2020 Congress

Twenty-second Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society
Durham, 12–16 July 2020

The NCS Program Committee invites proposals for sessions for the Societyʼs 2020 Congress in Durham. Sessions may be proposed either for the open portion of the program or directed at one of the six thematic threads described below.

We are very excited about the upcoming congress, which will consist of threaded and unthreaded sessions. About half the program will be independent sessions, with the remaining half comprising threaded sessions.

Session proposals should be sent to 2020NCSproposals@miami.edu by 21 December.

A session proposal should include a brief description of the session suitable for the Call for Papers (100 words), an indication of thread (non-)affiliation, and designation of preferred session format(s) (Paper/Lightning/Position--see below). A short bio of the proposer should also be included (2‒3 sentences). Proposers should submit a maximum of two proposals each.

The session formats successfully introduced at our last Congress have been retained for Durham, but the Program Committee has decided to rest the Seminar format. Instead, the committee hopes that participants in all sessions, of whatever type, will pursue the goals of that venerable format through collaboration before and after the conference, including pre-circulation of materials where session participants agree.

A Research Expo to showcase research with strong visual or digital elements will feature again. Its launch will constitute one session on the program.

Each thread will, we hope, contain all the standard session formats, and we encourage members to consider all of these formats when designing a session proposal, whether threaded or free-standing. We also encourage members to submit sessions on pedagogy, especially in relation to thread topics.

After the closing date, thread organizers and the Program Committee will select sessions for the open program and threads and finalize session descriptions in consultation with session organizers. The Call for Papers will follow in March 2019. Please note that members will be permitted to submit only one proposal (including Expo presentation proposals) to this call.

Before then, we are very much looking forward to seeing your ideas for sessions at Durham.

Elliot Kendall and Robyn Malo
Program Committee co-chairs



Open section
In the interest of creating an inclusive and wide-ranging conference program, we welcome proposals for independent sessions, unaffiliated with any thread.


1. Orientation
Organized by Simon Meecham-Jones, Dan Remein and Michelle M. Sauer

Where and how do we find ourselves? How do we, as critics, readers and ʻheirsʼ, find medieval texts situated? What methodologies, old and new, are available to explore the intersections of ideas of space, location, or region and ideas of local or national identity challenged by renewed critical focus on medieval multilingualism and race studies? How do inherited assumptions feed into Chaucer studies?

Paper panels, lightning talks and position papers in this thread might address a whole range of issues of race, sovereignty and nationhood in the past and in the present moment, from the minutely local to the truly global, investigating medieval notions of the relationship of human groups to the environment, nation and ethnicity.

These issues include but are not limited to:
1) Travel, exile, pilgrimage as metaphor, and as translatio studii.
2) Migration and indigenity; race, ethnicity and language, land rights and property. Power structures, race and decolonial discussions.
3) Non-metropolitan cultures and medieval ecologies. Cultural production outside London; rural culture; borderlands; colonies; distinctive regional styles.
4) The culture of the North of England. Durham, York and Lincoln as cultural centres.
5) Cartography̶the theory and the practice; Mappa Mundi, religious and political geographies.
6) A Global Middle Ages? How the relationship between west and east, global north and global south, is negotiated or constructed in the Middle Ages and today.
7) Emblematic Chaucer/Chaucer as symbol. Reassessing Chaucerʼs critical evaluation in literary history; moving away from the Humanist Father Chaucer, the Proto-Feminist Chaucer, the Benign Wise Author, the Father of English Poetry etc. How can we handle Chaucerʼs work and life records and his (alleged) use as a political tool, from Lancastrian propaganda to upholding white colonial power and empire?

2. Action
Organized by Joy Ambler, Moira Fitzgibbons and Sierra Lomuto

This thread will address possibilities of taking action. It will embrace public engagement, activism, and ethical self-reflection in modern academic practice and their relationship to our study of the Middle Ages. Recognizing that our scholarly lives are inseparable from our larger socio-political environments, we seek session proposals that address that connectedness, including proposals exploring representations and theories of civic responsibility and community action within the works of Chaucer and other medieval writers.

Session proposals may take various formats̶paper panels, lightning talks, or position papers. Potential inquiries include: is there a difference between action and activism, either in medieval literature or in modern cultures? What is scholarly activism; what are its limits and possibilities? In what ways has the ʻmedievalʼ in general been appropriated by right-wing extremist and/or Alt Right organizations to support intersecting forms of oppression, such as racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, sexism, ableism, transphobia and/or homophobia? How, if at all, might medieval literature and culture provide sustenance, inspiration, or cautionary tales to those seeking to redress inequity and repair injustice? What strategies for resistance emerge in works by Chaucer and other medieval writers? How do these texts raise problems of complicity with existing systems of power? In what ways do we interact with projects of social and civic justice in our research, pedagogy, public writing, and/or institutional service? What theories and discourses have been helpful for thinking about our scholarly activism? Which courses, texts, or writing venues have proven particularly amenable to action and intervention? What role can modern adaptations of Chaucer play in social and political action? To what extent can our classrooms and scholarship become spaces of action and/or activism? Finally, how might each of us reflect on our own identities and practices? How do privilege and oppression operate within our academic--and, specifically, medievalist--communities? How might we heal the injury these dynamics of power cause?

3. Gender
Organized by Heather Blurton, Micah Goodrich and Chris Roman

This thread seeks to explore new approaches to gender in Chaucer and medieval literature. We welcome proposals for sessions that will extend and complicate approaches to womenʼs
literary and cultural production and a queer Middle Ages in light of contemporary discussions of gender, such as those surrounding the #metoo movement and the consistent attack on the rights of LGBTQIA2+ bodies. Drawing on new frontiers of feminism and queer theory, how are Chaucer and medieval literature entwined with issues of gender and sexuality, then and now?

Social categorizations and experiences of gender, sexuality, and corporeality are historically variable across time, place, race, and class. This thread therefore coheres around questions of historical, temporal, and epistemological conditions of the gendered and sexed body and invites sessions that treat gender and sexuality in any of its manifestations. Proposals might address the historical variability of identities and embodiment, such as queer and transgender spectral identities, non-binary corporeal epistemologies, non-bodied gender identities, identities and embodiments of race, trans-temporalities, queer-Marxist and psychoanalytic approaches to gender, somatechnologies, disability studies. Particularly, we encourage sessions on gender and race, power and sexual violence, and the future of medieval gender, queer, and transgender studies.

Questions to consider include: What do we owe to the bodies of the past? What is the impact of the preceding centuriesʼ conceptions of gender and sexuality on medieval scholarship? What has that study of the past trained us not to see? How do the identities and corporealities of the past exist outside of temporal and geographic schematics? How might Chaucer push us to rethink these relationships, and how might new approaches to these relationships inspire us to rethink Chaucer?

4. Code(X)
Organized by Heather Blatt, Megan Cook and Orietta Da Rold

This thread seeks to explore the imbrications of, and traffic between, material and immaterial aspects of textual production, reception, culturalization, and theorization--from the analog to the digital text, affective to virtual literacy, and individual to collective engagement. Paper panels, lightning talks, and position papers might address intersections among approaches including digital humanities, codicology, paleography, thing theory, and materiality studies; or aim to explore these approaches while focusing on questions raised by coding/encoding/decoding, reading praxes (disruptive/destructive/precarious reading), graffiti and the graphic, mediation, archives, and the scriptorium.

Such questions might include: how do new theoretical and methodological paradigms challenge our understanding of the relationship between work and text? What do the familiar modes of interpretation, research, and reading look like when approached through these new lenses? What does it mean to speak of “the history of the book” in an increasingly fluid media environment? In what ways, for that matter, were medieval media fluid? This thread aims to make room for conversations within the scholarly community of manuscript study/book history and that of the digital humanities, but itʼs especially keen to spark exchanges among these communities, and to be inclusive of others.

We hope this thread will engage scholars interested in manuscript studies and beyond, including editing; in the production and use of historical knowledge; in the role of writing in processes of communication; in the role of Digital Humanities in exploring medieval book culture; in conceptualizing culture in books; in commercial, economic, national and transnational networks; in the formation and representations of markets and economics in books; in people and their books; and in books in literature and art in books.

5. Risk
Organized by Elizabeth Allen and Isabel Davis

This thread foregrounds and invites contributions on the theme of risk. As Chaucerʼs character Dorigen in ʻThe Franklinʼs Taleʼ learns to her cost, risk aversion can create hazards. Risks are
hard to anticipate, compute and place in perspective. The word ʻriskʼ identifies financial investment, credit, jeopardy of different kinds, and uncertainty. Medieval thinking on aventure (to swap in a Middle English synonym) was complex, recognising its counter-intuitive and shifting nature. Whilst for us today risk is often understood statistically and worked into policy, in the Middle Ages it was an established poetic theme, with aesthetic as well as ethical implications. How and to what extent has risk assessment shifted from a poetic and philosophical register into a fiscal and legal activity to be managed and contained? Are there other ways in which the nature and perception of risk have changed over time? Conversely, how do concepts of risk imply understandings of safety, security, refuge, and trust? How might modern understandings of risk or safety chime with those of the medieval past?

This thread invites paper panels, lightning talks and position papers on the topic of risk in the age of Chaucer. Contributions are encouraged from those interested in pedagogy as well as traditional research practice. Proposals may, but do not have to, treat change over time. They might address: precarity and vulnerability; chance and Fortune; the reception of Boethiusʼs Consolation of Philosophy, a foundational text in understandings of Fortune; refuge, sanctuary, buffer zones, and safe spaces; refugees and other at-risk individuals or groups; violence and danger; adventure; environmental risk; risk to bodies and bodies at risk; psychological and emotional risk; systems or game theory and strategy; insurance and protection.

6. Theory Now
Organized by Holly Crocker, Stephanie Trigg and Marion Turner

When Chaucer wrote about theory, he referred to ʻthe general rewles of theorik in astrologie.ʼ ʻTheoryʼ was not the hotly contested space it became in late twentieth-century literary criticism. But what does theory mean to new forms ̶ and new generations ̶ of medieval scholarship? How much and what kind of theory do we need or want in the study of medieval literature? How do we activate the study of medieval theory ‒ whether theories of beauty or theories of science, theories about the origins of language, theories about gender and sexuality, or theories about astronomy? Perhaps more crucially, how might our study of medieval literatures and cultures inform or challenge theoretical approaches to later literature, to practices of reading, and to the place of literature in the world?

We welcome suggestions for sessions (paper panels, lightning talks, position papers) that engage with the place of theory in 2020. Proposals might address, for instance, particular critical theories and their evolution, languages of technology, medicine, or science, theorizing the humanities, the theoretical underpinnings of literary study, medieval and modern poetic theories, the relationship between theory and activism, the place of new theory in energizing the study of medieval literature, the shape and form of theoretical writing today, the relationship between theory and practice.



Paper sessions showcase scholarly work in the form of extended presentations of 20 minutes each. A paper panel should include no more than 3 presenters total (either 3 papers or 2 papers and a respondent) and should allow for at least 30 minutes of open discussion.

Lightning talks sessions feature up to 6 speakers in short presentations of 5-7 minutes, allowing at least 45 minutes for open discussion. Presentations may be scripted but need not be. They might trail or precis a large project, zoom in on an element of research or open a provocative line of inquiry.

Position papers sessions address a single, focused question through a panel of up to 5 speakers and are specifically intended to foster debate and to consider the state of the field. Papers should be 7‒8 minutes to ensure time for discussion. Examples from NCS 2018 include ʻDo We Need Periodization?ʼ and ʻChaucer Abroad: Who Owns Chaucer Now?ʼ

The Research Expo will host research with strong visual or digital elements presented in a display or poster format. Presenters will discuss their display and the underpinning research during a single launch session. For this reason, separate proposals for Expo sessions are not invited as part of this Call for Sessions, but the Research Expo will be fully advertised in the upcoming Call for Papers.

A note on pedagogy sessions: A pedagogy session may take any of the forms above or may propose an alternative form. It should address topics or questions relevant to teaching medieval literature and culture at a variety of academic institutions.

Note that session organizers are not permitted to present work in their own session, though they may chair the session and may present work in another session at the conference.