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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Figuring Futures Seminar - Portent and Prophecy in Late Medieval English Historical Writing

15th February 2011, 17:30, Prior's Hall, Durham Cathedral, Dr Carl Watkins (University of Cambridge)

This paper will consider the place of portents and signs in chronicles and other historical writings composed mainly in England from the twelfth century to the early fifteenth century and will explore what made a portent in the eyes of medieval authors, the implications of naturalizing rationalizations for their understanding of them, and their reactions to 'superstitious' (mis)readings of signs.

I will try to show something of the diversity of opinion at any given moment while also tracing how the consensus about how signs were to handled, such as it was, shifted during the course of the period. The treatment of prophecy and also astrology by the same authors, as well as the fate of wonder stories in their narratives, will help to explain the position that portents come to occupy in late medieval chronicles.

Contact david.ashurst@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.