Daily Life in the Medieval Household

2023 Annual Medieval Conference

Provisionary Program


Program Schedule

*Subject to change



9:00 Welcome from Medeival Studies Program Director
9:15 Dr. Allan Mitchell, English & Medieval Studies, UVic
Playing House: A Look at Medieval Children's Culture

Dr. Hélène Caze, Department of French
Women's Health and Beauty at Home


Student Showcase

Feature works of students from Adrienne Williams Boyarin's course on Medieval Media

10:30 Musical Interlude
Early Music Society of the Islands
10:45 First Keynote speaker: Dr. Marta Ajmar
Making the Home 1400-1550: Artisans and Material Mimesis
11:45 Lunchtime break

Dr. Brian A. Pollick
Bedazzled and Bedevilled: The Medieval Bed


Dr. Angela Anderson
The Muslim Home as Religious Architecture in Medeival Antolia

1:15 Musical Interlude
Early Music Society of the Islands

Dr. Shamma Boyarin, English & Religion, Culture and Society Program, UVic
Keeping it Kosher: Using Zooarchaeology to study Medieval Jewish communities




Second Keynote speaker: Dr. Roisin Cossar
Daily Life in the Households and Archives of Ferrara in the Fifteenth Century

Acknowledgements and thank yous!



Speaker abstracts, titles, and biographies


Keynote Lansdowne speaker: Dr. Marta Ajmar

Making the Home 14-1550: Artisams and Material Mimesis

 The fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian home was a site of central artistic, social and cultural development. Investment in the material culture of the home varied immensely, and it has been argued that among the elites objects of high ‘intrinsic’ value – such as metalwork and tapestries – were gradually integrated or replaced by artefacts designed to impress more by virtue of their ‘added’, cultural value – such as paintings and sculpture. This paradigm built around distinct and supposedly shifting ideas of value has tended to obscure other ways of interpreting the extraordinary variety of domestic visual and material culture that emerged in the period under scrutiny. In this talk I will focus on the role of artisans in the creation of new material forms for the domestic sphere that don’t sit comfortably within this ‘intrinsic’ versus ‘added’ value paradigm by discussing objects of material mimesis. From ceramics and glass imitating stone, woodwork imitating textiles, to lacquer imitating metalwork, artisans led fluid processes of experimentation across media that created an environment of heightened material awareness and ambiguity, where certainties around materiality were constantly challenged, and new knowledge created. I will argue that these phenomena are an active response to the arrival in cities such as Venice, Genoa and Florence of non-local technologies and artefacts perceived as new, and that their significance should make us question narratives that have tended to overemphasize ‘local’ and ‘national’ explanations for artistic change built on narrow and singular ideas of originality. Artisans will emerge as central agents in the making of domestic interiors that combine ‘global’ and ‘local’ and that participate to the production of a transcultural material world built on reciprocal imitation.

Keynote Lansdowne speaker: Dr. Roisin Cossar

Daily Life in the Households and Archives of Ferrara in the Fifteenth Century

Until recently, histories of the Christian church in the Middle Ages rarely examined the domestic worlds of those who lived and worked within the church. Now, a growing group of scholars is exploring the households of Christian clergy across Western Europe. Their discoveries are changing our understanding of the history of the church and the family in the medieval period. Several scholars have noted that the sexual and intimate relationships of supposedly celibate clerics were documented in complicated ways: sometimes in records that were hostile to those relationships and sometimes in records that deliberately obscured them. In this presentation, I use a case study from the Italian city of Ferrara to examine how critical attention to written sources enhances our understanding of daily life in clerical households. My source is a register created by the notary Pietro Lardi at the behest of the Dominican inquisitor Fra Bartolomeo after the local lord, Niccolò III d’Este, forced the expulsion of dozens of women from clerics’ residences in that city and diocese in 1421. 

Dr. Allan Mitchell

Playing House: A Look at Medieval Children’s Culture

 According to Phillipe Aries’ Centuries of Childhood (1962), childhood as a category of experience did not really exist before about the seventeenth century. Scholars have since chipped away at the thesis, and daily life in medieval households suggest that the idea is mostly wrongheaded. What is now conspicuous to historians of childhood is how medieval people responded sympathetically to a precious and precarious stage in the life cycle, nurturing infants, educating youth, caring for orphans, and memorializing deceased children. Sentimental attachment to the child is no modern invention. Nor is the idea that children had their own activities and interests, as expressed in play and games. Some were innocent, others disruptive. Focusing on the later medieval period, this talk is devoted to everyday children’s culture, considering both idealized depictions and physical and written evidence that helps retrace the history of childhood.

Dr. Brian A. Pollick

Bedazzled and Bedevilled: The Medieval Bed

Beds in medieval households were, at the same time, the most practical and most symbolic of all practical household objects, and their images abound in late-medieval European and Islamic illuminated manuscripts. Depictions of beds are found in virtually every manuscript genre —scripture and commentaries, devotional works, saints lives, histories, legends, and romances. While these images of beds give us real information about period sleeping habits– in Europe people slept sitting up rather than laying down, and many men and women might share the same bed at the same time– they also give us a great deal of other information. In this presentation we will explore not only the practical side of beds but will also see how these many representations also broadcast and affirmed fundamental biblical, historical, and moral truths. We will examine how such images of beds conveyed well-understood, and often gendered, messages of piety, sinfulness, stages of life, charity, prophecy, and rank/status.

Dr. Angela Andersen

The Muslim Home as Religious Architecture in the Medieval Anatolia

During the medieval period, Muslims in Anatolia (Western Asia) prayed, performed ritual ablutions, studied the Qur’an and religious verse, maintained traditions surrounding food and family life, and shared stories of prophets, saints, and pious exemplars in the home. At times, the home may have been an appropriate or preferable site of religious practice, where the efficacy of domestic piety could be attended to in privacy and comfort. In some communities, it was the only available or the most accessible site of religious life, especially for women, children, the elderly, and groups operating outside the growing mainstream approaches to Islam that were crystallizing under Islamic rulers and scholars. The dwelling was the centre of a particular type of religious expression that ran parallel to the learning and devotions happening in mosques, Sufi lodges, and schools.

Yet, unlike the monumental spaces commissioned by the new Muslim elite and spiritual confraternities for religious learning, prayer, and education, medieval homes do not provide evidence such as façade inscriptions or decorative tiles to recount their role as spaces for religious life. This talk will look to discussions of the home in poetry, epics, court documents, and religious texts to find insights into this aspect of Muslim life and architecture.

Dr. Shamma Boyarin

Keeping it Kosher: Using Zooarchaeology to study Medieval Jewish communities

One of the elements that distinguished medieval Jews from their neighbors was their food. Jewish food was governed by a set of religious laws called “Kashrut” which limits both the kinds of foods Jews could consume, and the methods of preparing it. This difference from the past can be used as a resource to study Medieval Jewish communities today.

In this talk I will explore a number of studies that make use of the traces left by the practice of kashrut to uncover more about three Medieval Jewish communities: those of Oxford, Catalonia and Cologne.

The Ancient Music Society of Victoria and the Early Music Society of the Islands

Musical Presentations

With the lack of written records, the music enjoyed by the common people of the Middle Ages in daily life is probably lost to us. So any compilation that purports to present that music must be speculative in nature.
We have come up with a program that reflects the range of music being listened to by at least some segments of society on a regular basis. It includes sacred music, which must have formed a big part of medieval daily life. An important function of music was, and still is, the accompaniment of dance, so we have included two instrumental dances. The secular songs in our set were likely written for courtly settings, but, given their simplicity and catchy tunefulness, it is likely that the tunes of some or all of them would have been borrowed or derived in part from popular songs of the time. Lastly, we’ve included music written for travellers to inspire them on their way to pilgrimage sites such as Santiago de Compostela, certainly a common experience for many.