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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Twelfth Annual MEMSA Conference 2018: Humour and Obscenity in the Medieval and Early Modern World

9th July 2018, 09:00 to 10th July 2018, 17:00, Senate Suite, Durham Castle

For the Twelfth Annual MEMSA conference, we decided to focus on the theme of humour and obscenity. We selected this theme in part because of its potential for contributions from a wide range of subjects: we wanted to ensure that humour and obscenity were explored outside of their literary contexts, in disciplines such as archaeology, history, and art history. We were really pleased with the variety of submissions we received in answer to our call for papers, and ultimately were able to have presenters from a wide range of departments, including Archaeology, Art History, French, Religion, Viking and Anglo-Saxon Studies, English, History, Law, and the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures. This mix of disciplines made the conference a really dynamic event, and we were especially pleased with the questions and discussion after each panel, when delegates took the chance to engage closely with research being undertaken in departments different to their own, in order to gain a new perspective on their own research into humour and obscenity.

Another way in which the conference provided a pleasingly dynamic and diverse environment was in its representation of international scholarship, as well as through the attendance of scholars from all different levels of their academic careers. Delegates came from locations as varied as Lisbon, Prague, Trieste, Minnesota, Toronto, Piemonte, Paris, and Rome, as well as from all over the British Isles. The vast majority of delegates and presenters were postgraduate students or early career researchers, but a full range of academic stages was represented amongst our attendees, from undergraduate to associate professor. There were almost exactly even numbers of male and female presenters. Several presenters spoke English as a second language, and there were many delegates giving their very first conference presentations. We received some extremely positive feedback from these delegates about how positive an environment the conference provided for them to share their academic work for the first time. However, the attendance of many first-time presenters did not compromise on the quality of the presentations: we again received positive feedback about the quality of the papers presented. We were delighted to be able to provide a venue for so many postgraduates to present their first conference papers, while at the same time ensuring a high quality of academic research and engagement.

As well as conference papers from postgraduates and early career researchers, we also had two keynote lectures, given by Dr Daniel Derrin, a research fellow in the Department of English Studies at Durham, and Dr Daron Burrows, an associate professor in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford. For the first time, we also hosted a performance open to the public: Dr Daisy Black performed her one-woman show ‘Unruly Woman’, a retelling of bawdy medieval stories and folk songs, which was a real highlight of the conference. The performance raised money for the local charity Harbour refuges, which supports those affected by domestic violence.

Overall, we were extremely pleased with how the conference went. We received some very positive feedback from delegates about the quality of the conference papers, the supportive and engaged atmosphere fostered by the conference, the excellence of the surroundings (hosting a conference in Durham Castle was definitely appreciated by the delegates!), and the impact the conference made on delegates’ research and personal skills. We would like to thank the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies for their sponsorship of the event and their administrative assistance, as well as Event Durham for their assistance, the Institute of Advanced Study and Faculty of Arts and Humanities for their sponsorship, and all the delegates for their presentations, questions, and participation, which made this event so interesting and enjoyable.

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