So excited to announce that Kristi Castleberry, Roberta Magnani and I are organising a 1 day symposium in Swansea on 1 July. Remember this post? It helped kickstart a great conversation that has turned into this! Kristi and Roberta have so far done most of the legwork whilst I occasionally throw in a nice turn of phrase via emails on my iPhone. Ah, maternity leave and a baby who doesn’t like to nap! The symposium will be a few weeks after I return to work, and is going to be such a wonderful way to come back fully to academic life. I’m very excited. I hope some of you will join us. We’re hoping we’ll be able to offer free registration to postgrad students and ECRs; given this is a conference that is in many ways about liminality, it would be wrong to exclude members on the margins because of finances. We’ll do our best to make this happen, though so much depends on funding! Also, as a one day symposium, we hope costs should be quite modest and that you might even manage it as a day trip, depending on where you’re based.

And without further ado:

Symposium: Women at Sea

National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, Wales

July 1, 2016

Call for Papers


Keynote Speakers: Dorothy Kim and Jonathan Hsy


Countless women float through the waters of medieval narrative. In romance, Constance is pushed repeatedly into the waves without a rudder, often with an infant in her arms. Hagiography gives us Mary Magdalene’s journey to spread Christianity, sometimes with fate guiding her ship and other times with a captain and crew to do the sailing. Egeria makes a pilgrimage across the Mediterranean in the 4th century, and Margery Kempe travels from England to Jerusalem in the 15th. These women at sea populate the realms of literature and history, as well as the shadowy space between fact and fiction.


Tales of women at sea call our attention to questions of agency. The sea can seem to be dominated by men in economic and martial terms, and the woman at sea is often set adrift by men who on land have ultimate power over her. But perhaps at sea, a woman enters a more generative and transformative space. The woman at sea is frequently unmoored, lost, vulnerable, her direction chosen by wind and fate. Yet the sea may also open up a more feminine, queer, imaginative space: the woman adrift in a place of transformation, negotiation and transition in which she can re-cast her sense of self.

The sea is a place where boundaries are no longer visible, where there are no direct paths. The sea is its own space (and the largest on the planet), but it also overlaps with land. It is outside of national realms, but functions as a conduit between those realms. And while the edge of the ocean is a boundary, the open sea seems boundless. It defies linearity. Thus, women in oceanic narratives can inhabit a different temporality than is available in narratives defined by land. They enter an exceptional space, a place where bodies need not be territories.  


This symposium seeks presentations from all disciplines, including creative responses and innovative re-imaginings that put medieval narratives in dialogue with current empowering or traumatic experiences of women at sea. Please submit abstracts of approximately 300 words to by 26 February 2016.