Historicizing Consent: What Did it Mean to Agree in the Late Medieval and Early Modern World and Why Should We Care?

April 11–12, 2022

This conference is open to the public.

A growing literature recognizes the pervasive discourses around consent in different realms of late medieval and early modern life: sex, marriage, religious conversion, labor, colonization, and contract law were all said to require consent. But existing scholarship has yet to examine how consent operated across all of these different areas. Furthermore, scholars have found it difficult to explain the prevalence of what we now identify as egalitarian concerns for freely given consent in this early era, when a stable social hierarchy was a much-sought after ideal. This seminar on “Historicizing Consent” will create an international, interdisciplinary scholarly network and define a new research agenda for historians, literary scholars, legal scholars, theologians, and scholars of gender and sexuality studies, working on Europe and the Americas at large. The seminar will rally a dispersed group of scholars, many of whom have—within their discrete topics of inquiry—analyzed consent as a hegemonic concept that imposed order as much as it potentially allowed for individual choice. Though focused on the past, the seminar will also aim to bring a historical perspective to emerging critiques of consent in present-day political and legal discussions, for instance around prosecutions of sexual assault, which have similarly highlighted where consent falls short of its emancipatory promise. Such critiques invite scholars to denaturalize the notion of consent and investigate its multiple uses and meanings over time.
Cosponsored by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

See also: Conferences, 2022


Sonia Tycko

Kinder Junior Research Fellow, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford.