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EN398 Medieval Alterities: Race, Religion, and Orientalism in the Literature of Medieval England

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Dr Marco Nievergelt

General Presentation

The Module will analyse the representations of ethnic, religious, and cultural difference found in literary and non-literary texts produced in England during the period 1250-1500. The main aim of the module is to allow students to develop a clear and nuanced understanding of medieval constructions of identity, with primary emphasis upon the identity of groups and communities. Three broad and overlapping categories and their intersections will be explored: Race; Religion; and Geographical/Cultural identity.

Rather than being concerned with historical realities as such, the module will largely be focusing on cultural perceptions, constructions, and fantasies of alterity. This will shed light on the primary categories invoked to define the identity of a recognisably Christian, Western European, and English community, primarily through narratives of conflict and/or encounter with various types of real or imagined historical ‘others’. The principal minority groups examined will be those of Muslims/Saracens; Jews; the ‘East’ more broadly; Vikings and Saxons; and the culture of Pagan Antiquity. The types of texts considered range from travel narratives to crusading romances, ‘historical’ accounts, plays, and some of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Learning Outcomes

• To familiarise students with some of the most important literary and non-literary genres involved in representing cultural difference during the late medieval period in England (1250–1500).

• To understand some of the most fundamental historical, religious, and cultural categories invoked in the construction of identity during the period. • To understand the role of fiction and imagination in shaping the Western perception of non-Christian and non-European cultural and religious practices as well as oriental geographical locations.

• To emphasise the importance of imaginative constructions, fictions, and fantasies in shaping the course of history.

• To familiarise students to the cultural and intellectual context of religious persecution and crusading during the late Middle Ages.

• To stress the role of narratives of violent conflict and warfare, as means of 1) constructing and/or consolidating binary identitarian models (‘them’ vs. ‘us’); 2) Interrogating and undermining this same binarism, and questioning the legitimacy of narratives of Western/Christian/European cultural superiority.

• To introduce students to the fundamental principles of medieval geography, ethnography, anthropology, history, and cosmology.

Syllabus

Pilgrimage, Exploration, and Orientalism:

w1. Mandeville’s Travels

The Romance of England:

w2. King Horn; Havelock the Dane

w3. Bevis of Hampton 

Saracens and the East:

w4. The King of Tars

w5. Richard Coeur de Lion

w6. READING WEEK

Judaism:

w7. The Siege of Jerusalem

w8. ‘Prioress’ Tale’ (Riverside Chaucer)

w9. Croxton Play of the Sacrament

Pagan Antiquity:

w10. ‘Knight’s Tale’ (Riverside Chaucer)

Assessment

• 1 x 5000 word essay (100%), from a given choice of topics

• short in-class presentation (formative)

Required Primary Texts

NB - most texts are available online, and can be purchased as hard copies through the TEAMS website

- The Book of Jean Mandeville - online edition here

- King Horn ; Havelock the Dane; Bevis of Hamptoun - online edition here

- The King of Tars - online edition here

- Richard Coer de Lyon - online edition here

- The Siege of Jerusalem - online edition here

- The Riverside Chaucer

- The Croxton Play of the Sacrament - online edition here