UW News

July 21, 2015

UW hosts conference on medieval text ‘Piers Plowman’

UW News

Piers Plowman” is not only a 14th century alliterative narrative, it is also the reason a hundred scholars are coming to the UW this week. The Piers Plowman International Conference will be held July 23-25 in Alder Hall and the Simpson Center for the Humanities.

“The poem is a work contemporary with Chaucer in the second half of the 14th century which offers a series of dream visions that instruct the wandering dreamer with regard to a range of contested political, ethical, religious, intellectual and social issues,” explained Míċeál Vaughan, UW professor of English and comparative literature and a conference organizer.

There is no single surviving copy of “Piers Plowman.” Scholars instead pore over the dozens of manuscripts copied from different sources and trace the work’s impact on English literature over the centuries.

“The work issues from a reformist spirit that marks late medieval English culture and which achieves its most dramatic expression in the period of Henry VIII and his successors,” Vaughan said.

The conference will include analyses and discussions of the text as well as a workshop with editors of the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, which is producing digital editions of the 56 manuscripts of the work spanning two centuries. It’s only the sixth time Piers Plowman scholars across the world have gathered in this way.

Vaughan said the conference also will remember David C. Fowler, a UW professor emeritus and editor of “Piers Plowman,” with a memorial lecture on Saturday given by Fiona Somerset of the University of Connecticut. Fowler, who taught at the UW from 1952 to 1986, specialized in the works of the Middle Ages. In his dissertation for the University of Chicago, he completed the first-ever critical edition of the earliest version of “Piers Plowman.”

The conference is sponsored by the College of Arts & Sciences Division of Humanities and the departments of English and comparative literature, cinema and media, together with the Piers Plowman Society.