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.

Call for papers, Topical Texts and their Afterlives in the Late Middle Ages (CSM 2019, Vancouver)

21 Dec 2018 9:08 AM | Kristin Bourassa (Administrator)

Topical Texts and their Afterlives in the Late Middle Ages

This session (Canadian Society of Medievalists, Congress 2019, June 3-5, Vancouver) examines the ‘afterlives’ – that is, the later reception – of late medieval written works addressing topical matters. The explosion of manuscript production and copying in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries not only encouraged the literate to use written communication to spread their thoughts on current affairs, it also promoted the continued reception of the resultant texts in a wider variety of contexts and over longer periods. However popular or niche at the time of writing, such topical texts could more readily find new audiences and new meanings in the late medieval environment. The creative editing, extraction, and compiling of texts helped in the process of shifting and even transforming meaning across different places and times, rendering texts that were once topical more universal, or indeed pointedly relevant to later affairs and concerns. Seen from another aspect such processes also expanded the afterlives of issues that had been long been set aside, with answers to new problems being shaped by those derived in very different contexts.

Kristin Bourassa and Justin Sturgeon will explore the fifteenth-century manuscript afterlife of Philippe de Mézières’ Songe du viel pelerin, a political allegory completed in 1389 for King Charles VI of France and offering topical advice on contemporary political concerns such as the king’s recent coming of age and declaration of personal rule, the Great Western Schism, and the late fourteenth-century crusading movement. The Songe was later copied for members of the secular and religious elite, in manuscripts adapted both textually and visually for their owners and for their new historical context. Eight of the nine surviving manuscripts date to the mid- to late-fifteenth century, demonstrating revived interest in a book whose understandings of authority, power, and counsel were deeply embedded in the historical context of its original production. This interdisciplinary paper (drawing on the perspectives of art history, history and literature) explores how political texts were adapted for later audiences through a case study of the manuscript owned by Louis de Crussol, a royal counsellor active during the reigns of Charles VII and Louis XI.

Robert Shaw will explore the afterlife of the Orationarium in vita Christi et de suffragiis sanctorum, a work written in the 1380s by Pierre Pocquet, a French Celestine monk and strident activist for Observant reform. An unedited text that is little know by modern readers, this expansive vita Christi was written not only against the background of the author’s efforts to enhance French Celestine observance, but also in the midst of the Great Western Schism, a matter which thoroughly exercised the author and greatly shaped his reflections on morality and reform. While it reached some very influential readers in Pocquet’s own lifetime, including among the laity, it arguably found its peak of popularity among monastic reformers of other orders in the mid to late fifteenth century, with audiences in monasteries as far away as Italy and Bohemia. Through a close reading of the manuscript evidence, this paper will explore how later reformers received reflections that were steeped in the context of the late fourteenth century, and through this, how the atmosphere of the Schism, so critical to the formation of Observant energies, could continue to influence ideas regarding monastic life a century after the fact.

To complete this session, we seek one further paper addressing similar themes. We are open to papers looking at the ongoing reception of topical texts written at any time in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and in any part of Europe. Please contact Kristin Bourassa at by January 14, 2019. 

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