Proposals are invited for a symposium hosted by Medieval Ecocriticisms and N/EMICS, 22 June 2019, Birkbeck College, University of London.
In the Shanameh written by the Persian poet
Ferdowsi at around the turn of the Christian millennium, the conqueror Sekandar
(aka Alexander the Great) encounters a speaking tree that foretells his doom,
Few days remain;
You must prepare your final baggage train.
Neither your mother, nor your family,
Nor the veiled women of your land will see
Your face again.
Like the tree of the Dream of the Rood, which speaks for
itself, or the dream tree of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel, which
portends the Babylonian king’s own fall, the speaking tree faced by Sekandar is
a being that possesses knowledge and understanding of the world that far
exceeds his own. There is something magnificent about trees, a majesty to their
towering figures that singles them out as more than just a part of our natural
surroundings. Rooted in the soil, they emerge from below and aim high: forever branching
never-ending fractals. Exhaling, we relax and sink into their repeating
patterns. Why do we recognize them as objects of beauty? How is this loveliness
captured in medieval imagery? Is the method different across cultures? Why? Are
arboreal images particularly well-suited to certain types of knowledge
communication? What might they be? We are interested in how humans use these
images drawn from nature to communicate effectively.
symposium aims to explore the image of the tree as a conduit for the
exploration of human engagements with environment in the global middle ages,
broadly defined, and seeks to encourage cross-cultural, trans-national, and
interdisciplinary understanding of the role of trees, woodland, and other
vegetation in various contexts. We want to better understand human responses to
nature. What is it about ‘arboreal beauty’ that connects it with the divine?
Recognized across cultures as axis mundi, the tree shoots upwards, its trunk
and branches stretching, reaching, growing towards the light as it seeks to
bridge the in-between space that divides earth from the heavens. The liminal
quality of foliage, trees, and forests is recognized by artists and weavers of
images across the world.
Papers may include, but are not limited
to, consideration of trees:
– as central and
– as symbol and
metaphor for systems of kinship/networks/communities
– as a material for
craft/manufacture that acknowledges/utilizes arboreal materiality
geographical/regional variation in their symbolic, religious, and cultural
– and forests as
persons, and the emotional/sensory life of trees
– as means of
expressing human emotion
– as a means of
considering Deep Time, timelessness, eternity, and temporality
– and their
connection with ‘folk’ customs and practices
– as a symbol for
negotiation across cultures, religions, and cultural traditions
– as an image of
salvation, with life-giving properties, for the body and/or soul
– as underlying
diagrammatic structures in mapping and communicating knowledge
Anyone interested in participating should send a paper title and brief abstract (max 250 words) for 20-minute papers to the organizers, Mike Bintley (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Pippa Salonius (email@example.com), by 1 March, 2019.
Please include your
full contact details, including institutional affiliation and professional