MRC Conference 2018: Troublesome Elements

'Troublesome Elements': a conference to be held at Leicester on Friday 23 November, 2018.

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Nov 23, 2018
from 08:50 AM to 06:50 PM



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Since early antiquity, the four elements have been a vital means for making sense of all aspects of human experience. While subject to local variations and shifting emphases over time, the four basic principles of earth, water, air and fire have proven formidably pervasive and versatile as an interpretive model, whether approached as abstract building-blocks or as concrete physical matter. In medieval Europe, elemental theory guided understanding of wide range of phenomena, shaping ideas of medicine, cosmology, diet, agriculture, husbandry, meteorology, the human life-cycle, and many other frameworks and practices; yet the elements could also be problematic. When their harmony and proportion were thrown out of balance, they could become agents of chaos rather than order; in many respects, they might prove downright troublesome.

This one-day conference with the Medieval Research Centre at the University of Leicester on the theme of Troublesome Elements encourages critical and creative responses across all disciplines to the various difficulties that the four elements presented to medieval culture. Themes that will be variously explored include:

  • natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, conflagrations
  • interpretations of natural phenomena—wind, rain, seasonal change
  • agrarian practices—soil and animal husbandry, crop failure
  • architecture and settlement plans—building and street orientations, salubrious and insalubrious landscape situations
  • the role of the elements in human experiences—disease, deformity, sex and gender, diet, aging, psychology, and mortality
  • the symbolism of the elements in medieval art—in poetic, mystical or iconographic discourses
  • the elements in religious life—responses to the Flood, apocalypse, miracles, wonders.

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