Fifteen to One | Dr Axel Müller

“I’m the go-to-guy who keeps the plates spinning!”

Fifteen to One | Dr Axel Müller. May 2023

As the countdown begins to this year’s eagerly anticipated instalment of the hugely popular International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds, event Director Dr Axel Müller unwraps the packed programme and explains the crucial role he and his team play in putting the city on the map for this fascinating branch of academia.

Dubbed the ‘Medieval Glastonbury Festival’ by delegates, the IMC will see thousands of scholars from around the world descending on campus once again to present their research, with a whole host of entertainment also scheduled from 3-6 July. 

Europe’s largest forum for sharing ideas in medieval studies culminates in the Making Leeds Medieval celebration – a day of public engagement open to everyone on campus and beyond featuring attractions ranging from craft stalls to combat displays... and everything in between!

Discover how you can get involved and what still excites Axel after almost three decades in the job.

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

I have overall responsibility for the IMC. I work closely with my brilliant colleagues in the IMC team, plus those in the Facilities Directorate and IT, to make this possible. Together with the highly experienced international Programming Committee and local Standing Committee, I develop the IMC’s long-term academic strategy and research themes. No one person could (or should) ever think an event like the IMC is possible to plan alone. With more than 2,000 speakers from 60-plus countries, each year’s packed programme requires a lot of juggling. In practice, I’m the go-to-guy who keeps the plates spinning!

What really impresses you about Leeds?

Great city, great University, great people. As part of my job, I see a lot of university campuses across the world, and I still get that warm feeling when I come back to Leeds and see the Parkinson Tower, making me think of the people I work (and have worked) with, and the great willingness of everyone here to make things happen.

What question have you most frequently been asked in your role?

How do you keep going year on year? Many colleagues will organise one-off conferences, and decide never, ever to do so again…

What are you most looking forward to working on?

Since coming out of various lockdowns, we’ve realised we can, and have, to meet again in person. For conferences, there’s a vital part that goes beyond what virtual systems can provide. For example, those incidental encounters in the corridor, at the coffee queue, or having a tingling feeling going through a room when you hear a really exciting thought in a paper.

The IMC sounds amazing! What can we expect from this year’s Congress?

There’s something for everybody at the IMC. You can hear the latest news on research in so many different areas, but also see so many different attractions: birds of prey, our popular main Book Fair in the Parkinson Court, our brilliant medieval craft and second-hand book fair, fighting displays and medieval re-enactments galore. It brings together a community of people – from seasoned academics to new postgraduate students, local and national historical groups and the public. I encourage all colleagues who are on campus during the first week of July to drop by and see the campus transformed. 

What are your personal highlights in this year’s programme?

This year’s keynote lectures are exceptionally wide ranging and international. This year’s Congress focusses on ‘Networks and Entanglements’, and our keynote lectures will look at multiple areas including networks of manuscripts, African-European entanglements, maritime networks and somatic entanglements, as well as frameworks for network research in Medieval Studies. Our keynotes are delivered by colleagues from across the world and we’re excited to welcome them to Leeds.

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

I’ve been privileged to meet many brilliant minds (largely within the fields of Medieval Studies) over the years, and many have impressed me by their ability to process vast amounts of information but also about their care and curiosity, almost always coupled with an interest to help/support/foster new generations of scholars to come after them.

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

I’m proud of the IMC. When I joined the team in 1994 (for the first Congress), little did I – or anyone else – know how it would grow and become such a major event in medieval studies academia. When I grew up, people talked about Leeds as the home of Leeds United. Nowadays – certainly for medievalists worldwide – when they talk about Leeds they mean the home of the IMC!

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

Trust technology and improve things as soon as you can.

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

I used to work in a theatre, as I like the buzz of the place. Perhaps…

What are your campus highlights?

Parkinson Court is an area I have to walk through every day, and it still excites me after almost 30 years of working at the University.

What’s your favourite location on campus?

St George’s Field. Tucked away behind University buildings it’s a great refuge to take a breather, have lunch or have a stroll.

What do you do to relax away from University life?

There’s nothing more relaxing for me than to sit in my garden watching the sunset with a glass of alcohol-free beer. Let’s hope I get home in time to do that at some point!

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

Anywhere in Portugal. I lived there in the early 1990s, and love Portuguese cooking, Portuguese language and the overall culture. Not to mention the weather!

What’s your random claim to fame?

Being asked to autograph a book several times recently – authored by another Axel Müller on ‘Medieval Mermaids’ – that wasn’t written by me!

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