'Medieval Bodies Ignored' Postgraduate Conference Success

The interdisciplinary IMS postgraduate conference 'Medieval Bodies Ignored', held at the University of Leeds from 4-6 May 2018, was highly successful and included participants from across the world.

Medieval Bodies Ignored
This year's Institute of Medieval Studies (IMS) annual postgraduate conference was held at the University of Leeds from 4-6 May 2018, and was titled, 'Medieval Bodies Ignored: Politics, Culture and Flesh'. The interdisciplinary conference was designed to explore how people in the Middle Ages perceived human and non-human bodies in light of their social, geographical and religious contexts. Seven sessions with twenty-four papers focused on the following categories: 

  • Young Bodies
  • Animal Bodies
  • Romantic Bodies
  • Queering Lives
  • Holy Bodies
  • Dead Bodies
  • Troubling Bodies

The programme also included a roundtable discussing the body in academia, to bring together medievalists to address the current state of the field of Medieval Studies, existing support for early career researchers, and how to improve inclusivity.

The keynote lectures were as follows: 

  • Carole Rawcliffe (Emeritus Professor, School of History, University of East Anglia): '"Bocheris houndes, myddyng dogges and tryndel tayles": The Dogs that We Ignore'
  • Kristina Richardson (Associate Professor of History, Queens College, City University of New York and of Middle Eastern Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center): 'The Material Culture of Ignored Bodies: Perspectives from Islamic History'
  • Katherine Lewis (Senior Lecturer in History, University of Huddersfield): Respondent 

The sponsors for the conference were Medium Ævum, the Royal Historical Society, Society for the Social History of Medicine, and the University of Leeds. 

Medieval conference feedback

In addition to the conference itself, Medieval Bodies Ignored hosted multiple events, including lectures and trips, leading up to the conference; more information can be found here. These events are as follows: 

  • 'Leeds Witch' Seminar: 20/10/17. This seminar discussed the 'Leeds Witch', also known as Mary Bateman or the Yorkshire Witch. 
  • City Museum's 'Skeleton's' Exhibition: 28/10/17. A guided tour of this unique exhibition provided an opportunity to view and discuss medieval skeletal remains.
  • 'Animal Bodies': Discovery Centre Trip: 10/11/17. This trip allowed participants to view The Leeds Discovery Centre taxidermy collection, and included a short seminar and private tour. 
  • York Trip: 22/11/17. This day trip included visits to the JORVIK Viking Centre, the Yorkshire Archaeological Trust Collections, and Barley Hall, and concluded with a final presentation from an IMS alumnus. 
  • 'The Armoured Body': A Royal Armouries Trip: 21/04/18. This trip to the Royal Armouries included various presentations from IMS and Royal Armories specialists. 
  • City Library Public Lecture: 03/05/18. This lecture the evening before the conference, titled '"Killed the Boar, Shaved his Head": The Death of Richard III', was delivered by Bob Woosnam-Savage (Curator of Arms and Armoured Weapons at the Royal Armouries) to an audience of fifty-nine. 

The Organising Committee was comprised of five IMS postgraduates, both MA and PhD students, currently working on projects at the University of Leeds: 

  • Sunny Harrison (PhD student): Harrison examines veterinary medicine and animal-care in the later Middle Ages through the development of a tradition of horse-care treatises stemming from De medicina equorum. 
  • Rose Sawyer (PhD student): Sawyer's interdisciplinary project studies the child substitution motif as it manifests itself in texts and images during the medieval period, with a particular focus on examining discourses about changelings. 
  • Rachael Gillibrand (PhD student): Gillibrand's research interest in the non-conformist body in the late Middle Ages includes consideration of the aged body, the female body and the disabled body. 
  • Vanessa Wright (PhD student): Wright examines the function of the cross-dresser in French literature between 1200 and 1500, to determine how and why this trope was used and how the motif's usage and representation changed across chronological and generic boundaries. 
  • Lucy Guest (MA student): Guest's research interests include medieval non-Christian belief and gender in the Viking diaspora. 

Conference Feedback
Forty-four attendees from around the world praised the conference, with Emily J Hutchinson (Mount Royal University) calling it 'stimulating' and 'the best conference of my career'. The respondent, Katherine Lewis, stressed the 'friendly' environment, and Polina Ignatova (Lancaster University) commented that 'it was great meet so many scholars who share similar interests'. 

Harrison explained how he and the other organisers 'were committed to making Medieval Bodies Ignored as inclusive and accessible as possible' in part by offering bursaries, retaining an affordable registration fee, providing breakfast, lunch, and refreshments throughout the day, and ensuring gender-neutral and accessible facilities were available.

The conference organisers also commented on how they organised panels. As Sawyer explained, 'I was particularly delighted by the way in which the papers in each panel spoke to each other...The conference felt thematically cohesive'. Wright agreed, and highlighted the roundtable: 'This was a useful opportunity to discuss concerns and propose possible solutions in a safe space'. 

Gillibrand stressed the value of 'reaching beyond the remit of academia to engage with the wider public' through public outreach events associated with the conference, which facilitated 'widening both the debate and the accessibility of our research'.

As Guest summarised, 'we are thrilled with the response to the Medieval Bodies Ignored conference'. Guest also explained the organisers 'are hoping to build on the success of the past few days', and invited anyone interested to follow @BodiesIgnored on Twitter as the conversation continues.