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The Marco Institute Abroad in Poitiers, Summer 2023

Above: The Marco Institute delegation to Poitiers, at the Abbey of Saint Savin, in Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe. (L-R: Felege-Selam Yirga, Gregor Kalas, Matthew Gillis, Anne-Helene Miller, and Thomas Maurer.)


The Marco Institute marks its partnership with the University of Poitiers with a conference and visits to medieval sites in France.


Earlier this summer, members of ­the Marco Institute community traveled to Poitiers, France, for an international colloquium marking a partnership between the Marco Institute for Medieval & Renaissance Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the Centre d’études supérieures de civilisation médiévale (CESCM) at the Université de Poitiers. The partnership, spearheaded by outgoing Riggsby Director of the Marco Institute Gregor Kalas (School of Architecture) and incoming Riggsby Director Anne-Hélène Miller (World Languages & Cultures), is part of a larger project of ongoing collaboration between the two programs.

Interior, Abbey of Saint Savin

The collaboration began in 2018 when Martin Aurell, professor of history at Poitiers, visited Knoxville as one of the Marco Institute’s Lindsay Young Distinguished Visiting Senior Scholars. Over the past five years, conversations among researchers at both institutions have identified key areas in which both Knoxville and Poitiers scholars share interests, including investigating reactions to conflicts, diseases, and warfare in the Middle Ages. The study of these crises have prompted vigorous scholarly conversations, and these issues come into particular relief now that we have witnessed extreme climate conditions, warfare, and terrible threats of viral contagion in our own time, prompting reflections on how past individuals also tackled hardships through physical and conceptual innovations.

Baptistery of Saint-Jean in Poitiers, one of the oldest surviving churches in Western Europe.

Maurer and Yirga inside Baptistery of Saint-Jean in Poitiers

This summer’s colloquium at Poitiers, “Aftermath of Conflict and Crisis in the Middle Ages,” explored the repercussions of disasters and wars by proposing that responses to afflictions offer critical insights into cultural shifts. The conference featured presentations by history faculty Felege-Selam Yirga and Matthew Gillis, as well as Thomas Maurer, who completed his PhD in history this summer, alongside Kalas and Miller, thanks to generous support from the Global Catalyst Faculty Research Grant Program in the UT Center for Global Education. In addition to scholarly discussions, attendees participated in a study day exploring medieval art and architecture. Alongside the medieval cathedral and baptistery in Poitiers itself, sites included the defensive architecture of Chauvigny, the Abbey of St Savin at Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe (thought to have originally been founded under the protection of Charlemagne and his successors), and the Merovingian cemetery at Civaux. 

This trip was an excellent opportunity for Marco Institute members to meet and network with peers in Poitiers, and also to celebrate the partnership between the programs. Future goals of the wider collaboration include launching exchanges of scholars (both from Poitiers to Knoxville and from Knoxville to Poitiers), as well as developing larger grant-funded projects, particularly a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for College Faculty.

Members on tour of the Merovingian cemetery at Civaux