What does wonder look, feel, taste, smell, or sound like? What happens when wonder is translated between senses, genres, and media?

UPDATE: The conference has now taken place. But please do explore our blog via the tab above.

This conference, funded by the interdisciplinary Cambridge centre CRASSH, Churchill College, and Cambridge English Faculty, 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.

This conference will extend recent scholarship on wonder, marvels, and staged spectacles and build upon recent scholarship on multimodality by paying more attention to 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?

Why ‘wonder’ and ‘multimodality’?

Recently, scholars such as Michelle Karnes, Claire Sponsler, Gordon Kipling, and Elly Truitt have started to explore how diverse wonders – ranging from marvellous flying horses to conspicuously man-made automata – have been made in, represented through, and translated between, different forms, materials, and media. Anke Bernau, the keynote speaker for this conference, has also explored relations between craft, curiosity, and wonder across different textual and material contexts; most recently, she has explored how various kinds of ‘knots’ – both textual, physical, and symbolic – can figure materiality, cognition, memory, and mystery. These studies demonstrate that medieval and early modern wonder could be represented by, or stimulated through, materials as diverse as: rope and string, food and drink, paint and pencil, text, narrative and metaphor. During this conference, we hope to continue these exciting explorations, journeying right through from the thirteenth century (when relations between nature, magic, and human agency were being reconfigured) to the sixteenth century (when the development of permanent theatres was reshaping understandings of spectacle, performance, and illusion). The conference will take a broad definition of ‘wonder’ and ‘marvels’, recognising that the line between human, natural, and supernatural wonders was often indistinct or contested. 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.

How can I find out more?

The conference took place at Churchill College, University of Cambridge on 1st December 2021.

In addition to the conference, however, we curated a series of blog posts on this site around the theme of wonder, translation, and multimedia. Please do take some time to explore these using the menu above!