Thursday, July 16, 2009

Call for Papers for Undergraduate Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Arizona State University issued the following news release:

Put down your preconceived notions. The global universe that we live in today is not a modern invention. It is as old as time.

That, says Arizona State University assistant professor of English Mary Bjork, is one of a number of topics that are open to presentation, discussion and exploration during the second annual Undergraduate Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies, "Discipuli Juncti: Students Connected Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance." The conference is scheduled to take place at ASU's West campus on October 30 and is presented by the university's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS), a tri-university research center (ASU, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University) on ASU's Tempe campus.

Before then, however, comes the call for papers and presentations, the very stuff of which the fall conference is made.

"This is an opportunity for undergraduate students who are interested in Medieval or Renaissance culture to present their research or project to a group of peers and others," says Bjork, a faculty member in New College's Department of Humanities, Arts & Cultural Studies on the West campus.

"Increasingly, students are being called upon to become professionalized earlier and earlier. Graduate schools and professional programs seek applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to their areas of study. This conference was conceived as a way to help give students the confidence to think seriously about presenting themselves as professionals."

The deadline to submit a short abstract of 200 words for a 15- to 20-minute presentation is July 31, and Spring 2009 graduates are still eligible to participate.

Last year's inaugural conference featured 30 students from ASU and universities in Kansas, Ohio, Florida, Texas and Canada, who presented research on subjects ranging from Beowulf to Milton. The top three papers were selected to be presented at the ACMRS international conference last February, a practice that will continue this year. This year's best conference papers will also be published online on the ACMRS Web site,

The Latin discipuli juncti translates as "students connected."

"We wanted a name that reflected the importance of the contact between students that is at the heart of this endeavor and the multi-disciplinary nature of the conference while also acknowledging its placement in the Middle Ages and Renaissance," says Bjork. "In the years roughly between the 5th century and the 17th century, Latin enabled people who otherwise would not have shared a language to communicate with each other."

Bjork says the study of the Middle Ages, commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century to the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century, and the Renaissance, a European cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, is important in gaining a greater understanding of the world we live in today and even what lies ahead.

"Pre-modern studies are by definition global studies," says Bjork, who is an editorial board member of the Mediterranean Studies Association and is working on a book about Renaissance playwright John Fletcher. "The way we understand borders and identity was born in these periods. Many of the conflicts the world is still engaged in today - Islam vs. Christianity, for example - were born centuries ago.

"During the Renaissance, merchants in general tended to care less about a person's national or religious identity than they did about making a good business deal, even if that business came at the expense of people with whom they shared cultural values. As we think about the ways in which multi-national corporations function today, this begins to sound very familiar.

"By understanding the ways in which the people of the past attempted to make sense of the world in which they lived, we stand a better chance of making sense of our own times and even, perhaps, of negotiating a more viable and equitable future."

Students presenting an abstract and application form will be notified of acceptance by August 31. Once accepted, in advance of the conference each student will work with a faculty mentor who will advise and assist in the development of the student's project for a conference-level presentation. Paper proposals on all topics and in all formats, including visual and aural media, or any creative form of research, are welcome.

Bjork says she expects this year's conference to attract more students, and that she has already received inquiries from prospective participants from ASU and from universities in California, Ohio and New York.

The conference is an outgrowth of a talk she was invited to give by former ASU faculty associate Claudia Tomany, who is now a tenure-track professor at the University of Minnesota, Mankato. Bjork's presentation coincided with Mankato's Undergraduate Research Conference.