Troublesome Elements: Conference at the Medieval Research Centre, 23 November 2018

Ben Parsons's picture
Call for Papers
November 23, 2018
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Archaeology, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Literature, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies

Troublesome Elements: Medieval Research Centre, 23 November 2018

Call for papers

Since early antiquity, the four elements have been a vital means for making sense of all aspects of human experience. While subject to local variations and shifting emphases over time, the four basic principles of earth, water, air and fire have proven formidably pervasive and versatile as an interpretive model, whether approached as abstract building blocks or as concrete physical matter. In medieval Europe, elemental theory guided understanding of a wide range of phenomena, shaping ideas of medicine, cosmology, diet, agriculture, husbandry, meteorology, the human life-cycle, and many other frameworks and practices; yet the elements could also be problematic. When their harmony and proportion were thrown out of balance, they could become agents of chaos rather than order; in many respects, they might prove downright troublesome.

This Call for Papers invites medievalists to a one-day conference on Friday 23 November 2018 with the Medieval Research Centre at the University of Leicester on the theme of Troublesome Elements. It encourages critical and creative responses across all disciplines to the various difficulties that the four elements presented to medieval culture. Individual papers might focus on, but are not restricted to, any of the following categories:

  • natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, conflagrations
  • interpretations of natural phenomena—wind, rain, seasonal change
  • agrarian practices—soil and animal husbandry, crop failure
  • architecture and settlement plans—building/street orientations, salubrious/insalubrious landscape situations
  • elements in human experiences—disease, deformity, sex and gender, diet, aging, psychology, mortality
  • the symbolism of the elements in medieval art—in poetic, mystical or iconographic discourses
  • the elements in religious life—responses to the Flood, apocalypse, miracles, wonders.

20-minute papers are particularly welcomed which deal not only with wayward elements in their own right, but with attempts to manage and manipulate them in order to restore balance. In addition to papers focusing on physical manifestations of troublesome elements, we would welcome contributions which look to their scholarly and imaginative treatment in scientific treatises and works of literature. Posters on the conference theme are also welcome.

Please send in abstracts for proposed papers or posters (of no more than 300 words) by 30 June 2018 to:

Dr Richard Jones (

Dr Ben Parsons (

Contact Info: 

Submissions or inquiries can be sent to:

Dr Richard Jones, Associate Professor in Landscape History, University of Leicester (
Dr Ben Parsons, Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Literature, University of Leicester (

Contact Email: