Announcing Our Conference CFP!

We are delighted to announce our 8th annual conference entitled ‘On the Fringes: Outsiders and Otherness in the Medieval and Early Modern Era’. July 8-10, in the Senate Suite, Durham Castle.

final cfp

Please feel free to download and circulate this CFP: final cfp

Additionally, we’d like to formally acknowledge and thank the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies for all their support. Find out more about the institute on their website!



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Interview with Sophie Newman!


We are pleased to have Sophie Newman as our next speaker at MEMSA.  Sophie studies paleopathology here at Durham with an interest in children’s health in the post-medieval world.   Here is our interview with her:

1. So Sophie, tell us about yourself. Where are you from?

I originally come from a small town called Ramsey in the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire, but I have spent my university years living in Scotland and the North of England. Growing up in the flat lands did not prepare me well for all these hills!

2. How did you come to Durham?

Despite now working within the Archaeology department, I actually come from a background in Anatomy. I studied anatomical sciences at the University of Dundee for my undergraduate degree, which is where my interest in osteology was strengthened. Unfortunately I am a little squeamish compared to other Anatomists, so when I found out that I could study osteology in an archaeological context it was very welcome news. I completed my MSc in Palaeopathology at Durham University in 2011 and have been very happily working away on my PhD since.

3. What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

It is tricky to pick a favourite…it brings me great joy that it is surrounded by so much countryside, I like a good country walk when it is sunny out. However, the multitude of places in town that serve cake is also a major contender. I really love cake.

4. You’re in the Archaeology department, pursuing a PhD. What exactly are you working on?

My particular field within Archaeology is Bioarchaeology. Bioarchaeology is the study of human remains recovered from archaeological sites, and allows us to access information about the individuals we analyse (male/female, age, height etc), but also to attempt to reconstruct past populations through factors such as health and demography. My particular focus is on child health in the Industrial Revolution, and identifying/testing newer methods for the detection of growth stunting (an indicator of a poor environment).

5. What led you to pursue this area?

Children were once considered ‘invisible’ in the archaeological record, so early archaeological research had a tendency to overlook them, but in recent years we have started to see some fantastic research emerging relating to childhood and child health in the past. From some of my earliest modules in anatomy at Dundee, I have always been fascinated by the process of growth and development, and how the body can attempt to maintain appropriate development in times of poor health and/or in adverse environments. This is perhaps what led me to focus my studies in on the younger members of our past populations, and if you are looking for an adverse environment to look for evidence of growth disruption Industrial England is a notoriously good example!

6. Where do you see yourself next year? In ten years’ time?

This time next year I will hopefully be well on track to handing in with some interesting data to publish (fingers crossed)! As for ten years’ time, I can only hope that someone is willing to hire me and allow me to continue my research in bioarchaeology.

7. If you weren’t in academia, what would you be doing?

On finishing my undergraduate degree I considered following a career in Radiography, but decided to try out the MSc in Palaeopathology instead. So I suppose I would have followed that route instead. I get to use radiography machines in my research anyway so I will class that as a double win!

Come to our seminar tomorrow to hear Sophie speak at the World Heritage Site Visitors Centre– 5.45 for tea and biscuits and 6.15 for her talk!

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Interview with Jane Scott


We are delighted to announce Jane Scott as our next speaker at MEMSA.  Jane is a postgraduate researcher in the department of History here at Durham with a particular interest in medieval Welsh saints.   She’s particularly great in her support of MEMSA via social media and we love her avid tweeting.  Her talk at MEMSA is long overdue!


1. So Jane, tell us about yourself. Where are you from?  :

I am originally from Huddersfield in West Yorks, but have lived in the North East for nearly 12 years. Those that know me know that I am a few years above and beyond the average age for a university student.

2. How did you come to Durham? :

Well, I only live around 20-25 minutes by car north of Durham. So it is actually my local university. I did my undergraduate at Teesside, which I loved. I spent three years doing an eighty-mile round trip a few times a week, then came to Durham for my MA in Medieval History and decided to stay here to do a PhD.

3. What’s your favourite thing about Durham?:

It is probably very twee, but I love the fact that the university is so entwined in and around the city. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world but there is something special about Durham that is not replicated anywhere else.

4. You’re in the History department, pursuing a PhD. What exactly are you working on?

My research is on three late eleventh century Welsh saints: St. David, St. Padarn and St. Cadoc. I am doing a contextual analysis of each text. The information that I pull out of each text I am then going to use to suggest that the conquest in Wales, by the Norman’s, had no greater an impact than it did in England. I am suggesting that Wales should not be treated as a special case.

5. What led you to pursue this area?:

I read a book set in medieval Wales a good few years ago and I was hooked. The difference between the principalities, the difference in laws to England and the cultural aspects fascinate me.

6. Where do you see yourself next year? In ten years’ time? :

I would like to hope in employment, with a string of best-selling books sat on a shelf. The reality I suspect will be very different. I would settle for being in a job or position where I am still able to do research on my area of interest, and if I can get paid to do it, all the better!

7. If you weren’t in academia, what would you be doing? :

If I was not in academia, apart from having some free time or time when I do not have my head in a book, I would have like to be a travel writer and be paid to sample the best hotels, food and locations.


Come by tonight at 6 pm to the World Heritage Site Centre for tea and biscuits and to hear Jane!


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An Introduction to Durham in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Originally posted on READ | Research in English at Durham:

courseA five week community course will introduce participants to 500 years of Durham history.

The course, led by Durham University postgraduate and early career researchers, examines aspects of Durham in medieval and early modern society, ranging from literature and warfare to religion and rural society. It will take place in the World Heritage Site visitor centre, on Owengate, over five Thursday evenings from 18.00-20.00: March 13, 20, 27 and April 3 and 24.

The first session, led by an English Studies postgraduate researcher, will focus on the saints’ lives and other local stories about St Cuthbert.

This course is hosted through New College Durham and supported by the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham University. All sessions include tea and biscuits and all are warmly invited to register. The cost for the complete course is £43.

To register, call Tracie Conlan-Fernandes on 0191-375-4933 or email

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Interview with next speaker, Catherine Ellis

1. So Catherine, tell us about yourself.  Where are you from?

I’m from Rochester in Kent.  It has a castle, a cathedral and a lot of wonderful history and faded glory.

2. You’re a graduate student at Oxford.  What is it you’re doing there?

I’m studying an MSt in modern languages, specifically the European Enlightenment, but eighteenth-century France is my real focus

3. What exactly are you working on?

For my dissertation I’m researching eating and drinking in libertine literature.  Additionally, as the course I’m doing is modular, I can dabble in a variety of things.  I’ve looked at the philosopher La Mettrie (hence the talk I’m giving at MEMSA), and I’m currently working on French foire theatre and feminist literary theory.

4. What led you to pursue eighteenth century France?

Good question. When I first came to university, I was convinced that I was most interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century material.  I had my first taste of the eighteenth century in my second year and loved it, but even on my year abroad I deluded myself into believing that I should study more ‘practical’ subjects, such as law and economics to keep my options open. Classes on libertinage in my final year kept pulling me back.  And here I am now!

 5. You did your undergraduate degree at Durham.  What was it you did?  How did you come to Durham?

I apparently can’t live somewhere that doesn’t have a river, a castle and a cathedral, so although it is miles away it feels like a home from home.  I did French and German in the beautiful Elvet Riverside.

6. What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

Flooding.  More seriously, I love Prebends Bridge in the sunshine.

7. Where do you see yourself next year?  In ten years’ time?

Fingers crossed next year I’ll be back here in Durham, doing a PhD in French libertine literature.  As for ten years from now, I’d like to be babbling at hungover undergrads about the joys of Laclos.  Again, fingers crossed.

8. If you weren’t in academia, what would be doing? 

Struggling to get back into academia.

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Interview with next speaker, Koren Kuntz




1. So Koren, tell us about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Clifton, New Jersey which is a little suburb outside of Manhattan. Heritage-wise, I’m half Thai on my mom’s side, half American-Jewish with Russian and Hungarian ancestry on my father’s.

2. How did you come to Durham?

Wow, it’s already been eight years since I’ve arrived to study in England! I came to Durham for my undergrad and have stayed through since then. I actually ended up in Durham by chance, having heard praise of the university from my high school teachers in Cambridge. Little did I realise how special that small, strange medieval town that I saw on the open day would have become to me.

3. What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

My favourite thing about Durham would have to be the people I’ve met during my time here, both through the university and locally. I also just love my department. They’re the main reason I’ve stayed so long.

4. You’re in the English department, pursuing a PhD. What exactly are you working on?

I’m in my first year working on the relationship between art, music and poetry in medieval dream visions. So far I’ve been looking into early musical theory (particularly polyphony) and its affinity with grammar, the concept of ductus in artistic creation, and Nietzsche’s theory of the Apollonian-Dionysiac drives in art. A bit of medieval cognitive theory too. There are a lot of areas to consider but I’m enjoying the richness of interarts study. In my spare time I’m learning falconry and pipe organ to get me out of the house.

5. What led you to pursue this area?

I’ve always been interested in ideas of creativity and the interplay between arts in modern and medieval literature. In my MA I studied James Joyce alongside medieval manuscripts and the evolution of narrative from medieval romance to Renaissance epic. I ultimately focussed upon bird symbolism in dreams for my dissertation as a means of investigating the dynamic between preconceptions about the natural world and its influence on the human spirit and mind (as well as feeding my love of animals). This led me to consider the aesthetics of dream poetry more widely so that I could embrace my interests in the visual and musical arts as well.

6. Where do you see yourself next year? In ten years’ time?

Next year I hope to be in a satisfactory place in my research. (Don’t we all!) In the long run I would like to work in art dealing or conservation in a museum. I’m open to the UK and the US so really have no idea where I’ll end up!

7. If you weren’t in academia, what would you be doing?

I might have developed my artistic skills and gone to art school or learned fashion design. Or I might have done more travelling and wildlife volunteering. I worked in a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica the summer before I arrived in Durham and since then have taken art courses at Sotheby’s in New York. I’ve grown so much over my time in England that it’s difficult to say. Going to a lot of galleries and concerts, exploring Brooklyn, meeting animals. That sort of thing.

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Interview with Julia Irmis, our next speaker

On Tuesday 21 January, Julia Irmis will present her paper ‘Early Medieval Bloodfeud: Diffusion of Practice and Transformation of Society’.


1. So Julia, tell us about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from a suburb of Chicago in Illinois. I came to Durham in 2010 to do my undergrad in English Literature and History.  Apart from history and English, my other loves in life are basketball, baking, and Beyonce.

2. How did you come to Durham?

I honestly chose Durham completely on a whim – I needed a fifth UCAS choice, did a quick google, and thought, ‘There looks good’. It was only after I’d finished applying and did a bit more digging that I realised how wonderful a place and university Durham is, and how badly I wanted to be there.

3.  So where did you consider instead of Durham?

York, Kent, Nottingham, Birmingham. I obviously chose the ones I knew.  There isn’t much UK representation in the US. Kent bothered to show up to a uni fair, so I applied there.

4. What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

That’s rather difficult. While it’s easily the most stereotypical answer, I can never fully get over the cathedral, especially considering it houses Bede, Cuthbert, and Oswald. It’s an early medievalist’s dream. I also recall first arriving in Durham and being completely taken by the cobblestones. I had never seen entire roads of cobblestones before and thought it so lovely.

5. You’re studying the MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. That’s quite a broad title! What exactly are you working on?

My main focus is on the early medieval period, with an especial interest in conversion and Christianisation, the Merovingians, Anglo-Saxons, and barbarian identity.

6. What led you to pursue this area?

Before coming to Durham, I had never studied the medieval period in any real capacity. In the US, world history seems to start about the time of the Black Death. I came assuming I would become some sort of Tudor historian/Shakespeare critic, but after taking the module ‘Birth of Western Society’ in my first year with Dr. Clay and Professor Gameson, and ‘Age of Chivalry’ I found I had been 1000 years too late for far too long. Gregory of Tours’ ‘Ten Histories’, Bede, and Icelandic sagas and myths had a lot to do with that.

7. Where do you see yourself next year? In ten years’ time?

Next year I hope to be pursuing a PhD in medieval history, specifically looking at barbarian law-codes and what they can tell us about barbarian identity. In ten years I hope to be doing about the same, contributing to the academic world in any capacity.

8. If you weren’t in academia, what would you be doing?

That is a very good question. I have always assumed I would be a teacher of some sort, but I’m not sure I would be patient enough with people who didn’t want to learn. I suppose I could see myself being a museum curator or working at a historical site in some capacity. I can’t really ever imagine making a clean break from history and/or English.


Thanks, Julia.  See you all on Tuesday.

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