Announcing our CALL FOR PAPERS!

We are currently organising our 16th annual interdisciplinary conference for postgraduates and early career researchers on the theme of ‘Memory’. The title of this year’s conference is Memory: Staging, Praxis and Practice and is scheduled for the 18th and 19th July, 2022. We welcome applications for 15-20- minute papers exploring this theme of Memory. To apply, please send a proposal of 250 words and a brief biographical statement to memsa.committee@durham.ac.uk by Friday 15th April. 

Interview with Emma Yeo, Durham University

Emma is a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Durham who is presenting tonight for MEMSA’s final seminar series of term on ‘Living through crisis in North East England during the reign of Elizabeth I and James I’. We caught up with Emma about her research and future plans below:

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m from Gateshead, so very close to Durham! When I did my family tree I found my family has been in the North East for hundred years, so perhaps some of the ordinary people I am studying are my distant ancestors…

What brought you to your current university, and where do you plan on going next?

Local history is fascinating to me and I knew that I wanted to study local history for my PhD. I studied at Durham for my undergraduate degree and I was really excited by the thought of being back in the place which has so many great memories for me, as well as fantastic archival resources and supportive supervisors.

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

My favourite thing has to be the amazing volume of information available about the lives of ordinary people. Because of the advent of parish registers, you can trace many people across their entire lives and bring that information together with other sources such as court records to give an insight into their lives that isn’t possible so easily for earlier periods. 

What does your research focus on?

My research takes the concept of a seventeenth century General Crisis as it’s jumping off point. Proponents of a General Crisis concept argue for a period of widespread crisis in both politics and socio-economic life across Europe or even the world during the seventeenth century. This is often placed in a global context but thinking about these ideas within a smaller case study is also a really valuable exercise.

I am looking at the demographic history of North East England from approximately 1580 to the outbreak of the Marseilles Plague (1720) to examine the role of mortality crises in the history of the region. This involves compiling data for baptisms, marriages and deaths for over fifty parishes across this timescale and then digging deeper into the places that have interesting stories to tell about particular crises.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’ll focus on the question of what constitutes a crisis. There’s a lot of debate in terms of mortality crises about what counts as a crisis in absolute numerical terms but there’s also the human side to bear in mind: how do people react during times of hardship? 

There’s three moments of potential crisis which I’ll be focusing on for my presentation and I’m really excited to discuss how a synthesis of large-scale statistical analysis and consideration of narrative sources can bring these crises to life. 

We’ll start with a catastrophic fire in Darlington in the 1580s and we’ll end with the brutal winters of the 1610s, which feels fitting given our recent weather…

 Do you have a favourite early modern text or artwork?

I have a favourite map. I was recently at the British Library exhibit on Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, which I really recommend if you have the chance to see it. I was wandering through the gallery and came across Burghley’s map of County Durham from the time of the Northern Rebellion in the sixteenth century. It’s got a good amount of detail and is so neat and pretty. I’d definitely hang a copy on my wall! 

My favourite early modern texts are Thomas Chaytor’s diary, which gives an insight into the life of a member of the Durham gentry in the early seventeenth century, and the later seventeenth century chronicle of Jacob Bee. Bee’s journal is interesting for lots of reasons, but my favourite has to be the original version of a ghost sighting in Durham Marketplace which you might recognise from Halloween tours… 

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early modern period, and why?

I’m going to cheat and give two answers, if that’s okay. The early modern historical heavyweight who I find most interesting is Edward VI. There’s something really fascinating about the boy-king whose final decision to attempt to disinherit his sisters could have led to a very different history of England if Lady Jane Grey had succeeded in holding the throne. The cold emotional stance of his diary is also something that draws me in, I would love to know what he was actually thinking about the historical events he describes.

In terms of my research, my favourite person is a woman called Mary from Saint Oswald’s parish in Durham. I completed a family reconstitution study of Saint Oswald’s and came to uncover a lot of details about Mary’s life. She started her life as the daughter of a singing-man in Durham Cathedral and ended it penniless and cared for by friends, but there’s something very resilient about the choices she made that allowed her to survive some tricky situations.

I’m hopeful that in the course of my research I might happen upon further hints about her life as I look through court records.

Interview with Dr Francisco Rozano-García, University of Ireland

Francisco is a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Ireland who recently presented for MEMSA’s seminar series on ‘Pushing Boundaries: Interrogating Generic Classifications of Early Medieval Literature’. We caught up with Francisco about his research and future plans below:

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m originally from Cádiz, on the southwestern Atlantic coast of Spain. It’s one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, with a rich history dating back to Phoenician settlement and extending into the Napoleonic wars. It also has beautiful natural views, though I might be a bit biased!

What brought you to your current university, and where do you plan on going next?

I moved to Ireland in 2011 to do my Erasmus stay at the National University of Ireland, Galway. I was in the final year of my degree, so I decided to make a few enquiries about postgraduate programmes, not fully sure about whether I wanted to do contemporary North American poetry or Old English literature. I had an interest in both, but a real passion for Old English poetry, so I decided to apply for the two-year MA in Medieval Studies. After that, I stayed for my PhD. I came for a few months and ended up staying for ten years!

I’m currently keeping an eye on the academic job market and staying open to all possibilities but finishing my first monograph remains a top priority.

What is your favourite thing about the early medieval period?

My favourite thing about the early medieval period is how it challenges every stereotypical view that has been traditionally held about it. There is this generalised misconception of the early medieval past as “the dark ages,” which is seen as a dull, repressive, and obscure period in history and culture. I love to think that part of my job consists in showing people how wonderfully sophisticated and kaleidoscopic it was instead.

What does your research focus on?

I’m a philologist by training, so my area of expertise is the study of language and literature. My research focuses on Old English poetry and poetics, particularly the poems of the Exeter Book, its modern reception and generic classification, and the multicultural and multilingual interaction between Old English and other literary traditions, as well as on the origins of Old English studies in relation to Romantic medievalism and nationalism. I’m also interested in popular medievalism, particularly in film, music, and videogames.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

This seminar will question how we read and interpret early medieval literature as part of a system of meanings governed by classifications into genres.

The concept of “genre” is vague and elusive but, somehow, we all have a sense of what a genre is: a framework for the creation and interpretation of meaning. What I hope to show in this seminar is that genres condition the reception of early medieval texts in two ways: one, they are often artificial projections that seek to read the past through the eyes of the present rather than in its original context; and two, they erase the value of multilingual and multicultural interaction by creating a rigid system based on narratives of national origins and artistic continuity.

With this seminar, I seek to ask a series of questions, such as:

· Are genres universally valid categories?

·  How important is the terminology we use to classify texts, and how does it impact our understanding of the past?

· Are there any alternative ways to study early medieval literature other than relying on inherited generic systems?

This is a work-in-progress approach, and I do not intend to provide a definitive answer to these questions. I don’t believe in “finished” research, and I think the best talk is the one that generates more discussion. Hopefully this will be the case!

Do you have a favourite early medieval text or artwork?

My favourite text is probably the Old English Christ and Satan, particularly the opening section, “Satan’s Lament.” It’s a relatively neglected text, but it’s hauntingly beautiful and intriguing. In it, Satan bewails is fate after he is banished from Heaven and cast out to the depths of Hell. He produces a series of dramatic monologues expressing his frustration and disappointment, and he is shown as a tragic figure despised by God and his own company of fallen angels. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Paradise Lost or the Divine Comedy.

As far as (manuscript) art goes, the Book of Kells is at the top of my list, but I also love Gothic architecture.

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early medieval period, and why?

I would not call them “favourites” as such, but there are two figures that I find intriguing, perhaps because I have spent too much time thinking about them.

One is Leofric (d. 1072), bishop of Exeter and the sole known owner of the Exeter Book, the largest anthology of Old English poetry. He was trained in the continent and entered the service of Edward the Confessor, whom he followed back to England, and remained in office after the siege of Exeter during the Conquest. He was a known bibliophile, but why he was in possession of the Exeter Book and what was the purpose of its donation to the Exeter see is still a mystery. I wouldn’t mind asking him myself if I could travel back in time!

The other figure is King Athelstan (ca. 894-939), King Alfred’s grandson and the first ruler of a unified England. He elevated England to a position of enormous influence in Europe, established multiple important political alliances in the continent, promoted learning and reform, and attracted a great number of scholars from abroad to his court. However, we have remarkably scant evidence of the kind of poetry that was produced at the time. With a large cohort of multilingual scholars and poets at court, it must have been nothing short of extraordinary.

Interview with Tamsin Prideaux, Edinburgh University

Tamsin is a PhD researcher from the University of Edinburgh who recently presented for our seminar series on “Foreigners in the heart of the Republic: immigrant petitioners and Venetian legal systems, 1540-1700.” We interview Tamsin about her research and future plans below:

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m from Kent in the south of England, but I spent a lot of my life in different places. I grew up in Indonesia, Brunei, and England. I have spent many of my adult years in Italy.
I’ve been based in Edinburgh now for about six years and I love it here!

What brought you to the University of Edinburgh, and where do you plan on going next?

When I was applying for masters’ programmes, I was attracted to Edinburgh’s Renaissance studies masters’ programme, as early modern history was my biggest interest. It helped that I always wanted to live in Edinburgh, and my sister lived here when I applied for my master’s – so everything came together at the right time!
I’m not sure about where next, I’m hoping to at least get back to Venice for a few months in the Spring for some more research.

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

The global movement of artistic and scientific knowledge and materials – I particularly love Mughal miniatures that are so syncretic and beautiful and Maria Sibylla Merian’s botanical work and drawings.

What does your research focus on?

I study the lives of immigrant merchants in Venice and their interactions with the authorities. I focus on the relationship between the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia, a committee of patrician magistrates set up to promote maritime trade in Venice, and the merchants that they regulated and represented.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?
I will be talking about how immigrant merchants used petitions to secure their economic and legal legitimacy in Venice and influenced Venetian legal structures in the process. 

Do you have a favourite early modern text or artwork?
Again, a difficult question because there are just so many! I’m not sure why, but I love looking at Keshav Das [and studio] “St Jerome”. It is a Mughal era miniature that combines Christian imagery of studious St Jerome and drunken sleeping Noah into one figure, with a hazy dreamlike background. It’s very peaceful.

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early modern period, and why?

I’m more interested in the lives of many people, rather than particular historical figures, although when I was a child, I was strangely obsessed with Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary Queen of Scots. Make of that pattern what you will!  
As an adult, like many people, I’m fascinated by al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan, known commonly in Europe by his soubriquet Leo Africanus. He was a diplomat for the Sultan of Fez when was captured by corsairs in the Mediterranean and imprisoned in the Castel Sant-Angelo. Whilst there, he converted to Christianity, was freed, and wrote the fascinating text known in English as “A Geographical Historie of Africa”. No-one really knows what became of him after that. I also loved reading Veronica Franco’s poems and her cutting rebuttals to Maffio Venier’s literary insults. 

Interview with Patricia Manzano, Durham University

Patricia is a Durham PhD researcher and part of the Zurbarán Centre for Spanish and Latin American Art. She recently presented for our seminar series on “The Art of Deception: Tensions Between Copies and Originals in Seventeenth-Century Spain.” We interview Patricia about her research and future plans below:

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I was born and raised in Madrid but my family originally comes from Extremadura, a region to the west of Spain that borders with Portugal.

What brought you to the University of Durham, and where do you plan on going next?

I applied to Durham University because I wanted to form part of the Zurbarán Centre for Spanish and Latin American Art, which is a fantastic research centre for Hispanicists working on any time period. As for where I’m going next, I have no idea. Hopefully I still have some time to think about it before I finish my PhD!

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

The art, of course! I’m an art historian and even as an undergrad I knew I wanted to specialise in the early modern period, although if I had to choose between Renaissance or Baroque art, I would definitely choose Baroque. After all, it’s not called the Golden Age for nothing.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on Spanish seventeenth-century art. More precisely, on the painter Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, who is better known for being the son-in-law and student of Diego Velázquez, possibly the most famous Spanish painter in history alongside Goya and Picasso. Mazo has been overshadowed by Velázquez, but I am working on the first academic monograph about him.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

In my seminar I am going to talk about the tensions between copies and originals in seventeenth-century Spain through the topos of the deceived artist. Mazo was one of the best copyists of the time and most of his production consists of copies after other artists, including Velázquez, Titian and Rubens. What constitutes an original artwork? Participants will find out at my seminar.

If you do not plan on going into academia, what would you like to do next?

Never say never, but I wouldn’t like to go into academia once I’ve finished my PhD. My dream is to become a museum curator, although it’s not the easiest path to follow. Even so, fingers crossed!

Do you have a favourite early modern text or artwork?

Asking an art historian about their favourite artwork is just cruel. I can never pick just one! I’ll go with my favourite early modern text, a play by Calderón de la Barca titled ‘La vida es sueño’ (Life is a dream).  

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early modern period, and why?

I’m fascinated by Diego Velázquez. He was an excellent painter -possibly one of the best in history- and also the most ambitious person I’ve ever heard of. He had a very strong character (even King Philip IV mentioned Velázquez did whatever he wanted and in his own time), but one of my favourite anecdotes relates to his lifelong dream to become a Knight of the Order of Santiago. For this, there were two main conditions: first, you had to be of noble origin (scholars don’t often agree on this but Velázquez probably wasn’t); and second, you couldn’t make a living from manual crafts. As a painter, Velázquez didn’t meet the second condition either, so he made over a hundred witnesses lie for him and say he had never been paid for any of his paintings. Velázquez might not be the best role model, but he was certainly an interesting person!

Interview with James Taffe, Durham University

James is a Durham PhD researcher and ex-president of MEMSA, who recently presented for our seminar series on “Rival Households, Rival Queens: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and the impact of Henry VIII’s marital instability. 1527-1536”. We interview James about his research and future plans below.

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

My name is James, I am originally from Birmingham, where I lived with my family until I moved to London to study early modern history. I am now a PhD student in the Department of History at Durham, though my interest in history began at a very young age. One of my earliest memories is printing out the portraits of Henry VIII’s wives with my Mum and clumsily pritt-sticking them to A3 cardboard for a school project!

What brought you to the University of Durham, and where do you plan on going next?

Admittedly, I did not know where Durham was, what it was like, its history, or even anything at all before I moved here for study! It began when I wrote to Dr. Natalie Mears (now my supervisor), because of her work on the Tudor court and its politics, about my research and potential thesis. I have no firm plans for post-doc as yet.

What is your favourite thing about the early modern period?

The nature of the evidence – I find that it is often frustratingly, but tantalisingly, inadequate – means that there can be many different interpretations to the same narrative.

What does your research focus on?

My research examines the queen’s household in England and the careers of its servants between 1485 and 1547, concentrating on extensive archival research to reconstruct the households of Henry VII, Henry VIII and their queens, taking the form of a database of servants for prosopographical study.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I am focusing on the ‘rival’ households of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn from 1527 to 1536 as a case study for measuring the impact of Henry VIII’s marital instability on the queen’s household in this period.

Do you have a favourite early modern text or artwork?

The Devonshire Manuscript, an anthology of courtly verse circulated by women in Anne Boleyn’s household. There is a printed edition, edited by Elizabeth Heale, that I would highly recommend!

Who is your favourite historical figure from the early modern period, and why?

Jane Boleyn, née Parker (d. 1542), ‘the infamous Lady Rochford’, who was a lady-in-waiting at the court of Henry VIII and served five of his six wives. She has been almost invariably described as a ‘wicked wife’, a ‘pathological meddler’ and an altogether vicious and heartless woman for the betrayal of her own husband and her intimate role in court intrigues which sent him, along with not one, but two English queens, to the scaffold. For her involvement in the latter of these scandals Jane too lost her head!

Jane Boleyn, née Parker (d. 1542), ‘the infamous Lady Rochford’, who was a lady-in-waiting at the court of Henry VIII and served five of his six wives. She has been almost invariably described as a ‘wicked wife’, a ‘pathological meddler’ and an altogether vicious and heartless woman for the betrayal of her own husband and her intimate role in court intrigues which sent him, along with not one, but two English queens, to the scaffold. For her involvement in the latter of these scandals Jane too lost her head!

CFPs Deadline: 30th September 2021

We are currently accepting applications for speakers to present in our seminar series. We hope that the series will go ahead in person this year, at Durham

University (Location TBA), on a fortnightly basis, Monday evenings at 6pm. If circumstances change regarding covid, we may have to schedule online events. However, whether in person or online, speakers will have the opportunity to present and share their research in a friendly environment to a live audience.

We welcome submissions for 20 to 30 minute papers from postgraduate students and early career academics from any discipline engaged in the study of the medieval and early modern periods. Papers should be accessible to a non- specialist academic audience and will be followed by a 10 minute question and answer session.

Also, we expect to be able to support with the travel expenses of external speakers without access to other sources of funding.

Check out our full Call for Papers in the post below:

MEMSA Community Course Week Eight

Dr Catherine Ellis will be joining us this evening for our final live Zoom Q&A of our community course on medieval and early modern food. We would be delighted if you could join us at 7.30pm BST. Please visit the community course page – Community Course summer 2021 sign up! – to receive the Zoom link. Catherine’s wonderful video can be accessed here Week 8 (26th July)

See you later! Charlotte Spencer MEMSA Outreach Convener