Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Sin and Filth

Dr Debby Banham writes:

Congratulations to ASNC alumna Martha Bayless on the publication of her book, Sin and Filth in Medieval Culture: The Devil in the Latrine. This book represents the culmination of a major research project into concepts of bodily corruption in the middle ages, which has taken Prof. Bayless into some of the most obscure recesses of medieval culture. Among many anecdotes collected in the course of the project, probably the incident most dear to ASNC hearts will be the man possessed by the Devil, who farted at the relics of Aldhelm. Why else would anyone do that? In fact, this is an instance of a fairly common motif of people farting at the relics of saints, and needless to say, it did them no good. To find out more, buy the book!

The relevance of the book's subtitle is brought home by an incident in Ekkehard of St Gall's Casus Sancti Galli. Ekkehart relates how Ruodman, the abbot of the nearby monastery of Reichenau (972-986), attempted to catch the monks of St. Gall in the commission of sin by sneaking in the monastery late at night and hiding in the latrines. One of the monks heard him and woke others, and they processed to the latrine and scornfully offered him a lantern and a twist of straw - the two items necessary for legitimate use of the latrine. Anecdotes like these are set in the context of medieval thinking about dirt, contamination and decay, both physical and spiritual.

Here is what the publishers say about the book:
This important new contribution to the history of the body analyzes the role of filth as the material counterpart of sin in medieval thought. Using a wide range of texts, including theology, historical documents, and literature from Augustine to Chaucer, the book shows how filth was regarded as fundamental to an understanding of human history. This theological significance explains the prominence of filth and dung in all genres of medieval writing: there is more dung in theology than there is in Chaucer. The author also demonstrates the ways in which the religious understanding of filth and sin influenced the secular world, from town planning to the execution of traitors. As part of this investigation the book looks at the symbolic order of the body and the ways in which the different aspects of the body were assigned moral meanings. The book also lays out the realities of medieval sanitation, providing the first comprehensive view of real- life attempts to cope with filth. This book will be essential reading for those interested in medieval religious thought, literature, amd social history. Filled with a wealth of entertaining examples, it will also appeal to those who simply want to glimpse the medieval world as it really was.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Seachtain na Gaeilge, Cambridge, 5 - 17 March 2012

Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson announces a series of public events, exhibitions and lectures, celebrating Irish in Cambridge:

5 MARCH (Monday, 5pm):  Irish Poetry Reading, Biddy Jenkinson
Seachtain na Gaeilge will open with a reading by the Irish poet Biddy Jenkinson, who has been praised by Professor Ciaran Carson (Queen’s College, Belfast) as ‘one of [Ireland’s] greatest writers in any language’. Ms Jenkinson will introduce the background and content of each poem in English.  The poems will be read in Irish.  The Poetry Reading will take place in the English Faculty (9 West Road) in Room G-R05.  A wine reception will follow in the ASNC Common Room.  The reading is free of charge and open to students, staff and the general public.
Biddy Jenkinson brings a distinctive style and purpose to her writing, and her highly regarded collections of verse include Baisteadh Gintlí (1987), Uiscí Beatha (1988), Dán na hUidhre (1991), An Grá Riabhach (1999), Mis (2001), Rogha Dánta (2000) and Oíche Bhealtaine (2005).  She is also the author of prose works, including An tAthair Pádraig Ó DuinnínBleachtaire (2008).  

8 MARCH (Thursday, 5.30pm):  Dánta agus Ceol ‘Poems and Music’ / Irish films
Modern Irish language students will present Irish poems and traditional Irish songs in the ASNC Common Room (2nd floor, English Faculty, West Road). 
The performance will be followed by a showing of the short Irish film Lipservice and the RTE documentary Oileán Eile ‘Another Island’ (1985), which presents the literary and cultural legacy of the Great Blasket Islands through archive footage of daily life, an examination of the island autobiographies (Tomás Ó Criomhthainn’s An tOileánach and The Autobiography of Peig Sayers) and accounts by well-known scholars who visited the island, including Robin Flower, Carl Marstrander, Kenneth Jackson and George Thompson.

 The Blasket Islands

13 MARCH (Tuesday, 1-3pm):  Exhibition of Irish and Irish related manuscripts, Parker Library, Corpus Christi College (*Registration required)
More than thirty items of Irish interest from the Parker Library’s world renowned collection will be on display. Students, staff and members of the public are invited to register for a guided viewing of these exquisite examples of Irish insular art, decorated initials, glossaries, saints’ lives, prophesies, chronicles and charters dating from the 8th to the 16th century.  Highlights of the exhibit include the Hymn on St. Patrick attributed to Saint Secundias (Seachnall) or Saint Colmán Elo, the only extant copy of the canons of the ‘First Synod of Patrick’, the first European description of a giraffe (written by an Irish monk!), one of the earliest maps of Ireland, and the first printed piece of Irish anywhere in the world: the bardic poem Tuar feirge foighide Dé, composed by Philip Bocht Ó hUiginn in 1571. Two tours (1-2pm and 2-3pm) will be conducted on 13 March.  To register please contact Dr Denis Casey: dc399@cam.ac.uk
The Parker Library exhibit has been organized by Dr Denis Casey, Teaching Associate in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and Postdoctoral Fellow of the Society for Renaissance Studies, and Dr Christopher de Hamel, Donnelly Fellow Librarian at the ParkerLibrary

The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
picture courtesy of the Parker librarians

15 MARCH (Thursday, 5pm):  Public Lecture: 'H.M. Chadwick: A Centennial Commemoration'
Professor Michael Lapidge, Fellow of Clare College, will deliver the 23rd Annual H. M. Chadwick Memorial Lecture in the Riley Auditorium, Gillespie Building (off Memorial Court), Clare College, Queen's Road, Cambridge.  The lecture will be followed by a reception in Clare College at 6pm.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

AHRC awards money for skills training in Viking Studies

The Arts & Humanities Research Council has awarded a grant of £45,000 to the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham and the Highlands and Islands for a skills training programme for PhD students and Early Career Researchers in the field of  Old Norse-Icelandic and Viking Studies: Extending Academic Research about the Viking Diaspora and its Heritage in the British Isles.

This project addresses the skills gap in the AHRC's strategic area of Heritage and engages with the emerging theme of Translating Cultures. It comprises a preparatory workshop bringing together academics, young scholars and heritage professionals, followed by a field school in Orkney, providing hands-on experience of a heritage landscape.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Call for Papers: Transmission, Translation and Dissemination in the European Middle Ages, 1000 - 1500

Closing date for proposals: 31st March 2012

Transmission, Translation and Dissemination in the European Middle Ages, 10001500 AD
University College Cork, Ireland
28th – 29th September 2012

The Forum for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Ireland, in association with Dr Elizabeth Boyle, University of Cambridge, are delighted to announce a forthcoming conference. 

Transmission, Translation and Dissemination in the European Middle Ages, 10001500 AD, is an interdisciplinary, international, two-day conference to be held at University College Cork on 28–29 September 2012. This conference will explore the issues of textual transmission and the movement of ideas across medieval Europe. Indeed, going beyond consideration of literary texts alone, the scope of discussions will include the transmission of images, music, scientific learning, and related areas.

Keynote addresses will be given by Dr Caoimhín Breatnach, School of Irish, Celtic Studies, Irish Folklore and Linguistics, University College Dublin, on the transmission of Latin religious texts in Ireland c. 1000 - 1500; and Dr Anthony Lappin, School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures, University of Manchester, on Alchoran latinus and growing knowledge of Islam in the twelfth century.

Proposals (max. 250 words) are welcome from researchers in all areas of medieval studies. Papers should last c. 30 minutes (plus time for questions and discussion). We also welcome proposals from postgraduate students for shorter papers (c. 20 minutes plus questions). A small number of postgraduate bursaries may be available.

Proposals for papers should be emailed to: medrenforum@gmail.com no later than 31 March 2012. Registration details to follow. The call for papers is available as a PDF at this link.

This conference is being organised by the Forum for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Ireland in association with University College Cork and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, University of Cambridge. The conference is generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the School of History, and the School of English, University College Cork.

Organizing committee:
Dr Elizabeth Boyle (University of Cambridge)
Dr Ann Buckley (Trinity College Dublin)
Dr Carrie Griffin (Queen Mary, University of London / University College Cork)
Ms Emer Purcell M.Phil. (University College Cork)

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

In search of Carn Droma: exploring the boundaries between Picts and Gaels

Philip Dunshea writes:

‘Reconnaissance walking’ is seen by modern archaeologists as a preliminary technique before proper field-surveying gets under way: a fairly casual way of assessing whether a site is worth investigating. But for much of the twentieth century it was a big part of the business for many medievalists. The list of the great walkers is a long one but honourable mention must go to O.G.S. Crawford and Margaret Gelling

Gelling, a toponymist who eventually became president of the English Place-Name Society, spent countless hours bush-whacking across woodlands and fields, tracking contour lines and fluvial patterns, all in an effort to make herself as familiar with the intricacies of the English landscape as her beloved Anglo-Saxons must have been. Crawford, meanwhile, was wrapped up in what he believed was a personal crusade to survey and catalogue Britain’s heritage before it was swept away forever by modernity. Crawford knew that history and maps were inseparable, and as the Ordnance Survey’s first History Officer, he was well placed to follow this conviction. One of his lasting contributions to archaeology was in pioneering the use of aerial photography.  To both Gelling and Crawford the legacy of the past (pre-historic, Roman and medieval) was there to be read in the landscape.

Over the last few decades, in common with every other academic discipline, early-medieval archaeology and early-medieval history have become so specialised in their own right that it’s now almost impossible to maintain an expert presence in both fields.  Nowadays most historians in the ASNC line of work restrict themselves to libraries, largely because they’re dependent on work by philologists and other people who know more about the source-texts than they do. Archaeologists (or the dwindling cohort of archaeologists who don’t yet work in laboratories) have the great outdoors to themselves.   

This seems neither fair nor justified. In the early medieval period the lie of the land must have had a vastly greater impact on day-to-day life than it does for us today. In many ways the texts studied by ASNaCs are just as rooted in the physical environment as any material remains, and this was brought home by some recent work I’ve been doing on the early-medieval significance of Scotland’s watershed divide.  The research was all supposed to be focussed on a topographical feature called Druim Alban (the ‘Ridge’ or the ‘Spine of Alba’) which was understood to mark the frontier between the Picts (in the east) and the Scots of Dál Riata (in the west). In all contexts it is clear that the term refers to a mountain range – but which one?

Druim Alban (photo credit: Philip Dunshea)