Spectatorship and Observation in the Medieval Arts (Kalamazoo 2017)

deadline for submissions: 
September 9, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
The Medieval Studies Workshop at the University of Chicago - Sam Lasman, Carly Boxer
contact email: 

In contemporary studies of the Middle Ages, questions of visuality have increasingly dominated analyses of artistic production, in part because of the central role of vision in medieval theological and scientific discourse. This session seeks to broaden the conversation around medieval visuality by asking not only what it meant to see in the Middle Ages, but also what it meant to be seen, and how these networks of viewership could be depicted in the pictorial arts, literature, architecture, music, and drama. Unlike more general categories of vision and visuality, spectatorship and observation categorize modes of looking in which visual acuity, aesthetic sensitivity, sustained attention, and a focus on the specific character of the object of one’s gaze become central. This session will consider evidence of these practices of viewership as a means of thinking expansively about how medieval viewers looked at their objects of attention, and how relationships between a medieval beholder and the object of their gaze could be portrayed. How, for example, do tropes such as spying, blindness, dream visions, and tournaments in literature attest to the importance of spectatorship for medieval readers? How do medieval images demonstrate the centrality of observation in the facets of medieval life they depict?  This session refocuses the discussion about vision and visuality around the ways in which different modes of looking would have inflected the experiences of medieval readers and viewers, and how these processes of viewership were documented, represented, and interrogated in the artistic productions of the Middle Ages. We look forward to abstracts from a wide variety of disciplines, and welcome proposals representing temporally and geographically diverse histories.


This session will take the form of a panel featuring 15-20 minute papers. Please send 250-word abstracts and a completed participant information form (http://www.wmich.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/u434/2016/medieval-...) to Carly Boxer at cbboxer@uchicago.edu and Sam Lasman at slasman@uchicago.edu by September 10th.