2019 SAIMS Graduate Conference

By Dana Weaver

The weekend of the 6th-8th June the Saint Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies (SAIMS) held its annual postgraduate conference, welcoming colleagues from around Europe and the United Kingdom. Jointly sponsored by SAIMS, the School of History, the Centre for Anatolian and East Mediterranean Studies, the Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research and CAPOD, the aim of the conference was not only to give postgraduate researchers an opportunity to present their ongoing work, but also to bring together medievalists from a variety of fields with the goal of facilitating interdisciplinary dialogue. The success of this can be seen in the diversity of topics presented and in the wide range of speakers which included students, early career scholars and established academics.  

We began Thursday morning with a paper by Renan Baker (Cambridge) on ‘Latin Imperial Biographies and Miscellanies’ that provoked a welcome debate on the nature of genre. This was followed by a session on Anglo-Saxon saints with papers from Alice Neale (SAS, London) and John Hudson (St Andrews) entitled ‘Turning Æthelthryth’s pages: the development of the cult of an Anglo-Saxon saint during the tenth-century reform movement’ and ‘The cult that didn’t happen: the case of (St) Lanfranc of Canterbury’, respectively. This session generated a fruitful discussion on the factors contributing to the success or failure of the development of saints’ cults. After a short break we heard from Serena Ammirati (Roma Tre) on ‘Authoritative writing, writing as authority: the contribution of paleography to the history of the transmission of Roman legal thought,’ sponsored by the ILCR, and Justyna Kamińska (Jagiellonian) on ‘The role of the founders in the building process of the Dominican church and cloister of St James in Sandomierz’. Both of these papers encouraged us to find meaning through visual forms and processes.

Our own Professor John Hudson (left) and Professor Carole Hillenbrand (right) presenting at this year’s conference. Photo credit: Cameron Houston

After a productive day of papers and discussion, the evening commenced with a garden party at St John’s House where a friendly game of cricket was followed by pizza and a drinks reception. Scholarly debate continued, but was punctuated by the process of getting to know the people behind the research. Those from St Andrews were especially pleased with the blue skies and sunlight late into the evening.

On Friday we started the day with a paper by Franziska Geibinger (Vienna) entitled ‘The functional types of the representation of the elevation of the hairy Mary Magdalene in her development to the determining “cult image”’, which explored a unique representation of a familiar saint. A paper was also given by Roman Tymoshevskyi (CEU) on ‘The discourse of kingship in John Gower’s and Thomas Hoccleve’s Mirrors of Princes’, provoking rumination on the role of power and the moral expectations of kingship.

The keynote speaker was Carole Hillenbrand (Edinburgh and St Andrews), who led us through her ‘Reflections on the caliphate’. This was a riveting survey of the caliphate from its beginning to the end of the Ottoman empire from which sprung a fascinating discussion about the conceptualization of the caliphate in modern-day politics and the centralization of power in the middle east.

After lunch and with prevailing good weather Alex Woolf (St Andrews) led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews. It was enjoyed by all of its participants, especially those of us from St Andrews who were seeing the town through a new lens. Back at St John’s House we began the second half of our day with a paper by Nic Morton (Nottingham) on ‘Confronting and culturally absorbing Mongols and Seljuk Turks’, followed by David Zakarian (Oxford) who spoke on ‘Women and the laws of men in medieval Armenia’, sponsored by CAEMS. Both of these papers took us beyond the borders of western Europe and into the near east where the discussion centered around questions of cultural transmissions and connections.

Dr Alex Woolf led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews
Photo credit: Cameron Houston

Our last panel of the day included topics of philosophy with papers by Mahdi Ranaee (Potsdam) on ‘Al-Ghazâlî on sophistry and doubt’ and Ana Martins on ‘Political yhought in Collectanea Moralis Philosophiae (1571).’ Each of these papers encouraged thought on textual organization and engagement: how do we conceive of the interaction between texts, authors, and time?

Friday evening was spent at Forgan’s enjoying a lively conference dinner followed by a ceilidh—a great way to introduce our guests from beyond St Andrews to some local traditions. The following morning dawned the last day of the conference and began with a paper entitled ‘Imagining the cross, imagining Christ: insular sculpture in the Viking Age’ by Heidi Stoner (Durham), which captured the importance of moving beyond attributions of ethnicity in early insular sculpture. The keynote speaker on Saturday was Charles West (Sheffield) who gave a stimulating paper on ‘Hincmar of Reims and the politics of the ordeal.’ This paper examined the part of the ecclesiast in the politics of trial by ordeal and encouraged a discussion on the role of intercession, both sacred and secular, in the outcome.

After a short break we heard papers given by Blythe Malona (Glasgow) entitled the ‘Percy empire: building a northern lordship’, John Aspinwall (Lancaster) entitled ‘Patronage and politics: literary production as a strategy of power in Rogerian Sicily’ and Oliver Mitchell (Courtauld) entitled ‘Power and Fortune’s Wheel’. These three topics all explored some aspect of the pursuit of power and the ways in which it is recognized and displayed. The day concluded with lunch and goodbyes: the culmination of a rewarding conference spent exploring the medieval world through new and innovative perspectives.   

A special thanks is due to our conference organizers Ingrid Ivarsen, Maria Merino and JJ Gallagher, as well as the St Andrews University catering staff. Many thanks to each of you for your patience and good humor.  

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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