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??



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 (m.small@bham.ac.uk) 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).

News: Daniel White at the Edinburgh War Through Other Stuff Conference

I’m delivering a paper at the War Through Other Stuff (WTOS) conference at the University of Edinburgh on the 22nd February. WTOS is an interdisciplinary conference focusing on ‘alternative histories of conflict’. As opposed to looking at war in the traditional, military-historical sense, the papers being presented are focused on the ‘other stuff’ of conflict, a whole swathe of topics from ‘the impact of conflict on cultural and social life’, to the role of non-combatants in conflict. My paper explores the evidence for peace-making women in medieval Icelandic feud. While more literary minded scholars such as Jóhanna Friðriksdóttir have already stated the claim of the pacific woman in medieval Icelandic society, such arguments are premised on an approach to the Icelandic sagas as literary works. Due to the fact that I hold to Mikhail Steblin-Kamenskij’s theory on the nature of the sagas (i.e. that they were considered as “true” records of the past under the definition of truth held to by those writing them) meaning that I do not agree with the methodology of the literary scholar with reference to these texts. Over the course of my paper, I show that it is possible to make the case for the peace-making woman in medieval Iceland while considering the sagas as “true”, rather than fitting them into the ill-fitting modern category of literature.

Daniel White
MA Medieval Studies

News: Birmingham’s Steve Walker to present on ‘Problems of Identity in Early Medieval Britain’ at CCASNAC 2017

Steve Walker has been invited to present a paper at the CCASNC (Cambridge Colloquium for Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic) Conference 2017.

The conference will be held at Wolfson College, Cambridge, on 11th February.

The theme is ‘Identity and Ideology’ and my paper is entitled ‘Who Do We Think They Were?  Problems of Identity in Early Medieval Britain‘.  Steve’s paper will examine at how modern nationalist ideologies inform and influence our reading of early medieval writers such as Bede and Gildas and risk distorting our view of fifth- and sixth-century British history.

Steve is a distance-learning PhD, so if you are a Birmingham PhD who’s also travelling to CCASNC do introduce yourselves!

CeSMA afield: Troubling Europe

CeSMA’s own Naomi Standen is off to Fernuniversität Hagen in Germany next week to provide some much-needed global context at the conference “Troubling Europe: Connecting Contested Pasts from ‘Rome’ to ‘Europa’” run by  Felicitas Schmieder, Univ. of Hagen and  Elizabeth Tyler, Univ. of York:

Cultural memory, including memories of the medieval past, has been important for creating national identities for at least two hundred years. This project shifts the focus to Europe to pursue the subject of medieval narratives of community which extend beyond peoples, kingdoms and nations (such as being descendants of the Trojans) and how we study those narratives in the context of contemporary Europe. The aim is to contribute to research on European identity in the Middle Ages, while also interrogating the contemporary politics which drives an interest in a specifically European past. We are interested in interrogating the tension between a small, exclusive Europe and a wide, hegemonic one, in confronting issues of Eurocentrism and in opening up the complexities and contradictions involved in the misfit between medieval and modern ideas of Europe. We encourage research on modern narratives of Europe and on medieval narratives of communities; already established research on national narratives will provide us with methodology and possible starting points but will not be in the core of our interest. This project will involve an integration of basic research with public outreach and impact. We also aim to apply for a COST action on the subject of medieval Europe.

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)