2023 Conference Keynotes

The AEMA Committee is pleased to announce the following keynotes have been confirmed for the upcoming conference:

Dr Elizabeth Boyle (Maynooth University)

Paper Title: Nature and Art in Early Irish Verse

In his lecture Nature and Art in Early Welsh Verse, published in 2021, Professor Barry Lewis used early Welsh poetry to revisit the broader concept of ‘Celtic nature poetry’, which has been the subject of some contentious scholarship but relatively little serious literary analysis. Amongst many insightful observations, Lewis concluded that ‘the natural world in literature can never be a value-free zone of acute, sensitive observation, still less of unproblematic representation. It is of necessity a value-laden construct’. In this lecture, I aim to build on some of Lewis’s work on Welsh verse, using it as a lens through which to read examples from the corpus of early Irish poetry. The purpose of this lecture is to critically examine the ‘value-laden’ constructions of the extra-human world in early Irish literature, in order to better understand the relationships between early Irish poets and their environments.

Dr Boyle’s research focuses on the religious, cultural, and intellectual history of medieval Ireland. Foci include Ireland’s contacts with Britain and continental Europe, the translation and adaptation of Latin sources into Old and Middle Irish, and the history of the discipline of ‘Celtic Studies’. Recent publications include History and Salvation in Medieval Ireland (Routledge, 2021) as well as a bestselling volume of personal essays, Fierce Appetites (Penguin Random House, 2022).

Researcher Profile

Professor Roland Fletcher (The University of Sydney)

Paper Title: Greater Angkor and the conundrum of vastness

The magnitude of Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire in southeast Asia between the 10th and the 14th centuries CE, has been both a problem and a source of fascination to scholars and visitors alike over the centuries. At its peak, the Khmer Empire – encompassing most of the modern countries of Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as parts of modern China and Vietnam – was geographically vaster than the contemporary Byzantine Empire. The capital of that empire, the low-density urban area of Greater Angkor sprawled for a thousand square kilometres – its temple enclosures alone being the size of many European medieval towns. The place was astonishing and even impressed Chinese imperial envoys.

Curiously, the sheer scale of Angkor initially led European scholars from the 19th century onwards to identify it as a succession of small adjacent cities. By the 1950s the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) researchers had recognised its vast water management network. In the 1990s research in this university led to the prediction that it was actually a giant low-density urban complex – a prediction which was then confirmed by the remote sensing radar surveys of NASA-JPL. The detailed residential plan of the central area of Angkor was obtained from a LIDAR survey in 2012.

Greater Angkor’s low-density settlement pattern relates directly to the capacities required to construct and maintain its giant temples. Yet it also relates to the demise of the capital in the context of extreme, unstable climate change in the 14th century CE. Somewhat surprisingly, the demise of Angkor also emphasises the robustness of the networks of compact urban settlements. Within this, there are implications both for the future risks facing contemporary giant low-density megalopoli, and for the resilience of socio-political systems on a global scale.

Professor Fletcher has for over thirty years studied the process of human settlement growth and decline, as part of an analysis of large-scale cultural phenomena over time and is the Director of the multidisciplinary international Angkor Research Program. Having developed a global and interdisciplinary perspective in Archaeology, Professor Fletcher will discuss Greater Angkor, contrast its magnitude to the urban scale of early medieval Europe, discuss the impact of climate change, and assess the vulnerabilities of vast urban centres. Publications include The Limits of Settlement Growth: A theoretical outline (Cambridge, 1995, 2007).

Researcher Profile