IMS Medieval Group Events 2015-2016

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The Medieval Group is the oldest medieval studies-related association at the University, dating back to the 1950s, and is run by a committee of volunteers from among the staff, PhD and MA students. Every year in October there is a ‘Medieval Research Afternoon’ which showcases the range of current research in medieval studies at the University. The event also includes presentations from museum curators and archivists about opportunities in research, volunteering and internships in relevant fields in the Leeds area. Throughout the year the Group runs a seminar series with a broad range of speakers (archaeologists, literature and drama specialists, musicologists, theologians and art and architecture historians).

The meetings open with tea at 17.00. Presentations begin at 17.30. Everyone is welcome. For further information, please contact Melanie Brunner.

22th Annual Medieval Group Research Afternoon
Date: Saturday, 24 October 2015, 14.00-17.00
14.00 Welcome

14.05 Resources and Opportunities

Royal armouries (Elizabeth Linville)

Leeds city museums and galleries (Lucy Moore)

Special collections, brotherton library (Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis) International medieval congress (Axel Müller)

15.05 Collaborations and Projects

Rene Hernandez Vera and Mike Spence (IMS), 'Digitising the Monastic Past'

Romina Westphal (IMS), 'Shedding Light on a New Science in the 12th Century: An Iconographic Study of the Hildesheim Candlesticks'

Sophie Harwood and Iason Tzouriadis (IMS), 'Leeds Postgraduate Culture and War Conference'

15.50 Tea and Biscuits

16.15 Research Presentations

Jonathan Jarrett (History), 'Low-Down and Edgy: Frontier and Settler Societies in Medieval Iberia and Beyond'

Pietro Delcorno (Italian), 'Crossing the Alps with Dante: Preaching the Commedia in Fifteenth-Century Europe'

Venetia Bridges (English), 'Interpreting Alexander the Great in the Middle Ages: Medieval and Modern Challenges'

17.00 Meeting of Medieval Group Steering Committee

The Research Afternoon will establish the Steering Committee for the coming year. Everyone interested in joining the Steering Committee to help run Medieval Group this year and plan for next year is very welcome. Everyone is warmly encouraged to attend the Research Afternoon.

For further details, contact Melanie Brunner.

Dynasties without China and Pagodas without Buddhism: Shifting the Narrative in Liao History and Archaeology
Date: Monday, 9 November 2015, 17.00

Speaker: Jonathan Dugdale, University of Birmingham
Location: Le Patourel Room, 4.06, Parkinson Building

Abstract: The Liao dynasty occupies an unusual liminal space on the fringes of Chinese history. It is recognised as one of the twenty-four official dynasties of China, yet does not feature on the majority of dynastic timelines. The Liao dynasts formed their own Kitan language, yet our only surviving histories of the dynasty are all in Chinese. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these Chinese sources do not portray the Liao dynasty or its Kitan rulers in a positive light, viewing them instead as a barbarian other. 

The preponderance of Chinese language historical material relating to the Liao, and the dynasty’s inclusion within the official list of recognised Chinese dynasties, has led to them being studied primarily through the lens of Chinese national historiography. The Liao often end up as little more than a footnote in the majority of modern scholarship, or at the very least, side-lined. It is therefore important to generate a new narrative in which the Liao Dynasty is a central participant in a complex web of power and exchange across the East-Asian region. This paper presents a new methodology for stripping back modern concepts such as nationality, ethnicity and religion, and begins the process of generating this narrative through the surviving architecture that the Liao Dynasty and their contemporaries left behind.

Books for Private Prayer: History, Use and Ownership in Brotherton Collection MS 16 (The Beverley Prayer Book)
Date: Monday, 23 November 2015, 17.00

Speaker: Eleanor Warren, Leeds University Library, University of Leeds
Location: Le Patourel Room, 4.06, Parkinson Building

Abstract: The Beverley Prayer Book (Leeds University, Brotherton Collection MS 16) is a fifteenth-century manuscript Book of Hours, associated with Beverley Minster in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The book is unusual because it contains services for the York Use (the liturgical rite of the Northern Province of England) and also the Sarum Use (the primary rite of the Southern Province). This double liturgical use suggests that the differences were seen as significant marks of ecclesiastical identity, and that whoever commissioned the book regularly took part in devotional life in both provinces. The book’s marks of personalisation including obits, owners’ inscriptions, and coats of arms, provide clues to its connections with the East Riding, and also with the diocese of Lincoln. Such ‘personal’ prayer books were intended to be used publicly and to be seen by others, and were symbols of status, wealth and aspiration, as well as expressions of personal piety.  This paper discusses the context of MS 16 within the collection of the Books of Hours at the Brotherton Library, in order to consider the genre of these manuscripts and their modern uses. Under the theme of book ownership, both medieval and modern, this paper seeks to address the history of the book’s provenance and use, by examining its marks of personalisation, and the ways in which the prayer book represents aspects of the owner’s social and religious identity.

Passion or Passover? Crumpled Time in the Towneley Play Herod the Great
Date: Monday, 25 January 2016, 17.00

Speaker: Daisy Black, University of Hull
Location: Le Patourel Room, 4.06, Parkinson Building

Abstract: Late medieval mystery plays depicting the slaughter of the Innocents demonstrate complex engagements with time in their performances.  Based on the account in the Gospel of Matthew, the Towneley, Chester, York and N-Town slaughter plays oscillate between an act of violence in Bethlehem, the Crucifixion, the Old Testament lives of Moses and Rachel, and the plays’ late medieval performance contexts. Medieval theatre often uses moments of temporal ‘collapse’ as part of its dramatic arsenal, conflating medieval performance time with biblical time.  However, in plays dealing with the slaughter, events from different times are neither placed in antagonistic opposition nor collapsed, but are able to ‘touch’ whilst remaining distinct from one another. Moreover, in the Towneley manuscript’s Herod the Great, we see the character Herod deliberately attempt to direct, or at least sabotage, time by tearing prophecies concerning a boy born in Bethlehem out of his scriptures.  In doing so, his actions are countered by the mothers of the Innocents who, in their verbal and physical conflict with Herod’s soldiers, work to bring scriptural moments back into contact. Engaging with Michel Serres’ theories of topological time, which see time ‘crumple’ to bring distant moments into contact, this paper seeks to examine the ways in which this play negotiates medieval and biblical histories. 

Disturbing the Medieval Buried Dead: Contemporary Versus Current Perceptions
Date: Monday, 15 February 2016, 17.00

Speaker: Jenny Crangle, University of Sheffield
Location: Le Patourel Room, 4.06, Parkinson Building

Abstract: The manner in which societies treat their dead, both physically and spiritually, is crucial to understanding those societies’ views about life and the afterlife. Medieval funerary research to date has explored the physical and spiritual preparation of the body for burial, both in the home and at the graveside, but the fate of the body after burial has received comparatively little attention despite evidence for a variety of post-burial mortuary activities involving engagement with the dead by the living on a physical as well as a spiritual level, from a range of sites across England. This evidence includes the removal of human remains from graves into ossuaries and charnel pits, the redeposition of individual burials in containers such as boxes and bags, the management, control and organisation of cemeteries, translations and elevations of ‘saintly’ skeletal remains and the promotion of the cult of relics. Yet, it is typically intimated that the occurrences of such post-burial activities at medieval sites are insignificant, or not indicative of either ideology or ritual. This presentation will discuss these incidences, how they have been interpreted to date, and how they were perceived contemporarily, within the medieval society that created, curated, and sustained them.

Tournament Trappings: Textiles and Armour Working Together in the Late Medieval Joust
Date: Monday, 7 March 2016, 17.00

Speaker: Natalie Anderson, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
Location:Le Patourel Room, 4.06, Parkinson Building

Medieval Coins for Beginners: workshop
Date: Monday, 25 April 2016, 17.00

Speaker: Jonathan Jarrett, School of History, University of Leeds
Location: [to be confirmed]

Field-trip to Helmsley
Date: Saturday, 7 May 2016

Guide: Audrey Thorstad, School of Music, Humanities & Media, University of Huddersfield / Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
For more information about the field-trip contact Melanie Brunner ( or Rose Sawyer (