The 40th Medieval Workshop, titled “The Mirror in Medieval and Early Modern Culture,” is organized by faculty members of the University of British Columbia who are involved with the Early Romance Studies Research Cluster and working in conjunction with the Medieval Studies Committee (Faculty of Arts). The conference will be held at Green College, on the UBC campus, on March 16-18, 2012.

This topic was suggested in relation to the work of several colleagues who are now the principal organizers of the conference: Nancy Frelick’s recent SSHRC research grant and forthcoming book titled “Mirrors of Desire: Text and Transference in Early Modern France,” as well as projects on mirroring, mirror-texts and mirror-related structures in Medieval Occitan and in French by Juliet O’Brien and Chantal Phan, for example. Other faculty members and students from different units will be involved in various aspects of conference organization.

The theme of the conference was selected by members of the Medieval Studies Committee both because of its rich interdisciplinary potential and also because of the importance and multi-valence of mirrors both as objects and as signs in the periods and places in question (see below). In later periods, mirrors become more ubiquitous and therefore lose some of the symbolic charge obtained when they were rare, precious commodities—the implications of these changes will be considered in the context of the symposium and in the publication of selected papers from the conference, which targets an international audience interested in work across the disciplines.

This interdisciplinary 3-day conference will feature papers dealing with various aspect of ‘specularity’ through text, image, music or any branch of learning, especially those that engage with the paradoxical ways mirror images are used in all periods, places, and disciplines from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period.

This year’s conference aims to build upon the University of British Columbia’s long- standing tradition of two or three-day special topic conferences in the area of Medieval Studies, called Medieval Workshops. Several of these conferences have been the source of published thematic volumes, some of which explored beyond the boundaries of Eurocentric research by concentrating on Medieval Japan and the Middle East, to name just a couple of examples. Our 2012 Workshop will explore connections between the medieval period and later (early modern) eras. Organized as a separate conference rather than an annual meeting, it will include research papers by established and new scholars, from North America and Europe, in various fields including socio-political history, literature, philosophy, the history of ideas, women’s studies, religious studies, art history and visual culture, mostly from the 9th to the 17th century.

Our two distinguished plenary speakers will address two very different aspects of the conference theme: Professor Tom Conley (from the Departments of Romance Languages and Visual & Environmental Studies at Harvard University) will speak on “Lyric and Luster: Mirrored Verse in Renaissance France” and Professor Suzanne Conklin Akbari (specializing in English and Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto) will address the topic of “Sight Lines: The Mirror of the Mind in Pre-Modern Poetics.” These two lectures will form the core of the thematic volume that we intend to submit to a publisher by the summer of 2013, and which will include selected articles based on some of the papers presented at this conference, but prepared especially for the thematic volume.

The 40th UBC Medieval Workshop will also be an opportunity for a number of Canadian students to participate in a research conference. There are a number of graduate student presenters on the conference program, from Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

☞ See also:


Founded in 2009, UBC’s Early Romance Studies Research Cluster brings together professors and graduate students interested in the pre-1800 Romance languages and literatures in their intercultural and interdisciplinary contexts. We were approached by the Chair of Medieval Studies, Professor Robert Rouse (Department of English, UBC), to plan the 40th Medieval Workshop, because our group’s focus is characteristic of a current trend in research, one inspired by two concepts: the ‘Long Middle Ages’ and the ‘Early Modern.’


Since 1971 the Committee for Medieval Studies has sponsored an annual meeting on a topic chosen by them. Normally held in the fall, these meetings bring together scholars from across the world. The founders, Richard Unger and Janos Bak, write:

It all started with the idea of inviting Lynn White whom we had met at a MAP meeting. And then, we thought, we could also have his pupil and our friend, Lee Dresdeck, from Western Washington University at Bellingham here. But once we had two people with such interesting topics, we thought why not have a little conference? In those days the question of “new teaching methods” was much debated, so we decided to spend half the time on a round table discussion of curricula—and call it a workshop. (The “teaching” part did not work out too well and was dropped in all later meetings, but the name “workshop” remained.) From there on it was smooth sailing. The first workshop was a great experience in the elegant drawing-room atmosphere of the Woodward Library. So for the next year other friends came to mind who might enjoy coming to the Canadian West and sharing their ideas: Ralph Giesey and other students of Medieval kingship. And the year after other Medievalists thought of other friends, and other topics….

Without ever realizing it, we had established a tradition. At one point we introduced the keynote speaker system […] Within a few years we became well known in Ottawa as well. The meeting has generally been held in the Fall but there have been exceptions. For special occasions such as the joint meeting with the Medieval Academy of America and the Medieval Association of the Pacific, the 20th Workshop was held in the Spring. In the last decade the range of topics has expanded, as has the number of different Medievalists involved in the meeting’s organization. Topics have not been limited to the European Middle Ages, with Workshops being held comparing Asia, Europe and the Middle East in the period. The Committee for Medieval Studies expects to continue expanding and extending the meetings to examine issues and topics of importance to Medievalists and to a wider public. The titles [of the workshops] reflect the interests of UBC Medievalists, but the list of speakers is by now much longer than that of “old classmates.” There are many colleagues and interested laymen in and around Vancouver in whose calendar the [Fall] UBC Workshop is a stable fixture. Some traditions, however, have been abandoned—alas, there are no more profiteroles, where they used to be de rigueur.

UBC Medieval Studies Program: “History of the UBC Medieval Workshop”

Recent workshops:

  • 2010: “Quest and Conquest: Spiritual Symbols and Myths in the Indo-Mediterranean and European Worlds” (organized by Daniela Boccassini)
  • 2009: “Writing the World” (organized by Robert Rouse)

Previous workshops:

  • 1971-2008 (archive construction in progress)
Specular reflections in everyday UBC life: Museum of Anthropology, UBC.
Image: Arthur Erickson Architects

Image at top:
Georges de la Tour (1593-1652): The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame (c. 1640).
Los Angeles County Museum.
Image c/o Wikimedia Commons.