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.

2018 Margaret Wade Labarge Prize Recipient: Shannon McSheffrey

1 Jun 2018 4:36 AM | CSM Webmaster (Administrator)

2018 - Shannon McSheffrey, Seeking Sanctuary. Oxford UP, 2017.



Congratulations to Shannon McSheffrey who was awarded the 2018 Margaret Wade Labarge Prize for her book Seeking Sanctuary (Oxford UP, 2017). For details on the book, see below.

From the publisher:

Seeking Sanctuary explores a curious aspect of premodern English law: the right of felons to shelter in a church or ecclesiastical precinct, remaining safe from arrest and trial in the king's courts. This is the first volume in more than a century to examine sanctuary in England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Looking anew at this subject challenges the prevailing assumptions in the scholarship that this 'medieval' practice had become outmoded and little-used by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although for decades after 1400 sanctuary-seeking was indeed fairly rare, the evidence in the legal records shows the numbers of felons seeing refuge in churches began to climb again in the late fifteenth century and reached its peak in the period between 1525 and 1535. Sanctuary was not so much a medieval practice accidentally surviving into the early modern era, as it was an organism that had continued to evolve and adapt to new environments and indeed flourished in its adapted state. Sanctuary suited the early Tudor regime: it intersected with rapidly developing ideas about jurisdiction and provided a means of mitigating the harsh capital penalties of the English law of felony that was useful not only to felons but also to the crown and the political elite. Sanctuary's resurgence after 1480 means we need to rethink how sanctuary worked, and to reconsider more broadly the intersections of culture, law, politics, and religion in the years between 1400 and 1550.

Since finishing her PhD at the University of Toronto in 1992, Shannon McSheffrey has taught at Concordia University in Montreal, where she is now Professor of History. She has won several awards for her research and teaching. Over the last twenty-five years she has published books and articles on a number of aspects of late medieval and Tudor England, exploring issues as varied as gender roles, law, civic culture, marriage, literacy, heresy, and popular religion. Seeking Sanctuary grew out of a curiosity about how English people in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries used law, legal records, and legal archives.


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