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Institute of Advanced Study

Figuring Futures: 'Through a Glass Darkly'

Seminar Series

The seminar series 'Through a Glass Darkly' is the flagship event of the Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in its inaugural year, 2010-11.  Two interlinked themes will be addressed: 'Time, Art and Memory'; and 'Cultural Scripts, Augury and Prophecy'.  The Series is focused in particular on cultural scripts: the writing of the future within the literary and historical texts of the past, and their material contexts.  A recurrent emphasis is the relation between anxiety and creativity: calling the future into question can inspire enduring, even visionary, thought and writing.  Medieval and Renaissance thought resonates in various and interesting ways with later cultural attitudes, and seminars are intended to provide a lively forum for dialogue and debate.  The Series includes nine eminent speakers (from the UK, Europe and the US) whose work spans a range of disciplines - English, French and Norse literature, history, theology and religion, cultural studies and the history of ideas. 

Michaelmas Term: Time, Art and Memory

This theme focuses on the process of past, present and future; the necessary placing of the concept of the future within the larger notion of time; and the relation of temporal and eternal worlds.  One emphasis is the idea of history as cyclical, so that the future always rewrites the past, while the past provides paradigms for the future.  Against this is set the linear notion of time as finite: the temporal is shadowed and coloured by notions of the eternal world to come.  Memory and imagination intersect to bring together past, present and future.  Of special interest is the productiveness of conflict: when the future is threatened the past is more richly imagined, and, paradoxically, cultural and political conflict produces the art that endures into the future.  Papers span eschatology, literary debate and re-creation, historical writing and identity, and conflicting aesthetic ideas.

Epiphany Term: Cultural Scripts, Augury and Prophecy

A particular focus of these seminars is the intersection of classical and Christian ideas concerning the future and the ordering of the world, and their development across the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Recurrent themes are divinity and divination, Apocalypticism, Fortune, astrology and prophecy.  A key emphasis is the political power of prophecy and the desire of rulers to control such knowledge or to influence prediction.  The prophet or prophetess is a compelling yet marginalized and sometimes shameful figure.  Papers treat ideas of apocalypse and nature, portent and prophecy, exegesis and politics, and visionary writing.


Time, Art and Memory

19 October 2010 
Dr Neil Cartlidge (University of Durham)
Seminar Room 1, Department of History
25 October 2010
Professor R. Barton Palmer (Clemson University)
'Fourteenth-Century Literary Polyphony: the Example of Guillaume de Machaut's Confort d'ami
Williams Library, St Chad's College
26 October 2010 
Professor Donald Maddox (University of Massachusetts)
Prior's Hall, Durham Cathedral
27 October 2010
Dr Anthony James West
3rd Annual History of the Book Lecture: 'Shakespeare's First Folio'
Senate Suite, University College
9 November 2010 
Professor Derek Pearsall (Harvard University)
Seminar Room 1, Department of History
23 November 2010 
Professor Mary Carruthers (New York University; All Souls College, Oxford)
Prior's Hall, Durham Cathedral
7 December 2010 
Professor Anton Scharer (University of Vienna)
Levison Lecture: Royal Charters and the Personal Attitudes of Kings
Room 142, Elvet Riverside


Cultural Scripts, Augury and Prophecy

1 February 2011
Dr Kathryn Banks (Univerity of Durham)
Prior's Hall, Durham Cathedral
15 February 2011 
Dr Carl Watkins (University of Cambridge)
Prior's Hall, Durham Cathedral
1 March 2011 
Dr Andreas Pecar (University of Rostock)
Prior's Hall, Durham Cathedral
8 March 2011 
Professor Gro Steinsland (University of Oslo)
Prior's Hall, Durham Cathedral


This seminar series is free to attend and open to all. All seminars will take place at 5.30pm.  For further details please contact Professor Corinne Saunders or Dr David Ashurst



Dr Neil Cartlidge (English, University of Durham): has written extensively on medieval literature and culture, including ideas of body, soul and reason; his work brings together theological and literary perspectives on time and memory, past and future.

Professor Donald Maddox (French, University of Massachusetts): a specialist in French medieval literature, particularly Arthurian romance, who has written extensively on ideas of cyclical time. 

Professor Derek Pearsall (Professor Emeritus, Harvard University): a renowned authority on medieval literature, whose work has included both literary and textual studies, and who has worked extensively on the art of medieval narrative and its transformations across genres and periods.

Professor Mary Carruthers (Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature, New York University and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford): an eminent specialist in the history of ideas and the interrelations of medieval culture and literature, whose work has focused on thought, memory and writing.  Professor Carruthers will be a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study in Michaelmas 2010.

Professor Anton Scharer (History, University of Vienna): an eminent historian of the early Middle Ages, with a specialism in diplomacy, who has published widely on Anglo-Saxon England and historiography.

Dr Kathryn Banks (Modern Languages, University of Durham): a specialist in early modern French literature, currently working on ideas of the apocalypse.

Dr Carl Watkins (History, University of Cambridge): author of a definitive study of the supernatural and prophecy in medieval chronicles.

Dr Andreas Pecar (History, University of Rostock): an authority on political uses of the Bible in Scotland and England in the early modern period, in particular on the uses of prophecy.

Professor Gro Steinsland (History of Religion, University of Oslo): author of definitive works on Old Norse myth and religion, and currently working on prophetic poetry in this distinctive tradition.