Buildings and the Body: an interdisciplinary symposium

bandb3This academic year a group of post-graduate students and staff from the Department of Archaeology ­– Catriona Cooper, Penny Copeland, Thomas Dhoop, Jude Jones, Ellie Williams and myself – organised a symposium to explore the recent boom in scholarly engagement with the materiality of medieval and early modern architecture. We were interested in drawing together researchers whose approach to these buildings included a focus on sensory experience; bodily engagement; biographical perspectives; and the relationship between buildings, life and death.

We were very much aware that such approaches are not limited to the discipline of archaeology, and thus sought to create a multi-disciplinary event to share viewpoints and stimulate collaboration. Moreover, we were keen to include students and researchers at all levels, as well as to go beyond academia and encourage commercial archaeology and heritage bodies to get involved. We were delighted to find the response to our call for papers was from just such a wide-ranging group.

The two-day symposium, which took place on 27th-28th June and attracted over sixty delegates, included papers and posters from undergraduates, post-graduates, lecturers and professors from the disciplines of archaeology, history, art, literature, architecture and art history. The subjects discussed included the poetry of a Dutch anchoress, the design of early modern insane asylums, cosmology of Umayyad mosques, ritual concealment of objects in domestic architecture, buildings for sexual encounters, and many more. The event was built around both paper presentations and panel discussions, and some truly vibrant discussions ensued from the topics raised in such diverse papers.


Our keynote address, held in medieval Westgate Hall in the Old Town, was given by Dr Kate Giles from the University of York. Kate was an ideal choice for keynote as she has moved between different disciplines throughout her career–archivist, art historian, buildings archaeologist–and her presentation reflected not only upon the development towards current scholarship, but how her own background had influenced her research.

We are most grateful to the Faculty of Humanities for supporting this event, as well as to our other sponsors: L-P Archaeology, English Heritage, Archaeopress and Museum of London Archaeology. We also owe a debt of gratitude to all the student volunteers who made our symposium run so smoothly. More details about the papers and speakers can be found on our website.

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