Appel à contribution – Beyond Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture: Revisiting Bell’s Medieval Women Book Owners

St Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies
14-15 October 2016

Elizabeth L’Estrange ( – University of Birmingham
Sherry Lindquist ( – Western Illinois University

2017 marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of Susan Bell’s pioneering article on ‘Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture’ which paved the way for much subsequent research on women’s manuscript ownership. This session seeks to revisit the topic by re-examining Bell’s conclusions in light of the decades of fruitful scholarship that it stimulated.

For instance, Bell’s article only considered Christian women and devotional literature between 800 and 1500, mainly in Western Europe. What can we learn by applying Bell’s questions to adjacent periods and geographies? How might Bell’s conclusions be refined in light of new studies on how books operated in gift exchanges, and as part of family legacies and reading communities that involved both women and men? What iconographic inquiries prove relevant to expanding Bell’s preliminary discussion of images, which was limited mainly to those of the Virgin and St Anne? What kinds of books did non-elite, and/or non-Christian women own?

Bell’s ground-breaking work was written at a time when use of the term ‘woman’ had yet to be problematized, and the term ‘gender’ had not been theorized. How might methodologies and technologies not available to Bell (e.g. gender studies, the global Middle Ages, queer studies, posthuman studies, digitized collections) be brought to bear on this field?

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