Reading Post-Graduates: Medieval Marriage

In a regular feature, we’ll bring you updates from Reading Post-Graduates, showcasing the work that the Masters and PhD candidates in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies are pursuing. Here’s a post from Charlotte Pickard, who is currently completing her PhD on ‘Unequal Marriage in France c.1200’ in the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies. Charlotte’s PhD is co-supervised by Professor Francoise Le Saux of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, who specialises in Medieval literary history, and Professor Lindy Grant, an expert in the history of Medieval France.

The recent publication of The Reading Medievalist, a postgraduate and early career journal, has made me reflect on the conference that inspired the transactions.

The conference, entitled ‘Medieval Marriage,’ was jointly organised by Carys Gadsden and myself and took place in March 2013. Marriage was the foundation of medieval society and not only represented the formation of a personal relationship but an economic and diplomatic transaction that brought together two families. Then as now it could be a delicate and complex business, which did not always go to plan. The subject of marriage is one that inevitably intersects much research on the medieval period and as such provided the ideal focus for a conference.

Our keynote speaker, Professor Neil Cartlidge, opened the conference with a thought-provoking paper focusing on courtly love vs marriage. Conference PhotoThe papers that followed worked with material dating from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries and explored historical, literary and art historical material from medieval Ireland, Wales, France and England, provoking lively and stimulating discussions. The papers questioned the nature and definition of marriage from social, legal and religious standpoints. It explored the extent to which noblewomen were able to exercise independent power within marriage and how this was affected by social status and crusading. The sessions on literary and art historical responses to marriage were particularly insightful for those who usually work with historical sources. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference allowed for an exchange of ideas between academics who are working with similar themes but taking alternative approaches, this was extremely beneficial for all involved.

As PhD students the conference provided us with the opportunity to gain valuable experience of conference organisation as well the chance to present our research to our academic peers. The conference utilised the skills of many of the postgraduate and early career researchers based in the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies, with Reading students presenting papers and chairing sessions, as well as contributing to discussion. Participants included researchers based at Reading as well as postgraduates from other UK institutions including the University of Oxford and the Courtauld Institute and provided a chance for networking.

After the success of the conference all involved felt that the papers would make an excellent focus for a new journal produced by postgraduates in the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies. The publication of the first volume of The Reading Medievalist has allowed the dialogue, which began at the conference to continue. As a co-organiser and editor the event and subsequent journal have been extremely rewarding experiences that I would recommend to other postgraduates.

To learn more about pursuing a Masters Degree or a PhD in Modern Languages at the University of Reading, visit the Graduate School website as well as the Homepage of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. We offer both Post-Graduate Taught and Post-Graduate Research degree courses.