Skip to main content

Birkbeck Medieval Seminar 2024: The Trained Medieval Body

Venue: Birkbeck 30 Russell Square

Book your place

Medieval people navigated the world around them using their bodies and senses, as we do today. But how did people tune their senses and apply their bodies to specific tasks? The 2024 Birkbeck Medieval Seminar explores the idea of ‘the trained medieval body’, broadly construed.

THIS IS A HYBRID EVENT MEETING IN 30 RUSSELL SQUARE RM 101. In-person attendance is encouraged: all registered attendees will receive the virtual link. 

Exploring medieval ideas of training and pedagogy, the Seminar seeks to question how people in the medieval period used their bodies not only to learn but to produce knowledge of their environments. For example, a martially-trained soldier might read the stances and orientations of others in accordance with his experiences of potential physical dangers, while a university academic might be more accustomed to perceiving challenges in the nuances of speech and debate. A spice merchant might sample the smells of a shipment with a mind to his profits, while a priest with the same spices might breathe in the scent of sanctity.

The idea of a culturally-conditioned sensorium allows historians to interrogate not only the historical conceptions of bodies and their environments, but the ways that social organisation was mirrored in medieval bodily regimens. Furthermore, considering the ways that medieval bodies differ from modern bodies in terms of the sensory attunement to their environments provides fertile ground for interrogations of popular medievalisms and the use of the senses within heritage. Welcoming interdisciplinary perspectives, the Seminar seeks to incorporate research across a broad range of material and textual sources to expand the discourse surrounding medieval ideas of embodiment, self-fashioning, and productivity.

Thursday, 11 July 10:00-17:00 in 30 RUS rm 101 and online

Schedule of speakers: 

10-10.15: Introduction
10.15-11.15: Katie L Water, "How to walk: training sight and touch in medieval walking discourses."
11.15-11.30: Break
11.30-12.30: Craig Hambling, "Sensory Media and Bodily Governance in Mirrors for Princes."
12.30-1.30: Break for Lunch
1.30-2.30: William Tullett, "Artifice for Artifice’s Sake? Reassessing Jorvik’s Olfactory Museology 40 years on."
2.30-2.45: Break
2.45-3.45: Kiel O'Shea and Nathaniel Marten, "Reconstructing and Presenting Historic Violence with Modern Bodies."
3.45-4.30: Roundtable of Speakers


About the Organizer: 

Craig Hambling (PhD Student, Birkbeck School of Historical Studies) is a historian of medieval pedagogy, political theory, and physical training, specialising in the ways in which martial techniques were intertwined with theories of social organisation and ontology. He recently completed his PhD at Birkbeck, entitled "How to Build a King: Shaping the Self and the Royal Body in Giles of Rome’s De Regimine Principum (c.1280)". Originally trained as an actor, Craig works as teacher with the British Academy of Dramatic Combat and as a fight choreographer for scenes of violence in many UK theatres. He also appears in in public history interpretation at historical sites such as the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, and Dover Castle, usually very carefully hitting people with things.

Contact name: