EMREM Symposium 2016

The registration for our annual symposium is open!


Chaos and Catastrophe;

Restoration and Renewal


5-6 May University of Birmingham, Arts Building, Lecture Room 3

Day One, Thursday 5 May

10.30– 11.30 Registration


11.30-13.00 Providence and Tragedy

Chair: Tayler Meredith

Polly Duxfield, UoB, ‘1275: The Catastrophic Year of Alfonso the Wise (1252-1284) and its Effects on the Rest of his Reign’

Kibrina Davey, Sheffield Hallam, ‘Preventing the Green Eyed Monster: Potential Othellos in Shakespeare’s Tragicomedies’

Jason R. Varner, St. Andrews, ‘Making sense of chaos: Puritain narrative cosmology in the experience of King Philip’s War’


13.00-14.00 Lunch (Danford Room)


14.00-16.00 Conflict and Rhetoric in 10th-14th century East Asia

Chair: Lance Pursey

Jonathan Dugdale, UoB, ‘Just a Kitan Dynasty Living in a Chinese World: Reconstructing the Political and Religious Networks of Post-Tang East Asia’

Chen Xue, UoB, ‘Rebels and Rebellions: The Identities and Boundaries in the 10th and 11th Century Chinese Historiography’

Lance Pursey UoB, ‘Ethnicity and Emplotment at the end of an Empire’

Geoffrey Humble, UoB, ‘Stories for Harmony? Biography, Conflict and Resolution Across Mongol China’


16.00-16.30 Tea Break


16.30-18.00 Byzantine Succession and Networks of Support

Chair: Francisco Lopez-Santos Kornberger

Joseph Parsonage, UoB ‘Marriage, Regency and Succession in Middle Byzantine Dynastic Strategy – Crisis and Renewal in the Imperial Family’

Niccolo Fattori, Royal Holloway, ‘With a Little Help from My Friends: Networks of Mutual Support in the Communities of the Greek Diaspora (16th c.)’

Onur Usta, UoB, ‘’From Catastrophe to Crisis: A Reconsideration of the Desert and Sown Paradigm in Relation to the Nomads of Asia Minor, (11th-13th and late 16th-early 17th centuries)’


18.00-19.30 Wine Reception, Sponsored by the Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages at the University of Birmingham


20.00-23.00 Conference Dinner


Day Two, Friday 6 May

10.00-10.30 Registration


10.30-12.00   Writing Lives and Ars Moriendi

Chair: Emily Buffey

Melanie Peters-Turner , UoB, ‘For the Divine Service which is to be Said for my Soul;: Testamentary evidence for Memorialisation in the Middling Classes’

Charles Green, UoB , ‘’The Death of all Arts’: Adapting Donne’s Apocalyptic Topoi in his Posthumous Poems (1633)

Alison Passe, Aberdeen, ‘The Multiple Deaths of Antony’


12.00-13.00 Lunch  (Danford Room)


13.00-14.30 The Book as an Object of Reform

Chair: Matthew Collins

Claire Harrill, UoB, ‘Royal Restoration: St Margret of Scotland and the Scottish Royal Line in the ‘Dunfermline’ Manuscript’’

Morvern French, St Andrews, ‘’Ostentatious by nature’: Flemish Material Culture, Conspicuous Consumption and Anglo-Scottish Relations at the court of James IV’

Ruth Caddick, UoB, ‘Renewing Romance: The Older Scots ‘Clariodus’ and its French Source’


14.30-15.00 Tea Break


15.00-16.30 Religious Reform, Heresy and Iconoclasm

Chair: Georgie Fitzgibbon

Ian Styler, UoB, ‘A Bishop, a Monk and a Saint and the Restoration of Monasticism: How AEthelwold, AElfric and AEthelthryth Influenced the Benedictine Reforms of the Late Tenth Century’

Mark Robinson, Nottingham Trent University, ‘The Council of Avignon 1209: Pacification, Reform and the Albigensian Crusade’

Sally Wadsworth, UoB, ‘Defiance in the Face of God: The Case of Henry Sherfield’


16.30, Closing Remarks and Refreshments


Please send your registration forms to emremforum@googlemail.com!










29th February, 7th March

Hello EMREM-ers!

We have decided not to run a session on Monday 29th February, as we anticipate that a lot of you will be attending the SHaC Academic Careers Series talk on ‘Becoming a Lecturer’ (4pm, Strathcona Lecture Theatre 7, more information can be found on the Facebook event).

We would love to see you all on Monday 7th March (as usual at 4pm in the Westmere Seminar Room). We will be talking about Birmingham’s new research institute for History and Cultures, BRIHC, and hope to have the interim director with us.

And finally, next Tuesday is our cfp deadline- please send us your proposals for papers, panels, or offers to chair!


Monday 8th February

On Monday 8th February we will be back in the Seminar Room of Westmere House at 4pm. 

Join us for a discussion on sources! Tell us about the interesting sources you are using, and feel free to bring along examples, as we think about the different approaches we are using in our research.

As usual, there will be nibbles!


Monday 25th January

Monday 25th January

6pm Bratby Bar

Join us for an informal planning session and social!


Important Information about Week 4:

On Wednesday 3rd February, our session will be at 3.30pm in the Barber Coin Gallery.

We will meet at 3.20 in the foyer. As space in the coin room is limited, could you please email us to sign up by Friday 29th January?

25th Jan

Monday 18th January


EMREM Material in the Cadbury Research Library

4pm in the Cadbury Research Library (basement of Muirhead Tower)

Interested in the CRL, the material it holds that might be useful for your research, or how to use archives more generally? Come along for an introduction by the archivists, and the chance to see some of the documents held on site!

Please note the change of venue!

18th Jan

Monday 11th January and key dates for Semester Two

Monday 11th January

4pm Seminar Room, Westmere House

Presentation Skills As You’ve Never Practiced Them Before!


Important Dates For This Semester:

Mon 18th January, 4pm in the Cadbury Research Library

Wed 3rd February, 3.30pm in the Barber Coin Gallery

Mon 21st March, 5.15pm, in the Bratby Bar


Call for Papers and Blog Posts

As with last semester, there is an open call for papers to be presented at our weekly sessions, and posts for the blog. If you have an idea, let us know!

11th Jan

Call For Papers: EMREM 2016 Symposium


The EMREM Postgraduate Forum

Annual Symposium

Thursday 5th and Friday 6th May 2016


Papers are invited for the 2016 EMREM two-day interdisciplinary symposium, to be held at the University of Birmingham. The theme for this year’s event is ‘Chaos and Catastrophe; Restoration and Renewal’.

Postgraduate speakers from all fields of EMREM are welcome to share their research and build networks at this friendly and well-established symposium.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

Civil Wars                                       Restoration

Dynastic Feuds                              Legitimacy

Reformation                                   Counter-Reformation

Providential Disasters                 Conservation and Resilience

Disease and Famine                     Medicine and Containment

Memories of Catastrophe           Visions of Utopia

Death of a Leader                          Coronation

Collapse of Empire                        The New World

Sudden Death                                  Ars Moriendi

Apocalypse                                       Resurrection

Suffering                                           Hope


Papers should be 20 minutes in length. Please send proposals of approximately 300 words, OR 1000 words if applying as a panel, to emremforum@googlemail.com by 1st March 2016.

We have normally been able to provide the conference free of charge and with grants available to cover reasonable travel costs for speakers. We are confident that we will be able to do the same this year.







Guest Blog Post

‘The English Ape’: Barbarous Brits and the Culture of Climate in early modern England

Tayler Meredith

‘Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.’ – Oscar Wilde

For Oscar Wilde, nothing was more excruciating to bear than talk of the weather – ‘the last refuge of the unimaginative’, in his words. During these drab English winter months, we too may empathise with Wilde’s cynicism. For ahead of excessive tea-drinking, professional queuing, and ill-advised foreign invasions, the English are perhaps best known for their tedious obsession with the weather. If the Inuit people have one hundred words for snow (technically they don’t), then the English have just as many expressions to describe ‘light-drizzle’. Call it a social prop, or just mindless small talk, this trait (combined with our stifling national awkwardness) naturally engenders the kind-of paranoia Wilde describes. Surely there must be some substance behind such throwaway babble: perhaps it’s the dreary repression of imperial guilt? A self-deprecating reminder of Britain’s industrial decline? Is it Cameron’s fault? Or Blair?  No, Thatcher! Definitely Thatcher.



Bloody Thatcher and her brazen deregulation of the met-office

Almost certainly, it is none of the above reasons (and I’ll leave this debate – and potential PhD proposal – for the social anthropologists in our midst). As for our Elizabethan antecedents – equally obsessed with the changing seasons – talk of the weather did mean something else. In fact, it meant quite a lot of things. From physical and mental health, to providence and religious identity, the weather informed a gamut of social, scientific, and cultural practices. Most striking, however, is the curiously common attribution of national characteristics to the English climate.

‘As the air is, so are the inhabitants,’ wrote Robert Burton of the English temperament. The English, like their intemperate climes, were thus ‘dull, heavy, witty, subtle, neat, cleanly, clownish, sick, sound.’ Quite literally, the English were a product of their (rather unfavourable) environment. As the climate varied or worsened, as it so often did during the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’, so too did the very character of its inhabitants; for ‘the clime changes not so much customs, manners, wits … as constitutions of their bodies, and the temperature itself.’ This was bad news for the English. Like their barbarian forebears, they had inherited an intemperate, ‘northern’ climate that bred an inferior national complexion.  Mary Floyd-Wilson, in her 2003 monograph English Ethnicity and Race, dubs this genre of ethnological thought ‘geo-humoralism’: i.e. the prevalent belief that ethnic and racial distinctions were drawn along environmental, rather than biological lines. National theories of climate (based on a set of classical texts by Aristotle, Galen, Pliny and Hippocrates) proposed the existence of three main climatic zones (the North, Middle, and South), of which the conditions determined the humoral disposition of its inhabitants. As opposed to the temperate middle-zone, praised by said classical thinkers as an incubator of civility, the men of the North (and therefore Britain) were ‘of great strength and little policie, much courage and small shift, because of the weake abode of the sunne with us … are white of colour, blockish, uncivill, fierce and warlike.’


See what I did there? Eh?

With Geography emerging as the dominant ‘scientific’ discipline, England’s literal position in the world became ever more significant. Moreover, having divorced herself from Rome and being separated by sea, England had become abruptly and distinctly northern. Automatically lacking the moderation of the Latin temperament, the English were also diametrically opposed to the peaceable and contemplative disposition of those bred in the hot, arid climes of eastern Africa. Though indeed strong and courageous, to those versed in classical and contemporary climate theory, it was clear that the English suffered from a debilitating mental inferiority. As Richard Helgerson has elsewhere shown, to be English in this period was to be the denigrated ‘other’ – the ‘sick man of Christendom’, so to speak. These discourses, Wilson has argued, extended to weather-talk. As Nathanael Carpenter admits in his Geography of 1625, the English – lacking the brainpower to govern effectively and amiably – were perhaps best suited ‘to Mechanicall works and martial endeavors.’ Patronising stuff indeed, but nothing compared to William Rankin’s 1588 diagnosis of the English complexion. ‘The English Ape’, Rankin said, was the product of an ‘inferior climate neither governed by religion nor virtue’ and  ‘should make theé so brutish, as … to be transformed to a savage beast.’


‘Damn this English complexion of mine’

As disparaging as these accounts sound, they formed a fairly consensual idea of English ethnicity during the Elizabethan period. However, this is not to mistake the complexion of the English as inherently ailed, but constantly intemperate. Like the wavering climes of the British Isles, the English temperament was deemed to be unruly, erratic and severely changeable. Theoretically, this worked both to the advantage and disadvantage of the English. On one hand, and as alluded to above, they were unfortunately suited to barbarism, and were ‘wanting in the site of beauty.’ But, at the same time, the changeable constitution of the English body lent itself to self-improvement and ‘seasoning’ (i.e. the belief that one’s temperament can be changed by a change in air, diet, etc.) For Burton, the author of arguably the first self-help book, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), there was nothing more beneficial to an ailing temperament than a sudden change of climate (or ‘air’). Even better, a trip to one of England’s nascent colonies could redeem their lack-lustre complexion. This said, the issue of climatic change (in the contemporary sense) also triggered negative anxieties about the susceptibility of the English to external, climatic influence. Will their essential ‘Englishness’ be lost or exaggerated in response to changing weather?

Adapting to new climatic realities not only became a question of material subsistence, but of mental and emotional fortitude. Early modern Englanders, in light of their inferior climate, were forced to revaluate their ‘northern’ disposition: to embrace, alter, or reject the implications of classical climate theory.  Consequently, this understanding of England’s culture of climate can cast potential doubt on the chauvinistic character of England’s early national identity. This is not to deny the xenophobic trends inherent in geographical discourse in the period, but an attempt to reassess the ‘English Ape’ in all his brutal glory.

Tayler Meredith is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham. His current research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is based on the popular understanding of the English climate during the so-called  ‘Little Ice Age.’ Amongst other themes, his thesis will examine the climatic influence on an early English identity.

Twitter: @taylermeredith / Website: https://bham.academia.edu/TaylerMeredith


Works Referenced:

Mary Floyd Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge, 2003)

Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago, 1994)

Robert Burton, ‘Air rectified’ in The Anatomy of Melancholy (London, 1621)

William Harrison, A Description of Britain (London, 1577)

William Rankin, The English Ape, the Italian Imitation, the footsteepes of Fraunce (London, 1588)

Nathanael Carpenter, Geography (London, 1625)