Conferences


I was privileged to be invited to the XI Congreso Internacional de Historia de la Cultura Escrita, held this June in Alcalá de Henares, which will for me be forever remembered as the city of storks – these enormous birds nest atop many of the old buildings around the Calle de Colegios, clacking their beaks as you walk the streets below.

I will be honest: I was at a bit of a loss when it came to most of the papers, as my Spanish is only rudimentary despite several attempts to learn over the course of about 30 years; my French is worse and my Italian is non-existent. Nevertheless, it was certainly an experience.

The inaugural lecture was given by Beatrice Frankel, on Montaigne, and the conference coincided with the opening of an exhibition of Alcalá’s environmental print over the years.

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Veronica Sierra Blas, Beatrice Frankel and Antonio Castillo Gómez
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I enjoyed Veronica Calsoni Lima’s paper, ‘From official to clandestine presses: the publishing businesses of Giles Calvert and Thomas Brewster in the 1650s’.  She began by describing the rapid circulation of news during the run up to the Civil War, and the breakdown of censorship which led to a flood of printed material. After 1653, there were new attempts to clampdown, and Cromwell’s regime began attempts to find a new official printer. Four men were considered, and between May and August at least 25 official texts were shared between them. Received wisdom is that Brewster and Calvert were the less obvious choices within the four potential printer, as they had associations with radical groups. But Veronica pointed out that this period coincided with the Nominated Assembly, or ‘Barebones Parliament’, which makes their presence fairly reasonable given it was made up of religious radicals itself. The folio-sized official publications they produced were intended to be pinned up in public and had large titles to catch the reader’s attention from a distance, decorated capital letters, the commonwealth’s arms, and shared imprints.

But after August, Brewster and Calvert disappear from official publications. Veronica suggested that this might be due to their radical sympathies and links with separatist congregations. They printed anti-royalist propaganda and pro-commonwealth propaganda, but also radical religious tracts by Quakers, Baptists and Fifth Monarchists. They also started to print anti-Cromwell propaganda, which got them into trouble. She took as her examples Edward Burrough’s ‘A trumpet of the Lord’ (which was a millenarian pamphlet that landed the printer in prison) and Henry Vane’s ‘A Healing Question’. Neither pamphlet has the official information, and although they have large titles, they don’t have complete imprints. Later clandestine works have no names for author, printer, or publisher. She suggested that the controversial texts that they published at the same time they were publishing official material, led to them being dropped as official printers.

She closed her remarks by commenting that other printers printed throughout the commonwealth, restoration, and under James II, which showed them to be canny businessmen, but Brewster and Calvert put their political and religious beliefs before business, risking loss of profit and even imprisonment rather than give up their ideals.

I gave my paper at one of the main panels on Wednesday afternoon.  It is the first time I have ever been on a panel with someone talking about Twitter and someone talking about mobile libraries.  I’m not entirely sure what the link was, but it certainly made for a different experience!

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After the panel, we walked across Alcala to the opening of a mural, Alcala: Ciudad Escrita, on the wall of the city’s outdoor swimming pool, and to finish the evening, we went to El Sexto Sensido for the conference dinner, where I was asked to sing again for some of the delegates who had missed my paper.

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All in all, it was a very interesting few days, and I enjoyed the opportunity.

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At the end of February, I travelled up to Glasgow to speak at the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Broadside Day at the Unviersity of Strathclyde. This is the first in a short series of posts about the day.

On Cathdral Street, Glasgow

Due to a series of unfortunate cricumstances, I didn’t reach Glasgow until 11am, so I missed papers by Catherine Ann Cullen (Speckled Cats and Gravey Distillers), David Stenton (The Forth Valley Songster) and E. Wyn James (‘The Black Spot’ and ‘The Old Man of the Wood’: Welsh Street Literature During the Long Eighteenth Century

I arrived during the morning tea break (nice pastries and a decent cuppa). The first paper I heard was given by Freyja Cox Jensen on ‘In Good Queen Bess’s Golden Days’: Memories of Elizabethan England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’. Freya talked about the context of English identity, which was very closely bound up with Protestantism and Protestant insularity.  The period was shaped by the notion of England as an island nation.  The idea comes from Elizabeth I, who comes to embody a very English types of Protestantism, with England as God’s chosen land.  Elizabeth continues to play a role in the idea of Englishness in the years after her death, as part of the cultural memory of Elizabethan England.  She’s a model for high politics after James II, especially with William and Mary.  The image of England is partly, therefore, created from the top-down, but it is also celebrated more widely.  Ballads from Queen Anne’s reign make explicit reference to Elizabeth I.  They see parallels between the armada and the Anne intervention in the war of Spanish succession. The most common idea, though, is the one that Elizabethan period was merry and a golden age. It was held up for centuries afterward as a jolly good time.

Freya Cox-Jensen

  Ballads are often set to Tudor tunes, and pick out martial characters from the period, such as the earl of Essex,  or Thomas Stukely who was a rather more complicated character than most – the ballad suggests he repents of going abroad as a recusant even though there is no evidence of this.  Many of these are long lived songs. They represent England as the underdog, the small and feisty man fighting for good.

But Freya noted that none of this is true – it’s a constructed myth that’s been going on for centuries.  And it’s not just about nation building, it’s also the belief in the ancient constitution which we see raised against Charles I before his execution. Custom is also a legitimising framework in court. Appealing to time out of mind trumps anything more recent especially relating to parish boundaries and common land. Traditionally scholars say the creation of the Elizabethan myth happens in the 18th and 19th centuries but Freya argued that the ideas were alive and well even before Elizabeth died.

Next up was me, talking about ‘Liege Ladies: Sixteenth-Century Broadside Ballads and Reigning Queens’, in a significant reworking of a paper I gave a few years ago at the Mary I Quincentenary conference. Then it was time for lunch.

This is the first in a short series of posts about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.

The Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, known as MedRen, was a slightly scary undertaking for me. I’ve only been to one music conference before, where I presented a paper on ballads and the public sphere in Tudor England during the final year of my PhD. I only lasted half a day before I was poached by the Voices and Books Network! So 3 and a half days of wall to wall musicology was a bit intimidating, not least because there was so much on the schedule that I knew almost nothing about.


I left Liverpool early in the morning, and arrived in Maynooth about 11am. The first paper that I caught was given by Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita on ‘Women, oral tradition, and morality: the iconography of the sixteenth-century Spanish dance’. She described how women appear in foreground of pictures by Hoefnagel for an atlas by Georg Braun, even though they don’t appear in other sources.  The musical scenes are concentrated in  Andalucia, and focus on women dancing and playing instruments, especially percussion instruments.  The text, however, does not refer to the musical illustrations.   There has been speculation that they are perhaps playing music in the Muslim fashion, as this was the last Muslim community in Spain.  Morisco music was banned in 1556, and furthermore, music was seen as unladylike by Vives. The women in the images hold the rosary, as if they have to demonstrate their faith.  She noted that dance and music was part of an oral tradition so difficult to establish what it was like in the 16the century, but she suggested that the Spanish dance referred to by travelers might have been done in the Morisco fashion, not least because on some of the copies (which were all hand coloured) the skin of the musicians is darker.  

The next paper was given by Lynsey Callaghan: ‘How was music theory read in fifteenth century England? The evidence of ‘‘þe Proporcions“’.  Lynsey provided evidence from 3 different, mainly mathematical, manuscripts which included the same musical treatise. The treatise was not directly connected to sound, but had implications for it, because the mathematical ratios it included were used to to decide what was a consonant interval.  It includes a passing reference to sonorous music and the voice.  She noted the treatise’s pedagogical tone meant that it assumed a teaching role, especially through it use of Latin to name the ratios.  This was necessary because there was no vernacular equivalent for these Latin terms, but they were thoroughly explained.  Finally, she pointed out that the three manuscripts offer evidence of three different ways in which the text was consumed.

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The final paper in this first session was given by Katie Bank on ‘Voices in Dialogue in Martin Peerson’s Private Musicke (1620)’.  She described dialogue function as cultural predication, an inherent part of early modern thought processes.  Sometimes the dialogue itself is fiction – an ambiguity between fact and drama – but at the time this was seen as part of its effectiveness.   Katie described four different ways in which a song could be dialogic, but she acknowledged that dialogic songs were usually written for two accompanied human voices, in textual and musical conversation.  Peerson, however, was not clear on whether he meant ‘dialogue’  figuratively or the songs for more than one voice.  She also pointed out that even though the singers did not have costume for characterisation like drama, decisions made by performers at the point of performance affected the way the songs were heard.  This was something that I wholeheartedly agree with, as it chimes in with my work on the ballads in circulation during the Pilgrimage of Grace.  Songs are so much more than just the words and music!

After lunch, I attended two paired papers on music in Reformation Germany.  The first paper, ‘Canonisation in Lutheran Repertoire in public and private education: the case of Lüneburg‘, was given by Christine Roth.  She described Lutheran culture as based on a common canon of music. Musical education was designed to bolster this, choosing a canon of important or exemplary music that was considered suitable for teaching.  This canon aimed at acquainting children with the exemplary works whether they were Lutheran works or pre-Reformation.  It was linked to Lutheran notion of history and what should be remembered – the memory of portent events which were divine acts.

Hein Sauer then gave a paper on ’16th Century Music Manuscripts in Neustadt an der Orla’. The Reformation in Neustadt was influenced by Augustinian monks, but the town became Lutheran in 1528.  Neustadt needed a lot of music, as music for every Sunday was obligatory.  This led to the purchase of more than 200 prints and the creation of nine manuscripts.   Having examined two, it appeared that most of the repertoire in them could be found elsewhere.  In many case the prints were available first, but Hein argued that most of the manuscript versions are closer to performance practice in Neustadt.  They give evidence of social practice, for example, a psalm which was altered for the wedding of one of the scribes.  The manuscripts included a good mix of older canonised examples and newer music for festivals.

The next pair of papers, which had no direct relationship to each other, nevertheless both looked at otherness, one from the perspective of Lutheran hymnody, and the other from Catholic dance.  Antonio Chemotti’ s paper was entitled ‘Hymn culture and enemies of the church in sixteenth-century Silesia’.  He suggested that hymns were used to strengthen identity and that we can use the lyrics to identify who the hymns were ‘attacking’ through the beliefs they express.  One of the church’s enemies was the expanding Ottoman Empire, generally referred to in polemic as ‘the Turk’.  Collections of hymns against the Turks were printed in 1566, the year of Sulieman the Magnificent’s campaign against the Habsburg Empire in Hungary.  Antonio gave an example of a psalm paraphrase which asked God for help, being given new meaning as if that help were specifically needed against the Turk.  This occurred because, as I have argued in Singing the News, contrafacta carried the original meaning of the songs with them.  The way Triller choses his melodies carried many meanings, creating links between old secular texts and new sacred meanings.  Triller also wanted the new texts to be used at the same liturgical time as the old one was – thus creating an even stronger link than the Lutherans had.  Antonio also argued that Triller’s was a compromise hymn book, demonstrating that the Catholics and Lutherans got along well against the Salesians. the Silesian hymn book doesn’t attack the pope like Lutheran ones do – attempt not to offend the Catholics as they are trying to disassociate themselves from the religious dissidents.

Moritz Kelber’s paper on ‘(De-)constructing the enemy in early modern music and dance’ looked at music and the war against the Turks.  This war was one of the most important political issues in German speaking lands in the 15th and 16th centuries, even in areas where there was no direct military threat.  This was especially true of the siege of Vienna, an event which shocked public discourse.  German music was part of the construction of an omnipresent anti-Turkish literature, although most 16th century sources use the word Turk for a variety of ethnic groups.  Churches were made to ring their largest bells at noon to remind their people to pray against the Turks.  Similarly, in the 16th century, the black legend against the Spanish began to infect the German-speaking lands, and they used similar polemic to demonise the Catholic Spaniards. There were many pamphlets against the Turks, many containing songs.  Some of these have music so seem to be aimed a musically-literate audience.  Dance used exotic costumes and instruments to assimilate foreign cultures in a very special way.   For example, Maximilian’s court was fascinated with foreign dances and masquerades, where courtiers mixed with professional Morris dancers, both encountering and interacting with the ‘other’.

Sourcework

In the evening after dinner, we were treated to a concert of 5 voice polyphonic motets by the Boston group, Sourcework, who sing not from printed editions, but from original notation. It was very impressive, and I have to say that conferences with inbuilt concerts rather than keynotes might just be the way forward!

Over the weekend of 25-26 February 2017, I attended a conference in Lancaster which looked at new materialist approaches to the pre-modern  period: ‘Embodiment and New Materialism in Premodern Literature and Culture 1350-1700’.  Having already blogged about the first day of the conference, I thought it was time to share my recollections of the second.

The first speaker on day 2 was Dr. Robert Stagg (St Anne’s College, Oxford), who talked about ‘Shakespeare’s “Stuff”’.  The word ‘nothing’ appears 32 time in King Lear, but its range of opposites also appear a lot, and more often towards the end of the play. The monosyllabic irreducibility of Shakespeare’s language is part of the atomic sound scape of King Lear.

Emily Rowe (University of York) continued the focus on language with ‘Words and things: Francis Bacon, Lingua, and New Materialism’.  She explained how Francis Bacon criticised the construction of knowledge based on rhetoric as based on words rather than things. He acknowledged that language was necessary to explain, but it was often overcome by what Erasmus described as a ‘wild and wanton flow of words’.  In Thomas Tomkis’s play Lingua, the only female character is Lingua, who  fights and tricks others in her attempt to become the 6th sense. Appetitus, Gustus’s servant, presents a long list of Lingua’s failings. One of these is her power of translation, because vulgar language and mixed tongues were a concern of the 17th century.  Her biggest problem, however, is that she is a woman. During the early modern period the unruly tongue is particularly associated with women, because it is associated with the destructive power of female speech.  Bacon challenges the need for affected, metaphoric speech to explain, so while he wouldn’t describe language as a vulgar whore as Lingua does, he would not support her claim to be a sense.

I opened the second panel on ephemerality with my paper on ‘The (im)material sixteenth-century ballad’.  I talked about ballads and the Pilgrimage of Grace, focussing on the way ballads were sung and experienced rather than their material, printed form.  As usual, I got the audience to sing.

Following me was Catherine Evans (University of Sheffield) who spoke on ‘Pleating time in early modern almanacs’. Almanacs were the most popular early modern cheap print, containing astrological and medical information and guidance for every aspect of life at a low price. Almanac annotations show a great variety of readership. The flexible function of almanacs shown by the fact that they often contain all three of Heidi Brayman Hackel’s categories of annotation.  Chronologies at the beginning of almanacs give potted national histories, often with transparent political agendas. Nevertheless, people personalised these timelines by annotating these calendars with personally important information. Also people made changes to the printed dates. Therefore almanacs had another role as diaries. People interleaved blank pages, so printers started introducing blank leaves.  These changes create books that are long lasting records of the self rather than a plan of the year.  Furthermore, users did not stick to the linear notion of time indicated by the almanac because they were creating their own topographical understanding of time by using almanacs in ways that they weren’t intended.

The final paper in our panel was given by Beth Cortese (Lancaster University) on ‘Exchanging places: witty transformations’, much of which concentrated on the play of the weekend, Albumazar.  Betha argued that thieves and tricksters in early modern plays are the place of subversive wit, revealing anxieties about identity. Their plots are to do with material wit – inequality made animate in performance. Wit is therefore a performative and transformative form of subversion. The trickster often overturns rank.

Next came ‘An Embryo of rare contemplation’: a special panel chaired by Dr. Rachel White (Newcastle University). Dr. Lucy Munro (King’s College London) raised the question ‘how does one fall in love on stage’ in her paper ‘The Insatiate Countess: Body, Text and Stage’.   Her paper concentrated on The Insatiate Countess, written by John Marston even though he seems to have objected to his name being added to the published script. There are several textual difficulties with the play. She pointed out that it can be hard to tell stage directions from speech and vice versa in early modern plays. Different editions of the play have different names for the same characters. Also there were problems with the printing of different editions, with a lovely mondegreen where ‘the boxe unto Pandora given’ appeared in the text as ‘the poxe is unto Panders given’.

The play exploits the rampant sexuality of women and might have had a particular resonance at the time. It opens with the scene of the countess in mourning, before any speech, so the first line ‘what should we do in this countess’s dark hole’ is deeply shocking, especially with the men being described as ‘unruly members’. At the end she is executed, ostensibly for ordering the murder of her lover, but as much for the fact that her rampant sexuality subverts the patriarchy. The social hierarchy in the play is desperate for her to make a good death by admitting that she was at fault.

The next paper was given by Dr. Rachel Reid (Queen’s University Belfast) on ‘(Re)reading John Dee: Exploring Polytemporal Identities in his Collection of “Rarities”’.  Rachel showed that the placement and context of the object was what informed its meaning and focussed on polytemporalities as reaching across time rather than periodisation. John Dee had many roles and assembled the largest library in Elizabethan England. Although the Glindoni painting of ‘John Dee Performing an Experiment before Elizabeth I’ contains lots of things related to Dee, but it is not the image of a necromancer. However, in a fantastic animated slide that switched between the two images, she reminded us that the original painting had Dee surrounded by skulls.

I was particularly interested in the paper by Dr. Clare Egan (Lancaster University), ‘”By the singular operations of your excellent preparations”: Material Bodies and Medicinal Words in the Libel Case of Edwards v. Woolton (Exeter, 1604)’.  She pointed out that the difference between libel and slander was not so clear cut in the early modern period. One reason for the concern about libels might be that their epidemic nature made them more dangerous. This is illustrated by the move of libel trials from ecclesiastical to criminal courts, because disorder is the problem and can cause more scandal if it IS true than if not. The truth of the matter is not the issue – it’s not the content that matters, it is the manner in which they are spread.  Clare placed the emphasis on performance suggesting that  hearer is implicated in the performance by consenting to listen.

Matthew Blaiden (University of Leeds) talked about ‘Shakespeare’s Masks’, showing that masks in plays were structural devices which provided material splendour. Masking is mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays from very early on. First accepted appearance of masking within a play is in Love’s Labours Lost. Examples mentioning or including masks run the gamut of Shakespearean genres. The classic Elizabethan mask consisted of an entrance and a dance, but there are other types during the period. Much of the evidence Matthew uses for revels comes from revels accounts, but they were not exclusive to court, also taking place at the Inns of Court and also in towns where Queen Elizabeth went on progress.

The final event of the conference was a roundtable discussion, which developed the idea that the metaphor and the material occur simultaneously.

All in all, it was a very interesting weekend and much credit is due to the organisers of the conference for bringing everyone together.

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