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Christchurch city – Medieval roots or modern fantasy? Scholars gather to debate in 2024

UC supplied by University of Canterbury

Why study pre-modern European History in modern Australasia? Are medieval studies a remnant of an outdated colonial legacy? Where do medieval and Renaissance European History stand in a world of toppled statues? These are some of the questions up for debate at the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies conference to be hosted in Ōtautahi Christchurch in 2024.

University of Canterbury (UC) historians Dr Chris Jones and Dr Madi Williams (Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Rangitāne o Wairau) are co-convenors of the conference and are promising the 250+ delegates it will be embedded in the South Island and Christchurch’s specific experience of the Middle Ages.

“Nowhere in Aotearoa is there a stronger connection to the idea of medieval and Early Modern Europe and, in particular, ‘medievalism’,” Dr Jones says. “In the 19th century, Christchurch was created as a city marked by a fantasy idea of what the European Middle Ages were like – it was built as a neo-gothic landscape of church spires designed to reflect the architecture of Europe’s medieval cities.”

Today, there remain concrete links to the Middle Ages and Early Modern era still to be investigated in the city, he says. “UC has rich holdings of medieval and Early Modern material such as the 600-year-old Canterbury Roll – the only medieval genealogical roll in the Southern Hemisphere – and the oldest copy of Magna Carta in New Zealand [printed in 1532].”

UC is also the long-term partner of the city’s unique Wicked Bible, the topic of a recent Tauhere UC Connect public lecture, The Adulterer’s Guide: Aotearoa’s Wicked Bible.

Dr Madi Williams, author of Polynesia, 600-1600: An overview of the history of Aotearoa, Rēkohu, and Rapa Nui, researches the boundaries of history and the inclusion of Indigenous and non-Western perspectives in Aotearoa New Zealand and South Pacific histories,

“While the Middle Ages are most certainly a European phenomenon, we lose a lot by limiting our perspective to one continent. There is so much we can learn from reorienting ourselves from different perspectives and attempting to expand our understanding,” she says.

“There are areas of synergy between the medieval world and Te Ao Māori – the Māori world. Prior to the Enlightenment and its obsession with objective reality and scientific thought, European thought was more relational and subjective, meaning there are more synergies in the medieval and Māori worlds than the Māori and European world that we encountered during the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Dr Jones and Dr Williams led the bid to host the international conference with support from Tourism New Zealand and ChristchurchNZ.

Christchurch Head of Business Events Megan Crum says business events are an important sector in advancing Christchurch city’s economic development strategy and they shape positive impacts for the city in a range of ways.

We’re excited to do the work we do to bring events like the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies conference to Christchurch, a city with its fair share of history.

Megan Crum, Head of Business Events, ChristchurchNZ

“Delegates attending can expect a warm welcome, a city easy to explore, and a surrounding region full of activity and adventure.”

Tourism New Zealand General Manager New Zealand & Business Events Bjoern Spreitzer says, “Supporting universities to bid for and win these events not only allows us to showcase New Zealand’s expertise on the world stage; it attracts visitors who benefit our local knowledge, culture, and economy.”

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