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Material Artefacts: Reading the Past through Archaeological Objects in Medieval British Literatur

Jun 05, 2015 - Jun 07, 2015

International Conference organized by subproject B01 “Artefacts, Treasures and Ruins – Materiality and Historicity in the Literature of the English Middle Ages” (Head: A. J. Johnston)  

The literary depiction of archaeological objects – ruins, fragments, buried artefacts or treasures – occurs with such frequency in the surviving literature of medieval Britain that one might be tempted to speak of a trope. Scenes involving the discovery, description or contemplation of objects from the past can be found in texts ranging from hagiography to elegiac poetry, from historiography to romance, nor are they restricted to any one period or region. Often, these descriptions present an occasion for historical reflection, touching on questions of historical change and processes of transmission. Earlier scholarship usually regarded these scenes as instances of religious contemplation of worldly transience, while approaches from the 1980s and 1990s stressed the respective texts’ awareness of Britain’s ‘post-colonial’ past and its successive periods of settlement and conquest by culturally and linguistically diverse peoples. More recently, scholarship has focused on questions of materiality and transmission.

The objective of this conference is to explore ways in which medieval British texts employ descriptions of material objects in order to produce specifically aesthetic and literary responses to questions of historicity and the epistemological conditions of historical knowledge. The literary depiction of archaeological objects, we believe, generates new forms of historical knowledge which can provide alternative ways of reflecting on historical processes that may even move beyond the established master narratives of medieval historiography.

Contact: Jan-Peer Hartmann, jan-peer.hartmann[at]fu-berlin.de