Each year, organizers propose sub-themes that relate to the larger conference topic. Papers inspired by and submitted to these sub-themes will be selected by the organizers, once the submission deadline has passed. If a paper is not selected by the organizers, it will be considered for the general paper call. If you are submitting to a sub-theme, please indicate this on the abstract submission form (or in your submission email, if you prefer to submit that way). This way we will be able to pass on your abstract to the organizers for consideration.

Sub-theme Topics

Touching Sounds

Organizer: Evan MacCarthy (UMass, Amherst)


Visual and literary representations of medieval music-making, from decorative paintings and sculptures for the interiors of homes, churches, and courts to vividly written accounts of banquet dances, urban processions, or liturgical song, signaled an understanding of musical culture shared by artist and beholder, author and reader. The performative touch of medieval music immediately calls to mind the resounding images of a hand depressed on the keys of an organ, the joined hands of dancers afoot, or the labored tuning of a plucked or bowed instrument. The anticipation of sounds yet to be heard is often adeptly captured in these moments of contact between performers and each other or their instrument. Images painted in books and on panels or carved in stone also portray the immersive sonic spaces of much medieval singing, where singers read and breathed over each other’s shoulders, while singing from a shared choirbook of plainchant or polyphony held by one singer or displayed on an elevated lectern. From the musical angels of Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece to the choirboys of Luca della Robbia’s Cantoria for the Florence Cathedral, many artworks also depict the hands of musicians touching another musician with gestures now understood as marking musical time within the late medieval system of musical mensuration, which by the end of the fifteenth century had begun to deploy the term “tactus” (touch) in place of “mensura” (measure). For the sub-theme Touching Sounds, we invite abstracts for papers concerning late medieval music and music theory, dance, art history, and/or literature, which explore sonic or musical moments of physical or metaphorical contact and touch.

Gower and Race

Organizers: Thari Zweers (Cornell University) and Jeffery Stoyanoff (Penn State, Altoona)


Geraldine Heng’s groundbreaking study The Invention of Race in the European Middle Age solidified the place of critical race studies in the field of medieval studies. In her expansive view on the topic, she also included an insightful focus on Chaucer’s anti-Semitism as contributing significantly to that moment of race-making. Gower, often considered Chaucer’s counterpart as one of the other prominent poets in late fourteenth-century England, is still conspicuously absent from discussions on race in this period. Gower’s interest in matters of socio-political governance has been well-established at this point, and recent years have seen more attention being paid to his treatment of alterity within fourteenth-century England: his invective against the Lombards (Bertolet 2009); his denunciation of Lollardy (Hudson 1988; Yeager 2017); as well as his antisemitism (Grady 2005; Houlik-Ritchey 2017; Yeager 2017). These separate reports need to be consolidated to see what they can tell us about Gower’s investment (or lack thereof) in the making of race. In addition to further exploring the topics that are already being addressed, attention also needs to be paid to the construction of whiteness in Gower’s works, to what extent he is interested in epidermal race, and how he mobilizes the concept of race when addressing topics like religion, interculturality and their intersection with imperialist projects. Another promising avenue of research would be to look into the Castilian and Portuguese translations of Gower’s Confessio Amantis and their treatments of race within the Iberian context. Investigating these topics is necessary in order to determine how Gower positions himself in the race-making narrative and attempts to influence this narrative.

Embodying Belief, Touching Believers: Medieval Performers, Then and Now

Organizers: Jeffery Stoyanoff (Penn State, Altoona) and Matthew Sergi (University of Toronto)


Medieval drama and music studies continue to be transformed by performance-based research and performance-as-research. Such a methodology, founded on the understanding that medieval performance texts’ power and meaning depended (and still depends) on their live, participatory embodiment by real people, has obvious relevance to this year’s general theme of contact and touch.


Less obvious, however—in fact, rarely spoken aloud—is the crucial role that the participants’ real beliefs may play in medieval texts’ re-embodiment.  Rather, when we invite real bodies to inhabit medieval texts, especially at the secular institutions which usually host research productions, we tend implicitly to exclude, occlude, or ignore the idea that some players of medieval performances might still actually believe in some of the religious material that they are reciting, singing, seeing, or touching in performances. Medieval performances work through belief with bodies: the ability to think through belief openly now, we contend, may prove crucial to the efficacy of performance-based research’s body-oriented learning.


We acknowledge that an invitation to participants to speak freely and openly about their faith—as it relates to medieval texts in present-day performance, whether drama, music, recited poetry, or any other performable genre—may make potential participants feel worried about seeming unprofessional, or may make us seem unprofessional for asking in the first place. It is precisely the fraught interrelation of perceived professionalism and perceived secularization of present-day medieval performances that interests us as scholars here.  We take seriously, and want to learn from, the perspectives that real belief may grant and, likewise, the perspectives that agnosticism or non-belief may grant.

What happens to medieval play texts’ enactments of faith, which depend on embodiment and in bodily proximity, when they occur under an unspoken assumption that performers do not and could not believe what they are saying?  What happens when performers who participate in such productions really do believe, whether or not they make their beliefs known?  Can such productions implicitly mute belief—or shun believers?  If so, can they also exclude communities—those within which faith-based institutions play central roles?  How might such exclusions limit diversity in casting?  How are these concerns different when faith-based institutions do the staging?  How might differences and diversities of belief among present-day casts play against (or with) medieval texts’ assumption of uniformity—if those texts did assume uniformity at all? What benefits might be yielded for our field, and for the diversity of its knowledge as much as its performers, if the subject of participants’ real faith, during performance-based research, were rendered more speakable and approached more openly?

Noli me tangere: Verbal Contact and Physical Violence in the Middle Ages

Organizers: Leland Grigoli (Brown University) and Charlie Steinman (Columbia University)


What did it take to add insult to injury? What function did verbal violence serve in a public or private setting? How might an insult lead to blows, or change the meaning of physical touch? To explore these questions, this sub-theme focuses on the connections between verbal and physical violence in the medieval world. Engaging scholars from a diverse range of specialties, such as the history of emotions, legal and gender history, Jewish studies, Latin and vernacular philology, and even onomastics, it provides a comparative means to think about contact between mental imaginaries and physical realities across the middle ages, offering new insights into the socio-cultural relationship of thought, word, and deed.