Past Research Themes

Across AY 2022-2023, CMEMS hosted a series of workshops and other events on the theme of embodiment. Why embodiment?

With this theme, we stand at the convergence of recent trends that consider primary sources as the past materialized in an object, and that examine the sensory, spatial, and political dimensions of premodern bodies. As an interdisciplinary workgroup, we see the embodiment of the past through a variety of material forms – as embodied in artifacts, mediated by sources, or retrievable from the historical record through scholarly examination. Inquiry into embodiment engages the fundamental tensions of material form and concepts, structure and unwieldiness, and the long-scrutinized legacy of mind/body ontology.

The theme of embodiment has a contemporary urgency for us, as we consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and upheavals as people around the world have protested the inequities that accompany the enforcement of racialized and gendered readings of bodies. It also resonates strongly with the forced displacement of peoples around the globe owing to famine, war, and other threats, and the policies that states enforce about such migrating bodies. Medievalists and early modernists have weighed in on the conversation through their scholarship in recent publications such as Geraldine Heng’s Invention of Race in Medieval Europe or Leah DeVun’s Shape of Sex. 

Today, CMEMS contributes to this discussion through the Embodiment workshop series. In Fall Quarter 2022, the series has so far included the following Wednesday lunchtime workshops: Timo Felber's "Fear in German Literature of the Middle Ages. Embodiment and Coping Strategies," Rachel Midura's "Trustworthy Messengers: Postmastery and the Invention of Public Privacy," Charles West's "Off-Balance History: Rethinking Europe in the Eleventh Century," and Jane Gilbert's "Rhythm and History, on the Page: The Liber Floridus (Ghent, University Library, MS 92)." CMEMS is also co-sponsoring the “Making History with Manuscripts in Medieval Europe” publication workshop (November 15-16), which takes up the thread of embodiment by asking authors to elucidate how manuscripts offer material realizations of conceptions of history, for instance through compilation or through layout. 

The Embodiment series will continue across 2023. Wednesday lunchtime workshops will include Björn Buschbeck discussing “Narrative Expectations in Middle High German Bridal Quest Epics,” Cynthia Valle-Giancotti speaking on representations of old age and of youth in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and Joe Amato’s paper “Savonarola's Kiss: Celebrating Epiphany in Florence, 1498” in Winter Quarter, as well as, in Spring, Maria Terss’s on glory in the context of Byzantine iconoclasm and Jenna Phillips’s on “Bruised Knights: Crusade Veterans at the tournament in thirteenth-century Artois.” In Spring Quarter 2023, CMEMS will host its annual Primary Source Symposium on “Embodied Histories.” For the Symposium, CMEMS seeks papers that engage with this year’s theme of “embodiment” through close analysis of medieval or early modern primary sources, whether music or architecture, text or image, or other objects.