CeSMA at Kalamazoo: Cross-Cultural Studies of the Book

Birmingham CeSMA, in conjunction with the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign, sponsored a panel at Kalamazoo this year on ‘Cross Cultural Studies of the Book’ which meant little old me, your friendly neighbourhood web editor, took my research stateside for the first time (and braved my first transatlantic flight) to make some friends in the ‘Zoo across the pond.

Having heard some rumours about the on-campus accommodation, which many of my colleagues were resolutely enjoying with a sense of festive cameraderie, I settled myself in the Holiday Inn and hoped that jetlag wouldn’t be too bad.

The campus of WMU (Western Michigan University) was beautiful, and we were blessed with amazing weather (should have brought suncream), and the conference has an impressive infrastructure that includes regular shuttle-buses that run between the different hotels and the different buildings of campus. I didn’t get lost once, either, which is more than I can say about my various times at the Leeds IMC where, on entering the union building, I always seem to open doors to find something different behind them from what I expected.

The intrepid presenter, trying not to look too jetlagged, or too nervous pre-paper. 

CeSMA’s panel was on the Friday, the third day of the conference, and by then I was feeling like a true American. I’d got a little more used to the timezone, and waking extra early was making me feel very virtuous and productive.


Our panel began with Carol Symes from the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign giving a paper on ‘Before and beyond the King’s Book: Reading the Material Remains of the Domesday Survey’. Carol’s paper was a fascinating look not just into the Domesday book and how it was compiled, but also into our own (mis, sometimes)conceptions of how it came about.

I was up next, with my paper on everyone’s favourite (and by far the best) saint, Saint Margaret of Scotland, ‘English Books at a Scottish Court: The Books of Saint Margaret of Scotland (d. 1093)’. In my paper, I argued that these books were essential artefacts for understanding the roles that foreign queens were expected – and indeed needed – to play at the courts they married into. Carol very kindly invited me to publish this in her journal, The Medieval Globe, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Our final panellist was Sean Winslow of the University of Toronto. There had been a bit of shuffling around, and some panellists unable to attend, so Carol and I invited Sean to join our panel, which was not without controversy! Sean was speaking on ‘The Ethiopian Book between Christendom and Islam’, and this raised some interesting issues about framing a cross-cultural panel and considering the book as a global object. For Carol and me, making northern European Latin-based medieval studies globally-focussed and outlooking is an essential issue, and the panel was a great opportunity to develop an outward-looking conceptual framework for future work.

Much better than plastic cups

The conference was just as rich in extra-curriculars as it was in academic papers. Aside from the famous disco, there was ‘wine hour’ every day which provided an excellent opportunity for catching up with friends and colleagues from around the world, some excellent stalls to tempt us, and activities of every kind.


I had a wonderful time at Kalamazoo, and it was brilliant to connect Birmingham’s CeSMA with the medieval studies work going on at the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign. It’s worth the jetlag, and the fact that you have to ride the airport train past Trump Tower to get to Chicago central train station and on to Kalamazoo. I’m sure this is the beginning of a long and beautiful transatlantic partnership of scholars.



Claire Harrill

University of Birmingham

CeSMA Web Editor

International traveller??



EMREM Summer Trip to Ludlow Castle

Every year, the EMREM Forum, a student-run interdisciplinary research group covering the early medieval to the early modern, runs a historical summer trip. This year, it was to Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, and it featured history, scones and the Bindery Shop where they make replica early modern prints and bindings.

The construction of the castle began in the eleventh century, as the border stronghold of Roger De Lacy, a Marcher Lord. In the fourteenth century Roger Mortimer enlarged the castle into a palace, and the site was later involved in the War of the Roses, under the ownership of Richard, Duke of York. Edward IV sent the ‘Princes in the Tower’ to live in the castle, which was also the seat of government for Wales and the Border Counties. In 1501 Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon honeymooned there, and Mary Tudor spent three winters at Ludlow between 1525 and 1528. The Welsh Fusiliers were founded at the castle in 1689.
(Historical blurb by Georgie Fitzgibbon of the EMREM Committe)

The saintly ladies of the Teutonic knights

Photo 1
The interior of a 14th C. reliquary comissioned by the Teutonic commander of Elblag (Poland), Thiele von Lorich. The reliquary contains particles of numerous relics, including relics of female martyr saints. 

One of the most common misconceptions regarding the religiosity of the knights of the military orders is that they were involved in the promotion of the cults of military saints such as St Theodore, St Demetrius, St Maurice, Sts Sergius and Bacchus, and, above all, St George. The association between Templar, Hospitaller or Teutonic knights and military saints such as St George seems natural today but, surprisingly, it does not reflect medieval devotions. Except for a few statues and frescoes preserved in peripheral locations, there is little evidence that the military saints were the favourite patrons of the Military Orders. On the contrary, it seems that they inspired only limited veneration. For example the birth place of St. George in Lydda in the kingdom of Jerusalem (modern Israel), did not attract veneration from the Templars and the Hospitallers even though it was one of the major, pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land. The reason for their limited popularity is that the military saints were elevated to sainthood because of their refusal to participate in warfare which made them unsuitable to serve as examples for the knights in Military Orders who were expected to fight and kill, albeit in defence of Christians. The messages conveyed by the lives of the military saints who rejected bloodshed could not serve as guidance and inspiration to knights guarding the crusader states.


Photo 3.jpg
A close-up of the exterior of the reliquary showing a kneeling Teutonic knight wearing a white mantle of the order with a cross and praying to St Mary and Infant Christa 

The evidence from Teutonic Prussia suggests that a group of saints that were deemed more suitable to serve as patron saints of the Military Orders were women such as St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Barbara. As female martyrs who suffered death because of their faith, they possessed several qualities, well understood in medieval European visual culture, which made them suitable candidates as patrons and protectors of male communities of knights. These saints were chaste, they had dedicated their virginity to Christ, just like the Military Orders who professed sexual abstinence and had themselves sacrificed both marriage and parenthood. They too found themselves in peril in a non-Christian world that required bravery and fortitude to resist pagan suitors, incarceration and torture. More loosely, the eastern associations of St Barbara and St Catherine, a Greek saint, were a clear reference to the Orders’ Levantine origins and duties. Furthermore, female virtues of patience, modesty and humility, though unattractive for secular knights, were also something to aspire to in a military male community. Another important factor was that, almost without exception, female martyr saints came from noble families, St. Catherine in particular is described as a sovereign queen and her protection could be read as an affirmation of the wealth and nobility of the devotee.


Photo 4.jpg
The central panel of the late 14th C, mail altar of the Teutonic castle chapel in Grudziadz (Poland) showing St Catherine, visible on the right holding a sword and her wheel, and St Barbara, visible on the lest holding the tower in which she was imprisoned and a palm of martyrdom.

Female martyrs were always depicted at the peak of the ‘curve of life’ according to Aristotelian conceptions of the ‘Ages of Man’ that was so popular in later medieval convention. Always young, wealthy and beautiful they represented an idealised femininity and, in a sense, they offered a spiritual alternative to real ladies of court, a counterpart to the idealised secular knight. Knights of the Military Orders did not fight in tournaments to win the favour of the ladies of the court. In their prayers, Templars, Hospitallers and the Teutonic knights may not have wished to emulate the deeds of St. George or St. Maurice but, if the art they commissioned is to be believed, they might have hoped that their life of service will please one of their saintly female patrons: St. Catherine, St, Barbara, St Dorothy, St. Margaret of Antioch and others.

Blog of the Week: Medieval Midlands Blog

Medieval Midlands: New Online Hub for Medievalists in the Midlands


The Background

In late 2013, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) announced that from 2014 it would be directing its postgraduate funding into regional Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs). In reaction to this scheme, the three cities of Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham united to form the Midlands3Cities consortium which, since its creation, has been aiming to inspire increased collaboration between the six universities it encompasses:

  • The University of Birmingham (UoB)
  • Birmingham City University (BCU)
  • The University of Leicester (UoL)
  • De Montfort University, Leicester (DMU)
  • The University of Nottingham (UoN)
  • Nottingham Trent University (NTU)

Realising the huge potential this consortium holds for medievalists in the Midlands, several postgraduate (PG) students and early career researchers (ECRs) decided to set up a website to unite medievalists from across the three cities.

The website launched in January 2015 and has been publicising medieval news and events taking place in the Midlands ever since!

The Project

Medieval Midlands is an online hub linking the research activities of medieval staff and students in Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham. The site is maintained by an editing team of PGs and ECRs from across the consortium:

Main editor: Emma Vosper (UoN)

Editing team: Morn Capper (UoL); Martin Findell (UoL); Matthew Hefferan (UoN); Cassie Hunter (DMU); Jonathan Jarrett (Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham); Steve Ling (UoL); and Dan Reynolds (UoB).

What’s on the website?

  • An up-to-date calendar of events detailing lectures, seminars, conferences and PG events taking place in the Midlands. If you know of an event that should be included please email Emma at ahxev@nottingham.ac.uk.
  • A list of staff working in the field of medieval studies at each of the six universities.
  • A page for PGs to find out about training events and reading/ research groups based in the three cities.
  • Blog posts on all the latest medieval happenings in the Midlands!



The Future

We’re always looking for new content so if you have an idea for a future blog post, have a project taking place in the Midlands soon, or you’re interested in joining the Medieval Midlands editing team please contact Emma Vosper at ahxev@nottingham.ac.uk.

In the next few weeks we’ll be posting:

  • A review of the Midlands Viking Symposium 2015 (which this year was held at the University of Leicester), by Aya Van Renterghem (UoN)
  • A beginner’s guide to Kalamazoo, by Tom Rochester (UoB)
  • A review of Prof Faith Wallis’ seminar on ‘The Heresies of Scholars in Bede’s Commentary on the Book of Proverbs’ (held by the Heresy and Dissent Research Network, UoN) on 6 May 2015.
  • A breakdown of what happened at the first Three Minute Thesis competition held by the Institute for Medieval Research (UoN) on 27 May 2015.

Keep up-to-date with the latest developments by following us on Twitter (@med_midlands) and finding us on Facebook!