my horrible field

2014-10-13_07-11-13

The problem with teaching a medieval class on race and representation has been the unrelenting negativity of nearly all of the texts we’re doing: the Prioress’s Tale, the Siege of Jerusalem, the King of Tars, even Gerald of Wales Topography III. Mandeville, despite its antisemitism, would be the most positive work on the syllabus were it not for my including the Medieval People of Color tumblr. Alexander the Great’s encounter with Dindimus also should work beautifully. Still, as these students might never take another medieval course again, I fear I might have just poisoned my entire field for them. In the interests of medieval studies, if I do this class again, what can I put on the syllabus next time?

Or is this just the wrong question?

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One thought on “my horrible field

  1. Karl, I’m neither a race scholar nor sure if this is what you’re thinking of, but I had a weird accidental experience today in my world lit class–teaching Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book immediately after we had finished Beowulf. In setting the syllabus, I had simply wanted to get a female, non-western author from the Middle Ages on the list, so I stuck her on there right after the midterm because I love her and thought she would be a funny, light break after the test. But several students commented that it was totally disconcerting to suddenly go from monsters and epic heroes to the highly mannered society of Shonagon’s Japan, and they didn’t know what to make of it. One assumed that we had jumped ahead to the sixteenth century and were seeing evidence of Christian missionaries. When I pointed out that she was writing her book around the same time as Beowulf was likely recorded, they seemed baffled. Unfortunately I wasn’t really prepared to do much with that except say, yeah, it’s weird, huh?, but I wonder what would happen if you pushed outside of Europe for a moment or two–maybe under the guise of “foreign”/Other self-representation. I’m definitely going to think about this more carefully for World Lit next semester in terms of deliberately aligning, say, Beowulf and Tales of the Genji. I also had decent success with an excerpt from Farid ud-Din Attar’s Conference of the Birds this semester, which examines a Christian, if not a racial, other.

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