Appel à contribution – “Texts and Contexts”: sensory approaches to medieval world

Mar del Plata
5th – 7 th April, 2017

Theoretical foundations
Sensory History: Its Meaning and Importance

Mark M. Smith (University of South Carolina, USA)


Sensory history stresses the role of the senses—including explicit treatments of sight and vision—in shaping peoples’ experiences in the past and shows how they understood their worlds and why. It is careful not to assume that the senses are some sort of « natural » endowment but, rather, locates their meaning and function in specific historical contexts. Sensory history generally is less inclined to reject vision in favor of the other senses or to define itself against a field or subject. Instead, sensory history is positioned within the coordinates of multiple fields. At its most powerful, sensory history is explanative, allowing historians to elucidate by reference to both visual and non-visual senses something that makes little or less sense if understood simply or exclusively as a scopic phenomenon.

Sensory historians rarely argue that attention to the sensate radically reinterprets what we already know about the place and time under study. Instead, they tend to claim that attention to the sensory past allows us a deeper appreciation of the texture, meaning, and human experience of that past and that this in itself sometimes helps us to reinterpret in modest but important ways what we already know. For the most part, sensory history is largely about texturing, deepening, and complicating issues with which we are already familiar but that nevertheless require deeper interrogation and understanding. It helps fulfill one of the prime mandates of historical inquiry: to expand understanding of the human experience.

Sensory history, then, is both field and habit and offers historians of all periods and places a way of thinking about the past, and a way of becoming attuned to the wealth of sensory evidence embedded in any number of texts, evidence that is quickly apparent once and, ironically, looked for.

These words of Professor Mark Smith, whom we thank the courtesy of thinking and writing them as a foundation for our call, reflect the importance of sensory studies. It is precisely in the context of the expansion of these studies that the Medieval Research and Study Group of the Center of Historical Studies of the Department of Humanities of the National University of Mar del Plata (Argentina) organizes the Seventh International Symposium “Texts and Contexts: sensory approaches to the medieval world”, we welcome the participation of all medievalists, regardless of the discipline in which they develop their studies – Social or human sciences, literature, an so on –, to present and discuss the various issues that shape our sensory research agenda.

The timetable for the presentation of papers will be from 4th July, 2016 until 28th February, 2017. Papers must be sent to the following email address:

General Coordinators:
Dr. Gerardo Rodríguez (National University of Mar del Plata/CONICET, Argentina)
Lic. Gisela Coronado Schwindt (National University of Mar del Plata / Southern
National University/CONICET, Argentina)

Source : Department of Humanities of the National University of Mar del Plata

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