IMC 2008: Sessions

Session 1701: The Natural World: Retrospect and Prospect - A Round Table Discussion

Thursday 10 July 2008, 14.15-15.45

Organisers:Axel E. W. Müller, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
Brigitte Resl, School of Histories, Languages & Cultures, University of Liverpool
Moderator/Chair:Brigitte Resl, School of Histories, Languages & Cultures, University of Liverpool

Every year the IMC includes a special thematic strand in addition to its regular 35 strands. The special thematic strand for 2008, ‘The Natural World’, contributes a total of 160 sessions on most aspects of the role of nature in Europe and beyond. This session aims to encourage general reflection on ‘The Natural World’, the current state of knowledge and future research prospects on the basis of the papers presented at the Congress.

The history of the relationship between humans and their natural environment is full of constants as well as changes and disruptions. Human identities are always defined by their relationship with their natural environment, and all human lives depend on natural resources. The medieval discourse about the natural world – dominated by religion – had long-term consequences for attitudes to the natural world; a better knowledge of this discourse, therefore, contributes to our understanding of modern developments. At the same time, the natural environment was subject to enormous changes during the middle ages, often as a consequence of human actions. In order to enhance our understanding of all of these developments the input of many different disciplines is essential, and not just from within the humanities.

Among questions and issues to be addressed in the discussion are:

What is the current state of knowledge about the role of nature in medieval culture and society? How has that developed in recent years, and where is it leading us? What are the prospects for developing new approaches? Have some topics and approaches been neglected so far? What is the potential of inter- or cross-disciplinary approaches, and what are their limitations?

How can an understanding of nature and the environment contribute to our understanding of medieval society? And does this help our understanding of modern developments? How can we improve our knowledge of the dominant medieval discourse about nature? Is it possible to study the medieval natural world beyond this discourse?

Participants include John Cherry (Independent Scholar, London), Richard C. Hoffmann (York University, Toronto, Ontario), and Gillian Rudd (University of Liverpool).