It is almost certain that there is a huge disconnect between what literature was well known and widely-read and -circulated in medieval England and what we now consider to be the most significant literary relics from that period (some of which, like Beowulf or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, survive in unique manuscripts). Recent work by such scholars as Margaret Connolly and Raluca Radulescu, among many others, has thrown light on the prevalence of miscellany manuscripts and anthologies and their importance for the appreciation of often overlooked texts and genres, from recipes to popular romances, and from lyrics to alchemical poetry. Other projects such as the French of England project (led by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and Thelma Fenster) have sought to recover or reconstruct medieval voices and communities that have hitherto been marginalized in contemporary literary studies. And numerous series of edited texts issuing from imprints such as EETS, MET and TEAMS have shown an increasing inclination to publish lesser-known texts from medieval England, many of which have proven popular with both scholars and teachers.

Given these developments, and given the ways in which different critical turns have encouraged us to view the Middle Ages from new perspectives, can the idea of a medieval ‘canon’ have any meaning or value left for us? Is it time to rethink what belongs inside and outside the Middle English literary canon? Or should we abandon the concept of canonicity altogether? These special sessions at the 2018 International Congress on Medieval Studies aim to open up discussion of the issues around our current sense of medieval literature and culture in two distinct ways: (1) the canon as it stands and the changes initiated by new theoretical approaches; (2) and the sense of a marginal, alternative, or ‘fringe’ canon. We invite speakers to reconsider the criteria by which we determine what is and is not deserving of scholarly and student attention.

Shake Up the Canon I: Remaking the Canon

This session of papers will consider how and why texts and authors move into and out of the medieval English canon. Among other topics, papers for this session might consider:

  • case studies of texts and authors whose canonical status has changed;
  • manuscripts that have become canonical, or that have changed our sense of the canon;
  • ways in which the sense of a canon augments or inflects research and teaching;
  • the influence of the turn to book history and material culture on the established canon;
  • or the impact of new theoretical approaches on our sense of the English canon in recent years.

Shake Up the Canon II: The Outlaw(ed) Canon

This session of papers will reach out to the margins of medieval English studies to investigate what has been tacitly ‘outlawed’ from inclusion in the canon by the academy. We invite papers that concentrate on literary criticism or on the material book as evidence for exclusionary practices in medieval studies. Among other topics, papers for this session may consider:

  • how canonicity is affected by ideas regarding the importance of authenticity of voice or experience;
  • how prejudices against ‘popular’ culture exclude particular texts from the canon;
  • ‘disputed’ texts and attributions;
  • anonymously authored texts;
  • texts specifically concerned with marginal or fringe perspectives;
  • the influence of editors and teachers on the shape of the canon;
  • alterity and protest as a kind of anti-canon;
  • or nationalism and the canon.

If you would like to participate in this session, please send an abstract of no more than 250 words to Carrie Griffin (carrie.griffin@ul.ie) no later than 1 September. For more information about these sessions, you may either email Carrie or send a tweet to Mary Flannery: @15thcgossipgirl.