We're investigating the historical, economic, intellectual and religious interactions between Europe and various medieval and early-modern empires and civilisations through their cultural productions and material conditions.
Our exploration of the Middle Ages and the pre-modern periods expands the traditional borders of Western Europe to examine different geographic regions. By globalising the medieval and studying the 1000-year period of the Middle Ages (from the 5th to the 15th century) in regions as diverse as Asia, Africa and Oceania, we hope to reconsider historical periodisation and Europe's assumed linear trajectory.
We are also interested in the myriad iterations of the medieval in contemporary cultures. Since the Renaissance, the concept of the Middle Ages has often been used in opposition to modernity – the period is seen either as unspeakably barbaric or organically utopian. We are interested in the ideology of periodisation and how the term 'medieval' is used to serve the privilege of some and marginalise others.
We are also concerned with mapping the cultural iterations of the medieval as it presents in art around the globe. We study the ways in which medieval sources are used and how medieval representations are produced and enjoyed.
We are an interdisciplinary community of academics and students from several departments within the University of Sydney and from universities across Australia and New Zealand.
25 October 2017
Dominique Barbe, The University of Noumea, New Caledonia
Linking the European Middle Ages with the history of Oceania requires identification of phenomena common to most island groups. These phenomena suggest a general evolution is found everywhere, with local specificities becoming more marked from the beginning of the Little Ice Age of the early 14th century. The development of archaeology and genealogies, and the history of natural events help in understanding the connections and conflicts in an island world where the ocean is more of a bridge than a barrier.
20 September 2017
Professor Anne Dunlop, The University of Melbourne
The medieval ruler of Verona, Cangrande della Scala (ob. 1329), was buried in a lavish outfit made from European, Central Asian, and East Asian silks that testify to the international trade in textiles, from China to Northern Europe, that arose in the wake of the early 13th century Mongol conquests. Cangrande’s suit becomes a starting point for a discussion of contact and exchange in the Mongol age.
16 August 2017
Professor Constant Mews, Monash University
Reflecting on the need for religious history to develop a greater global perspective without sacrificing an understanding of local identity. We will consider how various forms of religious history have combined local and global identity in different ways, going back to orally transmitted songlines about spirit ancestors that define the law of the land.
30 August 2017
Dr Michael Abrahams-Sprod, Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, The University of Sydney
The religious fervour that captivated the Crusaders in 1096 as they made their way across Europe laid its toll at the doorstep of the Jewish communities of the Rhineland. The Crusaders fell upon Jewish communities, forcing them to convert to Christianity. While Jewish communities struggled with this new reality, the rabbis redeveloped a known theological concept that sanctioned martyrdom – Al Kiddush HaShem. How did the rabbis justify this position and how was it presented and later represented?
26 April 2017
Dr James Kane, Department of English, The University of Sydney
Examining the idea and purpose of the yellow-cloth cross of penance, imposed by the armies of the Albigensian Crusade (1208–1229) that marched into the expanse of land between the Rhône and Garonne rivers known as Occitania. The paper analyses how the punitive repurposing of the symbol of the cross exploited conceptual and tangible methods of coercion to create a category of people who were analogous to the notoriously unpopular crusaders, thus generating a deep sense of resentment in the towns and villages of Occitania.
29 March 2017
Dr Mark Strange, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University
This seminar will examine the major features of eminent historian and statesman Sima Guang’s (1019-86) Examination of Variants, submitted as a corrollary to his vast chronicle, A comprehensive reflection on the past to aid orderly rule (1084). We will explore the role the Variants played in Sima Guang’s larger historiographic project, and touch on issues of authority in 11th-century historical writing.
15-18 June 2016
Expanding the traditional focus, disciplinary constraints, geographic reach and historical periodisation of the Middle Ages and early-modern period. We will challenge the notion that Western powers were constituted in the 15th century or the Renaissance and gave rise, only then, to a capitalist modernity; and reflect on the technologies, translation projects, intercultural engagements and cultural sophistication of earlier empires.
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In 2015, the world commemorated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. But how can a medieval English charter embody fundamental rights in a globalised world? We reconsider the medieval origins of human rights and the legacy of foundational medieval texts today.
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