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IMC 2016

4-7 July 2016

Congress Programme 2016: Special Thematic Strand: 'Food, Feast & Famine'

Call for Papers/Sessions - International Medieval Congress 2016

The IMC seeks to provide an interdisciplinary forum for the discussion of all aspects of Medieval Studies. Paper and session proposals on any topic related to the European Middle Ages are welcome. However, every year, the IMC chooses a specific special thematic strand which - for 2016 - is ‘Food, Feast & Famine’. The theme has been chosen for the crucial importance of both phenomena in social and intellectual discourse, both medieval and modern, as well as their impact on many aspects of the human experience.

Food is both a necessity and a marker of economic and social privilege. Who cooks food, who consumes it in the Middle Ages? How and what did people from different social levels or religious commitments eat? How did eating change? How were these issues contested and represented? What does food reveal about differing aspects of medieval society and culture?

The aim is to cover the entire spectrum of famine to feast through multi-disciplinary approaches. Study of the medieval economy raises issues about standards of living and nutritional health. Both archaeological as well as textual evidence have been used to explore crop yields, agricultural methods, transport problems, dearth, and famine. Geographical and social variations in diet are important for understanding medieval taste and the era’s definitions of sufficiency and luxury. Food is an expression of international relations and trade, as shown in the intercultural influences between Christian Europe and Islamic Spain, North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and India.

Across medieval Europe the acquisition, preservation, and storage of food was a struggle for much of the population, but food consumption was also a means for a clerical and noble elite to display taste and ostentation. In popular culture, feasting is perceived as one of the major activities of the medieval elite. The religious significance of food and fasting in the Middle Ages was part of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish practice. Fasting and food had wide-ranging interconnections with piety and charity, and could involve renunciation of an exceptional intensity. Spiritual and physical nourishment and its absence can be explored in many disciplines from the theological, legal, and literary to the art historical and linguistic.

Areas of discussion could include:

  • Agricultural systems
  • Almsgiving – food as charity
  • Changing tastes
  • Cookbooks and cooking practice
  • Dearth and famine
  • Drink – wine, ale, and water
  • Environmental contexts
  • Feasting
  • Food and social class
  • Food in monastic and other religious communities
  • Food production
  • Food supply and population
  • Food supply and transport
  • Fresh and saltwater fish
  • Hunting
  • Medical ideas of food, digestion, and humoral pathology
  • Medieval haute cuisine
  • Religious and spiritual feasting and fasting
  • Spices and other edible luxury trade items
  • Standards of living
  • Symbolic/Figurative food
  • Trading food

The Special Thematic Strand 'Food, Feast & Famine' has been co-ordinated by Paul Freedman (Department of History, Yale University).