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Report on EMREM Conference by Sarah Dickinson

Sarah Dickinson is currently an MA candidate in early modern history. Here she reports on her first conference as a presenter!

Last month I presented a paper at a two day postgraduate conference at the University of Birmingham. The conference was entitled, ‘Birth, Sex and Death: Rites of Passage in the Medieval and Early Modern World’. A wide variety of papers were given at this conference, which ranged from the early medieval period to the eighteenth-century. Some of the themes that were explored within these papers focused on marital traditions and innovations, perilous beginnings, liminality and immortality and pleasures of the flesh.

My panel, which was the concluding one on the first day, was entitled ‘Living with Death: Anticipation and Narration’. The title of my paper was ‘Preparation and Performance: Puritan Experiences of Dying in Early Modern England’ and was drawn from my MA research. Within this paper, I examined and compared two key texts by theologians Thomas Becon and William Perkins, which instructed individuals on how to prepare for death and to die well. I considered the importance of daily preparation for death, forming a detachment from worldly goods in order to make the process of dying easier and the need to display patience and thankfulness in one’s final hours. Finally, I examined the writers’ consideration of ‘sins of infirmity’ which could prohibit the individual from performing perfectly on their deathbed.

The paper was well received and the questions asked after I concluded my paper were extremely interesting and thought-provoking. The audience enquired whether there was a ‘hierarchy of dying’, what it was that readers took away from these readings, what was the role of will-making in the preparation for death and was there any evidence of individuals being disappointed not to die. Overall, attending this conference was a great experience and provided me with the opportunity to share my research with other postgraduates, to hear their thoughts and ideas about my topic and it gave me the opportunity to network with people with similar interests. I look forward to attending the symposium next year!

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