Medieval Studies hosts annual lecture series: UNM Newsroom

The University of New Mexico’s Institute for Medieval Studies (IMS) is hosting its first live spring lecture series since the pandemic began. Relive the Middle Ages will be the theme of the 2nd Annual Helen Damico Memorial Lecture Series and 36th Spring Lecture Series hosted by UNM’s IMS.

The event includes evening presentations from Monday, April 25 through Thursday, April 28 at 6:00 p.m. in the George Pearl Hall on the UNM campus. The event is free and open to the public. Participants do not have to be UNM students, staff or faculty to participate.

“I am delighted to welcome everyone back to an in-person lecture series at the UNM Institute for Medieval Studies,” said IMS Director Justine Andrews. “We are excited to come together again this year and celebrate the second annual Helen Damico Memorial Lecture Series, which is the 36th Spring Lecture Series for IMS. Last year we launched the new title of the series in honor of our founder and first director, Helen Damico. Although Helen sadly passed away in 2019, we hope to continue to honor her spirit and passion for bringing outstanding scholars of the Middle Ages to New Mexico.”

The series features lectures by leading medieval scholars from across the nation and spans the fields of art history, literature and theatre, history and archaeology.

“The theme of this year’s lecture series is really about time travel. What happens to an 11th-century illuminated manuscript when it travels through time,” said Andrews. “How is it renewed, reused and reinterpreted? How are the central theses of a moral play from the 15th century transferred and transmuted to today’s theater audience? Does a black character’s confrontation with death over time align with our current understanding of what Black Lives Matter is like? What does it mean to transform ancient spaces of indigenous North Americans into a medieval European chronology?”

As in many fields, medieval scholars found themselves in a moment of reflection, Andrews noted, as they examined the terms they used, the chronological frameworks they established, and the codified patterns in need of revision.

“How can we look to the Middle Ages and its interpretation through the ages to help us discern our own agenda and prejudices? … Rethinking the Middle Ages evokes ways in which medieval persons reinterpreted art, literature, or events over this long period, but it also suggests how later or modern persons are reinventing these aspects of the Middle Ages,” she said, adding that this collection of lectures a case represents studies of how the Middle Ages have been reinterpreted over time by both medieval and modern people.

The speakers and their topics:

Monday, April 25, 6 p.m., George Pearl Hall, Central and Cornell, opposite the UNM Bookstore

Between Miracles and Omens: Siamese Twins from Constantinople to Norman Sicily

Roland Betancourt, Professor of Art History at the University of California, Irvine, opens the series with a presentation on the depiction of conjoined twins in a historical chronicle known as the Madrid Skylitzes (pictured above). He will show how the multifaceted meanings of the Siamese twins in the context of imperial rule, political intrigue and religious authority worked across the text’s Constantinopolitan origin and eventual manuscript illustration in Norman Sicily. Betancourt works on issues of sexuality, gender and race in the Middle Ages, and the use and abuse of the medieval past in the present, with an interest in conspiracy theories and right-wing extremism.

Tuesday, April 26, 6 p.m., George Pearl Hall

The Medieval American Southwest

Frederick S. Paxton, Brigida Pacchiani Ardenghi Professor of History at Connecticut College, will address this topic and the degree to which patterns of change and continuity in the American Southwest fit into a standard periodization based on European medieval history based. Paxton’s most recent study deals with the North American Southwest in the Middle Ages, 500-1500.

Wednesday, April 27, 6 p.m., George Pearl Hall, live via Zoom
Blackness without exception and “blind matter”: visuality, temporality and race

Matthew X. Vernon, associate professor of English at the University of California, Davis, will question the relationships between blackness, visibility, materiality, and necropolitics. Central to this discussion will be an argument to read race “counterfactually,” that is, we read against the habits of representation that limit the opportunities for Black people to appreciate their lives. His presentation will focus on the Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins play Allwhich adapts the play from the 15th century every man.

Thursday, April 28, 6 p.m. George Pearl Hall
Medieval America: The Local in the Global

Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Professor of Medieval Studies at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, is the creator of The Book and the Silk Roads: Phase I, a project that reveals connections between parts of the premodern world by describing the technology of the book. Her research into these connections is evident in her co-curating of Hidden Stories: Books Along the Silk Roads, an exhibition that ran at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum through February 2022 and will continue online as a digital exhibition. Your presentation is based on this recent exhibition.

“We’re excited to be reuniting in person to explore the world of the Middle Ages,” said Andrews. “We have an outstanding lineup of scholars from across the country and a fantastic local community supporting this event and it’s just a joy to be together and learn more about the always fascinating Middle Ages.”

This year’s lecture series is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities through the New Mexico Humanities Council.

Image: Case of the Siamese Twins, John Skylitzes (c. 1081), History of Byzantium illuminated in Palermo, 12th c., fol 131r (Madrid, Biblioteca de Nacional España, MS Graecus Vitr. 26–2)

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