Exploring Women's Roles and Authority in the Medieval World

Exploring Women's Roles and Authority in the Medieval World
Monday 20 November 2023

On Friday 17 November 2023, a one-day workshop titled "Women, Gender and Authority in the Late Antique, Byzantine and Medieval World" was organised by Dr. Meaghan McEvoy and her medievalist colleagues, Dr. Tania Colwell, Dr. Kiera Donnelly, Julie Hotchin, Dr. Karo Moret Miranda, and Dr. Romney David Smith, with the support of ANU School of History. The day aimed to bring together medievalists based at ANU, to highlight the research strength of ANU in this area, and welcome two distinguished guest speakers to share their research on the topic.

We were joined by Assoc. Prof. Lisa Bailey from the University of Auckland for her illuminating paper on “Sexual Consent in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages”, investigating the teachings of the church, hagiographical writings, and the lived experiences of women within marriage. Prof. Clare Monagle from Macquarie University then presented a captivating paper on “Nursing Gender History: Breastfeeding and the Pre-Modern”, exploring both medieval and modern conceptions of nursing children and the mother-child bond.

Alongside these keynote presentations, ANU researchers presented their own research papers:

  • Dr. Meaghan McEvoy: "Imperial Women, Marriage, Consent and Virginity in Late Antiquity"

  • Dr. Romney David Smith: "For the Wings of a Dove: Women, Slaves, and Authority to Travel in the Central Medieval Mediterranean"

  • Dr. Karo Moret Miranda: "In-Grace: Intersecting Gender, Race, (Dis-)Ability, Colorism and Emotions in Hildegard von Bingen's Scivias"

  • Dr. Tania Colwell: "Margaret of Austria and Material Culture: Cultivating Affect and Asserting Authority"

  • Julie Hotchin: "Negotiating Female Abbatial Authority in Late Medieval Germany"

The workshop culminated in a lively roundtable discussion chaired by Dr. Kiera Donnelly, where participants engaged in a thought-provoking exchange of ideas and perspectives. Dr. Karen Fox and Dr. Karen Downing, renowned gender history specialists, provided invaluable insights as session chairs throughout the day. Watch the roundtable discussion recording here.

The theme of this workshop highlighted perennial and crucial issues in gender history, such as how we can detect female agency in the medieval era when almost all of our sources are written by men; the different strategies used by both men and women to validate and exercise authority; and how the lifecycle of women impacted on their ability to exercise influence. These are essential issues relating to women’s voices in our historical accounts which still resonate today, and the wide appeal of these questions was evident in the large and diverse audience of over 40 attendees, including scholars from Gender Studies, Classics, the College of Asia and Pacific, the Australian Breastfeeding Association, undergraduate and graduate students from History and Classics at ANU, and members of the general public. 

The organisers extend their sincere gratitude to the school for funding this event and to the Australasian Women in Ancient World Studies (AWAWS) for generously sponsoring the reception that concluded the workshop.


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Updated:  4 December 2023/Responsible Officer:  RSSS Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications