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39th Public Lecture of the Irish Environmental History Network - Dr James S...

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TRiSS Seminar room, 6th Floor Arts Building TCD

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The 39th Public Lecture of the Irish Environmental History Network will be presented by Dr James Smith of University of York. This lecture will take place at 6pm, Wednesday 25th April 2018, in the TRiSS Seminar Room, 6th Floor Arts Building, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture will be entitled "Engineering the Soul: Landscape, Technology and Energy in Medieval Intellectual Culture".

Abstract: "The notion of a “cognitive ecology”, introduced to humanists by the seminal article by John Sutton and Evelyn Tribble, gains new relevance through the synthesis of two distinct theories of mind in a shared framework: medieval and modern. If we interpret medieval inner landscapes not only as cognitive and neurological, but also as environmental and ecological, then what new affordances do we gain? It allows mnemonic landscapes to have an environmental history, an ecocriticism, an ecomaterialism and, in the context of neurology, a cognitive ecology. By understanding mental space through a capacious and interdisciplinary lens—as Mary Carruthers has encouraged—new vistas of research become visible, new neurohumanistic methodologies are possible. This approach has important implications for environmental history, bringing inner landscapes into daily practice, and shaping memory and cognition with the language of environment: the engineering of the inner world. To explore this theme, it is necessary to combine intellectual and environmental history.

This paper explores the ecological psychology of the medieval ars memoriae and ars rhetorica, the resonances between medieval cognitive theory and medical research, and the peculiar role of the intellectual environment and the construction of mental imagery of landscape in this schema. It focuses on the themes of landscape, technology and energy, elements of socio-technological imagination that found expression as the language of intellectual work: industry, construction, labour-amplifying devices such as hydraulic trip hammers or water wheels, or manual labour such as construction and agriculture. Technology, when abstracted, became the artifice of medieval intellectual culture, an expression of intellectual agency. Energy became part of an inner self-alteration, an energy humanities of the inner environment. Landscape, within the ars memorie, was the locus within which human intellectual striving took place, its raw material and its spatial imagination.

The questions raised in the paper are four-fold. First, how did the medieval arts of memory and rhetoric shape an intellectual environment? Secondly, how can contemporary neurological research—especially in the area of ecological psychology—explain the function of this environment? Thirdly, what are the affordances and limitations of interacting with this environment—i.e. walking through it, touching it, manipulating it, mapping its contents and describing its sensory qualities? Finally, what is the role of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Energy Humanities in our disciplinary understanding of a medieval intellectual environment in which work and technology were the expression of cognitive activity?"

Bio: James L. Smith is a visiting research fellow at the Trinity College Dublin Long Room Hub. James is the author of Water in Medieval Intellectual Culture: Case Studies from Twelfth-Century Monasticism (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018), which is launching in the Trinity Long Room Hub on the 1st of May at 5.30pm. He is also the editor of The Passenger: Medieval Texts and Transits (punctum books, 2017), and co-editor of a forthcoming themed collection of the Open Library of the Humanities on “New Approaches to Medieval Water Studies”. James is currently Marketing Officer for the Open Library of Humanities. In addition to interests in medieval intellectual and environmental history, and landscape studies with an emphasis on water history, he has a strong interest in medievalisms and medieval cartography.

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