12 September: "Potions and Prayers: The Subject of Healing in Anglo-Saxon Medical Texts"
Renée Trilling, Associate Professor of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: In texts like the Lacnunga and the Leechbooks, Anglo-Saxon healers struggle to merge two extremely powerful and largely incommensurate ideologies, with the result that detailed herbal remedies, charms written on communion wafers, and magical incantations of broken Latin and Irish find themselves on equal footing. Rather than focusing on whether or not these remedies are scientifically valid, then, I want to explore how the dissemination of medical knowledge in Anglo-Saxon England can offer evidence of a culture working out its own solutions to problems of embodiment amid the conflicting discourses of pre-Christian medicine and salvation theology.
Bio: Renée R. Trilling is Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Historical Representation in Old English Verse (Toronto, 2009) and co-editor of A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Studies (Blackwell, 2012). She has published articles on Beowulf, Wulfstan the Homilist, Ælfric¹s hagiography, and Anglo-Saxon historiography. Her current work draws on recent trends in neuroscience and related fields to explore the role of materiality in Anglo-Saxon notions of subjectivity.
3 October: Utopia Un-Mored: Reading across Historical Divides
Karma Lochrie, Professor of English, University of Indiana - Bloomington
Abstract: It is standard to read Thomas More’s “Utopia” in terms of its classical roots in Plato’s Republic, and at the same time, to treat it as an inaugural text, that is, as the text that marks the beginning of utopian thinking and a significant cultural break from the Middle Ages. This lecture challenges the historical methods responsible for this narrative of utopianism, providing an alternative account of utopianism that includes medieval texts and thought. Instead of reading backwards from More’s text, Lochrie suggests a method of “reading forward” to More from medieval texts that engage utopian perspectives, ideas, and places. “Unmooring” More, therefore, involves a rethinking of the way we conduct literary history as well as the way we understand utopianism. Using John Mandeville’s Travels and the Middle English Land of Cokaygne, Lochrie maps alternative utopianisms to More’s and suggests new historical interlocutors that complicate our current understanding of utopian thinking and writing.
Bio: Karma Lochrie is a professor of medieval literature with an interest in gender and sexuality studies. Her most recent book is Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t (Univ. of Minnesota P, 2005), which argues that normativity as a technology of heterosexuality did not exist for the Middle Ages and calls for a radical revision of the categories with which we study medieval sexuality. It examines female sexuality in particular in medical, religious, and exotic travel discourse, as well as Chaucer, in an effort to suggest an alternative landscape for medieval sexuality once heteronormativity is abandoned.
21 November: Why a History of Balance?
Joel Kaye, Professor of History, Barnard College
Abstract: Virtually every discourse in the medieval period was constructed around the ideal of balance. In my recent book, A History of Balance, 1250-1375, published this past spring by Cambridge Press, I show that preoccupations with balance lay at the core of medieval economic thought, medical theory, political thought, and natural philosophy, but one could apply the same analytic focus on balance to a host of other disciplines. And yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the concern with balance (or perhaps because of its utter ubiquity), it was almost never the subject of discussion in itself in the medieval period. For this reason modern historians, too, have failed both to recognize balance as a subject crucial to the history of ideas, or to imagine it as having a history – as changing in form over historical time. In my presentation, I will argue that an analysis of the forms of balance that were assumed and applied in the medieval period – and, in particular, an analysis of the change in the modeling of balance that occurred between 1280 and 1360 - are crucial both to the opening up of striking new vistas of imaginative and speculative possibility within scholasticism and to the scholarly comprehension of this many-faceted intellectual development.
Bio: Joel B. Kaye, professor of history, joined the Barnard faculty in 1992. In addition to his teaching duties in the department of history, Professor Kaye is affiliated with Barnard's medieval and Renaissance studies program. Professor Kaye's scholarly interests center on medieval intellectual history, with special interests in the history of science and the history of economic and political thought. His research and scholarship have been supported by the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Historical Studies; the New York Public Library's Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers; the National Science Foundation; and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
5 December: A CMRS Scholarly Dialogue: Ramon Martí
Abstract: The Catalan Dominican Ramon Martí (d. after 1284) was the most learned polemical author of the later Middle Ages. He was part of the thirteenth-century Dominican interest in missionizing and language learning in Aragon under the auspices of Ramon of Penyafort, interest that led to the famous Disputation of Barcelona in 1263 between Friar Paul Christiani and the great Rabbi of Girona, Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides).Following in the wake of this debate, Martí developed many of its key arguments and strategies. In order to do so, Martí learned Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic and probably taught one or all of these languages to fellow Dominicans as well. His writing (two polemical works against Islam and two more against Judaism, including the massive Pugio fidei, or "Dagger of Faith" from 1278) makes ample use of original source material in these three Semitic languages, and cites and translates widely from Jewish and Muslim religious and philosophical sources. Despite the increasing attention that Martí's work has received in recent years, scholars have only scratched the surface of his abundant and complex corpus of writings, and much work (both editorial and interpretive) remains to be done in assessing Martí's important role in Christian relations with Jews and Muslims in Iberia as well as in Christian intellectual history more generally. These two talks will consider a few dimensions of Martí's work in detail, demonstrating Martí's profound importance for scholars of the Middle Ages in general, but especially for those interested in language learning in the later Middle Ages and Christian engagement with other faiths in this period.
Thomas E. Burman, Professor of History, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
‘Principaliter contra judeos deinde contra saracenos:’ Why Wasn’t Ramon Martí More Interested in Islam?
Bio: Professor Burman’s scholarly work focuses on the intellectual and religious interactions between Latin Christendom and Arab Islam, especially as these can be seen in the translation and circulation of Arabic works in medieval and Early-Modern Europe. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Study of Islamic Societies and Civilizations at Washington University in St. Louis as well as at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, and has given invited lectures at many institutions, including Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, Dumbarton Oaks, Saint Louis University, Yale University, the Warburg Institute, the Folger Library. Most recently he was a plenary speaker at the 45th Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.
Ryan Szpiech, Associate Professor of Spanish, University of Michigan
A Two-Sided Dagger: Ramon Martí's Philosophy of Language and Mission
Bio: Ryan Szpiech studies the cultures and literatures of medieval Iberia, focusing especially on cultural interaction, exchange, and conflict. His interests converge around the concept of translation (of languages, alphabets, styles, beliefs, identities, and ideas) as a tool for defining the relations between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and he is particularly interested in conversion as a vehicle for exchange (real and imagined) between disparate groups, as well as in modern scholarly debates about how to frame the history and criticism of Medieval Iberia and its cultures (One, two, or three cultures? Conquest or reconquest? Spanish or Iberian? Tolerance or persecution?). Dr. Szpiech is also currently part of a five-member team, organized and led by Dr. Esperanza Alfonso at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, studying the role of the Bible in late-medieval Sephardic culture. The project, entitled, "The Intellectual and Material Legacies of Late-Medieval Sephardic Judaism: An Interdisciplinary Approach," is supported by a four-year Starting Grant from the European Research Council.
23 January: The Sites and Sounds of Early Medieval Latin Song
Sam Barrett, Cambridge University
Abstract: The music of early medieval Latin song has hitherto been known to only a handful of specialists. Notations survive in manuscripts from ecclesiastical centres across the Frankish kingdoms from the ninth century through to approximately the end of the eleventh, but the fragmentary written record has relegated wider appreciation to the occasional cum neumis found in the footnotes of the volumes of Monumenta Germaniae Historica and Analecta hymnica medii aevi. The difficulties involved in reconstructing melodies from mnemonic notations have also tended to obscure a body of song made up of hundreds of accentual verses (rhythmi), metrical verses by medieval authors from Eugenius III of Toledo through to Alberic of Monte Cassino, settings of late antique poetry by writers such as Boethius, Prudentius and Capella, extracts from classical authors (most notably Vergil and Horace) and computus. One of the purposes of this paper will be to outline the full extent of this song tradition, examining hints about uses and users that survive in manuscripts associated for the most part with large abbeys and cathedrals. A second aim will be to examine prevailing models of song transmission, challenging universal theories proposed for rhythmi in particular by Karl Strecker and Dag Norberg, emphasising instead genealogies specific to individual songs and the role played by a number of different centres in shaping the tradition. A third aim will be to explore the limits of reconstruction, seeking in the absence of full information about melodic contents to establish how much can be recovered from the various types notational strategies adopted, and how much can be identified about modes of setting associated with particular verse forms. In seeking to summarize various aspects of what appears to have been a continuous song tradition strectching from novices through to notaries, abbots, bishops, and even Kings, it will finally be suggested that the early medieval Latin song tradition forms a significant precusor to the later flowering of vernacular song in medieval courts.
Bio: Sam Barrett is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Cambridge and Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He will be a Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of Music at Ohio State University during the academic year 2014-2015. He has recently published a two-volume edition and study entitled The Melodic Tradition of Boethius’ “De consolatione philosophiae” in the Middle Ages and is currently working with Benjamin Bagby to convert this scholarly groundwork into melodic versions suited to concert performances and ultimately recording by Sequentia. He has published widely in the field of early medieval Latin song, collaborating with the philologist Francesco Stella on a physical and digital edition of rhythmi (songs with accentual Latin texts) composed before c. 900 A.D. entitled Corpus rhythmorum musicum saec. iv-ix I Songs in Non-Liturgical Sources. He has also published a couple of articles relating to the best-selling jazz album Kind of Blue, the implications of whose modal language continue to fascinate him. Alongside his research interests, he is a co-editor of Music & Letters and serves on the board of Early Music History.
6 February: 'In cuntrey hit is a comune speche': Vernacular Legal Theory in Mum and the Sothsegger [Silence and the Truthteller]
Fiona Somerset, University of Connecticut
Abstract: It is not a new insight that what is probably the early fifteenth century’s most sustained and thoughtful response to Piers Plowman, the alliterative, allegorical dream vision Mum and the Sothsegger, is also a sophisticated critique of political corruption in contemporary England. What has not yet been addressed among studies of the poem’s political allegory and use of personification, though, is the extent to which its critique hinges upon a specific medieval legal idea whose implications continue to haunt us even up to the present day: that one person may be held responsible for (and even punished for) another’s sin because he or she has consented to it by remaining silent. Crucially, the poem insists (as in my title) that this theory is common knowledge, the property of all. My current book project focuses on the history of this idea, and its deployment in allegorical poetry and rhetorical prose between the late twelfth and mid fifteenth centuries. In my paper at OSU I’ll show what this broader perspective can contribute to our reading of Mum and the Sothsegger.
Bio: Fiona Somerset is Professor of English and Medieval Studies at the University of Connecticut, and co-Director of its Medieval Studies Program. She is the author of Feeling Like Saints (Cornell, 2014), a study of the lollard movement, as well as Clerical Discourse and Lay Audience in Late Medieval England (Cambridge, 1998), editor of Four Wycliffite Dialogues EETS 333 (Oxford, 2009), and co-author and translator of Wycliffite Spirituality (Paulist, 2013). On leave at UCONN’s Humanities Institute in 2014-15, she has pronounced that she is finished with Wyclif and the lollard movement (at least for now) and is developing new research on medieval legal and political theory and its literary expression between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.
6 March: The Elements of Change: Transformation in the Allegories of Christine de Pizan
Suzanne Akbari, University of Toronto
Abstract: Metamorphosis and figurative language – both allegory and metaphor – are explicitly yoked together in Christine de Pizan’s allegories, most famously in the autobiographical opening of her Livre de la mutacion de Fortune, which recounts her transformation from female to male “selon methafore” [according to metaphor]. Her other allegories also highlight the transformative quality of figurative language, including the multi-level allegoreses featured in the Epistre Othea and the allegory of creation that opens the Avision-Christine. Through a close reading of the intertextual relationship of the speech of Pythagoras central to Book 15 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the early fourteenth-century Ovide moralisé, and the early fifteenth-century Livre de la mutacion de Fortune, I will illustrate the extent to which concepts of metamorphosis underlie Christine’s deployment of allegory, both in terms of Pythagorean metempsychosis and in terms of the Christian theology of incarnation.
Bio: Suzanne Akbari is Professor of English and Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. Her publications cover wide-ranging topics in medieval literary and intellectual history, from a book on medieval optics and allegory (Seeing through the Veil) to a volume on European perceptions of Islam and the Orient (Idols in the East). She has edited collections of essays on Marco Polo, Chaucer, medieval identity and community, and the literary history of Arabic in medieval Europe. Her current research projects include an exploration of metaphor and metamorphosis in Chaucer and Christine de Pizan, and an investigation of temporality in medieval poetic and historical literary traditions.
10 April: The Role of Rock in the Japanese "Dry Landscape" Garden
Graham Parkes, National University of Ireland, Cork
Abstract: The Japanese karesansui (‘dry landscape’) style of garden, while unique to Japan, has its roots in the Chinese tradition of landscape garden making. This presentation thus begins with a brief overview of the classical Chinese garden, in which rocks, or stone, constitute the basic frame and also the main focal points of the garden. To appreciate the role of these rocks, we need to understand that the Chinese regard them not as inanimate lumps of matter but as powerful configurations of what they call qi energies. The Chinese garden is thus not only a place for social interaction and aesthetic appreciation, but also a site for vitalizing one’s existence.
Garden making in Japan at first tended to follow Chinese ways, but, under the influence of Zen Buddhism, the dry landscape style began to exclude organic material. Ultimately the landscape (the Sino-Japanese term means, literally, ‘mountains and waters’) was presented through rocks and gravel alone. In the context of Buddhist contemplation practices, the dry landscape garden also became a place of initiation into ideas and principles from Japanese Buddhist philosophy.
The presentation concludes with a brief consideration of some implications of the dry landscape garden for our contemporary understanding of the interrelations between the human and natural worlds.
Bio: Graham Parkes, born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, taught Asian and comparative philosophy for thirty years at the University of Hawaii before taking up his present position at Professor of Philosophy at University College Cork, in Ireland, where he is also the founding director of the Irish Institute for Japanese Studies.
Among his publications are: Heidegger and Asian Thought (ed.,1987), Nietzsche and Asian Thought (ed., 1991), Composing the
Soul: Reaches of Nietzsche’s Psychology (1994), and translations (with commentaries) of Detlet Lauf’s Secret Doctrines of the Tibetan Books of the Dead (1974), Nishitani Keiji’s The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism (1990), Reinhard May’s Heidegger's Hidden Sources: East-Asian Influences on His Work (1996), François Berthier’s Reading Zen in the Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden (2000), and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (2005). Also over a hundred journal articles and book chapters on topics in Chinese, Japanese and European philosophies.
He is currently writing a book with the working title Climate Change and China: Ways toward Lives Worth Living.