On 27th-28th April 2017, the MALMECC project hosted its first workshop on: ‘Methodological Innovation in Late Medieval Studies’. Hosted by Wadham College, Oxford, a multidisciplinary group of medievalists from countries across Europe as well as North America joined us to debate new ways of approaching medieval sources and explore new methods of historical, art historical, literary and musicological investigation.
On Thursday morning, the workshop opened with a presentation from the MALMECC team, introducing the project in more detail and setting out some of the academic challenges facing us. This was followed by position papers from Elizabeth Eva Leach and Andrew Albin, sparking a lively debate about the extent to which medieval tournaments, plays and literary fictions ‘straddled’ the boundary between daily life and the imagined worlds of courtly love, medieval drama and cultural game-playing or performance.
In the afternoon, Ruxandra Marinescu and Mary Carruthers encouraged discussion of the many meanings and functions of rhetoric in medieval culture, considering the concept of ekphrasis and the creative value of perplexity in particular. The role of pictures and musical notation in manuscripts such as the Roman de Fauvel (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Français 146), and the problems of performing such a complex, ‘multimedia’ work in a court context were carefully examined.
On Friday morning, John Harper introduced us to his fascinating ongoing research project, The Experience of Worship. We explored what the enactment of medieval liturgies and the recreation of medieval artefacts could reveal about the experience of worship in the medieval cathedral and parish church. Anna Kvičalová provided a Reformation-era perspective on pre-modern processes of seeing and hearing, discussing the new modes of listening that emerged in mid-sixteenth-century Geneva.
On the Friday afternoon, there was further discussion of the religious experiences of the laity and the role of the senses in medieval devotion. Kathryn Rudy reviewed her investigations of the physical uses of medieval manuscripts by their users, including her use of a densitometer to measure the grime that original readers deposited in their books. Finally, Ursula Gießmann discussed the textiles of the papal court of Felix V in Basle and their place in ceremonial and performance.
Formal presentations were kept to a minimum to allow time for debate and discussion amongst all participants.
The insights and intellectual contributions of all attendees have enriched the MALMECC project enormously. We thank everybody for coming with such interest, enthusiasm and intellectual generosity, and the staff at Wadham for their invaluable assistance. We hope that this shared workshop experience proves as intellectually exciting and methodologically valuable for all its participants as it has done for the MALMECC team.