CEMERS Conference


Pliny the Elder and Traditions of Natural Histories


At the bi-millennium of the birth of the Latin author–administrator–statesman–soldier Pliny the Elder, we are reminded that the elder Pliny and his Natural History represent an important opportunity for the study of not only the man and his work, but also the craft and intellectual milieu with which he was engaged. One of Pliny’s key aims was to gather and synthesize other people’s collected knowledge, which may well have been lost altogether without him. His importance both in the arc of writing “natural histories” and in encyclopedism is observable in the reception and transmission of the Natural History in the later Roman and post-Roman worlds. In the spirit of Pliny’s endeavor, this conference aims to explore the traditions that guided the study of the natural world across the first millennium CE and beyond, along with the ways in which “natural historians” carried out their work, and how contemporary scholars approach and utilize the bounty of information his text contains. The conference seeks to bring together researchers interested not only in the Roman author himself, but also in the legacy of the Natural History or the contours of natural philosophical inquiry in premodern societies. Given the persistence of “Dark-Age” stereotypes with regard to scientific inquiry, we hope to focus on connections between Antiquity and the earlier Middle Ages in Byzantine, Islamic, and European cultures, as well as on global approaches that highlight comparisons between the Natural History and texts with similar objectives produced in East or South Asia.

We invite papers and panels from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives on any topic related to the traditions of natural history, including:

  • The afterlives of Pliny the Elder in later traditions
  • Pliny and medieval and Renaissance medicine and materia medica
  • Pliny and materiality, especially when it comes to craft techniques
  • Magic, mystic visions, and folk knowledge vs. encyclopedic traditions
  • Taxonomies of natural history (within a Plinian tradition or outside of it)
  • Cooking the books–experimental archaeology based on natural history texts
  • Pliny and manuscript traditions in various languages (Latin, Arabic, etc.)
  • Environmental preoccupations of the premodern past
  • Visualizing natural history
  • Particular themes in natural histories (e.g., art, science, philosophy, astronomy, animals)

A note about the conference: We hope for this conference to have a celebratory air (as befitting the occasion) and intend to host all papers in person.

ABSTRACT SUBMISSION DEADLINE: MARCH 31, 2023. Abstracts for individual papers and for sessions are invited. Papers should be 20 minutes in length.

Send abstracts and CVs to: cemers@binghamton.edu
For information visit: www.binghamton.edu/cemers/conference
For questions contact: Hilary Becker - hbecker@binghamton.edu

  • Past CEMERS Conferences
    • 2021: Medieval Cultural Heritage Around the Globe: Monuments, Literature, and the Arts, Then and Now, Roberta Strippoli and Olivia Holmes, organizers
    • 2018: Medieval Unfreedoms: Slavery, Servitude, and Trafficking in Humans before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Elizabeth Casteen, organizer
    • 2016: The Pre-Modern Book in a Global Context: Materiality and Visuality, Marilynn Desmond, organizer
    • 2015: Authority and Materiality in the Italian Songbook: from the Medieval Lyrical to the Early-Modern Madrigal, Olivia Holmes and Paul Schleuse, organizers
    • 2014: Boccaccio at 700: Medieval Contexts and Global Intertexts, Olivia Holmes and Dana Stewart, organizers
    • 2011: Trans-Regional Trade and Sartorial Culture: Cartographies of Textiles and Clothing in Medieval and Early Modern Culture
    • 2010: Negotiating Trade, Nancy Um, organizer
    • 2010 Underpinnings: The Evolution of Underwear from the Middle Ages through Early Modernity, student organized
    • 2009 In Vino Veritas: A Symposium on Wine and the Influence of Bacchus from Classical Antiquity through the Eighteenth Century, Karen-edis Barzman, organizer
    • 2008 Venus and the Venereal: Interpretations and Representations from Late Antiquity through the Eighteenth Century, Mary Ellen Faughnam-Kenien and Karen-edis Barzman, organizers
    • 2007 Accademia Dempsiana: Papers in Early Modern Italian Studies in Honor of Charles Dempsey, Karen-edis Barzman, organizer
    • 2006 Theater and the Visual Arts in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Aspects of Representation, Sandro Sticca, organizer
    • 2004 Public Life and Private Conduct: Changing Historical Perspectives across the Early Modern World. A Symposium in Honor of Richard C.Trexler, Karen-edis Barzman, organizer
    • 2004 Science, Literature, and the Arts in the Medieval and Early Modern World, Dana Stewart, organizer
    • 2002 Recovery: Pre modern Responses to Catastrophe and Convulsion, Charles Burroughs, organizer
    • 1999 The Crusades: Other Experiences, Alternate Perspectives, Khalil I. Semaan, organizer
    • 1997 Comparative Colonialism: PreIndustrial Colonial Intersection in Global Perspectives, Charles Burroughs, organizer
    • 1996 Writing Cultures/Making Cultures: Sites, Scenes, and Scenarios of Medieval Studies, Charles Burroughs, organizer
    • 1995 Christine de Pizan: Texts/Intertexts/Contexts, Marilynn Desmond, organizer
    • 1994 Contextualizing the Renaissance, Albert Tricomi, organizer
    • 1993 On the Margins, Robin Oggins, organizer
    • 1992 The Roles of Women in the Middle Ages, Rosmarie Morewedge, organizer
    • 1991 Gendering Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in Human History, Richard C. Trexler, organizer
    • 1989 The Cult of Saints in the Middle Ages & Early Renaissance:Formation and Transformation, Sandro Sticca, organizer
    • 1988 Oral Tradition in the Middle Ages, Wilhelm Nicolaisen, organizer
    • 1987 The Renaissance, Mario DiCesare, organizer
    • 1986 The Classics in the Middle Ages, Aldo Bernardo and Saul Levin, organizers
    • 1985 The Bible in the Middle Ages, Bernard S. Levy, organizer
    • 1984 Medievalism in American Culture, Paul E. Szarmach, organizer
    • 1983 Medieval Archaeology, Charles L. Redman, organizer
    • 1982 Persons in Groups: Social Behavior as Identity, Richard C. Trexler, organizer
    • 1981 Social Unrest in the Later Middle Ages, Francis X. Newman, organizer
    • 1980 The Crusades, Robin S. Oggins, organizer
    • 1979 Rome in the Renaissance: The City and the Myth, Mario DiCesare, organizer
    • 1978 Byzantium in the West: Image and Impact, Saul Levin, organizer
    • 1977 The Black Death, Daniel Williman, organizer
    • 1976 Nature in the Middle Ages, Lawrence Roberts, organizer
    • 1975 Islam and the Medieval West, Kalil I. Semaan, organizer
    • 1974 Jewish Culture in the Middle Ages, Paul E. Szarmach, organizer
    • 1973 Witchcraft and the Occult in the Middle Ages, Gayle Whittier, organizer
    • 1972 The Role of the Woman in the Middle Ages, Rosmarie Morewedge, organizer
    • 1971 The Concept of the Hero in the Renaissance, Bernard S. Levy, organizer
    • 1970 The Development of the Medieval Concept, Christopher Reagan, organizer
    • 1969 The Medieval Drama, Sandro Sticca, organizer
    • 1968 Developments in the Early Renaissance, Bernard S. Levy, organizer
    • 1967 The Meaning of Courtly Love, Francis X. Newman, organizer