The Centre for Medieval Studies: Examining the Past into the Future

The Centre for Medieval Studies is a leading centre for research and training in all aspects of medieval studies, providing an ideal research environment for staff and graduate students in an area that is inherently interdisciplinary. With more than 30 Centre staff members from across the Faculty of Arts and beyond, we have an exceptionally broad range of specialists learning from the different methodologies of our individual disciplines. 

Internally, the Centre nourishes excellence in research, promoting interdisciplinary research and training in medieval studies, facilitating grant capture, and providing a network for mutual support and exchange of knowledge and expertise. Lecturer, Dr Steve Bull, comments: 

‘As an ECR still finding my place in the wider academic community, the advice, support, and connections that I have gained through the CMS have been invaluable. There is a genuine feeling of collegiality amongst the centre’s members.’

We are raising the profile of Bristol’s medieval research community nationally and internationally. We have an extensive network of partners, including local heritage organisations, facilitating impact, and offering student placements (e.g., Bristol Cathedral and Berkeley Castle), and national and international research partners. Professor David Wallace (University of Pennsylvania), a frequent visitor to the Centre, comments:  

‘Bristol’s Centre for Medieval Studies has great medievalists across the range to sift the secrets of Bristol (a great medieval city), of Europe, and of the global Middle Ages.  A truly exceptional centre for student education and international scholarly collaboration.’

We lead several externally-funded projects. A recent project we initiated is the Marie-Curie Doctoral Training Network ‘Re-mediating the Early Book: Pasts and Futures’ (REBPAF); it will support 13 PhD researchers at the universities of Bristol, Galway, Antwerp, Alicante, Vienna and Zürich, enhancing our already strong postgraduate cohort and international reach. PhD applications for the REBPAF project close on 10 January.

We offer exceptional support to our postgraduates, integrating them into our research community with regular social events and research seminars, some tailored to meet their needs, including seminars on ‘what every medievalist needs to know about…’ (useful for us all, but especially early career researchers) and an annual ‘student choice’ seminar with a speaker nominated by the students. We also host on our Blackboard site a constantly upgraded ‘training hub’ with online resources and run a range of reading groups, notably for medieval languages, such as Old French and medieval Latin. Our successful MA in Medieval Studies, with its unique placement unit, attracts students from different disciplines and diverse backgrounds with a high conversion rate to postgraduate research, here and elsewhere. 

A highlight is the annual postgraduate conference, the longest-running of its kind; this brings to Bristol, and now also online, an international group of postgraduates. PhD student Maria Rupprecht, from Germany, who chaired last year’s organising committee, notes: 

‘It is the perfect environment for postgraduates to present their research in progress and connect with medievalist peers and leading scholars from Bristol and beyond in a most benevolent, constructive, and supportive framework. The conference is an absolute highlight in the CMS. It is conceptualised, organised, and managed by Bristol’s postgrads and with this approach allows for discovering and developing organisational and managerial skills as well as teamwork in a committed and friendly environment.’

In the year ahead, in addition to our regular programme, we look forward to strengthening local ties through the research of our BA Global Professor, working with Bristol Central Library on their early books, including a planned public workshop. Visiting professors enrich our research environment: we are currently hosting a specialist in Old French from Stockholm, and we look forward to welcoming a Newton International Fellow next year. Our research into the past always looks to the future. 

Professor Ad Putter and Professor Kathleen Kennedy, Co-Directors, and Professor Marianne Ailes, former Co-Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

Centre for Environmental Humanities – Who we are and what we do

By Dr Adrian Howkins and Dr Paul Merchant

The stories we tell about the environment and the images we make of it end up shaping the environment itself, for better and for worse. This is one of the key principles of the environmental humanities, an interdisciplinary field that brings together historians, literary critics, philosophers, scholars of visual culture, cultural geographers, and more.  

As the COP27 climate change summit gets underway in Egypt this week, it is striking to note how little coverage the summit has had in the media, especially when compared with the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year. It seems that expectations of meaningful progress are low, despite stark warnings from the UN that drastic action is needed. The environmental humanities can help us understand how we have arrived at this point, and reflect on how culture can play a role in building a more hopeful future.  

The Centre for Environmental Humanities at the University of Bristol, established in 2017, has rapidly built a reputation as one of the leading centres in the field. Our community spans all of the disciplines in the Faculty of Arts, and our members include postgraduate researchers, professors, and all career stages in between.  

We support our academic members in developing their research ideas, by providing seed funding, and supporting applications for external grants – recent funded research from Centre members includes Andy Flack’s ‘Dark Pasts’ project and Paul Merchant’s ‘Reimagining the Pacific’ project, both funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). We are particularly proud of our vibrant postgraduate community, whose members organise reading groups, workshops and the Literary and Visual Landscapes seminar series (you can watch a recording of their most recent seminar).  

The River Avon at low tide, with the Clifton Suspension Bridge above. It is dark and the lights from nearby buildings are reflected in the water
The River Avon at low tide. Credit: Kristoffer Trolle, CC-BY 2.0

It’s really great being part of the Centre for Environmental Humanities here at Bristol. Being involved in a community of researchers from many different disciplines—from History, English, Geography, and many others—is incredibly stimulating. It’s a genuinely creative melting pot centred around a brilliant programme of events, seminars, reading groups, and field trips.” 

Milo Newman, PhD student in the School of Geographical Sciences 

In the 2022-23 academic year, we are exploring the future of the environmental humanities – where does the field need to go next? Where are the gaps in current research? How can our interdisciplinary community of scholars and students at Bristol shape new developments? With these questions in mind, we will be holding a special workshop in February 2023, with internal and external participants.  

Over the next few years, we are also looking to expand our network of international partners. This year, we established a formal partnership with the Greenhouse Center for Environmental Humanities at the University of Stavanger in Norway and the Environmental Humanities Center at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Partnerships provide opportunities for visiting fellowships, networking, and collaborative grant applications to our members. We are also developing a series of co-hosted online seminars on environmental humanities in Latin America with the Center for Environmental Studies at Rice University (USA). Professor Gisela Heffes from Rice will be visiting as a Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor in May and June 2023.  

Collaboration both within the University and with community partners, including Bristol’s Black & Green Ambassadors and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, is fundamental to our work, and the Centre is at the forefront of interdisciplinary innovation. One recent initiative, ‘Keywords in Environmental Research and Engagement’, worked with a range of community organisations across the city and academics from different disciplines to explore how to generate a common understanding of key terms like ‘resilience’ and ‘transitions’. 

We’ve also been promoting a place-based approach to collaborative scholarship, where we use field trips to provide a focal point for interdisciplinary conversations. Recent field trips have included visits to the Island of Lundy (see our co-authored article), Exmoor, and the Brecon Beacons.  We’re planning to continue these field trips this coming academic year with visits to the See Monster in Weston-super-Mare and to the Somerset Levels.   

We are very excited to be developing a new MA in Environmental Humanities, which is due to start in September 2023. You can find out more and apply on our website. 

Dr Adrian Howkins and Dr Paul Merchant, Co-Directors, Centre for Environmental Humanities 

Introducing the Centre for Creative Technologies

By Dr Paul Clarke and Dr Ed King, Co-Directors of the Centre for Creative Technologies 

We are excited to be launching the new Centre for Creative Technologies this autumn and to have been supported by the Faculty of Arts. The Centre will provide a focus for colleagues from a wide range of disciplines working with and on creative technologies, using creative technologies as a method in their practice-as-research and working historically, critically, or theoretically on media. Our understanding of creative technologies is inclusive of both analogue and digital technologies, and of media from print and film to gaming and Virtual Reality. Bristol Common Press is part of the Centre, and we are closely associated with the new Bristol Digital Game Lab which is advertising upcoming events on its new site. 

Over our first foundational year we’ll be defining the Centre’s identity and scope through a series of events and doing so in dialogue with Centre members and our partners, both within and beyond the University, locally and internationally. We hope that bringing Faculty researchers together through the Centre will lead to inspiring conversations and collaborative exchanges, building our critical mass in this priority area for both the University of Bristol and the city region. 

In the foreground is a smart phone in landscape orientation on a selfie stick. Someone's left hand is holding onto the selfie stick. The phone screen displays a blue and white digital image of the scene in front of the phone's camera viewfinder, which is blurred in the background.
Billennium, by Uninvited Guests and Duncan Speakman. Photo by Paul Blakemore.

As evidenced by the success of the MyWorld Strength in Places bid, the University of Bristol and the South West region have a reputation as international trailblazers in screen-based media and creative technology research and development. Our Centre’s Management Committee includes Ki Cater, Professor in Computer Science and co-investigator on MyWorld, alongside Susan Halford, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the new Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Centre for Sociodigital Futures, and Dylan Law from the Research and Enterprise Division (RED), who’s responsible for managing and developing creative and cultural opportunities. The intention is for the Centre to be a vehicle for more cross-Faculty STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) research projects and to promote interdisciplinary collaboration on creative technologies innovation. 

The Centre also aims to enable and encourage further engagement with creative industries and communities on impact or knowledge exchange, including exploring social and civic applications of creative technologies with partners like Knowle West Media Centre. Our recent publications, activities and interdisciplinary projects range from Dr Ed King’s book Twins and Recursion in Digital, Literary and Visual Cultures and the AI and Literature symposium, which the Centre co-hosted, to Professor Esther Eidinow’s Virtual Reality Oracle, Connecting Through Culture as we Age: Digital Innovation for Healthy Aging and Dr Paul Clarke’s augmented reality engagement activity for planning consultation, Future Places Toolkit. 

The Centre will be based at the Pervasive Media Studio, which is a partnership between Watershed, UWE Bristol (UWE) and the University of Bristol, where UWE’s Digital Cultures Research Centre (DCRC) is also based. Jo Lansdowne (Executive Producer, Pervasive Media Studio) said: “We look forward to hosting the Centre in the Studio, to members contributing to the community of residents, and increasing the presence of the University of Bristol here. We’re planning a range of activities together, including a welcome event on Thursday 1 December, speculative co-design workshops around ‘Alternative Technologies’, and a series of public Friday lunchtime talks that will take critical perspectives on creative technologies. These will be co-curated with the Studio and the DCRC and it will be great to get Bristol and UWE researchers together with the creative technology professionals resident in the studio for discussions, to share skills and ideas, and to imagine exciting new collaborative projects.” 

A screenshot from the Virtual Reality Oracle, showing a figure in ancient Greek robes with arms outstretched, palms up, and looking up to the sky. The figure is standing in front of a large tree with bright green leaves.
Virtual Reality Oracle Project, Esther Eidinow , Kirsten Cater, et al, with Friday Sunday Studios, funded by AHRC, University of Bristol.

A priority for the Centre will be to support Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and postgraduates (PGRs), to attract new PhDs in this area, and to build the Faculty’s community of practice and research in creative technologies. One of the ways in which we’ll be doing this is through a new ECR and PGR-led reading group run by Dr Francesco Bentivegna and Katy Dadacz. As they say: “This will be open to those beyond the University, including Pervasive Media Studio residents and Control Shift Network. The group will focus on readings that explore creative relations between humans and machines, with invited presentations, discussions of interactive experiences and media, plus sharings of research and practice in progress. As far as professional development for researchers at all stages of their careers, there are plans to work with the Library and Jean Golding Institute on training, potentially with funding from a bid recently submitted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Embedding Digital Skills in Humanities and Arts Research scheme, and also for immersive media training in partnership with MyWorld. The MA Immersive Arts, which is part of MyWorld’s skills provision, is also associated with the Centre. 

The Centre for Creative Technologies will have a soft launch this semester, building towards a larger-scale and higher profile event at the end of this academic year, developed through exchanges with related centres internationally (and potentially in collaboration with the Virtual Reality Oracle project, Bristol Digital Game Lab and Bristol Common Press). The aim is for this to be both a symposium and showcase, to share Bristol’s thought- and practice-leading research in this growth area for both the University and local creative and immersive industries.  

We’re currently growing our membership, so do get in touch, whether your interests relate and you’d like to get involved in contributing to Centre activities, or if you’d like to join our mailing list to hear about upcoming events and opportunities. 

Dr Paul Clarke and Dr Ed King (Centre Co-Directors)