Interview with Peter Brown

Join us this Tuesday for our next MEMSA seminar, which will feature Peter Brown (Department of Archaeology) presenting ‘The Extreme Windstorm of A.D. 1362: Contemporary Perceptions and Responses’. The seminar will take place at the World Heritage Visitors Centre at 6 pm. We interviewed Peter about medieval windstorms, his latest adventures, and more:

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Edinburgh, U.K., and I’m in the second year of study for my Ph.D. in the Archaeology Department here at Durham. I’ve been here since my undergraduate, having completed my Masters at the end of 2014.

What brought you to Durham?

I was won over at the Undergraduate Open Day and got sucked in.

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

As an archaeologist, I am particularly interested in the medieval period because (in the UK anyway) it is really the first time that the archaeological record is accompanied by a detailed documentary record. This makes the interpretations we can make of archaeological material more nuanced than would be possible in pre- or proto-historic periods.

What does your research focus on?

My research looks at how medieval society, mainly in Britain, coped with natural disasters – particularly floods, storms and other forms of bad weather. I follow an interdisciplinary approach using archaeological and historical sources to research the topic.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

My seminar looks at an extreme windstorm which occurred in January 1362 in the south of England using documentary as well as structural evidence to reconstruct how this event impacted medieval society. In particular I’ll look at how people reacted in the short term, what they thought about the occurrence of such a high magnitude storm, and how the event was remembered in the years that followed.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I’m not too sure. I do fancy living abroad for a few years to escape Britain’s bad weather, so maybe I would live somewhere sunny?

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

At the moment it’s the Chronicle of Anonymous of Canterbury, which not only provides some very useful information for my seminar, but is also written by somebody with some very clear theological views that really shine through in the way he recounts events.

Peter’s seminar will take place this Tuesday at 6 pm. We’ll provide tea and biscuits from 5:40 pm, with the seminar starting at 6 pm. Check out our other seminars here. All are welcome.

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Interview with Catherine Ellis

Our next MEMSA speaker is Catherine Ellis (Department of Modern Languages and Culture). Catherine will present ‘Who’s Eating Who? Consumption and Control in the Ideal Eighteenth Century Brothel’ on Tuesday, 10 May at 6 pm at the Durham World Heritage Visitors Centre. In our interview, we discuss libertines, sex, great art, and more:

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Rochester, a former Dickensian heartland now famous for a brief flirtation with UKIP. I was born in Chatham, in a former Victorian workhouse, which explains my love of second helpings at dinner and sing-alongs in pubs, and my morbid fear of pitbull terriers.

What brought you to Durham?

I first came to Durham in 2009 to do my BA in French and German, during which time I was taught by my current supervisor and introduced to the wonders of eighteenth-century French literature. Before that happened, I was resolutely opposed to studying anything pre-Zola, but the allure of pornography, satire, and evil libertines was just too much to resist. I went to Oxford for my Masters, but Durham drew me back with its natural beauty and its excellent French department. After spending so many years in the North East, living anywhere that doesn’t have birdsong, good markets, and affordable beer is now simply unthinkable.

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

I’ve a huge soft spot for Rococo art. Give me a day at the Wallace Collection to stare at the Fragonards and the Bouchers and I’ll be a happy woman. I am also grateful to the early modern period for giving me the gifts of tea and coffee culture, without which I would not function as a human being.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on literal and metaphorical moments of ingestion in texts depicting sex work in mid- to late-eighteenth century Paris, and explores how the meal provides a moment of tension in which ideas of social, political, gendered, economic and bodily hierarchies and norms can be destabilised. In short, I find out what, why and how people involved in sex work eat, and what it means beyond just filling their stomachs.

What led you to your area of interest?

An excellent module on libertine literature in my fourth year, feminism, and an irrepressible appetite.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

My paper offers a peek behind the doors of several utopian brothels devised by eighteenth-century French and English writers, and explores how eating and drinking is used to depict and to undermine female power.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I would possibly be teaching English abroad, or working in literature and publishing in some way. I care too much about books and learning to stray too far from either. More realistically I would probably have launched myself into the London-centric millennial nightmare at 21, bankrupting myself for a box room in Zone 5, trying to earn sufficient money for food by working as a barista, and writing ‘witty’ medieval and early modern-themed listicles on my lifestyle blog in a quest for social and intellectual fulfilment.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

You can’t beat a bit of Laclos. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is stunning, even if I now find it hard to read without thinking of John Malkovich’s face. It’s a wonderful face, but it’s erased my own mental image of Valmont more than I would like.

Catherine’s seminar will take place this Tuesday, 10 May. Tea and biscuits will be provided from 5:40 pm, with the lecture beginning at the usual time at 6 pm. Check out our other seminars here. All are welcome.

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Interview with Marcus Meer

Augsburg

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.

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MEMSA Easter Term Card 2016

Check out our Easter term card! All are welcome.MEMSA Easter Term Card

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Interview with Niall Oddy

christ-carrying-the-cross-1564

Our final MEMSA speaker of Epiphany term is Niall Oddy (Department of French), who will present ‘Words as Windows into the Past: “Europe” in Early Modern France’. This seminar will take place on Tuesday, 15 March at 6 pm in the World Heritage Visitors Centre. He tells us about his research, favourite past times, and the wonders of Rabelais in our interview below:

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Leeds, specifically from a town to the south called Morley. It was separate until it was swallowed into the big city by the 1972 Local Government Act. The British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was born there but he didn’t stick around. Like Rome, Morley is built on seven hills. The similarities end there though. Unless Rome had a burgeoning Victorian textile industry?

What brought you to Durham?

The Cathedral, probably. I fancied moving to a city smaller than Leeds for my undergraduate degree, and I recalled how breathtaking the peninsula and how charming the streets around it were on a brief visit to Durham I’d made when on my way to Hadrian’s Wall. There was a history of air conditioning on Radio 4 as we drove up the A1. Anyway, there was the university’s good reputation too. So I came and stayed and I’m now approaching the end of my Ph.D. here.

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

Most historical periods interest me, to be honest: a desire for escapism and spending too much time on Wikipedia, I guess. What grips me most about the early modern period is the intellectual transformations that take place – the religious upheavals of the Reformation, new social and political settlements, and the ‘discovery’ of the New World – and people’s attempts to grasp the nature of a world that is changing around them. Whilst many of their responses seem to us traditional or archaic, these same people can appear strikingly modern. Rabelais, for instance, didn’t need Derrida or a post-structuralist to tell him that the nature of language is slippery.

What does your research focus on?

I’m working on a study of the concept of Europe in late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century France. I investigate the surrounding ideas and related vocabulary in a variety of discourses – geographical, historical, literary and so on – in order to examine how Europe was thought about and how the various ideas of Europe were used for political and other purposes.

What led you to your area of interest?

I suppose my research was driven by a desire to excavate the dynamics of the little word ‘nous’ in Renaissance France.

I was interested in how communities define themselves and understand themselves in relation to others. And I was interested in travel writing. When reading Montaigne’s essays on America I was fascinated by his use of the pronoun ‘nous‘ (we) since he never explicitly defines who the ‘nous‘ were. Some critics have suggested that Montaigne was referring to a transnational, maybe European, community. But if that is the case why did he not use the word Europe? So I suppose my research was driven by a desire to excavate the dynamics of the little word ‘nous‘ in Renaissance France.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

In my paper for MEMSA I’m going to be focussing on the methodology I’ve used in my thesis and hope to set out how, alongside an analysis of the uses of the word ‘Europe’ in French writing of the late-sixteenth century, we can understand and measure the importance of the absence of the word in certain contexts.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I’ve done a bit of teaching English as a foreign language and so maybe I would have gone further with that. Or I might have stumbled into a grad scheme. Who knows? I imagine I’d be leading a quiet, provincial life somewhere with a lot of books around me.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

If I were stranded on a desert island I’d want to have the complete works of Rabelais. There is an irresistible intermingling of the bawdy and the erudite, the comic and the serious. I’m not convinced that anyone has written anything better in the last five hundred years.

Join us on Tuesday, 15 March for Niall’s seminar. Come out for tea and biscuits at 5:40 pm, and then tune in for the seminar at 6 pm. We’ll have our Epiphany Social after the seminar. All are welcome.

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Interview with Sarah Gilbert

manuscript detail 704

Our next MEMSA seminar will take place this Tuesday at 6 pm at the World Heritage Visitors Centre. Sarah Gilbert (Department of History) will present her paper ‘Word Games, Codes, and Cryptography: Concealing Information for Privacy and Play in the Early Middle Ages’. We managed to catch up with our speaker to hear about her latest adventures:

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Colchester, which is a small town in Essex, England.

What brought you to Durham?

My supervisor Helen Foxhall Forbes brought me here. I completed my undergraduate and masters degrees at Cambridge, and Helen was my Latin teacher there one year. I remember one class when she told us about what she worked on and her methodologies and motivations and I remember thinking, “Wow, I want to learn how to do that”. When I was drafting a Ph.D. proposal a few years later, I thought that it would be a good fit for Helen’s research interests, so I got in touch and asked her if she’d be willing to supervise me. Thankfully, she said yes!

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

I love lots of things, but mostly that you can see the origins of so many of our social and cultural beliefs and customs in the early medieval period. You can feel like you’re reading about an alien society at one moment, and then the next source places you in the mind of a person whose emotions you recognise, and whose ambitions, hopes, and aversions are similar to your own.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on finding Anglo-Saxon medical recipes that were recorded in non-medical manuscripts, and thinking about how and why they might have ended up there.

What led you to your area of interest?

When I discovered that such a thing didn’t exist, I was filled with a) frustration and b) a burning need to catalogue things, so I decided that I would track down all the Anglo-Saxon medical recipes and charms in non-medical manuscripts.

If I’m honest, frustration. My MA thesis focussed on an orphaned Anglo-Saxon leaf that preserves five medical recipes in Old English. The recipes on this leaf are outside the ‘established corpus’ of Anglo-Saxon medicine, so I went in search of a list of all the other Anglo-Saxon medical recipes and charms preserved outside of the main collections, with the hope of providing some helpful comparative examples in my masters thesis. When I discovered that such a thing didn’t exist, I was filled with a) frustration and b) a burning need to catalogue things, so I decided that I would track down all the Anglo-Saxon medical recipes and charms in non-medical manuscripts.

A slightly more scholarly answer than the above is that my Ph.D. topic allows me to carry out research in the history of the book, and also in social history and intellectual culture. I’m examining how and why the Anglo-Saxon added things to manuscripts and I’m able to formulate hypotheses about interest in, and access to medical treatments.

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

I’m going to discuss early medieval codes and cryptography. I’m particularly excited to tell you all about two very short codes in a Durham Cathedral manuscript, and we might also have a chat about runes as well!

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I’d probably be working in a library, or fixing other people’s computers.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

Either the Navigatio sancti brendani  because it was the first Latin text I could read by myself without diving for a dictionary and a grammar every third word, or Bede’s De temporum ratione because it’s such an extraordinary and methodical piece of writing from someone living at the edge of the known world.

Sarah’s presentation will take place this Tuesday, 1 March. Tea and biscuits will be provided from 5:40 pm, with the lecture beginning at the usual time at 6 pm. Check out our other seminars here. All are welcome.

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Interview with Diane Rego

Peasants Revolt
Our next MEMSA speaker is Diane Rego, who will join us from her adventures across the seas. Diane will present her paper ‘The Peasant Elites: A Social History of Medieval Villages on Both Sides of the Channel’ this Tuesday at 6 pm at the World Heritage Visitors Centre at 7 Owengate in Durham. We managed to catch up with her to hear about her latest adventures:

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I am from Normandy, France.

What brought you to Durham?

At the end of my first year of Ph.D. research, I met Professor Chris Gerrard (Head of the Department of Archaeology at Durham University) during a summer school in Southern France where I gave a presentation about my research. As I am working on both France and England, he offered me to guide me through English data, and in turn he offered to supervise me in a joint Ph.D. with the University of Caen.

What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?

I think it is a period that most people (at least in France) do not really understand. They generally still think of it as a really dark and dirty period, and I love to show them how they are wrong, and particularly how this time is bright when you take the time to look at it.

What does your research focus on?

I am a specialist in medieval archaeology. My research focus on the social distinction within the medieval village. I am trying to determine the social category which functions as the intermediate between peasants and their lord by studying the archaeological remains of a village and its houses.

What led you to your area of interest?

There are two key events that led me there. The first was an article I read when I was a third-year undergraduate student, written by S. Smith about Wharram Percy and the resistance of the peasantry. It opened my mind to theoretical archaeology, which is not really practised in France. The second element is a very interesting case study in the periphery of Caen, the village of Trainecourt, but I will talk about it in my presentation. I do not want to spoil it!

What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?

I will focus on the presentation of the peasant elites (the people I am looking at), their identity, how I am trying to identify them in villages, and the novelty of my approach.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I think I would be an English teacher in high school or working a job related to food!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?

I would say the Historia Ecclesiastica by Orderic Vitalis. Like him, I am interested in the history of England and its links with Normandy.

Diane’s seminar will take place this Tuesday, 16 February. Tea and biscuits will be provided from 5:40 pm, with the lecture beginning at the usual time at 6 pm. Check out our other seminars here. All are welcome.

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