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magna carta BL catalogueAs I recently tweeted to British Library curator Julian Harrison, before the year is out we will all have reached #PeakMagnaCarta. But that time is not yet upon us!

In this 800th anniversary year, I’ve already been (albeit briefly and unexpectedly) something of a radio celebrity, talking about thirteenth century England on ABC radio in three capital cities across Australia. Heady days, folks; heady days! But we’re only just beginning. There are any number of public events, lectures, exhibitions and conferences planned. I won’t be at all of them, but I admit I’m going to gorge on this unaccustomed appetite for my period and specialty while I can.

Here’s a curated selection of Magna Carta related activities for you to peruse: Read the rest of this entry »

These seem to come around faster and faster – or maybe I’m just getting older… But it’s time for the sixth annual Revealing Records conference at King’s College London. This is a great forum in which to hear new graduate work based on original records. I recommend it if you’re in London later this month.

Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Kenneth Duggan’s academia page, where you can find a full program for the day:

Revealing Records VI

Now in its sixth year, the Revealing Records postgraduate research conference series brings together postgraduate researchers working with a wide range of sources from across the medieval world to share challenges and approaches through the presentation of their research. Featuring keynote papers from Dr Alice Rio (King’s College London) and Professor Paul Brand (All Souls College, Oxford) and a closing address delivered by Daniel Hadas (King’s College London)

Location: The Weston Room in the Maughan Library, King’s College London

When: 9.00-6.00, Friday 23rd May, 2014


To register, please email the conference organisers at the above address. Registration is free.

Lincoln Cathedral (image: wikimedia commons)

Lincoln Cathedral (image: wikimedia commons)

I’m really looking forward to June-July. Not only am I hitting the conference boards (and the legendary dance floor) at the Leeds IMC, but also spending several weeks in Lincoln as International Visiting Fellow in Medieval History. I’ll be taking the first steps in an exciting new research project while there, looking in the county archives and university and cathedral collections for examples of anonymity in different genres of text – more on that in another post. I’ll also be giving a talk on new work at the Religious Men in the Middle Ages conference, a joint event of Lincoln and Huddersfield Universities under the auspices of the Bishop’s Eye network. Importantly, and excitingly, I’ll also be running a workshop for local postgraduates in medieval history, examining some of the methodological insights into blending cultural and political history with diplomatic that I built up over my doctoral work. It’s going to be great fun!

I’ve never been to Lincoln before, so I am really looking forward to this visit from a tourist perspective too. I can’t wait to visit the amazing cathedral.

I’ve been handing out a lot of this of late, so I thought I would centralize it here. Maybe you’re presenting at your first conference, or maybe it’s not your first time but it’s a really major meeting and you lack confidence. Either way, perhaps you should consider these points. Don’t be one of those people who give dire conference papers that everyone remembers for the wrong reasons.

1. It’s a conference paper, not a journal article

These two genres are very different, yet many people – especially in the humanities – treat them as if they are the same. In other words, to prepare a conference paper, many humanities students/academics sit down and write. They produce elegantly phrased sentences of complex construction. They delay the moments of ‘big reveal’, maybe by opening with an evocative quotation or posing a puzzling question that won’t be answered until the end. These strategies might work fine in a written version (although, actually, I advocate coming clean on what your argument right from the beginning even in print), but a conference audience can’t flip back and forth through the pages to double check they know who Llywelyn ap Gruffydd is, or what the quote you used said. Take pity on them! Plan your paper from the outset with the awareness that it is an aural object, designed to be spoken aloud and received by listening. This awareness will lead you to the following points…

2. People have to be able to follow your argument in real time

Signpost. Signpost. Signpost. State your argument (and even its parts) right from the beginning. When you (and the audience) arrive at a new part of the argument, say so. Explain why the audience should care before you launch into each new quote, or complex description of influences on an idea. If you expect them to indulge you in an extended aside, say that that is what you’re doing. Tell them when you return to the main point. Give people plenty of hooks and ‘stage directions’ so they can follow you as you speak in real time.

3. You only have time for one key argument

Don’t try to cram your entire thesis on a given topic into 20 minutes. Although it may all be relevant to the title you proposed (oh so long ago!), it will just push you over time, and clutter your audience’s mind. Plus, I think it’s simply bad manners when lots of other speakers (many of them dutiful higher degree students) will have worked hard to make sure they keep on time, and everybody’s time is valuable.

As you begin to prepare, sit down and deconstruct your larger argument to its skeletal outline. Reflect: who is my audience? How much background will they already have? What will I need to explain so that everyone can follow me? Once you’ve dealt with the context that is essential to allow an intelligent non-specialist to follow your ideas, you won’t have a lot of time for complex exposition. Stick to the key point, and save the flourishes for the written version. Maybe your argument has lots of parts… but probably you only have time to deal with some of them. So what will you prioritize? What is the main ‘take home message’ you want to convey. Like Nick Hopwood, I’d encourage you to get it out in the open from the opening words – and then stick to it.

4. The details are devils

In a written version of a paper, you will give extensive footnotes, and probably provide a number of examples or pieces of evidence for each point in your argument. These details do not all belong in a spoken version, however. See points two and three! Just as you must reduce your argument to its essential skeletal outlines, you must be ruthless about how much evidence is needed to illustrate it in this format. Some will be essential in order for people to see, recognize the validity of, and remember your central point. But the rest can wait for extended treatment in print.

5. Only use visual aids if they help

Some presentations naturally work better with a bit of visual assistance. For example, if you’re going to rely on the physical layout of a document to draw some conclusions, having an image of it will no doubt be useful. Or you might want a family tree so that the audience can keep track of the relationships between lots of individuals. This might work best on the old fashioned handout. Or it might be ideal for a Power point or similar projected technology. But never, ever, do this gratuitously. A pointless power point slide show just makes people wonder if that’s where you put your energy instead of into refining your ideas. And if you are going to use visual aids, work to integrate them into your presentation actively – rather than just distributing the handout / whacking up the slides without comment and forgetting about them. When it works, visual supplementation is great. When it doesn’t, it looks – and is – redundant, and detracts from your work.

Any other tips from your experience?

So said Jorge Luis Borges, apparently. I’d like to help reunite someone with their own little slice of paradise, and you can help me do it, gentle reader.

A large box of books has found its way into my office, posted from the Leeds International Medieval Congress in July. Monash colleagues and I posted quite a lot of books home from this conference – 24kg of them to be exact – and some of them have arrived, while some of them haven’t. The box in question has arrived, but it doesn’t contain books that any of us actually purchased. It’s a box of bookish orphans, in fact. We need help to locate the owner of these books so that a reunion can be effected. If you or your colleagues purchased a fairly large number of books from the collection of the late Elizabeth Williams, and have strong interests in Middle English and French romance literature and lyric, please alert us. If you can name four or more books that are likely to be in the box, we’ll try and sort out a way of reuniting you without costing either party too much extra.[1] If the owner can’t be identified within 3 months, I’m just going to donate them to the Monash library, because I can’t see another way around it.

Paradise: the State LIbrary of Victoria Domed Reading Room. From Wikimedia Commons. By John O'Neill, under creative commons licence.

Paradise: the State Library of Victoria Domed Reading Room. From Wikimedia Commons. By John O’Neill, under creative commons licence.

Meanwhile, if anyone has seen a large number of books on Maimonides, preaching and silence, marriage, chastity, gender or the figure of Penelope in medieval literature, please let me know! (None of these, as you may have gathered, were my books; all mine have, happily, found their way to me already.) I know a few readers who won’t find Elysian peace until they can be reunited with the said volumes.


[1] We haven’t had any success getting a response from Oxbow Books, who provide the postage service from Leeds. We greatly appreciate that they provide this service, but we’re frustrated by the radio silence after emails, online customer feedback forms and tweets over several weeks haven’t generated any communication. They may or may not have records that connect the books with the address to which they should have gone. If you work for Oxbow, please get in touch so we can get this sorted out together!

[Update: A colleague has finally had a response from Oxbow, who are looking into matters at their end, and the books will soon be heading back to them at their expense – with luck to be reunited with their owners.]

[Update 2: our missing items have arrived!!! Huzzah!]

A session (or sessions) is planned for the Empire thematic strand at Leeds in 2014 on aspects of the ‘Angevin Empire’ from Matilda the Empress to Edward III. The goal is to trace the involvement of English monarchs on the continent and their relationships with and conceptions of subjects/vassals/lands there over a longer time scale than is normally considered under the rubric of the ‘Angevin Empire’. This is an excellent opportunity to test whether ‘Empire’ is a useful and appropriate category for analyzing such conceptions and/or relationships, and to begin developing a longer history of cross-channel governance that cuts through standard temporal boundaries such as regnal years and pivotal military moments. Comparative approaches are encouraged, and papers that address the question of French attitudes to English-Angevin rule or claims are also welcome.

Abstracts of 200 words should be sent to me ( by 15th September.

It’s official! Details of the fifteenth Thirteenth Century England conference have just been released and I’m happy to pass them on to you, dear reader. I’m not so happy that having spent most of July in the UK it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be able to make it back again in September, because it looks like a corker. If you can be there, enjoy, and I shall be there in spirit…

Oh, and if anyone would like the registration form and full program, just email me or post a comment and I’ll be happy to forward them on. Sadly, they don’t seem to want attach to this post!

Thirteenth Century England XV: Authority and Resistance in the Age of Magna Carta

2–5 September, 2013

Aberystwyth & Lampeter

Conveners: Janet Burton, Phillipp Schofield, Björn Weiler

  • Helen Birkett (Exeter), Visions of Power: Authority and Religious Identity in Cistercian Exempla
  • Richard Cassidy (London), Bad sheriffs, custodial sheriffs, and control of the counties
  • Judith Collard (Otago), Visual representation of authority in the Chronicles of Matthew Paris
  • Peter Coss (Cardiff), On what authority (if any) did knights revolt in the thirteenth century?
  • Rhun Emlyn (Aberystwyth), Graduates and Authority during the Conquest of Wales
  • Ian Forrest (Oxford), Sources of Power in the Thirteenth Century
  • Beth Hartland (Glasgow), Rebellion and the North in the thirteenth century
  • Katherine Harvey (London), A Disputed Episcopal Election in Thirteenth Century Winchester, 1238-44
  • Philippa Hoskin (Lincoln), Bishops and rebellion: theory and practice in the mid-thirteenth century
  • Jennifer Jahner (Pasadena), Polity, Privilege and Voice: Political Poetry in the Age of Magna Carta
  • Melissa Jones (Cardiff), Family Strategy or Personal Principles? The Cantilupes in the reign of Henry III
  • Owain Wyn Jones (Bangor), The ‘Oes Gwrtheyrn’ chronicle
  • Fergus Oakes (Glasgow), King’s Men without the King: Royalist Castle Garrison Resistance between the Battles of Lewes and Evesham
  • John Sabapathy (London), Innocent III’s Political Thinking on Questioning and Resisting Authority
  • Sita Steckel (Münster), Voicing resistance. Arguments against the mendicants in England and France
  • Katherine Sykes (Oxford), Regulating religious women in the age of Magna Carta
This is more or less what Aberystwyth looked like the last time I was there...

This is more or less what Aberystwyth looked like the last time I was there… This time let’s hope the drama is in the research rather than the weather. (Photo from

Recently on the MedFem Listserv, the valuable online forum of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, discussion was piqued by the question of whether we’re ‘done’ with the history of medieval queenship by now. I think most people ended by agreeing that the answer is ‘no’, even if some individual queens sometimes seem to be getting all the attention;[1] the usefulness of studying exceptional individuals for understanding the role of women generally in society at large may be small; and the value of looking at less well-known queens, not to mention non-royal women, certainly shouldn’t be denied. Theresa Earenfight has begun to address this through her recently established blog, Queens in the Middle Ages, which will be a great place to watch for more developments if you’re interested. Theresa recently posted:

royal women were highly visible to their contemporaries. Their lives were recounted in chronicles, the management of their estates and households recorded in fiscal documents, their letters collected in archives, and their religious and artistic patronage remembered in the books, buildings, and works of art they sponsored and treasured. Yet later scholars put kings at the center of the history of medieval Europe and ignored most queens, dismissed them as unimportant, forgot their actions, and obscured their lives…

This is certainly the case for a particular episode of English, French and indeed wider European history from the late thirteenth century. I’ve talked briefly about this before, and I’ll be waxing eloquent on the topic in Winchester in July, since my paper has just been accepted for the Kings & Queens conference, so I won’t go into loads of detail here. But suffice to say, the more I looked into the contextual background of three letters from Edward I to queens of France, the more horrified I became at the almost complete silence of historians on the involvement of these women in diplomatic efforts to avoid an Anglo-French war in the 1290s. They are almost completely invisible in the diplomatic historiography. Some works mention the presence of Marie of Brabant and Jeanne of Navarre at a meeting with Edward’s brother, Edmund of Lancaster, at which (depending on whose account you read) Edmund was duped into agreeing to a ‘secret’ peace pact with Philip IV, or did some duping of his own which resulted in Philip’s animosity. And that’s about it. No further comment or analysis. Not even a flicker of a pause in which to wonder why these queens were involved in negotiations, how they may have been involved in setting up or facilitating the occasion, or what their response to its failure might have been. No reflection on what the royal men considered to be the role of these women in diplomacy, or whether they sought it, or expected it, or resented it. No curiosity over how normal or extraordinary this kind of activity was. No mention of the subsequent correspondence from Edward to Marie, Jeanne, and Marguerite of Provence, even though two of these letters have been in print since Champollion-Figeac’s two-volume collection Lettres des Rois, Reines et Autres Personages des Cours de France et d’Angleterre depuis Louis VII jusqu’à Henri IV, Tirées des Archives de Londres appeared in 1839, and all three are noted in the Calendar of the Close Rolls, Edward I, Vol. III: 1288—1296, first printed in 1904.[2] What this means is that despite having had the resources to hand for at least one hundred and seventy-four years it simply hadn’t occurred to anyone to ask these questions, even though the presence and influence of the three queens was not invisible to their contemporaries. I’d say that shows we aren’t done yet.

On the upside, it means there are still plenty of opportunities to add to the story of thirteenth-century diplomacy. That, at least, makes me smile.

[1] Eleanor of Aquitaine, I’m looking at YOU!
[1] J. J. Champollion-Figeac, ed., Lettres des Rois, Reines et Autres Personages des Cours de France et d’Angleterre Depuis Louis VII Jusqu’à Henri IV, Tirées des Archives de Londres. 2 vols, Collection de Documents Inédits de l’Histoire de France (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1839-47); Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office. 61 vols (London: HMSO, 1900-1963). Point of trivia – Jacques Joseph Champollion-Figeac was the elder brother of Jean-François Champollion, famous for translating the Rosetta Stone, one of the other iconic British Museum posters of my childhood previously discussed here. I guess I was always doomed to be an Egyptologist or a Medievalist…!

I’ve held off noting these reports beginning to emerge, because I wanted to put them all together in one post, but it seems like they’re going to trickle in over a relatively longish period, and I’m impatient. Here, I therefore point you, dear reader, in the direction of the admirable Magistra et Mater, who has begun compiling reports on sessions from the 2012 Leeds IMC:

IMC 2012 report 1: rules, filth and gender

IMC 2012 report 2: an early medieval sandwich

IMC 2012 report 3: Hincmar and the rest

Further reports will be linked back to this post as they appear.

Bodington Hall is for sale. Some may not be sad, others will miss it with the kind of nostalgia that only comes from having adapted to crummy conditions and found it a bonding experience...

Bodington Hall is for sale. Some may not be sad, others will miss it with the kind of nostalgia that only comes from having adapted to crummy conditions and found it to be a bonding experience… Photo by Particulations.

And this segues nicely into a glimpse forward to the IMC this year, which will be the first at the much vaunted new ‘on-campus’ locale. (For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the IMC previously took place at the University of Leeds’ residential halls, which are (or rather, were – they’re apparently being demolished, and some may say ‘good riddance’…) about 25 mins north of the city by bus, set among some charming sports grounds and not-quite-so-charming urban ring-road roundabouts. I will admit that the first time I went to the meeting I failed to note this and booked a ‘handy’ B&B directly opposite the campus proper, which meant I missed out on lots of the late evening shin-digs as I schlepped back to my digs on the last bus home…) I’m not sure yet how I feel about the move. No – actually I am sure: I feel ambivalent. The facilities may indeed be newer, nicer, shinier and better provided with air conditioning, but the fact that we will all be much closer to town, and therefore much closer to lots of alternative options for spending ‘non-conference’ time lurks as a significant potential drawback. Read the rest of this entry »

This has just crossed my inbox, and although I can’t make it personally on this occasion, I’ve been a couple of times before. (In fact, it’s getting to the stage where to say “I spoke at the first one” might really count for something!) I can vouch that it is a meeting worth going to, so here it is: Revealing Records V. If you are a postgraduate student (or you have postgraduate students) working on any source/s that might be classes as ‘records’ I recommend heading to KCL in late May to meet and discuss with like-minded people. The quality of the papers will be good and the company cheery. Send your 200 word abstract to by 14 December.

Revealing Records enters its 5th year. Click through for a larger version.

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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