Beyond Medievalism? Exeter Medievalism Network at Leeds IMC

The Leeds International Medieval Congress 2009 gets underway two weeks from today.  The theme of this year’s gathering is “Heresy and Orthodoxy” but, as ever, the congress includes a rich range of thematic strands, including a healthy selection of panels on Medievalism.  One such panel has been organized by the recently founded Exeter Medievalism Network.

The Exeter Medievalism Network has been set up by a group of colleagues who, specializing in different historical periods, have found a common interest in the the phenomenon of medievalism (broadly defined as a fascination with and/or attempt to revive some aspect of medieval culture).  Medievalism has been of increasing fascination to scholars in a range of disciplines, including literary studies, history, art history and archaeology, and to specialists in all historical periods ranging from the Renaissance to the present. For all this, academic approaches to medievalism have tended to be limited in two key respects. Firstly, medievalism has generally been understood as a nostalgic and aesthetic response, with scholars focusing on the revival or reinvention of formal practices (Spenserian diction, pre-Raphaelitism) and/or heroic national legends (King Arthur, Robin Hood). There has been far less attention to how the broader array of medieval social structures and practices have appealed as models or otherwise found representation in subsequent periods. Secondly, individual studies of medievalism have almost always been synchronic, focusing on the vision of middle ages in a given historical period (eg, the Romantic era, the Victorian period, or indeed the present day. What is less common is the diachronic narrative charting how the reputation, image or use of a particular medieval phenomenon changed over time. Our aim as a research network is to encourage the development of such narratives, through our own collaboration and through the sponsorship of events including an international conference at Exeter in 2010 (of which more later). 

Here are details of the EMN session at IMC:

Session: 1625

Title: Imagining Monastic Communities

Date / Time: July 16, 2009 11.15-12.45

Sponsor: University of Exeter Medievalism Network

Organiser: Corinna Wagner, Department of English, University of Exeter

Moderator: Cory James Rushton, Department of English, St Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia

Paper 1625-a: ‘It was never merry world since…’: Dissolution, Nostalgia, and the Birth of the Middle Ages

Philip Schwyzer , Department of English, University of Exeter

Paper 1625-b: ‘An habitual propensity to indolence and inactivity, contracted during his confinement in the cloister’: Medieval Kings, Catholicism, and Masculinity in the 19th-Century Novel

Joanne Parker, University of Exeter Medievalism Network, University of Exeter

Paper 1625-c: Medievalism, Community, and the Rise of Modern Political Economy

Corinna Wagner, Department of English, University of Exeter

Abstract: This panel investigates constructions of medieval monasticism in the early modern and modern English imagination. We examine how narratives surrounding monastic society evolved over time: each of the papers will explore the ways in which narratives about monks and pious kings were employed in different political and religious contexts. After their Dissolution, monasteries became – for both Catholics and Protestants – emblems of a lost era of cultural harmony. In the late 18th century, these emblems were used to protest the rise of modern political economy. Then, in the 19th century, monastic heroes were used to promote Catholic Relief and related political initiatives.

On the topic of medievalism, a question has been preying on our minds of late.  What is the term for a specialist in medievalism?  “Medievalist,” alas, is already taken.  Medievalite?  Suggestions in the comments section, please.

Other (genuine) medievalists from Exeter University speaking at IMC include Sarah Hamilton, Naomi Howell, and Anthony Musson.


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