Medieval Storytelling

Last year I participated in an AHRC workshop on medieval storytelling. The workshop was not what I expected, but It was an interesting experience. Although not all of the stated aims were met, but again from my experience that is not unusual.

The focus of the workshop was on storytelling for children in general rather than on the retelling of medieval stories for a modern audience at keystage 2. There was some discussion of adaptation in terms of what needed to be removed from the ‘original’ medieval tale, but not much about what needed to be retained in order to keep a sense of the medieval world.

For me the modern adaptation of stories created and told within the medieval period depends a great deal on the reason why these stories are being adapted for a modern audience. If the purpose is to give keystage 2 children a sense of life in the medieval world then much of the ‘original’ story would have to be kept.

Adaptations of these stories should be recast in language accessible to children and yes they would on occasion have to be rendered less sexually explicit, but on the other hand removing all religious references and recasting gender roles would mean that the modern retelling no longer reflects the medieval culture within which these stories were told. Such heavy recasting is of course perfectly acceptable if you are simply telling a story without placing any educational constraints on it.

Adaptation, retelling, recasting – however you want to think about it has a long and well accepted tradition. What matters is why you are telling the story in the first place.

What do you think?

Old English – widow

I’m busy working away on the first stage of my analysis for my supervisor which is due at the end of this week. It’s an undertaking which is opening up a myriad of interesting avenues that I need to keep well under control.

One of these is due to the fact I am working with Old English again – a language which I love to hear spoken when academics and enthusiasts get together to discuss their latest ideas.

It is difficult to access the mind-set of past times and some would say impossible. But I believe that examining language is one way of at least attempting to understand older societies.

That is not just to translate, but to examine the range of meanings associated with a particular word and to attempt to apply that broader understanding my ideas of cultural context.

So for today here is a word for you to think about:

láf  – meaning widow

The other meanings of this word include – remnant, relict, remains, remainder, survivors of battle.

What does this suggest to you about the way widows were considered within the Anglo-Saxon world?

Conference Abstracts part 1

My first year of research at Aberystwyth University has officially come to a close as I have now completed my registration for the second year. The first year consisted of my undertaking two research training modules:

  • Research Skills and Personal Development – which consisted of a variety of short lectures on topics considered relevant to the modern researcher. Two assignments were part of the process. I know that some of the postgrads found it very useful but I had covered most of the subjects before as part of my undergrad and MA studies.
  • Ways of Reading – consisted of a 2-day series of lectures. The assignment was a single essay on a topic of our choice.  Although, again, I had covered much of the material that was presented this module did have the benefit of being pertinent to my particular research interests.

For the rest of the year I attended workshops and conferences that were extremely helpful in clarifying just how I was going to approach my research topic. The rest of the time was spent transcribing a Middle English chronicle and translating a selection of Anglo-Norman material.

Now I have to work on a more detailed analysis of the material that I have collected and as part of this analysis I now have to start thinking about the conferences I wish to attend and the papers that I wish to share with the wider academic community.

Conference papers are an essential element within the PhD process as it gives the researcher an opportunity to test out theories and approaches in a relatively friendly environment. The questions posed by an audience of your peers can be enlightening whether you can answer them or not. Questions and answer sessions allow you to examine the strengths and weaknesses of your research, and often open up new ways of looking at your material.

But the first hurdle to overcome is having your paper accepted by a conference in the first place. Acceptance into a conference is dependent upon the abstract that you send in to the conference organisers. This abstract not only has to encapsulate your paper, but it also has to be interesting enough to sell itself to the organisers. Not an easy task in abstracts of 200-500 words.

I am now in the process of writing my first selection of abstracts for a number of very interesting conferences, but I am finding this to be a difficult task. This is despite having completed a research training skills assignment which basically analysed a selection of abstracts in order to decipher what makes a successful  abstract.

Abstracts take practise and a lot of thought. Each one has to be tailored to suit the individual conference theme. But for conferences in general the following basic rules apply:

  • Ensure that the conference you are considering is appropriate for your work.
  • Check if the conference provide examples of what they wish to see – not all do.
  • If guidelines are given – follow them.
  • Write the abstract.
  • Have your supervisor check it over and listen to their advice.
  • Double-check the abstract submission guidelines and deadline.
  • Don’t write under the minimum word limit.
  • Don’t go over the maximum word limit.
  • Submit the abstract on time.

Once I have been accepted to give a paper I will go through the process that I took and share it here. I’m not going to share my ideas on conference abstract writing before then, after all I’ve no idea if my approach will work – yet.


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