‘In the Beginning’: The London Medieval Graduate Network Inaugural Conference

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‘In the Beginning’: The London Medieval Graduate Network Inaugural Conference

2nd November 2012, King’s College London

Rachel Scott, PhD Student (Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies King’s College London)

Medievalists.net is grateful to Rachel Scott for providing a terrific summary of the one day Inaugural Conference of the London Medieval Graduate Network held on November 2nd at King’s College London. 

The London Medieval Graduate Network was founded by members of King’s College London and University College London as a means of promoting conversation and collaboration among medievalists in London and the surrounding area.  Kindly sponsored by the Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies at King’s and the UCL Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies, the inaugural conference chose the theme of ‘Beginnings’.  It brought together 10 graduates and early career scholars based largely in London and working in the broad field of Medieval Studies and concluded with a round table and discussion with Professor Adrian Armstrong (QMUL), Joshua Davies (KCL), and Professor Richard North (UCL).

The range and diversity of papers was a testament to the vibrant community of graduate and early career scholars of medieval studies in London and the surrounding area.  The day’s papers consistently both engaged with established tradition and laid out new and innovative ways of dealing with the often problematic topic of beginnings.  Discussion and questions were vibrant; and the roundtable session at the end of the day brought together scholars in conversation on topics from Beowulf’s juxtaposition of beginnings and endings, to the origin myths associated with the establishment of an English monastery, and the lost manuscript of a late medieval French text

Papers dealt with subject areas and disciplines as wide as classics, art history, philosophy, the romance languages, the materiality of the text, English, and history, and dealt with the following topics:

  •  the relationship between endings and beginnings in the textual representation of Saint Swithun’s life, and the recreation or reinvention of saintliness within the context of architectural and cultural transitions from Anglo-Saxon to Norman.
  • the representation of Chaucer as the ‘first founder’ of English poetry in prefaces to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century printed editions of his works by William Caxton, examining the creation-narrative rhetoric with which Chaucer and his works are discussed in the context of linguistic change and innovation, and whether we can view these prefaces as the initiation of a mode of literary criticism.
  • the role of language in the writings of 5th century Latin poet Sedulius, revealing how vulgate and Old Latin biblical sources were used in the Latin-speaking world, and how the Gospels were revised gradually rather than being abruptly replaced by Jerome’s vulgate.
  • the origins of received history of British Roman towns via Gildas’ De Excidio Britanniae, Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s De Gestis Brittonum, specifically the mixing of scriptural precedents with mythologies of English origins and the way in which this was then translated into the new medium of the vernacular.
  • the philosophical issue of whether absolute generation is possible, whether a thing can truly come into being from nothing, via consideration of Aristotle’s De generatione et corruptione, the pre-socratic philosopher Parmenides, and Aquinas’ commentaries on them both.
  • the development of a wholly new Bolognese style in manuscripts associated with William de Brailes, which looks back to law books produced in Bologna in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.
  • the three beginnings of the Encomium Emmae Reginae – image, prologue, and argument – which each direct readers to consider the text in a specific yet differing manner; and yet how the multiplicity of origins undermines the writer’s ability to proscribe the readers’ experience in any one way.
  • the fact that a return to any one point of origin is a fallacy: beginnings of texts are many and multiple – human and animal – and they should instead be seen as palimpsests, the representation of a dynamic manifestation of processes of recycling.
  • the representation of human craftsmanship and the Bible in the riddles of the Exeter Book, situating the text within the contemporary culture of scribal praise and anxiety about the way man has obtained and exploited the natural world and potentially challenged the creative powers of God.
  • the post-Babel fall of vernacular languages and the medieval attempt to return to the linguistic state of unity via lyric poetry, positing that this form was able to bring languages together in a way religious writings could not.

Watch this space for details of next year’s event!

For more information – please contact: londonmedgradnetwork@gmail.com

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Sharan Newman