Our first MEMSA speaker of Easter term is Marcus Meer (Centre for Visual Arts and Culture), who will present ‘The Visuality and Spatiality of Heraldic Conflict in Late Medieval Augsburg’. This seminar will take place on Tuesday, 26 April at 6 pm in the World Heritage Visitors Centre. We discussed his research and latest adventures:
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
I’m originally from Germany, which is where I did my undergraduate degree in history and linguistics at Bielefeld University. Somehow I became more and more interested in medieval history, and suddenly I was doing a masters in medieval history at Oxford. The year after I was working as a research assistant at Münster University, Germany, but I soon felt like coming back to the UK.
What brought you to Durham?
It was a coincidence, really. I was reading a paper by Christian Liddy I really liked, and I was looking for more of his publications online. Then I found his profile on the Durham website, where the sidebar advertised Ph.D. scholarships for visual culture. So I thought, Why not give it a try and apply?
What do you love most about the medieval period?
I think the most interesting thing about the medieval period is its reception in the present. At the same time, it is referred to as a gruesome time what we have sort of overcome through a triumph of reason, or, whenever it suits the argument, it is referred to as the cradle of our Western culture. When I look at medieval sources, the actions and thoughts of medieval people are usually neither fully foreign nor familiar to me, but I enjoy trying to understand them, and the ways in which medieval people tried to communicate them.
What does your research focus on?
My Ph.D. research investigates and compares the use of heraldry as a means of visual communication in the medieval cities of England and Germany. Although heraldry was a ubiquitous element of medieval urban visual culture, it still tends to be seen as an aristocratic phenomenon, while heraldic display in cities remains underexplored.
What led you to your area of interest?
Again, it was quite a coincidence. I was interested in urban history for quite a while, and I came across a history paper which looked at the ‘diary’ of a medieval merchant from Cologne. Part of this diary was also a history of the family, which the merchant explained alongside the development of the family’s coat of arms. It struck me that the historian did not really discuss the use of heraldry in the historiographical argument, and that apparently townspeople were very fond of these signs.
What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?
I want to discuss the relation of heraldry and urban space. I will be looking at sources from mid-fifteenth to early sixteenth-century Augsburg, in which the display of heraldic signs of the commune within the space of the bishop became a matter of conflict. Heraldic signs were perceived as expressions of the affiliation and legal quality of spaces; and they were perceived and employed to claim and contest urban space.
If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
Scary! I’ve always enjoyed organising things and for some reason I find paperwork quite soothing, so perhaps I could do something like conferencing and event management?
Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?
I prefer any town chronicle because they appear so eclectic in terms of their contents. I think they are a great source to look at the things that mattered to medieval chroniclers, in particular things that they thought were noteworthy – so basically anything from urban politics, economic records, and accounts of revolts, to a horse that was hauled up the town hall to have an inside joust and ‘impress the ladies’.
Join us for Marcus’s seminar this Tuesday at 6 pm in the World Heritage Visitors Centre at 7 Owengate. Come out for tea and biscuits at 5:40 pm, and then tune in for the seminar at 6 pm. All are welcome.