CamMedSem Annual Review (2020-2021)

Cat Watts on behalf of CamMedSem

SEP 21, 2021

Annual Review 2020-2021 (Cat Watts)

In the academic year 2020-21, the Cambridge Medieval Literature and Culture Seminar (“CamMedSem”) was funded by the University of Cambridge French section (MMLL). We convened eight times – all virtually! Attendance boomed, often doubling or tripling our in-person numbers, as we adapted to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and began to implement additional technologies for professionalism and safeguarding; in particular, our website,, continues to go from strength to strength.

This year was our first foray into round-table events, as we invited students to present their current research in both the Autumn and Spring terms. The creative and insightful scholarship on display was beyond anything we could have imagined and allowed us to form a community across all stages of academia, especially important as we were unable to meet in person. Students at all stages presented on Frankish identities, giants and snake-women, crusade, heterodoxy, lyric and memorial culture across medieval French, English, Occitan, and Italian, and benefitted from the expertise and reading suggestions from the attendees.

We were very fortunate to host a variety of speakers across the year despite the ongoing crisis, who generously volunteered their time and shared their current research. Noah Guynn (University of California, Davis) invited us to keep up with the medieval household, dedicating close attention to forms of contemporary mass media to show the dynamic role of women across the French Middle Ages. We turned then to Giulia Boitani (University of Cambridge), whose close attention to a lesser-studied section of the French Tristan en Prose likewise invited careful consideration of female agency and matriarchy in relation to narrative. Moving to Medieval Italian, Valentina Mele (University College, Cork) took us through the complex web of subjectivity, spatiality, and dialectic informing Guido Cavalcanti’s lyric. Tom Hinton (University of Exeter) focused closely on the specificities of those manuscripts dedicated to teaching French, problematising assumptions about Anglo-Norman linguistics and culture. Finally, two of the University of Cambridge’s PhD candidates, including our convenor Rebecca Courtier, presented aspects of their research. Geneviève Young’s close attention to the Song of the Albigensian Crusade, keenly awaited by the undergraduate students of Occitan, problematised foundational myth-making across geographies of space, time, and identity through extensive engagement with Jean-Luc Nancy. Rebecca Courtier’s work, equally rigorous in its reference to modern theoretical concerns, began with close reading of Aucassin et Nicolette which addressed issues of cultural identity, racism and islamophobia, and ultimately presented serious implications for the modern anglophone academy. This was a fitting and conscientious end to a year in which structural inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic have come into stark focus.

Moving into 2021-2, we’re excited to learn from our experiences of the past year as we continue under the generosity of the MMLL Department. Offering hybrid options for our speakers will enable us to provide the widest possible access to the seminar and to continue to invite speakers from across the globe. As we continue to explore technologies of virtual connection, we’re excited to resume our informal gatherings alongside the seminar. In particular, of course, we look forward to a programme of exciting papers from scholars at all stages of their careers and to continue to promote interdisciplinary excellence in the study of medieval literatures and cultures.

You can find our Michaelmas term card for this autumn on our website.