Transformations: Tracing Forces of Change in the Medieval and Early Modern Period

deadline for submissions: 
January 9, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Duke-UNC Medieval and Early Modern Studies Collaboration

Since Ovid’s first-century Metamorphoses, transformative experiences and transformed selves have been fundamental sites of interest in European literature. At times bewildering, marvelous, and horrid, these physical transformations can invite readers to reconsider their bodies and, because of Ovid’s moral ambiguity, to reconsider their morality and thus to reconsider themselves. The powerful idea of transformation has shaped medieval and early modern thinking, a specter heralding what is yet to come, whether feared or longed for. Transformations can be violent, often involving aggressive bodily catalysts, or even death. But other transformations are rapturous, holy epiphanies. Transformations can be sly and illusory, indiscernible yet suspected. Some transformations are natural and mysterious, others horrifying and monstrous, and still others are puzzling, stunted, or unfinished.


This conference seeks papers from across the humanities that engage the topic of transformation in the medieval and early modern periods, including those that are physical, psychological, sexual, gendered, cultural, religious, social, hierarchical, ideological, scientific, magical, natural, supernatural, and anything in between. Transformations may also be construed broadly as conversions, perversions, adaptations, regenerations, rebirths, recreations, and reconstructions among other changes.


Central questions include the following:


-          How do medieval and early modern people grapple with concepts of transformation?


-          How do forces such as disease, advances in medicine, changes in monarchy, forms of violence and crime, art, law, and philosophy transform minds, bodies, and souls?


-          How do conventions of genre respond to transformation—do they resist, comply, or struggle liminally? Additionally, how can genres be transformative, and what are their effects?


-          What is the role of transformation on the natural world, and how does it shade people’s lived experiences and perceptions?


-          How do medieval and early modern people figure the various transformations inherent in an embodied existence, and how do cultural perceptions of the body itself transform over the period?


-          How might the specific political and religious transformations color the medieval and early modern periods? These transformations might include the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, the Norman Conquest, the Reformation (both in England and on the Continent), the Thirty Years War, the English Civil War, the Restoration, and other major historical events.


-          What elements of linguistic transformation inflect the literature of this period?


-          How does the birth of the printing press and the growth of print culture transform the written word and the writing of history, literature, law, and medicine?


We invite 20 minute papers on these and related topics. Abstracts of 300-400 words are due January 1, 2017 to Participants will be notified on January 15, 2017.


Dr. Jessica Wolfe will deliver our first keynote on Friday, Feb. 24. Professor Wolfe teaches in the department of English and comparative literature at UNC-Chapel Hill as serves as the director of the Program in Comparative Literature and director of undergraduate studies. Her most recent books include Homer and the Questions of Strife from Erasmus to Hobbes, published by Toronto University Press, 2015; and Humanism, Machinery, and Renaissance Literature, published by Cambridge University Press, 2014. She has also begun work as co-editor of Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica for Oxford University Press, which will result in volumes 2 and 3 (and possibly 4) of  a new Complete Works of Browne.


Dr. Nicole Marafioti will deliver our second keynote on Saturday, Feb. 25. Professor Marafioti teaches in the department of history at Trinity College and co-chairs the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program. Her most recent projects include her book The King's Body: Burial and Succession in Late Anglo-Saxon England, published by Toronto University Press, 2014; and her current book project, Crime and Sin in Late Anglo-Saxon England. She has also co-edited a volume of essays, Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England, published by Boydell and Brewer, 2014.


“Transformations: Tracing Forces of Change in the Medieval and Early Modern Period” will be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from February 24-25, 2017.