Symposium: ‘The Late Medieval & Early Reformation Church’

Swanson Poster 1.jpgOn Friday the 30th of June, the Shakespeare Institute is hosting ‘The Late Medieval & Early Reformation Church’, a symposium marking the retirement of Professor Robert Swanson after a career spanning almost forty years at the University of Birmingham.

This one-day event will take place at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon on Friday 30 June 2017.  Full information (including costs, timings and details of how to register) will be circulated in due course, but for now, please put the date in your diary, and email either myself or Margaret Small ( if you have any questions.

The event is being organised jointly by Birmingham’s Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS), Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages (CeSMA), and Research Institute for History and Cultures (BRIHC).  Confirmed participants at the event include Professor Janet Burton (UWTSD), Professor Chris Dyer (Leicester), Dr Rob Lutton (Nottingham), Professor Peter Marshall (Warwick), Professor Miri Rubin (QMUL), Professor Bill Sheils (York), Professor Robert Swanson (Birmingham) and Professor Elizabeth Tingle (DMU).

Chen Xue on the Yale Kitan Workshop

Date: 11th – 19th May, 2016


Venue: Sterling Memorial Library, Room 207, Yale University


Lectures and Participants:


Lecture sessions were led by Professor Daniel Kane, and the workshop was organised by Professor Valerie Hansen, Richard Sosa, and Suzette Courtmanche


Participants were BIRAN Michal, CHEN Yuan, CHO Yong, EISENLOHR Leopold, FU Rebecca Shuang, HANSEN Valerie, HYUN Jean, KANE Daniel, KIM Youn-mi, LI Yiwen, LOUIS Francois, MARSONE Pierre, MERRILL William, PURSEY Lance, SHIMUNEK Andrew, STANDEN Naomi, WEN Xin, XUE Chen, YANG Shao-yun,




By attending the workshop and by guided reading of the Langjun and Yelü Zongjiao inscriptions, participants in general have familiarised themselves with and gained a basic knowledge of:


The main concepts in Kitan language studies;


The main principles in the writing of Kitan scripts and epitaphs;


Approaches scholars have employed to decipher Kitan scripts;


The main reference books;


Some Kitan grammatical rules;


The status of the decipherment of Kitan scripts;


Input methods for fonts for the Kitan script;


The participants came from very diverse disciplinary fields. By providing a Kitan perspective, Kitan language knowledge would benefit a wide range of research area. For instance, in terms of my personal research, the decipherment of the two types of Kitan scripts, though mainly about times, personal names, place names, official positions and reign titles, has already provided considerable information about the discrepancies or concordance of records in Kitan and in Chinese materials (inscriptions and histories). These Kitan scripts provide opportunities for gaining new perspectives on the divergence and convergence between the self-constructed Kitan identity and external interpretations of the Kitan identity, and will help to stimulate reconsideration of the existing research, which is mainly based on one type of source or on one-dimensional interpretations. Furthermore, besides the 13th and 14th-century Qidan guozhi (Records of the Kitan State) and Liao shi (Liao History) which usually serve as dedicated histories for the Liao, the Kitan texts can help to draw more attention to the reliability of some 10th to 11th-century Chinese written histories from the Liao’s neighbours in different directions.


Complemented by different types of Chinese sources, knowledge from the Kitan texts provides a partial basis for investigating the long-term cultural exchange between Kitan Liao and its surrounding regimes in a wider historical and geographical context, such as, one of my concerns, the practices of qaghanship and emperorship in Northeast and Inner Asia since the collapse of Uighur qaghanate in 840. The Kitan Liao played an important and evolutionary role in these practices, exerting deep influence on contemporary interstate relationships and leaving legacies to later ones. The Kitan texts not only serve as a mirror of the sources of Kitan Liao internal institutions and relevant practices, but would also reflect, for instance, the waxing and waning of different cultural elements and their fluctuating influence inside the Liao realm in an age of dramatic social changes in both steppe and the post-Tang China world. These are vital for historians to understand the self-selected Kitan identity and how it differed from new interpretations of it by the Liao’s neighbours and successors, and to rethink wider issues such as the modern Eurocentric and Sinocentric discourses on the Kitan Liao studies.


The Kitan scripts are only partially deciphered which means full and continuous deciphered texts are not available or convenient to be presented as independent works. To locate the already deciphered Kitan characters, such as those relevant to the Kitan origin myths, in new paper-based sources and to further examine the possible context within which these characters have appeared or been used, however, would be important for historical research. Particularly inspired by talks with Andrew Shimunek, some Kitan reference books would be very helpful for this purpose. Though there is not yet an authoritative Kitan dictionary, the Qidan xiaozi cihui suoyin (Index to Kitan Words in the Small Script, title trans. by Daniel Kane) compiled by Liu Pujiang and Kang Peng, published in 2014, serves as a basic index for searching for the sources and deciphered meanings of Kitan Small Script vocabulary. Qidan wenzi yanjiu leibian (Compendium of Texts in the Qidan Scripts, title trans. by Daniel Kane) by Liu Fengzhu, published in 2015, as the most comprehensive work on Kitan language studies to date, provides initial transcriptions and photocopies of recovered Kitan epitaphs, and offers a compilation of important research on the Kitan language. The combination of the above works and other published research will help to locate Kitan characters, and to further the examination of their place, in textual contexts more easily and comprehensively.


Chen XUE

PhD Student, Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages,

University of Birmingham

NEWS! Li Siguang scholarship awared to XIE Chen

It is a great pleasure to announce that XIE Chen, a first-year PhD student in CeSMA, has won one of four Li Siguang scholarships offered to Chinese students across the whole university. Chen has succeeded in stiff competition against a large body of students from all disciplines.

Chen’s thesis topic is “Collection and patronage of the arts by Tang courts”, and she is co-supervised by Professor Naomi Standen (History) and Dr Liz L’Estrange (History of Art).

Congratulations, Chen!

Souvenirs of the Sepulchre

On 23 March researchers from Birmingham’s AHRC-funded ‘Bearers of the Cross’ project ran a successful public event at the Museum of the Order of St John in London. The evening began with a handling session of the Museum’s models of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, led by Dr Rosie Weetch. This was followed by a lecture, delivered by Dr William Purkis, which explored the role of relics in the Middle Ages and the significance of the Holy Sepulchre for crusaders and other medieval Christians. Both elements of the public event were filmed and are now available to watch via the Museum’s YouTube channel.

Dr Rosie Weetch, Introducing the Models of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the Museum of the Order of St John

Dr William Purkis, Souvenirs of the Sepulchre: Devotion to an Empty Tomb at the Time of the First Crusade

To learn more about the project, please visit and follow @CrusaderMatter on Twitter.

First-year Discovering Medieval Literature module trip

Philippa took students from the first-year Discovering Medieval Literature module to St Nicolas’ Place, Kings Norton, where they spent several hours exploring the schoolhouse . It seems to have incorporated reused material from abolished chantry buildings and therefore has some interesting medieval fabric; it also offers an object lesson in how to read medieval and early modern structures. The medieval church and Tudor merchant’s house are also of considerable interest.

NEWS – Global Chinese Histories 250-1650

Birmingham’s Professor Naomi Standen has joined the Editorial Board for Global Chinese Histories 250-1650. 

Global Chinese Histories 250-1650
The editors’ interest extends to books that analyze historical changes to the meaning and geography of sovereignty in the Chinese territories and consider Chinese participation in the complex interchanges of the wider Afro-Eurasian world.
The series editor is Prof Hilde de Weerdt, Leiden University

NEWS – Kitan Workshop at Yale University

Naomi STANDEN, Lance PURSEY and XUE Chen will be attending a 9-day workshop at Yale in May that will offer a crash course to a group of academics and PhD students, teaching them what is currently known of the two scripts used to write the Kitan language. This is the language that was spoken by the rulers of the Liao dynasty (907-1125) in the region running from Beijing north and west across Mongolia. There are currently about 30 inscriptions written in one or other of these two scripts, and more are being excavated all the time. Neither script has yet been completely deciphered. The workshop is being organised and sponsored by Professor Valerie Hansen at Yale and Professor François Louis at Bard College, with air fares kindly funded by SHaC. Lance and Chen will both benefit from being able to use Kitan inscriptions in their PhD work, and Birmingham will become, overnight, an international centre for people who have some beginners’ understanding of how we might decipher Kitan!

“Classes in Persian: The Account of a Masters Student”

سلام حال شما چطور؟

(Hello, how are you?)

persian This semester has been an exciting one for those of us students interested in the rich history of Iran and the Persianate world. Following on from student interest, Drs Arezou Azad and Narges Mahpeykar began work to create a Persian language enrichment module and I was fortunate enough to be privy to the fruits of their labour. As someone who has only relatively recently developed an interest in Iran, this new module has offered insights, both linguistic and cultural, that really help to bring the historical study of the region to life.
The teaching for the module has been interactive, insightful and – dare I say it – genuinely a lot of fun. When learning a new language, especially one making use of an alternate alphabet to one’s mother tongue, you really need a teacher with a deft take on making things memorable. We are indeed fortunate to have found one. Lessons often take a practical approach, activities and language games make this module into an encouraging environment to learn, where the whiteboard is not the be-all and end-all. It is also the first time in my life where being left-handed is a genuine advantage!
Dr. Mahpeykar is also knowledgeable on different iterations on the language, which is especially helpful for someone like me who is predominantly interested in medieval Iran. However, the course has attracted students from many different historical backgrounds, and you can just as easily find modern and ancient history students amongst the medieval mix. Many of us are looking to simply broaden our historical horizons, but there is a sense of practical application within the lessons; some are looking to use the support provided by Dr Mahpeykar to potentially inform their postgraduate decisions. I hope to eventually complete a PhD myself, and I cannot deny the allure of medieval and early modern Iran which this module has come to foster in me.
This opportunity has been made available to us due to the generous contributions of CeSMA and the University of Birmingham. I cannot stress enough how profoundly reassuring it is to not only be able to pursue these interests in a political climate which denigrates expenditures in the Arts and Humanities, but also to have such interests taken into consideration and acted upon by the staff of my department. I speak for all the students of the module when I say متشکرم! (Thank you!)


Dr Narges Mahpeykar, Instructor of Persian level 1:


This spring I had the pleasure to teach Persian at University of Birmingham. I had a wonderful experience teaching students from different language backgrounds and with profound interests in Persian history and culture. The students’ enthusiasm and desire to learn the language despite having other academic commitments was very rewarding. I am truly glad to have been part of this experience!

This module will run as a for-credit option in History from the next academic year. Last semester, it was non-credit option while running as a pilot. The positive reviews and active participation by the students certainly proves that the pilot has succeeded and we look forward to expanding this further.