1 Dec 2021 all day Churchill College


The multimedia craft of wonder: forming and performing marvels in medieval and early modern worlds, 1200-1600


  • Hannah Bower (University of Cambridge)
  • Rebekah King (University of Cambridge)


This conference will explore the relationship between wonder, translation, and multimodality in medieval and early modern worlds. These were centuries in which new human-made technologies such as mechanical clocks and printing presses were spreading across Western Europe, centuries in which books of secrets and alchemical writings translated from Arabic texts promised new and wondrous ways of constraining nature, and centuries in which monarchs began to engage more than ever in spectacular pageantry and its written commemoration.

The latter part of the period also saw the development of permanent theatres in England, creating different ways of engaging with performance, spectacle, and craftsmanship. This conference will extend recent scholarship on wonder, marvels, and staged spectacles and build upon recent scholarship on multimodality by Claire Sponsler, Seeta Chaganti, Anke Bernau and others by focusing attention on the dynamics of representing wonder (and wonders) in, across, and between media. What risks and opportunities were negotiated – politically, intellectually, and aesthetically – when translating wonder between different genres, literary forms, and media? What happens when wonder is represented by, or stimulated through, materials as diverse as: rope and string, food and drink, paint and pencil, text, narrative or metaphor? In order to approach these questions in a comprehensive and multimodal way, we hope to attract submissions from a wide range of disciplines including (but not limited to) literary studies, history of science and technology, music, philosophy, and drama. We are also interested in hearing from those with experience re-staging medieval and early modern marvels in modern contexts.

In addition to the conference, we are hoping to curate a series of blog posts on our webpage around the theme of wonder, translation, and multimedia. These posts – around 500 words each in length – might explore the theme through a particular object, image, or piece of text.

If you are interested in writing one of these blog posts, please send an email to craftofwonder2021@gmail.com with a 50-word synopsis of what your blog post would cover. You do not have to be presenting at or attending the conference to contribute a blog post.

Visit our conference website.

If you have any specific accessibility needs for this event please get in touch. We will do our best to accommodate any requests.


Supported by

CRASSH 20th Anniversary Logo    Churchill College Logo    


All times are in GMT

Wednesday 1 December

8.30 - 8.50

 Arrival and registration 

8.50 - 9.00


9.00 - 10.00

Panel 1: Wonder, power, and colonialism

‘“Things explode as he enters”: marvellous mesoamerican props, percussives, and performance places in spanish colonial courtyards’
Joshua Fitzgerald (Churchill College, Cambridge)

‘Embodied wonder: automata of the enslaved in al-Afdal’s drinking hall’
Holley Ledbetter (University of Michigan), Online

10.00 - 10.30

Refreshment break

10.30 - 12.15

Panel 2: Media and materials in conversation 

‘The dragon in medieval Islamic iconography—(like your life, all tied up in knots!)’
Priyanka D’Souza (Pinka PopsicKle) (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

‘Marvels of ingenious steel: Habsburg horse armour in the fifteenth-century’
Stella Wisgrill (University of Cambridge)

‘Images in counterpoint: Monteverdi and the marvellous’
Roseen Giles (Duke University), Online

12.15 - 13.15

Buffet lunch

13.15 - 14.00

Guided tour
Churchill College’s sculpture collection: wonder, media, and modern art.

14.00 - 15.30

Panel 3: Wonder and the codex: manuscripts, catalogues, and woodcuts 

‘The occult properties of CUL MS Ff.5.48’
James Wade (Girton College, Cambridge)

‘Entertaining curiosity in a paper cabinet: cataloguing, order, and play in John Tradescant’s Musaeum Tradescantianum’
Olin Moctezuma-Burns (University of Cambridge)

‘Anticipate, fulfill, repeat: creating wonder in the visual records of german relic displays’
Michelle Oing (Stanford University)

15.30 - 15.45

Refreshment break

15.45 - 16.45

Panel 4: Heaven and hell 

‘From pageant to playhouse: silencing the stage angel 1400-1620’
Caitlin Rankin-McCabe (Durham University)

‘Katabasis and remedy in Girolamo Fracastoro’s syphilitic epic’
Katharina Strika (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)

17.00 - 18.00

Keynote address 

‘A spider’s touch: the wonder of natural craft’
Anke Bernau, Senior Lecturer in Medieval English Literature (University of Manchester)


18.00 - 18.15

Closing remarks

19.45 - 20.45

‘In the shadow of Notre Dame’ 

A multimodal concert at St Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge, exploring the music of 12th century Notre Dame; organised by the interdisciplinary performance collective Marginalia. Full information can be found at: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/marginalia-performance/in-the-shadow-of-notre-dame/e-ayklza

Call for Papers

The conference will take a broad approach to the definition of a ‘marvel’, recognising that the line between human, natural, and supernatural wonders was often indistinct or contested. Papers might address topics such as:

  • The encoding of wonder through specific linguistic devices (e.g. narrative, allegory)
  • Textual reconstructions and dramatic uses of mechanical marvels (e.g. clocks, automata)
  • Representations of natural and demonic magic in text and/or performance
  • Depictions of alchemy and other scientific marvels in written and visual media
  • Medieval and early modern drama, magic within the theatre, and its written inscription
  • Performance contexts and logistics for the staging of wonders
  • Written or visual commemorations of royal and civic pageantry
  • Depictions of, and instructions for, creating wonders in craft manuals and household recipe books
  • Relations between wonder, music, and sound

The keynote address will be delivered by Dr Anke Bernau, Senior Lecturer in Medieval English Literature at the University of Manchester.

We hope to attract submissions from a wide range of disciplines including (but not limited to) literary studies, history of science and technology, music, philosophy, and drama.

Papers should be 20 minutes each. Abstracts of 250 words accompanied by a short biographical statement should be sent (along with any queries) to craftofwonder2021@gmail.com by 1st September 2021.  Visit our conference website.

Please also indicate if you would be able to adapt your presentation for online delivery if required.

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Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk