CFP: Nature and the Natural in the Middle Ages, 3-4 May 2013, U of Chicago

Deadline: 1 September 2012

Nature and the Natural in the Middle Ages, 3-4 May 2013, University of Chicago

In the Middle Ages, as now, people appealed to the idea of nature and the natural as an authorizing, legitimizing force, though their conceptions of what nature was and how it worked varied considerably.  Nature was frequently aligned with God, with Creation, with right order and the good, and was evoked to support a range of projects, political programs, and ideas.  The created world provided an object of endless study and of visual representation.  Bestiaries, cosmologies, and encyclopedias sought to order, describe, and understand the natural world that, in turn, was depicted in the borders of manuscripts, tapestries, statuary and carvings.  An accurate and comprehensive understanding of the created world was necessary, as patristic writers such as Augustine and Origen affirmed, in order to arrive at a correct interpretation of Scripture. Since the created world was God¹s work, the concepts of nature and the natural had significant normative and explanatory authority.  The presumed nature of women, for instance, was used to delimit their sphere of action in the world.  Nature appears as a literary character in the works of Bernard Silvestris, Alain de Lille, Jean de Meun, and others, where she is associated with divine principles of creation. The natural world can be ordered in literal, textual, or visual terms, while the disorder of nature can signal moral turpitude.  The vernacular is the natural language of people, a distinction with implications for both poetics and politics. Political authority is itself naturalized, as legitimate kings, unlike tyrants, are Œnatural.

Such disparate meanings and uses of nature in the Middle Ages have most often been considered within the framework of specific disciplines. This conference will bring together specialists from a range of disciplinary perspectives in order to consider in broad terms medieval representations and understandings of nature and the natural world in its many guises ­theological, legal, linguistic, poetic, artistic, scientific, political, and sexual.  We aim to provide a space for productive dialogue across disciplinary boundaries in order to explore how the practices of one field may illuminate work being done in other areas, and to generate discussion across fields, but within the framework of medieval studies, understood in broad terms that include non-Western and non-Christian areas.

Those interested in presenting are invited to send a 250-word abstract to Daisy Delogu ( by September 1, 2012.


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