ANZAMEMS newsletter.

Western Australia

Monday 5 October 

“The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Painting: An illustrated Arabic manuscript from the early 14th century,” public lecture by Dr Stefano Carboni at the University of Western Australia.
For details see the ANZAMEMS newsletter.

Wednesday 7 October

“‘To be unable to dissimulate is to be unable to live’: The ‘Body Politic’ and Gender Trouble of a Swedish Queen,” public lecture by Professor Jonas Liliequist at the University of Western Australia.
For details see the ANZAMEMS newsletter.

Violence between men in medieval literature

Michael Ovens is a doctoral candidate associated with the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies and the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Western Australia. His dissertation adopts an interdisciplinary approach which fuses intellectual history, sociology, and literary analysis to explore the changing upper-class representations of violence in Europe from 1100 – 1600, with an eye to applying this work to the problem of violence in the twenty-first century. He is the General Editor of Ceræ: An Australasian Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol. 2, a student of the historical European martial arts, and a lover of bookshops big and small.

Violence between men is everywhere in medieval literature, so omnipresent that the pages themselves sometimes seem to be saturated, as Huizinga put it, with the smell of blood and roses. As modern readers who are conditioned to treat violence as ‘senseless,’ ‘tragic,’ or ‘unforseeable,’ it can be difficult for us to understand how it is they are meant to make us feel, and what, if anything, they are supposed mean.

My preferred approach is to take a leaf from the book of evolutionary psychology. Among primates – that is to say apes, like you and me – violence between males is typically thought to function as a form of dominance contest, where the purpose is to cause not physical but social harm to your opponent. Although dominance contests may be fought with anything from rocks to rap lyrics, its real weapons are shame, humiliation, and submission; the ability to prove that one man is more of a man than another.
The idea that violence between men can be considered a form of dominance contest is not exactly shatter-the-earth original, but neither has it been applied to representations of violence in a way that respects the fact that there is not one ‘essential’ masculinity but rather a multitude of competing masculinities in existence at any one time.
Masculinity, like femininity, exists in multiple forms at the intersection of other socioeconomic identities such as class, race, and nationality – the much-lauded ‘intersectionality’ of today’s gender theory – and these intersections shape the way we perform and represent violence.

Imagine you’re a man in your early twenties out for a night on the town. You’re standing at a bar when a big, brawny man in a singlet comes up to you, accuses you of looking at ‘his woman’, and asks if you want to start something – a classic challenge to another man’s masculinity. Which of the following actions would constitute a ‘win’ in this situation?

A) Taking it outside and beating the man up;
B) Cutting the man down to size with a witty remark;
C) Zap him with your taser.

There’s no ‘right’ answer here. What you consider to be a ‘win’ depends on your understanding of ‘masculinity’. If your idea of masculinity is based on physical strength, then in order to assert your masculinity you have to demonstrate your physical strength. If your idea of masculinity is based on intellect, then you have to demonstrate your intellect. If your idea of masculinity is based on power and control, then you have to demonstrate power and control.

When it comes to representing this contest to other people, each party tends to put their own spin on events. Let’s say you chose to cut the brawny man down with a witty remark – option B). To your friends, you are likely to represent this as a victory of ‘brains over brawn’; but to his friends, the big man is likely to represent you as chickening out of a fight. Which version of the story gains more currency within the community will depend on a whole slew of factors, most of which can be summarised by the old saying that history is written by the victors.

This, I believe, is the key to understanding most of the representations of male-on-male violence we find in medieval literature. Very few of these representations involve positive models of knighthood defeating other positive models of knighthood; far more often you will find heroic knights (who represent the epitome of what’s known as ‘courtly’ masculinity) taking on and defeating giants, Saracens, and ‘fallen’ knights, all of whom can be read as models of alternative masculinity.

One of my favourite examples comes from the twelfth-century romance Yvain, le Chevalier au Lion by Chrêtien de Troyes. In this romance we find the protagonist, a worthy knight by the name of Yvain, fighting off against a giant known as Harpin of the Mountain. Yvain rides into battle with a head-on charge, attempting to overpower the giant with brute strength. In response, the giant delivers two good thumps with his club, almost knocking Yvain clean off his horse. It’s only when Yvain stops fighting with strength and begins fighting with skill and dexterity that he is able to defeat the giant by delivering a cut to the giant’s shoulder and a thrust through its liver.

What this combat does is to assert the masculine importance of skill-at-arms over raw strength. Physical strength had been one of the key elements of a masculine identity in the early Middle Ages, but as the aristocracy – the ones who funded the production of most of the literature of the period – stopped waging so much war and started spending more time socialising at court, they discovered that they were no longer the strongest men in the land.

Peasants – those men who spent every day ploughing, lifting, and working under the hot sun – would have been way stronger than the average knight, who had to balance their need for bodily strength with agility, dexterity, and skill-at-arms. Despite all the socioeconomic advantages granted to the martial aristocracy, the knights appear to have felt threatened by the masculine excesses of the peasantry; but rather than attempt to regain their superior strength, they pushed for a new form of masculinity which emphasised their own skill-at-arms over the bodily strength of the peasants.

Viewed in this light, representations of violence between men in medieval literature is not ‘senseless’ or ‘meaningless’, but rather part of a constant attempt to establish one’s own masculinity through the manipulation of the definition of masculinity itself – a practice which continues in the ‘real men’ and ‘real women’ posts of Facebook today.

Dear Men: just because you don’t know about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Sincerely, me.

The first year I was at the Leeds IMC I didn’t take an excursion, and regretted it deeply. So now I make a point of picking an excursion – usually based on timing, because I don’t have strong preferences in medieval site visits: it’s all pretty, gimme gimme!

Kirkstall Abbey cloister from the south-west corner

This year, I went to Kirkstall Abbey! It was grey and rainy and I didn’t have weather-appropriate clothes because I’d just come from Geneva in a heatwave and miscalculated. The Abbey itself: super pretty, super interesting, especially as I’d been to Rievaulx and Bylands last time I was at the IMC. I’m still devoutly Team Romanesque, and this was some fine Anglo-Norman Romanesque with English Gothic add-ons. My photos (a bit disapppointing b/c of the bad light) are all here.

But here’s a thing that’s bugging me. It bugged me at the time but I had more interesting things to think about, like the IMC dance, and where to acquire scones.

The foundations of the Kirkstall Abbey guesthouse

We were taken around the site by Stuart Harrison of Rylands Archaeological Service, who was a pretty logical choice, given he’d worked on the site at various points and had done the site plans that are on display as you go around. He explained the site more thoroughly than the signage, with plenty of links to Fountains and Rievaulx which might have been baffling if you’d never been to either, but which I found helpful. He also had  some really interesting stuff to say about the history of conservation and restoration on the site, which I would be able to reproduce more effectively if only I could recall or find out the name of the chap who was in charge of restorations in the late 1890s. Apparently he was distinctive and something of a pioneer.

None of that is the thing that is bothering me. When we got to the remains of the guesthouse, outside the abbey proper but within the grounds, Harrison was describing the layout and the probable use in hosting important men and their retinues as well as lesser travellers. Even poorer folk would camp outside the walls to receive basic sustenance.

(Note: this is not a verbatim record of the conversation, obviously)

Says I: What about women?

Says he: Oh they can’t come inside the grounds.

Says I: Oh, huh. Is there a separate guesthouse outside the walls for women, then?

Says he: Nope

Says I: …. But where did women travellers stay? Say, noblewomen going between their estates?

Says he: There was one incident where an abbot was reprimanded for hosting the Queen: if they couldn’t do it for the queen, then lesser women certainly not.

Says I: Huh. Well where did they stay? They would’ve had to have mixed-sex retinues – were nuns allowed to host mix-sex groups?

Says he: Well, women just didn’t travel much in this period, and if they did they were probably with their husbands.

Says I: Which would be a mixed-sex group: where would that group stay?

Somewhere in there someone brought up pilgrim hostels and it was concluded, for reasons that were unclear to me, that that was different to monasteries somehow. Talking with other tour members we concluded I should ask someone who works on Cistercian nunneries, for maximum comparability – so now I know what to ask Elizabeth Freeman when/if I next see her. No one in the group, which included a number of historians of Cistercians (mostly men, one young woman postgrad), knew anything much about Cistercian nuns.

Why on earth did Harrison think “women didn’t travel much” was a sensible answer? Especially given he knew that story about the Queen (which Queen, I forget)? I asked where the Queen stayed when she wasn’t getting abbots into trouble, and he did not know. I saw fit to ask #medievaltwitter today and got back not precisely answers but useful keywords for further research in about twenty seconds. Lucy Allen voted for our hypothetical noblewoman staying with nuns, citing various prohibitions in De Periculoso about who not to host in your nunnery as evidence people were being hosted in said nunneries. Makes sense, although further inspection tells me that De Periculoso is late 13th c, and we were by that point in the Kirkstall tour talking about the 14th century. De Periculoso, wikipeida also suggests, was applied in very different ways across Europe. So now I know when I find a historian of Cisterican nuns that I need to ask her how De Periculoso affected guesthouses and travel in England. Various people, notably RealMargery, pointed me in the direction of studies on Margery Kempe for reliable info on how female pilgrims got around. I haven’t actually left the cafe since that discussion, so I haven’t yet read said cites, but now I have them. (Chaucer’s Nuns & WoB travel in a mixed group and stay in inns – but I have trouble imagining noblewomen doing so. Perhaps that’s my failure of imagination?)

Note: #medievaltwitter did not try to tell me that women didn’t travel much in the Middle Ages. Geez. I was witness to another conversation at Leeds, and I can’t remember who it was, where the other parties pointed out that men don’t study nunneries. There are plenty of women working on the history of monasticism, but apparently the history of nuns is pretty much left to women. And, as we saw at Kirkstall, a specialist in Cistercian monks may know nothing whatsover about nuns, while a specialist in Cistercian nuns (probably a woman) will have to know all about the male monastic order as well. Harrison’s hardly the first person to jump from “I’ve never thought of this” to “it didn’t happen.” I’ve done it myself. A couple of years ago I confidently asserted that the thing about demons being the spawn of angels and humans was a late 13th c notion, because I couldn’t think of any examples earlier, and a bunch of students with brains proceeded to cite a whole stack of counter examples going back to the 10th c. Including ones I knew but had forgotten. It happens. It happens a whole damn lot less if you think for a second before bullshitting, and if you get comfortable with saying “I dunno, let’s go ask the internet!”

A nice window in the refectory of Kirkstall Abbey, seen by no women until the dissolution. In theory. I think I recall reading that 15th/16th c monasteries, with few or no laybrothers, hired laundresses & serving women  like normal people.

What I really have a problem with is the fact that so much about women – not even traditional “women’s history” domestic stuff, often literally EVERYTHING INVOLVING A WOMAN EVER – is in a category of “optional knowledge” for male historians, and for historians of men (although women historians of men fall into this trap less often, IME). Because when things are optional knowledge, but you’re an Expert in Stuff, it is so easy to assume that the reason you don’t know about [optional knowledge] is that it just didn’t happen. This also happens to whole categories of people who aren’t women: I’ve seen it a lot (probably even committed it) when it comes to talking about non-Christian populations in medieval Europe. I gather the assumption that there were no Jewish people at all ever in England after the Expulsion is a particularly annoying case. Another would be: assuming the White Australian Policy (Aus immigration law 1901 onwards) was actually 100% effective and there were zero non-white people (aside from Indigenous Australians, who are in a different chapter of the textbook) in Australia between 1901 and 1945. Then you get the case where the Expert on Stuff does actually know about the target population, but deems them boring. For instance: the much-beloved Crusade specialist who, on his retirement, gave me all his books about women for the price of me tolerating a 20 minute rant on how women did nothing interesting in the Crusade period. Meanwhile I stood there thinking well I remember there were women in your lectures and I thought they were interesting! (He knew I did; that’s why he gave me the books!) But at least he didn’t try to tell me that women weren’t involved in the Crusades.

Story time with Amy: Crapocalypse on the Ark!

God said he'd make them all constipated

Artist unknown

Gather round, my children, and be honest with Aunty Amy: who among you has not wondered what happened to all the poop on Noah’s ark?

Well, my dears, Aunty Amy can assure you: there is no snigger-inducing theological or biblical-historical question you can ask that has not already been considered by a serious medieval author. So make yourselves comfortable – you, little Suzie, stop pinching poor Johnny; and you there, give Katie her teddy back. Right, everyone comfortable?

Let’s begin.

The story of the CRAPOCALYPSE ON THE ARK. The very true, absolutely historical story of the CRAPOCALYPSE ON THE ARK, which was written down by Matthew Paris, and was told to him by a bloke who had it told to him by a fella who had it told to him by some guy who heard it from Mohammed, and he knew about it because it was a story Jesus told. No, wait, Jesus didn’t tell it: he thought no one would believe him, so he resurrected Japeth son of Noah from a clump of mud, and he told all the people about the CRAPOCALYPSE ON THE ARK.

So you can see it’s a very reliable, utterly historical story, the story of the CRAPOCALYPSE ON THE ARK.

Once upon a time, it rained for forty days and forty nights, and Noah and all his family including Japeth (henceforth, Noah et al) and all the animals were on the ark floating around aimlessly on the flood. They had plenty of food with them, stored down one side of the ark; and all the animals lived down the other side.

But Poop emoji (reportedly actually ice cream)after a while, they started to have a problem. When you put food into animals, what comes out? That’s right, POOP. And if you keep putting food into animals, what keeps happening?


Soon the Ark began to tilt to one side – there wasn’t enough grain on the grain side, and too much poop on the animal side! They were facing a disaster! A Crapocalypse! A veritable Cacastrophe!

So Noah et al did what any sensible sailor would do: shovelled the poop overboard and redistributed the cargo. No, wait, they didn’t. They did what good Old Testament faithful do: they prayed and made sacrifices. And God gave them very sensible, sound advice. Always trust God with your nautical problems.

Camel poop: dry enough to start fires with; contains helpful bacteria

Camel poop: dry enough to start fires with; contains helpful bacteria

God said unto them: build an altar made of mixed camel and human poop, and make sacrifices upon it, and help will come. So they did. They built an altar out of poop and made sacrifices upon it.

And when they had finished making sacrifices, the altar exploded and out of it sprung a sow, who proceeded to scatter poop everywhere – most usefully, off the Ark.

Yay! No more poopocalypse!

But now Noah et al have a different problem: they have a rampaging sow. And sows are unclean animals. Should they throw it overboard? No, they decide: this sow is a gift from God. Our own special and blessed crap-destroying sow.

This was a mistake. God punished them. He sent them a MOUSEPOCALYPSE: the sow sneezed out mice, and the mice ran all over the ark eating all the grain, and the beams of the boat, and all the sailing tack.

Noah et al whined to God that this was unfair, and they were very sorry about keeping the sow, and could he make the mice go away please.

So God gave them very sensible advice: get a hammer, and go into the animal pens, and find the lion. Hit the lion on the head with the hammer – but hit him gently – and help will come. So Noah et al got a hammer, and went and hit the lion gently on the head with the hammer.

And the lion vomited up a herd of cats, who ate all the mice.

And they all lived happily ever after.

The Ark is no match for Schroedinger's Cat

The Ark is no match for Schroedinger’s Cat

Yes, Suzie? What do you mean, what happened to the lion? I don’t know what happened to the lion. He lived happily ever after, I guess.

Katie? No, I don’t know what happened to the sow. I guess they threw her overboard, because look what happened last time they didn’t throw her overboard.

The cats? Johnny wants to know about the cats. Well, I can tell you what happened to the cats: absolutely nothing, because cats are masters unto themselves.
Is that it? Everybody happy now?

Oh-ho, the sceptic in the back doesn’t think a sow can be formed out of mixed camel and human dung! Well, my precious little sceptic, Matthew Paris thought about the Ark Poop Problem before you did, and he thought of that too. It is perfectly possible and logical – because God would only perform logical miracles, of course – to form a sow out of mixed human and camel dung. Pigs, as everyone knows, are human on the inside and quadruped on the outside, so basically half human and half camel. And they love dung. Perfect sense.

And before you get any more questions in your little head: dung is basically earth, and everyone knows mice live in holes in the earth, so there were mice inside the sow. And lions, lions vomit cats all the time, because cats are basically tiny lions.

Logic. You can’t argue with it.

I found this story in an English translation of excerpts from the Chronica Majora, in Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine Sept 1820 (I think?), with no translator attribution that I can find. It’s on page 609 in this googlebooks file. I was looking for sow symbolism / visions / analogies to go with and explain the one in the Grisandolus Episode of the Suite Merlin (English). Anyone who knows of sows specifically associated with female lust and/or bad queens, gimme a shout.

I really like the practical logic gone into this story. In John Pryor’s crusade history classes in undergrad we spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about his favourite conundrum at the time, ‘Why was it possible to transport horses by ship to the siege of Acre but it hadn’t been before that?’, and a classmate who owned a horse gave him his very favourite research paper ever: a systematic calculation of how much horse poo would weigh, balanced against how much the horse ate and drank, and calculations as to whether it would be more efficient to keep the poop as ballast or take extra barrels to fill with water and replace the grain-weight.

Of course, by practical logic, I mean someone’s thought about poop, but not about ships or ballast. Or mucking out animal stalls. So only marginally practical logic.

Interesting conference variations: ‘Emotions in Medieval Media’

So this is really late, as conference wrap-ups go, but let’s not be deterred by arbitrary constructs like the progress of time!

Some time ago – mid-June kind of some time ago – I had the pleasure of attending a two-day workshop at the University of Lausanne entitled “Emotion & Medieval Media“, organised by the fabulous Mary Flannery and sponsored by the Swiss National Fund. I quote Mary’s description:

EMMe brought together medievalists working in a variety of disciplines in order to explore how different media shaped the experience and practice of emotion in the Middle Ages. It focused on the cultural artefacts of the past–its literature, art, music, and architecture–in order to investigate the emotions of the past. Our two key aims were: (1) to consider how medieval theories of emotion and cognition inform the creation and reception of different medieval media; and (2) to consider how attention to different media forms can inform the study of medieval emotion.

As far as the key aims go: mission accomplished! The two days were lively, full of cross-group discussion and productive questions. It was also very interesting for me to see a whole swathe of people approach emotions from very firmly rooted in their own disciplinary context (we had lit people, a musicologist, some drama scholars, a couple of art/object scholars, and no mainstream historians).

Interdisciplinary discussion on the UNIL campus.

What really stood out was the format/facilitation of the two days, though. Mary sought out the presenters by invitation,* which allowed her to develop a range of different formats for the sessions rather than just putting out a standard CFP. Each day began with a panel of regular conference papers, of which I was one, so I had no idea that the rest of the sessions would be vastly different. There were performances! Each afternoon after lunch there were performances! The choir director from the American church in Geneva, along with colleagues, gave us a delightful performance of medieval music, and were open to questions later about how they felt the music conveyed or demanded certain emotions.

And, my favourite session of the whole workshop, Elisabeth Dutton (University of Fribourg) and colleagues who specialise in theatre delivered a live production of the Historie van Jan van Beverley (Dutch, possibly based on an English antecedent).

The Earl and his manservant hunt the beast-like John of Beverley in the forest

Their production mixed voice-over narration from the chapbook (translated), live dialogue, natural action, and gestures/poses modelled on the woodcuts from the chapbook. The backdrops were all drawn to match scenery in the woodcuts. I love this story, it has many of the things I like best: total nonsense! incest! plot sequences that sound like jokes! scheming demons! man living as a beast! It’s great. I laughed a lot.

It was interesting, in the discussion afterwards, to see how different the audience reactions were. Some of the attendees thought the narrative lacked suspense – whereas I, as soon as I saw the set-up for John’s downfall coming (he’s challenged by the devil, in guise of an angel, to commit one of three sins: drunkenness, rape, and murder; he chooses the lesser and ends up committing them all) and exactly who was going to be the victim (his sister), was like oh no, dun dun dun… (and feeling more than a bit apprehensive – they did quite well, I thought at staging the rape scene without glossing over it OR making it unnecessarily graphic, but there’s an instance where a content advisory would perhaps be a good move). I suppose I didn’t feel apprehensive for John, but I did for the sister: later on I was more sympathetic to John, especially beast-John. Possibly that tells you more about my habitual reading praxis than it does about the text.

As well as the performances, each day had a session composed of two ‘guided readings’ of about 45 minutes. What those consisted of varied, but they were all wider-ranging and less directly argumentative than the 20min papers. The two on literary texts had people reading aloud (a play and a devotional text, respectively). The two on art history had time to absorb images – and Michaela Zostig had brought miniature paper Syon Copes for us to wrap around hands/bottles/etc and so observe in 3D. These ‘guided readings’ were more interactive; typically the presenter had ideas but invited audience feedback, input, etc.

It might sound trite, but it was really nice to attend a conference that wasn’t wall-to-wall standard papers. I like standard papers as well as the next person, but a whole day of them taxes my attention span! Especially this semester, when I’ve had a slew of conferences following each other fairly closely. I missed most of the SAUTE conference in April because I was changing brain meds and having interesting side effects (vertigo, attention span shot to pieces) – in which case I’m perfectly entitled to not go to things, but had Things not consisted mostly of back-to-back 20 min papers I might have had more stamina than I did.

The final session on Friday of EMMe was a ’round table’ of four short presentations: it was nice to get a rapid overview of a selection of texts/methodologies, but I actually thought that one was so disparate as to not be an outstanding example of a round table – the presenters did not necessarily have much to say to each other’s topics.

Serious scholars doing serious scholaring (Denis Renevey and Rita Copeland)

The final session on Saturday was an outstanding keynote-length response paper by Rita Copeland, which Mary has painstakingly edited and uploaded here. This was a glorious, frame-it-and-keep-it-forever example of the genre of ‘response paper’. Rita gave personalised comments on every single paper, and drew connections between papers that I, at least, hadn’t drawn myself. She gave a few suggestions and nudges without harsh criticism, and managed to seem equally enthusiastic about everyone. No conference has all its papers/sessions of exactly equal quality, but it’s nice if a respondent draws more attention to what they add up to than to which ones were outstanding.

I’m not going to recap Rita’s responses here, but I really liked the connections she was drawing across media types. I was rather perplexed by one point, where she said she was glad to get away from the ‘reality fetish’ of historians. I asked her about it afterwards and obviously we have rather different opinions of, eg, Stephen Jaeger. But we’d all had a set of readings in advance (Rosenwein’s ‘Worrying about Emotions’ essay I liked particularly), and I did not see anything I’d call a ‘reality fetish’ (at least, not in a bad way) there! But then, as I discovered doing the prep for the SAUTE graduate workshop I didn’t end up attending, if asked to justify my own research I find myself naturally talking in terms of history, cultural studies, queer stuff, rather than straight down the line literature. It’s possible I myself have a reality fetish.

At any rate, that part baffled me a little, and I’m hoping that if Mary succeeds in getting the book project off the ground, Rita will expand on that in her essay – so I can either see why I’ve misinterpreted, or see her argument laid out clearly so I can disagree with it better. Either of these would be an acceptable outcome!


  • This was effective, especially given that the workshop was to involve new/experimental session types. It was a really nice group, too, with a well-balanced range of skills and specialities – except no historians. And not many (any?) lit specialists who weren’t from English departments. I’m not entirely sure I think invite-only conferences/workshops are a great thing, though. That is how the Old Boys Clubs of the world work, yanno? And although this workshop was overflowing with women, it was pretty white. Mind you, if you run a small conference in the humanities in Switzerland with an open CFP your chances of getting mostly white people is also pretty high – SAUTE, for instance.

Thinking about digital scholarly editions

Once I decided to produce an edition for my PhD thesis, I had the idea of creating a digital edition. Now I’m faced with some practical questions: what is a digital edition? How is it different from a traditional, printed edition? Why should I do this instead of a print edition? How are will I create it? How do I want it to look?

In a very timely coincidence the digital humanities conference 2015 was held in Sydney (first time ever in Australia) at the University of Western Sydney during the first week of July. The conference was absolutely fantastic and exposed me to current practices in the digital humanities and ideas on how to approach my project.

I attended a great pre-conference workshop, ‘An Introduction to Digital Manuscripts,’ run by Elena Pierazzo and Peter A. Stokes which was a very shortened version of  the Medieval and Modern Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age camp, run through DiXiT, who also sponsored the workshop. The workshop was a quick introduction to digital editing, creating digital editions using TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) and XML, and manipulating manuscript images. In the course of the workshop Elena addressed the question of what a digital scholarly edition is. She quoted Patrick Sahle’s explanation of the distinction between a digital and digitised edition, which I quote below.

Definition of “digital scholarly edition”

My working definition is “Edition ist die erschließende Wiedergabe historischer Dokumente” which cannot be translated into English straight. “A scholarly edition is the critical representation of historical documents” would be a fair approximation. Here we have three argument places:

  1. “historical documents”: editing is concerned with documents which are already there. In this wide sense of “historical” the definition includes documents relevant for all subjects, history as well as literature or philosophy. Scholarly editing goes back to and starts from existing documents. To edit (to publish) a new document (which doesn’t refer to something preexisting) is not scholarly editing.
  2. “representation”: covers (abstract) representation as well as presentation (reproduction). As I use to say: transmedialization (representation by data) and medialization (presentation by media). Publishing descriptive data (e.g. metadata) without reproduction is not critical editing. A catalogue, a database, a calendar is not an edition.
  3. “critical / scholarly” (erschlieend): reproduction of documents without critical examination is not scholarly editing. A facsimile is not a scholarly edition.

That’s a wide definition of what “scholarly editing” is. But what is “digital scholarly editing”? Digital scholarly editions are not just scholarly editions in digital media. I distinguish between digital and digitized. A digitized print edition is not a “digital edition” in the strict sense used here. A digital edition can not be printed without a loss of information and/or functionality. The digital edition is guided by a different paradigm. If the paradigm of an edition is limited to the two-dimensional space of the “page” and to typographic means of information representation, than it’s not a digital edition. – Patrick Sahle

Now that I’ve worked out what a digital edition is, the next question is why create one instead of a traditional print edition? For me, there are a few advantages digital editions have over print or even digitised versions. Digital editions can have more features such as an interactive gloss and links between parts of the text; since they are not restricted by the cost of print you can include manuscript images (depending on copyright) and perhaps other sources, e.g. Latin sources for vernacular texts. There is also potential for greater access and a wider readership than print editions, especially if it is open access – of course scholarly editions are only ever going to have limited readership no matter how accessible the text is. Joan Grenier-Winther mentions some other benefits of electronic editions including greater access to the text for readers, since they can access facsimiles of all relevant manuscripts and verify the editorial transcriptions; and in the cases where there are multiple manuscript witnesses readers can be presented with all of them.*

Of course there are problems with digital editions, as there are with all formats. Gurpreet Singh from the University of Lethbridge, Canada discussed some of these problems in his paper (presented on behalf of the other collaborators as well) ‘The Old Familiar Faces: on the consumption of Digital Scholarship’ at Digital Humanities 2015 conference. Singh referred to Dorothy Porter’s 2013 essay, where she discussed why digital editions were not being used and concluded that the problem is the editions themselves. Porter argues that they are not properly understood and Peter Robinson [I think this is the paper they were referring to] that they are not revolutionary enough. My understanding Robinson’s problem is that if the digital edition is basically the same as the print edition – then why would you bother with the digital edition? I think this related back to the difference between digitised editions and digital editions: digital editions should be radically different from print editions. Singh et al used editions of Cædmon’s Hymn as a case study and found that digital editions weren’t used as much as print ones for a few reasons including how easy it is to access the edition. During questions, Singh acknowledged that some digital editions weren’t used because they were released on CD-ROM which didn’t really catch on and that there is an old and existing problem of scholars not citing newer scholarly editions.

Another area I am unsure about is publication: obviously a goal for most PhD candidates is to publish a monograph from their thesis but I am not sure how I would be able to do that with a traditional publisher since I plan on creating a web-based interface for my edition. Though this is really just a minor concern.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that preparing a digital edition greatly increases my workload. Not only do I need to do the textual scholarship and translating work, but also the programming and digital humanities side of it. I also don’t know whether that programming work will be taken into consideration by the markers or even if they will have a someone who specialises in computer science mark it as well as medievalists.

The last, major question is now that I know I want to make a digital edition, how will I do it?

The current standard for creating digital editions is to use TEI. I have also considered using a relational database which Grenier-Winther used in her project and Tarrin Wills (one of my supervisors) discusses using for the Skaldic Project in his article. However some people I was speaking to at the DH conference thought that a database would be overkill, that for a project of my scale the TEI would be sufficient and that I should think about doing a minimalist edition. These two options are also for the data, I also need to think about programming the user-interface.

An important consideration is that I will be programming myself, so there is a great time and resources restriction because of that. I think the best way forward is to complete a sort of use case study/ software requirement analysis to review what I want to produce: how it will look and work, how I should do it, and how much time I have to actually spend on it.

If anyone reading has any opinions on the matter, I am more than open to ideas!

*Grenier-Winther, Joan, ‘Server-Side Databases, the World Wide Web, and the Editing of Medieval Poetry: The Case of La Belle dame qui eut mercy‘ in The Book Unbound: Editing and Reading Medieval Manuscripts and Texts ed. by Siân Echard and Stephen Partridge (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), pp. 190-220 (pp. 191-2). [Can be found on Google books here]

Conference report: ANZAMEMS 2015

Last week I attended ANZAMEMS tenth biennial conference at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.


Image from ANZAMEMS conference website []

The UQ St Lucia campus was lovely and the conference itself was great. There were some fantastic papers and I did some much needed networking.

This was also the first time I tried live-tweeting! Hopefully my tweets made sense and were helpful. I found it was a good way of note-taking for myself, and it’s a lazy form of a conference report.

I collected the tweets from each day of the conference on storify, here are the links: day 1day 2day 3day 4, and day 5.

My storified tweets have also been kindly mentioned on both and the ANZAMEMS website.



Dear internet: Sam and I will be at Leeds this year! (Kiera won’t; she’s doing ANZAMEMS and #DH2015 instead) I am super excited to be back at medievalist camp after two years away.

All the important things packed for Leeds. Clothes etc can wait...

All the important things packed for Leeds. Clothes etc can wait…

Things you might like to know, if you wish to either locate me or avoid me:

  • You can find me, along with Regan Eby and Rachel Moss and our delightful moderator Valerie Johnson at panel 821 on Tuesday afternoon. The panel is entitled “Elusive Affection”; I’m giving a paper entitled “Lancelot in the Friend Zone” and Rachel and Regan will be doing fascinating things with historical sources. Why should you come to this panel? I dunno, but I can tell you why I organised it: because I find all these feelings things very confusing and like to take my confusion out on historical sources. By way of précis, a chunk from my paper (which I have finished early, for once):
    Modern sociologists working on relationships have trouble agreeing on the defining element of friendship, especially as pertains to women. What separates a friend from a family member (or makes some family members friends and others merely relatives?)? What distinguishes friends from colleagues or acquaintances? In what ways is friendship like or unlike romantic love? Pat O’Connor, looking at friendships between women, synthesises four or five previous definitions of friendship and points out that all contain a bullet point for something she calls ‘primary quality’. Some of her sources called it affection, some intimacy; some talked about it in terms of the identity-shaping quality of the friendship; some in terms of felt “specialness”. This primary quality does not necessarily make a relationship exclusive – one person might have more than one such close friend – nor superlative, as such a friendship often exists alongside family and spousal bonds, some of which might be stronger or longer-standing. We don’t have a clear, discrete term for this ‘primary quality’ now: medieval English readers certainly didn’t. If that sounds too wishy-washy for you, my panellists are historians with srs facts! Regan, by the evidence of twitter, has found something exciting about pillaging as a form of homosocial bonding, and Rachel has many fascinating things to say about 15th c English gentry/nobility and their social relationships.
  • You can find Sam talking about burial practices in Anglo-Saxon England at the New Voices in Ango-Saxon Studies panel, session 1001 on Wednesday. I don’t actually know what she’s got to say about them but given she won a prize for her hons thesis in this area I expect it will be very exciting.
  • I will be going on the Kirkstall Abbey excursion on Wednesday (so not going to Sam’s panel. Sorry, Sam!)
  • I will probably be tweeting, but sporadically since I don’t have data roaming!
  • I’m not sure that I count as ‘flying solo’, given I’m presenting with my internet pals and travelling with Sam after Leeds, but I’m thinking of going to the Flying Solo / cool twitter people dinner on Wednesday.
  • Lastly and most peculiarly, a while back I said to Rachel Moss that I’d bring a camera and collect photos for But I am really not up to harassing people for photos (especially since one’s clothes are not, in fact, the critical component of one’s conference participation). Still! I’ll have a camera. I want to practice taking photos of people instead of ducks. If you have an outfit you’re proud of (or horrified by? find particularly amusing?) and feel like contributing to an archive of the many and diverse ways one “looks like” an academic, waylay me!

Someone is Wrong on the Internet

Sometimes it’s uncanny how efficient the internet is at feeding me examples of people being Wrong on the Internet which exactly and closely pertain to some new field I’ve just started reading in. In this case, the history of emotions. I’ve encountered the Weeping Charlemagne Problem before, of course, and am very pleased to hear that Rachel Moss is working on an article about weeping/fainting and hyper-masculinity (mentioned here). But right now I’m wading through a bunch of more theoretical history-of-emotions stuff, partly for my thesis (I think? I at least have to rule out the stuff that isn’t useful, and hopefully some of it is) and partly for conferences.

What does the internet do but deliver me this post (original now deleted). I quote from the OP, who has deleted their post presumably because they were swamped by responses from ‘like’ to ANGRY HISTORIANS.

Barbara Tuchman says the widespread apparently juvenile behavior of medieval Europe should be considered in light of the fact that most of active society was in fact people in their teens and twenties

Which on the one hand is like one of those things that’s obvious once it’s pointed out

But also its funny to think there was a whole historians’ tradition of being like “why were medieval kings so overemotional” until Tuchman clears her throat and goes… “Ahem… Have you ever met an eighteen year old boy” and then everyone’s like “oooooh”

I looked it up, Tuchman was a popular historian in the 70s and this idea must come from her book on the 14th century, ‘A Distant Mirror’. If you follow the link above, the version of the post I linked to has a smack-down appended, with actual information on medieval demographics, and this rather nice conclusion from Tumblr user slashmarks:

Like, I want to ask you why you think “haha teenagers are stupid” is a funny joke (if you are an adult and so mature, why do spend your free time mocking teenagers srsly?) but I also want to point out that this narrative of the middle ages, like all other narratives that claim people in the past were not people like US, has a specific political agenda.

It’s meant to enforce the idea that the age of imperialism and exploration was one of enlightenment that led to the glorious beacon that western civilization is supposed to be today; it’s also meant to emphasize the supposed reasonableness, intelligence and benevolence of today’s rulers. I understand people are reblogging it because of the jokes, but you’re unknowingly perpetuating propaganda and you should be aware of that.

I have a few things to say to that. The first is: yes, this. A+, good work, please circulate this message from the Public Wrongness department of Mistakes College.

The second is: I know where this comes from, because the pre-reading for ‘Emotions in Medieval Media’ at UNIL included Rosenwein’s historiography article ‘Worrying about emotions’. We can blame, among others, Johan Huizinga (1919), Lucien Febvre (1941), and perhaps especially Norbert Elias (1939 trans. into English in the 70s) for the notion that the Middle Ages were ‘wild, cruel, prone to violent outbreaks and abandoned to the joy of the moment’ (Elias, quoted in Rosenwein, 2002), although it seems like the flat-out statistically wrong claim about age is Tuchman’s own doing.

The third thing I have to say is: this stuff is dangerous. Tumblr user slashmarks is right about the narrative of progression, but in order to have that narrative of civilising progress you have to assume certain constants. In the case of the “teenage kings acting out” theory you need to assume:

  • That the experience of late adolescence is purely biological and in no way related to cultural constructions of status, adulthood and responsibility
  • That emotions stay the same over time (people get upset about the same sorts of things, and in response to the same external and biological stimuli)
  • That responses to emotions are consistent throughout time. That displays of anger constitute a loss of control. All the time. Everywhere.
  • That maturity (especially mature male socialisation) looks the same in all times and places.

Not to mention the peculiar assumption that grown men aren’t prone to outbursts of anger, violence or petty revenge. Presumably Barbara Tuchman had not tried telling a grown man “no” or “you’re wrong” lately when she wrote that book. But ‘men are rational and in control, except when they make manly displays of appropriate violence” is one of those perpetual assumptions of modern society that we persist in believing despite all evidence to the contrary.

But it’s the assumed constants that are dangerous. Those assumed constants underpin so many persistent racist notions, such as, to pick one, the peculiar notion that “Men in a state of nature, uncivilized nations and children, have a great fondness for colors in their utmost brightness” (Goethe) – a belief which explains any number of things from the boringness of modern western men’s formalwear to the exoticisation of Asian clothing/textiles to, I suspect, the distaste expressed in my small town in NSW when someone painted their house a shade of Green that would have been quite normal in Greece. Or another ever-popular instance of Wrong on the Internet, the belief that when chief Raoni of the Kayapo (Brazil) people was photographed crying at a protest against a dam on the Amazon (2011) this was because he was utterly devastated and in a state of despair. In fact, Raoni at the time retained a strong determination to fight the government’s decision: he was photographed crying as he was reunited with a family member, and this is reportedly a commonplace aspect of Kayapo reunion customs. And since we’re talking about crying, I hope we all notice that the same logic which leaves Tuchman going “hah, silly emotional medievals” also underpins the idea that there must be absolutely no “falling in love or crying” in Serious Intellectual Environs (Go see menysnowballes for more on that).

The narrative of historical progress is, in many respects, wrong. In others, though, it’s fairly reasonable to say that the world at large and certainly European society is doing better right now than it was one hundred, two hundred, a thousand years ago. I’m a woman, I have mental health problems and interesting genetic complications that might make childbearing particularly unfun; I’m queer, I quite like my education, and I’ve benefited from very recent social mobility in my family. In most of the respects that matter to me (education, autonomy, social opportunity, kissing-ladies-opportunities, health) I am not only happy to have been born after the invention of penicillin but would take the 21st century over the mid-20th and am lookin’ forward to better changes still. And if I were sentenced to time travel, of all possible centuries I would not pick any medieval centuries, unless I could be very certain of landing up in a nunnery.

The problem with the narrative of historical progress is not just that it’s false pattern-spotting (although it is). It’s not just that it leads to patronising the people of the past (the ever-witty Gillian Pollack deals with this by staring her students down and saying solemnly, “I’m sorry about your ancestors”). It’s that the veneer of “progress” rests on so. damn. many. assumed constants. It’s the constants that are dangerous. If you assume something is vertically constant through time (always true of europeans, say) you’re particularly likely to assume that things is horizontally constant across cultures, and god forbid you have to consider the non-European past! If you assume that teenage boys behave the same way everywhere, at all times, you miss all kinds of things – class, race, gender, intra-community variation, as well as the global bigger picture. Even if it were true that 14th c decisions were made by late adolescent noblemen, it would be dangerous to assume that late adolescent peasants behaved the same way.

Here’s where I think it is important – possibly even imperative – that the teaching of history and historical literature be done with some attention to contemporary problems and context. Obviously I, a medievalist, want my students to appreciate the genius of medieval writers and the fun of medieval texts. But that’s not good enough. Learning that the medieval past was not brutal and/or childlike is not good enough. Not unless at some point, the value of those assumed constants is brought into question.

I do this a lot with gender stereotyping: the Eve/Mary dichotomy looks, on the surface, a lot like the modern Madonna/whore trope, but if you dig into it, medieval assumptions about women and sexuality don’t map neatly onto 19th c + ones. For starters, the idea that women are naturally less inclined toward sex and/or sexual sin has no traction in the Middle Ages. Getting students’ heads around how that could be true while the culture still produces a virginity complex that looks very familiar is a hard slog. But important. Because “women have always been suppressed by the notion we are innately sexless” (another fact I have seen spouted on the internet, by bloggers with gender studies degrees who ought to know better) is just not true. The patriarchy works in weird and complicated ways! Historical change is not linear!

If your goal is to teach students to critique the dominant paradigm, especially with a view to racist implications of, say, the association of emotional control with (male) maturity… maybe you could do better than starting with the Middle Ages. Probably you could, if you were an expert in something other than medieval literature. But for better or worse, I am an expert in medieval literature. And I have found – as a teacher, yes, but also personally – that students, audiences who might push back against identifiably modern-political syllabi, may be more willing to tackle a concept like the construction of gender, or the changing face of masculinity, or the status of particular emotions, if they can do so in the “safe” past.

If I were teaching modern lit, I might get into arguments with students (we have at least one such young man in the department) about whether sexism is a legitimate concern. But fortunately for me, many many people agree that the Middle Ages were sexist! Even people who think there is, say, no structural gender problem anywhere in academia. In fact, “the middle ages were sexist” is part of the narrative of progress which justifies the claim that feminism is now irrelevant. Perhaps many students come through my classes and never think further than 1500. But, I strongly suspect, a reasonable number learn not only some tools for analysing  #issueathand, but also something about the constructed nature of the assumed constants.

I can’t speak for whether they then go on to, for instance, question colonialist paradigms. I can say it worked on me. I can’t say my medieval studies major was particularly race-aware (it wasn’t), and obviously I have needed to do a bunch of independent work and reading on some issues (eg: nothing in medieval european history prepared me to process the politics/emotional charge surrounding black women’s hair, esp in the US, which I fell over in Star Trek fandom in 2009). But I can tell you I am instantly suspicious of anyone whose criticism of x-non-western-culture rests on perceived barbarism: I don’t need a degree in the culture in question to know that if the assertion would be equally applicable to the “dark ages” in Europe (eg: constant raiding. I have heard people being condescending about pre-colonoisation Maori society on the basis of constant raiding), the speaker is probably full of it. I can spot the “noble savage” fallacy as applied to indigenous peoples outside of Europe and as applied to the Celts.

The tools I learned in that period, and exercised on medieval texts and contexts, did not immediately translate into a political stance re: modern society. But they gave me foundations. And they taught me the basic concept of “socially constructed phenomena”. How things that seem like an absolute given now, and an obvious explanation for the past, might be completely incomprehensible in the past. I cut my teeth on medieval texts, and they taught me to question the assumed cultural constants. I’m not an expert in anything except medieval texts, now, but I have a set of tools for spotting egregious generalisations and narratives that privilege the modern, mostly-white dominantly-male western Zeitgeist. I learned them to understand the past. I use them to navigate the present (and the past, because of that pesky PhD).