CFP: Making Early Middle English Conference, University of Victoria, 23-25 September 2016

Deadline: 15 December 2015

Contact: Adrienne Boyarin ( and Dorothy Kim (

Past scholarly evaluations of the Early Middle English period (roughly ca. 1100-1350) have not been positive. In the Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (1999), Thomas Hahn summarized the history of scholarship as a struggle with “one of the dullest and least accessible intervals in standard literary history, an incoherent, intractable, impenetrable dark age scarcely redeemed by a handful of highlights.” J.A. Bennett and G.V. Smithers found little to challenge “the traditional view that the reigns of William [the Conqueror] and his sons mark an hiatus in our literature” (Early Middle English Verse and Prose, 1968). Even when scholars depart from these paradigms, there is a tendency, as Christopher Cannon has observed, to view Early Middle English in terms of “profound isolation from immediate vernacular models and examples, from any local precedent for the business of writing English” (The Grounds of English Literature, 2004). For Hahn, the period has a reputation for “aridity and remoteness,” and for Cannon, the consequence is “literary history’s general sense that there is nothing there.” A reassessment remains necessary, especially to de-isolate English texts and genres of this period and (re)place them in their wider textual, linguistic, and cultural contexts. The Early Middle English period was in fact a time of intense change, experimentation, and production. Early Middle English literature juggles regional specificities, genres in process, and multilingual and multicultural interactions with verve.

This conference will explore Early Middle English, it historical and scholarly “making,” and its contexts. It takes as its topic the widest possible conception of the field: bracketed by the Norman Conquest and the decline of the English populace as a result of the Plague. This period was characterized by its multilingualism and interaction between four main literary languages (Latin, French, English, Welsh), as well as users of Greek, Hebrew, Irish, Old Norse, Arabic, and Dutch. It was a time that witnessed crusaders’ establishment and loss of the Holy Land and the presence of an active Jewish community in England (before their expulsion in 1290). The literary climate was rich in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural dialogue. New scholarship is revealing a diverse, and intellectually and aesthetically experimental, textual and literary landscape, and digital humanists and editors are presently working to meet the special challenges of access that have always existed for the period.
The organizers welcome papers that engage how Early Middle English as a field, as manuscripts, as texts, and as a multilingual phenomenon has been shaped and made, handled and mishandled. We are interested in talks that consider the historical, global, and multilingual situation of English literature and English manuscript production between 1100-1350, and we encourage ideas of Early Middle English as a network of experimental clusters. We are also interested in how the period has been fashioned in its post-medieval histories, from sixteenth-century antiquarian descriptions, to twentieth-century scholarly views of its “aridity and remoteness” (to quote Thomas Hahn in the Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature), to its current new “making” in digital archives. Scholars from a range of disciplines, working on a range of genres and languages related to the production of English literature and “Englishness” in the period 1100-1350, should feel free to submit proposals for sessions or papers.

Topics to consider include but are not limited to:
• the multicultural and international contexts of Early Middle English
• the multilingual contexts of Early Middle English (including Englishes, Latin, French/Anglo-Norman, Hebrew, Welsh, etc.)
• the history of the field and boundary problems (e.g., between Old English and Early Middle English, between England and France, between disciplines, etc.)
• manuscript studies
• access to and creation of resources (digital resources, editions)
• pedagogical challenges around Early Middle English
• concepts of nativeness in Early Middle English and related literature
• the role of women and gender in Early Middle English (as a field or a corpus)

The conference will take place at the University of Victoria, located on southern Vancouver Island in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. University of Victoria boasts world-class Digital Humanities programs, a thriving undergraduate major and honours program in Medieval Studies, and a fine teaching collection of medieval manuscripts and documents. The conference will include presentation of Special Collections materials, workshops on the challenges of creating digital resources for Early Middle English, a presentation by the directors of the NEH-funded Archive of Early Middle English project, and keynote addresses by scholars working on the multilingual situation of twelfth- and thirteenth-century England. Dependent on grant funding, some subsidies may become available for those who would otherwise find it difficult to attend.
Please email proposals, as well as queries or expressions of interest, to both organizers by 15 December 2015: Adrienne Boyarin ( and Dorothy Kim ( Abstracts for 20-minute papers should be no longer than 300 words; session proposals (a session description/rationale and a list of proposed speakers who have confirmed their willingness to attend) should be no longer than 500 words; expressions of interest, queries, and ideas for non-traditional formats are also welcome. Please include your name, research area, and affiliation (if applicable) in all correspondence.

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