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Thursday, November 8, 2012

‘Mortality and Imagination: The Life of the Dead in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance’
21st Biennial Conference, Mont Fleur, Stellenbosch, South Africa 
30 August-2 September 2012

Report from the convener, Professor David Scott-Macnab

In September, SASMARS held its 21st biennial conference, a grand coming-of-age event, which attracted a full house of 32 delegates, 17 of them from overseas.  Our foreign delegates represented universities from the eastern seaboard of Australia to the west coast of North America, and from numerous countries in between.

The conference theme – "Mortality and Imagination in the Middle Ages and Renaissance" – drew papers and stimulated discussion on a fascinating range of subjects, from the "Dark Ages" to the Renaissance.  Topics included Anglo-Saxon charms, runes, corpus linguistics, the Old Norse Eyrbyggja Saga, Troy and the fall of cities, Dante, the sonnet, suicide in medieval legal records, the cult of relics, the treatment of suicidal emotions in the Ars moriendi, the Anglo-Norman Gui de Warewic, the miniatures in Margaret of Foix's Hours, Hamlet, Marlowe and a medieval veterinary treatise for horses that seemed more likely to kill the patient with kindness than to heal it.  

The conference was privileged to have as its Keynote Speaker and presiding genius loci the gracious and generous Prof. Helen Fulton, from the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York.  Helen kindly agreed to join the ranks of our Corresponding Members, so we hope to stay in touch with her long into the future. And we were delighted to be joined by Prof. Tiffany Stern, from University College, Oxford, who happened to be in the Cape at the time.  Tiffany held the conference spellbound with a talk about her current research on the conventions of tragic performance on the Shakespearean stage.  Many thanks to her for agreeing to speak to us at such short notice.

We were also pleased to welcome a number of delegates from overseas who were returning for their second, and even their third, visits.  And we were heartened by the presence of so many younger delegates, who infused events with their energy and enthusiasm.  The disco that they organised spontaneously after the conference dinner remedied an unfortunate oversight in the programming of the conference as a whole!

As a venue, Mont Fleur wove its own special magic, as it always does, even with the tempest and sudden drop in temperature that hit us in the middle of the first evening, and the food and wine, of course, were nonpareil.

Plans are already being made for a return to Mont Fleur in September 2014, so keep an eye out for the next Call for Papers and make a note in your diary to join us again!

The keynote speaker, 
Professor Helen Fulton
Keynote speaker
Helen Fulton, BA (Sydney), Dip. Celt (Oxon.), Ph.D. (Sydney,) is Professor of Medieval Literature in the Department of English and Related Literature and the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York. Her main research areas are medieval literatures, Celtic studies, Arthurian literature, and critical theory.

Helen writes:

Never having been to South Africa before, I couldn't believe my luck when David Scott-Macnab invited me to the 2012 SASMARS conference. On a pre-conference tour of Cape Town and the Cape peninsula I enjoyed the stunning scenery and dramatic views from Cape Point, but could not be persuaded to take my life in my hands and attempt the Table Mountain cable car. The romantically beautiful Mont Fleur conference centre is reached via a succession of pretty villages and graceful vineyards, offering leisurely wine tastings by open fires. We stocked up for the conference, and then found ourselves spoiled for choice in Montfleur's lovely reception rooms where the conference guests assembled for drinks and dinner each evening. It was a real privilege to spend a few days in the company of some top medievalists and early modernists, listening to papers on a wide range of topics, enjoying some vigorous discussions, and realising yet again how much I like the genuine internationalism of our discipline. Our Montfleur hosts kept us supplied with wonderful food served in high-country surroundings, and a few hardy souls climbed the misty mountain behind us. It was a conference that satisfied all the senses as well as the intellect. Highly recommended!

Catherine Addison, University of Zululand
Leslie Arnovick, University of British Columbia
Mariusz Beclawski, University of Warsaw 
Jac Conradie, University of Johannesburg
Kevin du Plessis, North-West University
Michele Du Plessis-Hay, North-West University
Sonia Fanucchi, University of the Witwatersrand
Helen Fulton, University of York
Katharine Geldenhuys, St Augustine’s College, Johannesburg
Kelly Gilbertson, University of Johannesburg
Ryszard Gron, Pontifical Faculty of Wroclaw, Poland
Derrick Higginbotham, University of Cape Town
Victor Houliston, University of the Witwatersrand
Retha Knoetze, University of Pretoria 
Brian Lee, University of Cape Town
Carin Marais, University of Johannesburg
Rebecca McNamara, University of Sydney
James Plumtree, Central European University, Budapest
David Rollo, University of Southern California
Juanita Feros Ruys, University of Sydney
Tiffany Stern, University of Oxford
David Scott-Macnab, University of Johannesburg
Chris Thurman, University of the Witwatersrand
Eleanor Townsend, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Kees van der Ploeg, Rijksuniversiteit Gronigen
Leon Van Heerden, Independent Scholar
Helena Vanommeslaeghe, University of Ghent
Leonie Viljoen, University of South Africa 
Liliana Worth, University of Oxford