Theme: Lives and Afterlives

The Forty-Fifth Annual Sewanee Medieval Colloquium 
April 12-13, 2019
The University of the South, Sewanee, TN

Call for Papers:

Our Call for Papers is now closed. Our schedule for the 2019 Sewanee Medieval Colloquium will be up soon. 

For more information, contact:

Dr. Matthew W. Irvin
Director, Sewanee Medieval Colloquium

Follow us on Twitter @SewaneeMedieval


Afterlives of Assault: Medieval Traumas in the Modern Imagination

Organizers: Sarah Baechle (University of Mississippi) and Carissa Harris (Temple University)

Medieval documents—historical, legal, literary—speak partial truths to modern scholars, offering only bare details of the complex, multifaceted realities they record.  This is particularly true of the textual remnants of sexual assault and trauma, which endure in the subjectivities of those who experience them in ways that are difficult if not impossible to document. 

This sub-theme invites paper proposals that explore modern critical treatment of historical acts of assault and trauma.  We invite papers which consider any of the following questions:   How do we interpret the subjective experiences of the past?  What are ethical best practices for attempting to reconstruct historical moments of trauma and recovering the voices of survivors?  Proposals might address historical figures accused of assault; respond to scholarship that minimizes literary depictions of violence; or consider how legal records and historical texts represent the complexity of the experience of trauma.


Calculating the Past

Organizers: Allan Mitchell (University of Victoria) and Myra Seaman (College of Charleston)

These interdisciplinary panels will explore the qualities of medieval quantities by investigating the historically emergent conditions under which things such as number, ratio, interval, intensity, value, area, and scale developed meaning. We seek presentations that analyze quantitative thinking performed with geometry, astronomy, alchemy, or medicine, and investigate the myriad ways medieval measures signify within broader cultural contexts. Questions to consider might include: what kinds of quantitative practices had speculative or aesthetic dimensions? were quantitative disciplines sometimes sites of cultural and cross-species exchange? what attitude do particular authors or genres take towards enumeration? can we find among such texts precursors to what might be called an anti-numerical prejudice in the humanities? how might medieval measures motivate critiques of modern educational metrics or online predictive algorithms? finally, if counting is one among other unavoidable obligations, how could that history help us calculate more carefully?


The Continued Lives of of Medieval Spaces and Objects

Organizers: Matthew Evan Davis (McMaster University), Heather Mitchell-Buck (Hood College), and Laura Whatley (Auburn University, Montgomery)

We invite papers from all disciplines that consider the variety of ways that medieval objects and spaces have continued to “live” beyond the Middle Ages, thereby generating new histories over time. In our current moment, we are experiencing an acute and critical awareness of the continued significance of the western medieval past in our global world. Of course, this current, often politically fraught, engagement with the Middle Ages is not an exceptional historical phenomenon; rather, it is a point on a long timeline of collecting, curating, appropriating, editing, recasting, censoring, erasing, monetizing, politicizing, performing, and digitizing medieval culture. It is therefore essential to unpack the complex, ongoing lives of medieval spaces and objects, and to consider what their continued material life—from their initial creation to the ways that they inhabit our world today—can teach us about their more ephemeral histories of use, practice, and meaning.


Medieval Afterlives of Antiquity

Organizer: Andrew Kraebel (Trinity University)

The enduring influence of Latin antiquity can be seen across medieval culture, from basic classroom pedagogy, to literary and artistic styles, to royal self-fashioning. Though considered particularly authoritative, however, the legacy of ancient Rome was also quite malleable, open to many different reinventions, reinterpretations, and reapplications, to meet any number of perceived needs. This subtheme therefore seeks papers dealing with any aspect of the medieval engagement with the inheritance of antiquity, including, though not limited to: literary and artistic neoclassicism, the influence of specific ancient texts, authors, or ideas, the rediscovery of Aristotle, the stories of Troy and Thebes, medieval imaginings of ancient Rome (or pre-Christian life more generally), the status of Latin relative to European vernaculars, the status of pagan authors in medieval Christian schooling, comparison of ideas of the pre-Christian West with those of the contemporary (medieval) non-Christian East, etc. The topic is intentionally broad, and it is hoped that a variety of papers will be able to spark conversation across current disciplinary boundaries. 


Medieval Gender and Medieval Form

Organizer: Katherine Jager (University of Houston, Downtown)

Medieval studies has seen a resurgence of interest in form, attending to the ethical, epistemological and historical importance of the lyric, the carol, the prosimetrum and the alliterative line, for instance. Yet little scholarship examines the intersections between form and medieval frameworks of gender.  This panel asks: how do Platonic and Artistotelian notions of form and matter come to be gendered and how might those ideas come to apply to poetry, poetics, and the idea of the literary in the Middle Ages? What is the relationship between materiality and formal poetic composition, and is this relationship a gendered one? What are the intersections between gender, manuscript production and poetic performance? Given the exigencies of performance, what is the relationship between lyric voice and gender? What is the role of multi-linguality, form and gender? In what context do certain formal genres come to be associated with female authors? How do authors in the Middle Ages apply gender or gendered tropes to the epistemologies aligned with certain modes of aesthetic and sensory engagement? Most importantly, how might we understand attention to forms—as well as the embodied epistemologies and often-inarticulate modes of discourse they incite—as an explicitly feminist practice? Submissions from those working on French, Italian, Latin, Anglo-Norman particularly encouraged.


Monastic Afterlives

Organizer: Cary Howie (Cornell University)

These panels aim to engage with the specificities of medieval monastic practice (including Benedict’s and other rules, but also the architectures, liturgies, literary representations, and other documents through which medieval monasticism comes to us) in ways that illuminate modern and postmodern living, monastic and non-. What might the vocation of the "monachos," literally the solitary one, tell us about solitude and community; about work and leisure; about the nature of sexuality, or obedience, or property, or reading? What might it tell us about our scholarly lives? Is the monastic a member of the living dead, already in a kind of afterlife; or is the monastic freed, by rule and community, to live more abundantly? How do circumstances—for example, of time, place, or gender—shape the kind of life that monastic practice makes possible? Submissions warmly welcomed from historians, theologians, critics, and anyone for whom life together, and alone, is both an opportunity and a challenge. 


New Comparative Literatures

Organizer: Emily Houlik-Ritchey (Rice University)

Recent years have seen calls for new (or newly invigorated) comparative work. For instance, Sharon Kinoshita and Peregrine Horden take a geographic and historicist approach to comparison in the context of Mediterranean Studies to redress the narrowness of traditional national, linguistic, and disciplinary knowledge formations; meanwhile George Edmondson and Kenneth Reinhard have looked to the theoretical concept of neighboring as a methodology that would situate textual relations laterally and asychronously, rather than hierarchically along direct lines of influence. These very different approaches nonetheless share a conviction that comparison should look beyond source and influence. What possibilities, implications, and complications arise as medievalists envision such “new” comparative literatures?

This panel sub-theme solicits papers that engage with new trends in comparative study. Papers may foreground the practice of comparison or its theory and methodology. The panel welcomes paper submissions on any period or discipline of medieval studies. Special consideration will be given to work that thinks across disciplines and/or languages.


Performance and/or Performativity?: Lives, Drama, and Afterlives

Organizer: Jeffery Stoyanoff (Spring Hill College)

In medieval literary studies, performance and performativity have more often been determined by texts’ afterlives than their lives. In recent years, critics of medieval literature and drama have begun to reclaim these texts as they “lived” --- as they were performed and/or how they might have been understood as performative. Additionally, the advent of new materialism and Object-Oriented Ontology in our field has even led us to question how texts as objects --- manuscripts, books, etc. --- might be agent and, then, how this alters an audience’s relationship with them. This panel seeks to engage the following questions: How have these texts’ afterlives potentially skewed their lives? How did medieval authors and audiences understand the relationships between performance and performativity? We seek, in particular, papers addressing this intersection of performativity and performance in saints’ lives, hagiography, and drama, but papers querying this intersection in any genre of medieval literature are welcome.

Rebuilding, Rewriting and Reimagining Sacred Space in the Middle Ages

Organizers: Gina Marie Hurley and Clara Wild (Yale University)

This panel proposes to explore the lives and afterlives of sacred spaces within the Middle Ages, bearing in mind Henri Lefebvre’s observation that while spaces can be built over, their histories cannot be wholly overwritten. There are numerous miracle stories and ecclesiastical laws that imagine the invulnerability of sacred spaces: the bodies of the unholy or unshriven are ejected from their graves in the churchyard and vandals of church property are excommunicated for their deeds. These narratives and prohibitions were meant to protect the stability of sacred space, but they nonetheless point to a larger anxiety about its vulnerability. This anxiety  can be detected in religious writings, histories, and in the art and architecture of medieval churches, mosques, and synagogues. We welcome papers exploring how spaces are rebuilt, rewritten and reimagined, whether through architecture, literature, or law. How did medieval writers and thinkers embrace this process? How did they resist it? We envision this panel topic as being equally appealing to art historians, literary scholars, historians, and scholars of music, religion, and liturgy.


Sanctifying Violence

Organizers: Elizabeth Maffetone and Joseph Morgan (Indiana University, Bloomington)

This panel invites papers exploring accounts of the lives, deaths, and afterlives of medieval holy figures, with particular attention to the complex relationship between violence and sanctity. In what ways is violence employed to test or reify sanctity? To what extent is such violence inflected by gender? Papers might, for instance, elucidate the sanctifying violence against bodies found in narratives ranging from hagiography to exempla; explore the temporal inversions of the martyr tale, where the validating starting point is, in many ways, the end of the tale; or seek to clarify the vexed relationship between the martyr’s voice of protest, dissent and authority.