The symposium will be held at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea on 1 July 2016.

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‌Countless women float through the waters of medieval narrative.  In romance, Constance is pushed repeatedly into the waves without a rudder, often with an infant in her arms. Hagiography gives us Mary Magdalene’s journey to spread Christianity, sometimes with fate guiding her ship and other times with a captain and crew to do the sailing. Egeria makes a pilgrimage across the Mediterranean in the 4th century, and Margery Kempe travels from England to Jerusalem in the 15th. These women at sea populate the realms of literature and history, as well as the shadowy space between fact and fiction.

Tales of women at sea call our attention to questions of agency. The sea can seem to be dominated by men in economic and martial terms, and the woman at sea is often set adrift by men who on land have ultimate power over her. But perhaps at sea, a woman enters a more generative and transformative space. The woman at sea is frequently unmoored, lost, vulnerable, her direction chosen by wind and fate. Yet the sea may also open up a more feminine, queer, imaginative space: the woman adrift in a place of transformation, negotiation and transition in which she can re-cast her sense of self.

The sea is a place where boundaries are no longer visible, where there are no direct paths. The sea is its own space (and the largest on the planet), but it also overlaps with land. It is outside of national realms, but functions as a conduit between those realms. And while the edge of the ocean is a boundary, the open sea seems boundless. It defies linearity. Thus, women in oceanic narratives can inhabit a different temporality than is available in narratives defined by land. They enter an exceptional space, a place where bodies need not be territories.  

This symposium seeks presentations from all disciplines, including creative responses and innovative re-imaginings that put medieval narratives in dialogue with current empowering or traumatic experiences of women at sea.

Keynote speakers will be: 

Dorothy Kim (Vassar College) and Jonathan Hsy (George Washington University).

Further information, including the programme, can be found at:  https://womenatsea.wordpress.com/.  Contact:  womenatseasymposium@swansea.ac.uk