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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Workshop on political ecologies in medieval culture

25th May 2018, 11:00 to 17:00, Hatfield SCR, Professor Peggy McCracken, Society for French Studies' Visiting International Fellow

In recent years, medievalists have integrated the concerns of ecocriticism into their thinking, examining the roles of nature and the environment (animals, plants, minerals, landscapes, rivers, seas, etc.) within their primary materials. But there remains an urgent need to consider the relationship between the natural and other key cultural and political stakes, including gender, sexuality, race, religion, and class.

This workshop will use Peggy McCracken’s visit to Durham as Society for French Studies Visiting International Fellow as a spur for UK colleagues and postgraduates in medieval French to do just that. McCracken’s own monograph project covers Old French Ovidian stories in the context of ecologies, broadly and variously defined: the ecology of the natural world, but also political ecology and ecologies of gender and sexuality. The workshop is intended to broaden the conversation about these issues by bringing expertise on other medieval literary traditions into play, as well as by inviting dialogue with medieval specialists in other fields, notably history and art history. Peggy McCracken will act as a respondent.

Professor Peggy McCracken is Domna C. Stanton Collegiate Professor of French, Women’s Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Peggy McCracken’s research interests are in the intersections of medieval literature, history and theory. Her most recent book is In the Skin of a Beast: Sovereignty and Animality in Medieval France.

In earlier projects, she explored the intersections of medieval theories and practices of queenship with romances about adulterous queens, and the ways in which gendered cultural values are mapped onto representations of blood. She has collaborated with colleagues to write books on Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France. Her other recent books focus on Barlaam and Josaphat, a widely circulating medieval saint’s life based on the life of the Buddha. Her visit to Durham will involve work on a new project called Ovidian Ecologies, a study of medieval translations of stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Proposals are invited for 15-minute papers addressing any of the following research questions:

How do nature and culture intersect in medieval culture?

Is there a hierarchical relationship between them?

How do nature and the environment interact with political matters (gender, sexuality, race, religion, class)?

How is nature empowered or oppressed, and how does it relate to other forms of power?

What are the political stakes of the ontologies suggested by encyclopaedias, bestiaries, lapidaries, herbals and natural histories? And what are the political configurations of ecology in works of different types?

What are the difficulties in applying ecocritical approaches to medieval materials, and how does this differ from their use in a modern context?

Please send a 250-word abstract to by 28 February 2018.

Contributions from colleagues and postgraduates outside Durham are particularly welcome, and bursaries to assist with travel expenses will be available.

Contact for more information about this event.