Blog from CSM President:

In November I had the pleasure of attending a joint conference of the Atlantic Medieval Association and the Atlantic Medieval and Early Modern Group in Sackville, New Brunswick. It started out in an almost-can’t-see-to-drive downpour and ended in a glorious fall day aflame with autumn colours.

The conference is about as small as you can get, and I almost didn’t go this year because – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – I was swamped with teaching and admin. But small conferences like the AMA are so important. I attended some excellent papers, of course, and actually got the chance to make an astrolabe – Dr.  Samuel Gessner of the University of Lisbon was the keynote speaker, and the “Hands-on History of the Astrolabe” he presented was not a metaphor! (My arts-and-crafts skills are distinctly rusty, I might add.) The real value, though, was in making connections with other medievalists. Increasingly, many of us are the lone medievalists at our universities, and academic societies provide a welcome respite from the isolation and loneliness that can entail.

I was also “pricked” – to use a Middle English word – by a panel responding to the calls to action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Hitherto I had felt a bit helpless in the face of the calls: yes, we can do more as institutions to support Indigenous students; yes, we can support calls for Indigenous literatures and histories, and work on making them mainstream – but honestly, I thought, as a medievalist, there’s not much I can do in my field. Saying “Indigenous peoples were around in the Middle Ages too and so we should study Indigenous cultures from 1000-1500” seemed a bit facile, to my way of thinking (never mind that it is imposing colonizing Western European periodization on the world, and risks cultural appropriation as well).

But the panel got me thinking about the ways in which Canadian medievalists can seriously and genuinely respond to the TRC in our scholarship as well as our institutions. We talked about incorporating Indigenous knowledge practices both in our classrooms, rethinking the top-down lecture approach, and in our scholarship, applying Indigenous theories and approaches to canonical texts. We talked about ways to avoid falling into the trap of “empty words” and “rote repetition” in our acknowledgements of the Indigenous territories our universities are built upon. We talked about countering the alt-right appropriation of medieval images and medievalism. And after the conference Lauren Beck compiled and circulated a bibliography of Indigenous literary and historical theory and methods.

In the coming months I will be posting more about these kinds of topics – both ways to counter the alt-right in our classrooms, and ways of thinking about Indigenous theory in our scholarship. I’d also like to know how you are responding to the TRC, not only in your institution but in your scholarship and teaching. And any Indigenous resources you can send me would be great as well.

CFP : The Diversity of Service in Premodern Europe International Conference 20-22 Sept 2019

13 Dec 2018 11:40 AM | CSM Webmaster (Administrator)
Call for papers

“We are all servants” -- The Diversity of Service in Premodern Europe
International Conference, 20-22 September 2019

to be held at the Centre for Medieval Studies
University of Toronto, downtown campus
Organized by Elisheva Baumgarten and Isabelle Cochelin
with Lochin Brouillard and Emma Gabe

Scientific Advisory Board:
Elisheva Carlebach, Konrad Eisenbichler,
Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux and Diane Wolfthal

If you would like to participate, please send the following information
to before January 3rd, 2019:

your name, university, title of paper, 150 word abstract,
contact info (address, email and telephone), one page CV,
and finally a short biographical blurb (the latter for the session chairs).

Service in premodern Europe was a ubiquitous phenomenon in daily life but also constituted a key concept for defining relationships between individuals. Servants were men or women, high or low on the social scale, poor or wealthy, children or elderly, of different faiths (Christian, Jewish or Muslim), and with few or great expectations for their future. For some, service was a lifetime occupation but for many a finite period in their life cycle. Even kings considered themselves to be servants in relation to God. In contrast with the diversity and pervasiveness of service in the past, few today would consider themselves the servant of another.
The project for this conference is therefore timely and innovative on many fronts. Our approach seeks to conceive the history of service in the longue durée, starting around 1000, when primary sources become more abundant (thanks to the increasing reliance on written texts) and ending before the turning point of the late seventeenth century, when the conception of service changed significantly. Our research will thus cover the medieval period for which no overall study on service exists so far. We will use an interdisciplinary methodology and bring together scholars from different fields (History, Literature and Art History, but also Religious Studies, Anthropology, and History of Architecture) and with complementary areas of geographical and chronological focus. In addition, we will take into account religion, which has been very little considered so far in the studies concerning service, even though any discourse on service in these centuries was steeped in religious imagery. For this reason, we will consider the Christian, Jewish and (when and where relevant also) Muslim communities of medieval and early modern Europe side by side. Finally, our approach will be both empirical and theoretical: we intend to examine service as a socio-historical reality and as a concept to define human relationships and work relations, a joint approach which has never been adopted in previous scholarship.
Main themes:
- Domestic servants in distinct surroundings (urban context, rural context, and within castles)
- Service in different religious groups (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, etc.), including service when the servant is of a different religious faith than the masters
- Service in various religious sources and servants working for religious individuals or communities (theology and canon law; exempla literature in Latin and Hebrew; servants of secular clergy and in monasteries)
- Servants in art
- Service in literary sources
- Service as a model for human relationships, including service as work, or rather work conceived as service
- Service and issues of gender, sexualities, and kinship
- Service, race and migration
- Spatial distribution of servants within the households
- Service as opposed to slavery
Main disciplines: Social History, Religious History, Art History, History of Law, Theology, Literature, Economic History, History of Architecture, and Anthropology

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