Seminar 6: Response

In our final seminar, we explored some of the many themes that emerged in our across the series. General discussion underpinned by reference to specific texts and concrete landscapes was a feature of the series as a whole. We commenced – appropriately – with the remotest of landscapes, Hyperborea, guided there by Renaud Gagné, but also with landscape as cosmography, the composition and representation of total space – a shifting space, which, with reference to the study of cosmology, may be understood. The idea of landscape as sanctuary – a powerful and connected configuration of space – came and remained to the fore throughout the series.

This and other connections of various kinds were highlighted throughout the subsequent talks – between the world of the author and audiences, and that of the narratives analysed; connections created by the topography of the narratives themselves resonating across multiple sites. Sites themselves were also deliberately placed in dialogue with one another in many of the sources discussed, in a spatial sequence, but also, most notably in the contributions by Emily Lethbridge, Marilynn Desmond and Matt Lampitt down through time. Place-names delimit these spatial and temporal parameters and in both concrete and evocative form, they resonated throughout many of our talks.

So too did physical landscape features, real historical landmarks, but also mythical manifestations, reflections of historical reality of a different kind. Negotiating the interface between real and fictional space detained us in exploring an extensive body of landscape literature from medieval Ireland, dindshenchas, as we sought to develop a critical idiom to study interactions between an actual lived world and the rhetoric of a text. That interaction, as well as those between humans of the past and their environment were framed by Heide Estes in ecocritical terms, as well as through the lens of Disability Studies, with reference to the depiction of bodies in the landscape.

In concert, these two presentations in our second seminar outlined a concept of landscape as a history of the relation between the human and the nonhuman environment, prompting us to reflect on the affordance of landscape, and of different kinds of landscape; how it can, as a confluence of human and nonhuman, participate in the ways we categorise, enable, or exclude bodies that inhabit it – or who are prohibited from doing so.

The theme of exclusion, of absence caused by deliberate erasure was picked up by Emily Lethbridge in the third seminar. Notwithstanding the richness of the material pertaining to landscape and place in Old Norse material, certain political and geographical perspectives are dominant and she drew our attention to the absent voices of the suppressed, including women and the enslaved – and absence that remains present (so to speak) in the planned street names of the cityscape of Reykjavik today.

The importance of perspective she highlighted, with reference to occluded perspectives in particular, was brought to the fore in the other paper in that session by Mary Franklin-Brown. By means of the medieval landscape of chess, we were alerted us to the possibility of multiple, simultaneous perspectives in a given landscape.

Across the months, sundry seams of knowledge – allegorical, literal, physical – in multifarious landscapes – literary, concrete, imaginary – were explored by our speakers. In accessing the knowledge, we were reminded again and again of how the landscape must be read with a critical, nuanced eye.

Responses around these and other themes were given by regular attendees and contributors to the series in the final meeting, Prof. Jane Gilbert of University College London, Dr Henry Ravenhall, Medieval and Modern Languages and Linguistics, University of Cambridge, and Roan Runge, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, University of Cambridge. We are indebted to them for taking up our invitation to speak and for interweaving the concept of medieval landscapes more generally with their own work. Dr Ravenhall chose the Bayeux Tapestry around which to weave some of the seminar’s strands. A material object both focussing on land and woven from it, it is, as he reminded us ‘a landscape event’. It represents landscape as a mode of framing, as well as a frame, and highlights the importance of perspective, the shifting position of humans within a landscape constantly changing the view. Roan Runge addressed both the human and the unhuman in that shifting landscape, with specific reference to tales of transformation from medieval Ireland. The actions and reactions that moving landscapes elicit bring change and adaptation into view, vividly illustrated by them with reference to a specific landscape, famed in story, but utterly changed in the early twentieth century as part of the development of a hydroelectric scheme. Contemporary happenings captured in personal photographs taken by Prof. Gilbert were used by her creatively and effectively to structure her response, reflecting the movement between past and present throughout the series as a whole. She has kindly provided a recording of her response which is available here, a fitting round up of an enriching series.


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