Author Archives: jah92

MEMS and the 54th International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, May 2019

Every May, thousands of medievalists descend on the town of Kalamazoo, Michigan, to attend the International Congress of Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University, catch up with old friends, and visit Bilbo’s, Michigan’s premier Tolkien-themed pizza restaurant. This year, a large contingent of medieval researchers from the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies attended the 54th annual Congress, showcasing a variety of exciting projects and new research.  

Noah Smith, Angela Websdale, Roisin Astell, and Cassandra Harrington organised a session titled “Visualising Gothic: Social and Spatial Contexts”, in which they each presented on their current PhD work, presided by Dr Emily Guerry, also from the University of Kent. Angela Websdale and Roisin Astell both examined artistic transmission and contexts of invention in thirteenth-century England. Angela looked at the way in which the local conflicts which took place in Faversham influenced the design of the wall paintings in the church of St Mary’s, while Roisin challenged the accepted framework for workshop production in English illumination using digital mapping to track collaboration between different artists. Cassandra Harrington and Noah Smith looked towards the continent, with Cassandra focusing on the thirteenth-century drawings of Villard de Honnecourt to examine the different types of foliate heads found in the collection and the language used to describe them, while Noah unpacked his new reading of the so-called Courtrai Chest (also known as the ‘Oxford Chest’) and the commemoration of conflict in fourteenth-century Flanders. Altogether, the four speakers in this MEMS panel highlighted their innovative approaches to workshop production, marginal imagery, and the impact of local conflict on artistic choices.   

Jack Newman, also a PhD candidate from Kent, organised a session on “Crisis, Corruption, and Entropy: England ca. 1250-1450”, presided by Jeremy Piercy from the University of Edinburgh. Jack spoke on English crown corruption in the fourteenth century, looking at the way in which crown officials were able to profit from the wool trade, while Daniella Gonzalez, also from Kent, discussed royal power and the relationship between the king and his barons in London during the reign of Richard II. Along with two speakers from Rutgers University and the University of Toronto, the session focused on new ways to examine political and economic history in the high middle ages through the lenses of corruption, entropy, power, and religious ideals.  

In addition to these sessions on the high and later middle ages, MEMS researchers also represented the early medieval period across a number of sessions. Dr Edward Roberts, the centre’s co-director, spoke in a session on “Forging Memory”, presenting his new research on Ottonian bishops and textual culture in the tenth century to examine ideas of historical consciousness, memory, and episcopal authority. Dr Rob Gallagher gave a paper on the conception of empire in the later Carolingian period, focusing on the way in which the idea of empire was used in England during the reign of King Æthelstan. Finally, Han Tame (PhD candidate and current author!) co-organised a pair of sessions with Professor Jill Hamilton-Clements from the University of Birmingham, Alabama on “Hellscapes”, looking at conceptions of Hell and damnation across textual and visual culture between the ninth and twelfth centuries.

All of these sessions and papers demonstrated the breadth of new research currently undertaken by researchers in the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and staff and students acquitted themselves brilliantly in both the presentation of their research and performance at the annual medievalist dance. Large conferences are always a wonderful opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, as well as to share ideas and plan projects with medievalists from other universities and in other disciplines, and we are all looking forward to next year!

Han Tame

Claire Taylor – Postgraduate Administrator Prize Winner!

Congratulations to our Centre Administration Manager, Claire Taylor, who has won a Graduate School Prize.  Claire was awarded “The Postgraduate Administrator Prize” at the Kent Researchers’ Showcase event yesterday by Professor Paul Allain, Dean of the Graduate School.  This prize  recognises the excellent achievements of an administrative staff member working in support of postgraduate education and research at Kent.

Well done Claire!

Material Witness: Maps, Manuscripts, and Medieval Graffiti

On 16th of May 2019 Canterbury Cathedral hosted the 6th session of this year’s Material Witness, the ‘interdisciplinary training programme for the interrogation of physical objects in the digital age’ organised by CHASE, a Consortium of nine universities in the South-East of England that fosters doctoral research in the Arts and Humanities. A group of PhD students undertook a journey in time, looking and interpreting historical relics under the guidance of University of Kent’s Drs Emily Guerry and David Rundle.

The afternoon started in the Cloister, from where Emily enthusiastically led the group to explore the Cathedral’s precincts with the support of a 12th century map from the Eadwine Psalter. This was a useful tool to navigate the Medieval spaces and a source of inspiration not only to rethink the current visible aspect of the buildings, but also to better imagine the Romanesque past of Christ Church, whose few vestiges survive surrounded by later Gothic architecture.

After having followed the steps, stories and works of figures like Prior Wybert, William of Sens and William the Englishman, in an itinerary across the northern area outside the Cathedral, the congregation retired to the dark of the crypts.There they could rediscover the thin scratches, unnoticeable to distracted eyes, of the medieval graffiti, and the wall paintings of Gabriel Chapel, which for centuries had been forgotten and precluded from sight.

At this point it was time to climb the Dean’s steps up to the Howley Library to be warmly welcomed by Ms Fawn Todd, the Cathedral’s librarian, who introduced the collection, its history, and even displayed some of its treasures. Having the group made acquaintance with the library, David took the lead, encouraging observations about the space, its organisation and features. He expanded on those comments, to build more general discourses, that bridged the Cathedral’s library to other notable examples, and gave insights about all aspects of a book’s life: from their production to their conservation and usage.

A brief pause with tea and biscuits stopped the flowing rhythm of the session, in order to provide the energy to enter the last part of the afternoon. In the seminar room of the Archives, David concluded the day, presenting some manuscripts from the Cathedral’s collections, and demonstrating how much these sources can say when interrogated by a skilful researcher.

Thanks to the personnel of Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, and to Emily’s and David’s energy, this rich and interdisciplinary session was a splendid opportunity to see how historical sources can be read and used to rethink the past, even to try to virtually recreate it. Indeed, material witnesses, be they made of stone or paper, often tell their stories and prove keen to answer our questions.