Towards the end of my PhD in 2017 I overheard a colleague at a conference talking about their new research project: city-fall narratives! I thought, „What a great idea, why did I not come up with that?“ Curious, I enquired to hear more about this new project and the bewildered colleague informed me that they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, but they agreed, yes, that sounded like an interesting project and someone should probably look into that. It transpired that I had misheard and no-one had in fact just launched a new project about city-fall narratives! Thus, the idea for my next project had come to me as an accidental revelation, a curious quirk of my bad hearing, and CITYFALL was born.
A little over a year after I first started thinking about this new project idea I submitted my first research proposal for CITYFALL – and of course it was rejected. While juggling several precarious teaching jobs and also navigating the early years of parenthood, I kept writing research proposals, which, in turn, kept getting rejected.
Finally, in February 2021 CITYFALL was selected for funding with a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Action through Horizon 2020 by the European Commission. The project is based at the Institute for Classical Philology at the University of Bern, where it is closely aligned with the “Lege Iosephum!” Reading Josephus in the Latin Middle Ages project led by Prof. Gerlinde Huber-Rebenich. I am now launching the project in October 2021 and it will run until the end of March 2024.
Aims and objective
The project examines the lament for the Levantine city of Acre, which was conquered by the Mamluks in 1291. Of particular interest is how the medieval lamentation for the loss of Acre across various texts written from the late 13th until the mid-14th-century – both Latin and vernacular – ties into ancient and biblical traditions.
The objective of CITYFALL is to understand how medieval authors used biblical and ancient traditions lamenting the falls of cities in their own texts to create the political and cultural identities of the high and later Middle Ages and to negotiate current events by contextualising them in these ancient and biblical traditions. This objective is achieved by pursuing the main research aims:
Aim 1: to track the process of transformation, in which traditions negotiating collective trauma and cultural loss are reshaped into political narratives which could serve as foundational myths for medieval European polities like the German Empire.
Aim 2: to show how medieval authors lamenting fallen cities in medieval texts claim their heritage and make their historical prestige and authority available for the communities they are writing for. With this, new identities can be constructed and contemporary concerns of political and cultural belonging can be negotiated.
Aim 3: to gain a better understanding how medieval authors responded to their audiences need for guidance in the face of historical occurrence they could not bring in line with the cultural axioms of their worldview and how biblical and ancient narrative models helped to reconcile the expectations shaped by these axioms with their evident suspension by historical occurrence.
The goal for of CITYFALL beyond the research objective is to contribute to a growing understanding how medieval Europe was part of a greater East-West continuum of political and cultural imagination, which rested on a shared pool of narratives and discursive techniques.