IMC Leeds 2018 - Arboreal imagery > Présentation


IMC Leeds 2018: Memory

Ancestral Roots: Memory and Arboreal Imagery across Cultures 

Organisation : Pippa Salonius - Naïs Virenque

Lieu : Leeds

Date : 02-05 juillet 2018



Memories of our ancestors mould us. Key to determining our identities and shaping our sense of self, they help us construct our own microcosms of belonging. Blood ties bind us together building communities. These memories give us a sense of belonging, they are inclusive and as social animals, we gain strength from them. As parts of a historical and genealogical whole, in medieval Christian thought we all stem from the same seed, that of Adam. Our family trees, the memory of our lineage, branch from its shoots. Trees, with their roots buried deep in the earth and their branches reaching towards the heavens, strive to span the distance between the earthly realm and the divine.

We have reunited papers that explore the use of arboreal imagery to convey concepts of lineage, genealogy and descent. Tree diagrams were used in the Middle Ages to organise ethics and knowledge. They express hierarchy and classify categories and sub-categories visually. They rendered difficult intellectual concepts accessible to the wider audience and helped scholars put complex issues in order. In both cases, trees were performative and carried their own significance. As mnemonic devices, their branching nature hints at the possibility of infinite multiplication and growth, urging viewers to engage with the data they contain. In the medieval West a renewed interest in mnemotechnic treatises and artefacts, together with a growing tendency for listing processes, increased the use of arboreal imagery in the twelfth century. From the thirteenth century, the use of tree structures together with the translation and dissemination of treatises on the art of memory and the development of vast encyclopaedic projects, constituted an important part of monastic, mendicant and university education. By the fifteenth century the tree had become the most common method for mapping knowledge in medieval Europe.

Tree diagrams are not static in time, but reach across it. Not only do they present knowledge, but with the possibility of endless ramification and growth, they encourage its future development and generation. Neither were they geographically confined. Trees flourished in the imaginary of many cultures as memory stimulators and storage. The world trees in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, Māori purakau (stemming from rakau, the root word for tree), tales told for didactic purposes, represent but a few examples. We seek to identify and explore both the similarities and differences in this nexus between living trees, lineage and memory across cultures. In the interest of establishing an interdisciplinary global platform, we encouraged proposals that examine arboreal frameworks of lineage and memory across medieval cultures, throughout Christendom and beyond, to include the indigenous cultures of America, Asia and the Pacific. ‘Arboreal’ and ‘imagery’ are used in the broadest sense of the terms in order to encourage interdisciplinary enquiry into the full range of associated motifs, conjured up by words, movement and/or sound.

Our topics and perspectives include but are not limited to:

  • Metaphors of knowledge: Seeds, trees and ideas.
  • Links between human ancestry, natural history and botany: Arbor consanguinitatis, Arbor affinitatis?
  • Arboreal imagery as a pedagogical device.
  • Songlines: Arboreal frameworks for memory and mapping.
  • Medieval Music and the Tree.
  • Sacred Trees and Human History.
  • The transitory nature of death in the Middle Ages: The tree as intermediary between the world of the living and that of the dead.
  • Trees in Juridical Thought: Authority, Jurisdiction, Prohibition.
  • Arboreal imagery in architecture: columns and pilasters, decoration and structure.
  • Trees and the art of memory. Tree diagrams.
  • Trees and world order.
  • Materiality: The meaning of wood, bark and foliage in (ceremonial) dress and gifts.
  • The Tree at the centre.
  • The Tree of Life (‘Gunungan’ in Javanese shadow puppet plays, in the Jewish/Christian Tradition, etc.)
  • Family Trees.
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