On Thursday 28 June 2018, graduate students, early career researchers, and established scholars met for the Fourteenth Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. As usual, the conference revolved around one word, one theme, chosen by the delegates of the OMGC held the year before. This year, it was about Animals.
What is the OMGC? An annual conference that welcomes graduate students and early career researchers to Oxford for two full days of academic discussions around one theme. It provides a friendly and convivial forum for young academics to both gain experience presenting in a formal setting, and to meet their peers and colleagues who will make up their cohort for the length of their careers. This year, OMGC partnered with the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature 60th Annual Lecture and Colloquium on Life-Writing taking place on Friday 29 June at Harris Manchester. Most OMGC delegates attended both research days. Speakers came from the UK (Bristol, London, Oxford, and York) and from Switzerland and the USA. As such it assures Oxford’s place as a centre for medieval graduate student interaction, and as a conference hosting up to eleven papers, three invited speakers, and about forty delegates, it is one of the biggest of its kind. For the first time, OMGC gave early-career/late-PhD students the opportunity to give a joint keynote address, opening the conference.
This year, the conference considered various questions on medieval animals and aspects of animal-human relationships in the Middle Ages (all panels, keynotes, and more were live-tweeted under the hashtag #OMGC18). How are animals defined in relations to humans? How are they represented in Norse Mythology, Arthurian romances, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales? How are they used in legal boundaries and during trials? Do animals have? Horses, pigs, dogs, bees, ravens, and whales were some of the animals mentioned throughout the day.
Our closing keynote address was meant to have been given by Professor Eric Stanley on ‘Such Old English Animals as: docga, frocga, hogga, pic[g]-bred, staggon (acc. pl.), birds sugga and hrucge, insect wicga’. However, Prof. Stanley sadly passed away a few days before the conference. His address was replaced by a short talk by Prof. Andy Orchard about Eric’s career and involvement in the Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference.
The quality of the papers this year was extremely high, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank and congratulate all speakers, but especially those who were giving their very first paper! Discussions were equally enlightening. They were lively and respectful; a testimony to the lovely atmosphere I experienced throughout the conference. More relaxed gaps between the panels were far from unproductive: lunch and coffee breaks allowed delegates to unwind and chat on the beautiful Harris Manchester lawn.
The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference would not have been possible this year without its committee and its sponsors. The conference sponsors (Harris Manchester College; the Faculties of History, English, and Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford; the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities; and the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature) provided the necessary support to ensure minimum registration cost for our delegates and travel bursaries for our speakers. The organisers who have all done an
amazing job are all postgraduate or early career Oxford medievalists from different Faculties (History, English, and Medieval and Modern Languages): Caroline Batten, Anna Boeles Rowland, Claire Macht, Emilie Lavallee, Hannah Bower, Susanna Markert, Sarah Griffin, Pauline Souleau, and Sian Witherden. The team was amazing and strong friendship bonds were woven which I am sure will produce more interdisciplinary collaboration in the future. All Committee members either presented at or organised the OMGC in 2017 and I am confident that some of this year’s speakers will take part in the OMGC 2019 organisation (which will be on Deviance).
by Pauline Souleau
Oxford Medieval Studies