Embodying life and death: The body in Anglo-Saxon England

22nd October 2016, Durham University

The Anglo-Saxon period is characterised by significant cultural shifts and transformations. Emerging kingdoms, religious conversion, economic intensification, growing cultural contact and mobility result in increasing social complexity. Situated directly at the centre of these multiple transformations are the understudied Anglo-Saxon bodies, enacting, resisting and adapting to the ever-changing world around them. Although only the bare bones of these bodies remain, further evidence for the physicality, corporeality and personal expression manifest themselves in texts, art, material culture and more.

This one-day conference invited speakers from across multiple disciplines to converge on the topic of Anglo-Saxon bodies. Over the course of the day, presentations on nakedness, rebellious nuns, monstrous creatures, corpse positioning and saintly healing were followed by vibrant discussion. Central to this day was past and present visual cultures pertaining to Anglo-Saxon England. Figural iconography present on/in dress accessories, military paraphernalia, household objects, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture and more were brought together to better understand how the body was represented in this period alongside it’s symbolic and ideological significance. Beyond historical materials, speakers also critically reflected on visual materials produced by contemporary scholarship and the role these materials play in generating knowledge and shaping current thought. These included photographs and illustrations of objects and figural imagery, maps and plans of cemetery layouts, body positions and grave cuts. The result was a rich and diverse day, in which boundaries were deconstructed as connections and parallels were drawn across Archaeology, History, Art history and Literary studies, demonstrating the strength and necessity of interdisciplinarity.

Tristan Lake November 2016

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