Sensory Orders: Detecting Difference in the Middle Ages

deadline for submissions: 
October 26, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Sewanee Medieval Colloquium: Law and (Dis)Order
contact email: 

Sewanee Medieval Colloquium: Law and (Dis)Order 

April 13-14, 2018. The University of the South, Sewanee, TN.

http://medievalcolloquium.sewanee.edu 

 

Sensory Orders: Detecting Difference in the Middle Ages

Appeals to smell, taste, see, hear, and touch go a long way to define medieval senses of self and other. In the Middle English Siege of Jerusalem (ca. 1370-1380), for instance, the stench of Jewish corpses “choke” ditches to the horror of Jewish survivors and to the delight of Christian spectators. The sound of the blacksmith’s hammer striking an anvil, as imagined in “Complaint Against The Blacksmiths” (ca. 1275-1300), somehow transmits the color of his blackened skin and the nuisance of his socioeconomic status across great distances. What do we do with works, such as the Siege of Jerusalem and the “Complaint Against The Blacksmiths,” that negatively consume its sensing figures and, by extension, its readers? What is gained in and through these literary assaults on the senses? What are the ends of medieval sensation? How are medieval and modern readers taught to perceive differences of race, religion, gender, sexuality, and/or ability?

Sensory studies often make positive use of the senses, in so far as the senses enable modern audiences to have deeper and more significant encounters with past cultures, histories, and literatures. For all the positive sensations we recognize, medieval senses were just as often engaged in and by art and literature to inculcate difference, justify brutality, and/or cultivate sympathy. “Detecting Difference” invites participants to examine the various formations and capacities of the medieval sensorium to encode and enforce social (dis)orders, paying special attention to techniques for detecting differences of race, religion, gender, sexuality, and/or ability. The panel will build on recent work in the sensory, disability, and race studies—from Mark Smith’s How Race Was Made: Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses (2006) to the special issue of postmedieval, edited by Lara Farina and Holly Dugan on “The Intimate Senses” (2012)—to explore how medieval perceptions of difference speak to present-day conversations about difference, about cultures of surveillance, about the policing of bodies, behaviors, and ideas. 

Applicants should submit a 250-300 word abstract to Molly Lewis (mclewis@email.gwu.edu) or Arthur Russell (ajr171@case.edu) by 26 October 2017. Completed papers, including notes, will be due no later than 13 March 2018.