Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Medieval Structures of Power" Grad Conference, Princeton University

Graduate Conference in Medieval Studies at Princeton University
Medieval Structures of Power
April 14, 2012
Call for Papers

The Program in Medieval Studies at Princeton University invites submissions for its nineteenth annual graduate conference in Princeton, New Jersey.
Keynote Speaker: Thomas Bisson, Professor of Medieval History, Emeritus, at Harvard University
Closing Address: Stephen Murray, Professor of Medieval Art History at Columbia University.

Structures of Power
“The state exists chiefly in the hearts and minds of its people: if they do not believe it is there, no logical exercise will bring it to life".  This insight from Joseph Strayer’s now-classic Medieval Foundations of the Modern State points to the powerful noetic and psychological underpinnings of any successful polity or social group. Belief in the bonds of fealty, in the communion of the saints, and in other figurations of corporate unity: these were primary structures of power in the Middle Ages.  With the formal advent of purgatory during the thirteenth century, the church extended its power over individual souls into the afterlife; meanwhile, medieval men and women still on earth remained subject to the “soft power” of innumerable discursive, cultural and artistic practices. Yet the medieval exercise of power could just as often be concrete and brutal, from the ius maltractandi, or right of mistreatment, that local lords claimed over their serfs, to the use of torture in legal cases, the harsh physical punishment of malefactors, or the bloody suppression of revolts.   
If medieval power itself was founded on a variety of structures (military, economic, social, familial, legal, administrative, religious), much of medieval life was also organized around physical structures. Castles proliferated, a visual embodiment of their owner’s dominance over the countryside; city walls encircled and protected the rights of the people within; and great Gothic cathedrals, mapped onto a blueprint of heaven, reached to new heights, as if forming a ladder to the kingdom of God. While power was often imposed from above, by the few on the many, was a collective undertaking such as cathedral building an expression of the power of a community? Proposals are encouraged that interpret “structures of power” broadly, and look for them in unexpected places.
How did these structures function? How was power imposed, experienced, negotiated, and contested in the Middle Ages, and how did it impact the lives of ordinary men and women? We invite the submission of proposals from a variety of disciplines, time periods, geographies, source materials, and methodological approaches.  Potential topics might include, but are not limited to:

*Power at the local level: predatory lordship and the “feudal revolution”; aspects of freedom and serfdom; rights of adjudication; the influence of aristocratic families; feud, retribution, and private justice.               
*The growth of regional power: royal and ducal prerogatives; high justice; taxation; armies; state formation.
*Resistance to power: Urban riots and peasant revolts; aristocratic rebellions; legal challenges to authority; the “weapons of the weak.”
*Political power: obtaining and legitimizing power; theories of kingship and the state.
*Architectural Power: Churches, city walls, crusader castles
*Power structures in the arts: patronage, visual and verbal representations of power in writing, plastic arts, drama
*The power of literacy and the written word  
*Disciplinary power: from torture and execution to clemency and pardon.
*Economic power: money, credit, and interest; royal revenues; merchants and guilds.
In order to support participation by speakers from outside the northeastern United States, we are offering a limited number of modest subsidies to help offset the cost of travel to Princeton. Financial assistance may not be available for every participant; funding priority goes to those who have the furthest to travel. Every speaker will have the option of staying with a resident graduate student as an alternative to paying for a hotel room.
Interested graduate students should submit abstracts of no more than 500 words to Jenna Phillips ( by February 5th, 2011.
All applicants will be notified by February 20th, 2011. Presentations should be no longer than 20 minutes.

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