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The New Middle Ages is a series dedicated to pluridisciplinary studies of medieval cultures, with
particular emphasis on recuperating women’s history and on feminist and gender analyses.
This peer-reviewed series includes both scholarly monographs and essay collections.

Women in the Medieval Islamic World: Power, Crossing the Bridge: Comparative Essays
Patronage, and Piety on Medieval European and Heian Japanese
edited by Gavin R. G. Hambly Women Writers
edited by Barbara Stevenson and
The Ethics of Nature in the Middle Ages: On Cynthia Ho
Boccaccio’s Poetaphysics
Engaging Words:The Culture of Reading in the
by Gregory B. Stone
Later Middle Ages
Presence and Presentation:Women in the by Laurel Amtower
Chinese Literati Tradition
Robes and Honor:The Medieval World of
edited by Sherry J. Mou
The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and edited by Stewart Gordon
Abelard: Perceptions of Dialogue in
Representing Rape in Medieval and Early
Twelfth-Century France
Modern Literature
by Constant J. Mews
edited by Elizabeth Robertson and
Understanding Scholastic Thought with Christine M. Rose
Foucault Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in
by Philipp W. Rosemann the Middle Ages
edited by Francesca Canadé Sautman and
For Her Good Estate:The Life of Elizabeth de
Pamela Sheingorn
by Frances A. Underhill Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages:
Ocular Desires
Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the
by Suzannah Biernoff
Middle Ages
edited by Cindy L. Carlson and Angela Listen, Daughter:The Speculum Virginum
Jane Weisl and the Formation of Religious Women in
the Middle Ages
Motherhood and Mothering in Anglo-Saxon edited by Constant J. Mews
by Mary Dockray-Miller Science, the Singular, and the Question of
Listening to Heloise:The Voice of a by Richard A. Lee, Jr.
Twelfth-Century Woman
edited by Bonnie Wheeler Gender in Debate from the Early Middle
Ages to the Renaissance
The Postcolonial Middle Ages edited by Thelma S. Fenster and
edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen Clare A. Lees

Chaucer’s Pardoner and Gender Theory: Malory’s Morte D’Arthur: Remaking

Bodies of Discourse Arthurian Tradition
by Robert S. Sturges by Catherine Batt
The Vernacular Spirit: Essays on Medieval The Texture of Society: Medieval Women in the
Religious Literature Southern Low Countries
edited by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, edited by Ellen E. Kittell and Mary A.
Duncan Robertson, and Nancy Warren Suydam
Popular Piety and Art in the Late Middle Charlemagne’s Mustache: And Other Cultural
Ages: Image Worship and Idolatry in Clusters of a Dark Age
England 1350–1500 by Paul Edward Dutton
by Kathleen Kamerick
Troubled Vision: Gender, Sexuality, and Sight in
Absent Narratives, Manuscript Textuality, and Medieval Text and Image
Literary Structure in Late Medieval England edited by Emma Campbell and Robert
by Elizabeth Scala Mills
Creating Community with Food and Queering Medieval Genres
Drink in Merovingian Gaul by Tison Pugh
by Bonnie Effros
Sacred Place in Early Medieval Neoplatonism
Representations of Early Byzantine by L. Michael Harrington
Empresses: Image and Empire
The Middle Ages at Work
by Anne McClanan
edited by Kellie Robertson and Michael
Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress: Uebel
Objects,Texts, Images
edited by Désirée G. Koslin and Chaucer’s Jobs
Janet Snyder by David R. Carlson
Medievalism and Orientalism:Three Essays on
Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady
Literature, Architecture and Cultural Identity
edited by Bonnie Wheeler and
by John M. Ganim
John Carmi Parsons
Queer Love in the Middle Ages
Isabel La Católica, Queen of Castile: Critical
by Anna Klosowska
edited by David A. Boruchoff Performing Women in the Middle Ages: Sex,
Gender, and the Iberian Lyric
Homoeroticism and Chivalry: Discourses of Male by Denise K. Filios
Same-Sex Desire in the Fourteenth Century
by Richard E. Zeikowitz Necessary Conjunctions:The Social Self in
Medieval England
Portraits of Medieval Women: Family, Marriage, by David Gary Shaw
and Politics in England 1225–1350
by Linda E. Mitchell Visual Culture and the German Middle Ages
edited by Kathryn Starkey and Horst
Eloquent Virgins: From Thecla to Joan of Arc Wenzel
by Maud Burnett McInerney
Medieval Paradigms: Essays in Honor of Jeremy
The Persistence of Medievalism: Narrative duQuesnay Adams,Volumes 1 and 2
Adventures in Contemporary Culture edited by Stephanie Hayes-Healy
by Angela Jane Weisl
False Fables and Exemplary Truth in Later
Capetian Women Middle English Literature
edited by Kathleen D. Nolan by Elizabeth Allen

Joan of Arc and Spirituality Ecstatic Transformation: On the Uses of Alterity

edited by Ann W. Astell and in the Middle Ages
Bonnie Wheeler by Michael Uebel
Sacred and Secular in Medieval and Early Mindful Spirit in Late Medieval Literature:
Modern Cultures: New Essays Essays in Honor of Elizabeth D. Kirk
edited by Lawrence Besserman edited by Bonnie Wheeler
Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages Medieval Fabrications: Dress,Textiles, Clothwork,
edited by Jane Chance and and Other Cultural Imaginings
Alfred K. Siewers edited by E. Jane Burns
Representing Righteous Heathens in Late Was the Bayeux Tapestry Made in France?
Medieval England The Case for St. Florent of Saumur
by Frank Grady by George Beech
Byzantine Dress: Representations of Secular Women, Power, and Religious Patronage in the
Dress in Eighth-to-Twelfth Century Painting Middle Ages
by Jennifer L. Ball by Erin L. Jordan
The Laborer’s Two Bodies: Labor and the “Work” Hybridity, Identity, and Monstrosity in Medieval
of the Text in Medieval Britain, 1350–1500 Britain: On Difficult Middles
by Kellie Robertson by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
The Dogaressa of Venice, 1250–1500:Wife Medieval Go-betweens and Chaucer’s Pandarus
and Icon by Gretchen Mieszkowski
by Holly S. Hurlburt
The Surgeon in Medieval English Literature
Logic,Theology, and Poetry in Boethius, Abelard, by Jeremy J. Citrome
and Alan of Lille:Words in the Absence of Things
Temporal Circumstances: Form and History in
by Eileen C. Sweeney
the Canterbury Tales
The Theology of Work: Peter Damian and the by Lee Patterson
Medieval Religious Renewal Movement
Erotic Discourse and Early English Religious
by Patricia Ranft
On the Purification of Women: Churching in by Lara Farina
Northern France, 1100–1500
Odd Bodies and Visible Ends in Medieval
by Paula M. Rieder
Voices from the Bench:The Narratives of Lesser by Sachi Shimomura
Folk in Medieval Trials
On Farting: Language and Laughter in the
edited by Michael Goodich
Middle Ages
Writers of the Reign of Henry II:Twelve Essays by Valerie Allen
edited by Ruth Kennedy and Simon Women and Medieval Epic: Gender, Genre, and
Meecham-Jones the Limits of Epic Masculinity
edited by Sara S. Poor and Jana K.
Lonesome Words:The Vocal Poetics of the Old
English Lament and the African-American
Blues Song Race, Class, and Gender in “Medieval” Cinema
by M.G. McGeachy edited by Lynn T. Ramey and Tison Pugh

Performing Piety: Musical Culture in Medieval Allegory and Sexual Ethics in the High
English Nunneries Middle Ages
by Anne Bagnall Yardley by Noah D. Guynn

The Flight from Desire: Augustine and Ovid to England and Iberia in the Middle Ages, 12th–15th
Chaucer Century: Cultural, Literary, and Political Exchanges
by Robert R. Edwards edited by María Bullón-Fernández
The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Communal Discord, Child Abduction, and
Process Rape in the Later Middle Ages
by Albrecht Classen by Jeremy Goldberg
Claustrophilia:The Erotics of Enclosure in Lydgate Matters: Poetry and Material Culture in
Medieval Literature the Fifteenth Century
by Cary Howie edited by Lisa H. Cooper and Andrea
Cannibalism in High Medieval English
Literature Sexuality and Its Queer Discontents in Middle
by Heather Blurton English Literature
The Drama of Masculinity and Medieval by Tison Pugh
English Guild Culture
Sex, Scandal, and Sermon in Fourteenth-
by Christina M. Fitzgerald
Century Spain: Juan Ruiz’s Libro
Chaucer’s Visions of Manhood de Buen Amor
by Holly A. Crocker by Louise M. Haywood
The Literary Subversions of Medieval Women The Erotics of Consolation: Desire and Distance
by Jane Chance in the Late Middle Ages
Manmade Marvels in Medieval Culture and edited by Catherine E. Léglu and Stephen
Literature J. Milner
by Scott Lightsey Battlefronts Real and Imagined:War, Border, and
American Chaucers Identity in the Chinese Middle Period
by Candace Barrington edited by Don J. Wyatt

Representing Others in Medieval Iberian Wisdom and Her Lovers in Medieval and Early
Literature Modern Hispanic Literature
by Michelle M. Hamilton by Emily C. Francomano

Paradigms and Methods in Early Medieval Power, Piety, and Patronage in Late Medieval
Studies Queenship: Maria de Luna
edited by Celia Chazelle and Felice by Nuria Silleras-Fernandez
In the Light of Medieval Spain: Islam, the West,
The King and the Whore: King Roderick and and the Relevance of the Past
La Cava edited by Simon R. Doubleday and
by Elizabeth Drayson David Coleman, foreword by Giles Tremlett

Langland’s Early Modern Identities Chaucerian Aesthetics

by Sarah A. Kelen by Peggy A. Knapp

Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages Memory, Images, and the English Corpus
edited by Eileen A. Joy, Myra J. Seaman, Christi Drama
Kimberly K. Bell, and Mary K. Ramsey by Theodore K. Lerud

Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language: Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages:
An Edition,Translation, and Discussion Archipelago, Island, England
by Sarah L. Higley edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Medieval Romance and the Construction of Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth
Heterosexuality and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics
by Louise M. Sylvester by Susan Signe Morrison
Authority and Subjugation in Writing of Julian of Norwich’s Legacy: Medieval Mysticism
Medieval Wales and Post-Medieval Reception
edited by Ruth Kennedy and Simon edited by Sarah Salih and Denise N.
Meecham-Jones Baker

The Medieval Poetics of the Reliquary: Medievalism, Multilingualism, and Chaucer

Enshrinement, Inscription, Performance by Mary Catherine Davidson
by Seeta Chaganti The Letters of Heloise and Abelard: A Translation
The Legend of Charlemagne in the Middle Ages: of Their Collected Correspondence and Related
Power, Faith, and Crusade Writings
edited by Matthew Gabriele and Jace translated and edited by Mary Martin
Stuckey McLaughlin with Bonnie Wheeler
Women and Wealth in Late Medieval Europe
The Poems of Oswald von Wolkenstein: An
edited by Theresa Earenfight
English Translation of the Complete Works
(1376/77–1445) Visual Power and Fame in René d’Anjou,
by Albrecht Classen Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Black Prince
by SunHee Kim Gertz
Women and Experience in Later Medieval
Writing: Reading the Book of Life Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Medieval
edited by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker and Studies and New Media
Liz Herbert McAvoy by Brantley L. Bryant

Ethics and Eventfulness in Middle English Margaret Paston’s Piety

Literature: Singular Fortunes by Joel T. Rosenthal
by J. Allan Mitchell Gender and Power in Medieval Exegesis
by Theresa Tinkle
Maintenance, Meed, and Marriage in Medieval
English Literature Antimercantilism in Late Medieval English
by Kathleen E. Kennedy Literature
by Roger A. Ladd
The Post-Historical Middle Ages
edited by Elizabeth Scala and Sylvia Magnificence and the Sublime in Medieval
Federico Aesthetics: Art, Architecture, Literature, Music
edited by C. Stephen Jaeger
Constructing Chaucer: Author and Autofiction in
the Critical Tradition Medieval and Early Modern Devotional Objects
by Geoffrey W. Gust in Global Perspective:Translations of the Sacred
edited by Elizabeth Robertson and
Queens in Stone and Silver:The Creation of a Jennifer Jahner
Visual Imagery of Queenship in Capetian France
Late Medieval Jewish Identities: Iberia and
by Kathleen Nolan
Finding Saint Francis in Literature and Art edited by Carmen Caballero-Navas and
edited by Cynthia Ho, Beth A. Mulvaney, Esperanza Alfonso
and John K. Downey Outlawry in Medieval Literature
Strange Beauty: Ecocritical Approaches to Early by Timothy S. Jones
Medieval Landscape Women and Disability in Medieval Literature
by Alfred K. Siewers by Tory Vandeventer Pearman
Berenguela of Castile (1180–1246) and The Lesbian Premodern
Political Women in the High Middle Ages edited by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M.
by Miriam Shadis Sauer, and Diane Watt
Crafting Jewishness in Medieval England: Reading Memory and Identity in the Texts of
Legally Absent,Virtually Present Medieval European Holy Women
by Miriamne Ara Krummel edited by Margaret Cotter-Lynch and
Brad Herzog
Street Scenes: Late Medieval Acting and
Performance Market Power: Lordship, Society, and Economy
by Sharon Aronson-Lehavi in Medieval Catalonia (1276–1313)
by Gregory B. Milton
Women and Economic Activities in Late
Medieval Ghent Marriage, Property, and Women’s Narratives
by Shennan Hutton by Sally A. Livingston
Palimpsests and the Literary Imagination of The Medieval Python:The Purposive and
Medieval England: Collected Essays Provocative Work of Terry Jones
edited by Leo Carruthers, Raeleen edited by R. F. Yeager and Toshiyuki
Chai-Elsholz, and Tatjana Silec Takamiya
Divine Ventriloquism in Medieval English Boccaccio’s Decameron and the Ciceronian
Literature: Power, Anxiety, Subversion Renaissance
by Mary Hayes by Michaela Paasche Grudin and Robert
Vernacular and Latin Literary Discourses of the
Muslim Other in Medieval Germany Studies in the Medieval Atlantic
by Jerold C. Frakes edited by Benjamin Hudson
Fairies in Medieval Romance Chaucer’s Feminine Subjects: Figures of Desire in
by James Wade The Canterbury Tales
Reason and Imagination in Chaucer, the by John A. Pitcher
Perle-poet, and the Cloud-author: Seeing Writing Medieval Women’s Lives
from the Center edited by Charlotte Newman Goldy and
by Linda Tarte Holley Amy Livingstone
The Inner Life of Women in Medieval Romance The Mediterranean World of Alfonso II and Peter II
Literature: Grief, Guilt, and Hypocrisy of Aragon (1162–1213)
edited by Jeff Rider and Jamie Friedman by Ernest E. Jenkins
Language as the Site of Revolt in Medieval and Women in the Military Orders of the Crusades
Early Modern England: Speaking as a Woman by Myra Miranda Bom
by M. C. Bodden
Icons of Irishness from the Middle Ages to the
Ecofeminist Subjectivities: Chaucer’s Talking Modern World
Birds by Maggie M. Williams
by Lesley Kordecki
The Anglo-Scottish Border and the Shaping of
Contextualizing the Muslim Other in Medieval Identity, 1300–1600
Christian Discourse edited by Mark P. Bruce and Katherine
edited by Jerold C. Frakes H. Terrell
Ekphrastic Medieval Visions: A New Discussion Shame and Guilt in Chaucer
in Interarts Theory by Anne McTaggart
by Claire Barbetti
Word and Image in Medieval Kabbalah:The
The [European] Other in Medieval Arabic
Texts, Commentaries, and Diagrams of the
Literature and Culture: Ninth-Twelfth
Sefer Yetsirah
Century AD
by Marla Segol
by Nizar F. Hermes
Rethinking Chaucerian Beasts The King’s Bishops:The Politics of Patronage in
edited by Carolynn Van Dyke England and Normandy, 1066–1216
by Everett U. Crosby
The Genre of Medieval Patience Literature:
Development, Duplication, and Gender Perilous Passages: The Book of Margery
by Robin Waugh Kempe, 1534–1934
by Julie A. Chappell
The Carolingian Debate over Sacred Space
Francis of Assisi and His “Canticle of Brother
by Samuel W. Collins
Sun” Reassessed
The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and by Brian Moloney
Fantasy Past The Footprints of Michael the Archangel:The
edited by Tison Pugh and Susan Formation and Diffusion of a Saintly Cult,
Aronstein c. 300-c. 800
Medieval Afterlives in Popular Culture by John Charles Arnold
edited by Gail Ashton and Dan Kline Saint Margaret, Queen of the Scots: A Life in
Poet Heroines in Medieval French Narrative:
by Catherine Keene
Gender and Fictions of Literary Creation
by Brooke Heidenreich Findley Constructing Gender in Medieval Ireland
edited by Sarah Sheehan and Ann Dooley
Sexuality, Sociality, and Cosmology in Medieval
Literary Texts Marking Maternity in Middle English Romance:
edited by Jennifer N. Brown and Marla Mothers, Identity, and Contamination
Segol by Angela Florschuetz
The Medieval Motion Picture:The Politics of
Music and Performance in the Later Middle Ages
by Elizabeth Randell Upton
edited by Andrew James Johnston,
Witnesses, Neighbors, and Community in Late Margitta Rouse, and Philipp Hinz
Medieval Marseille
Wales and the Medieval Colonial Imagination:
by Susan Alice McDonough
The Matters of Britain in the Twelfth Century
Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies,Words, by Michael A. Faletra
and Power
Power and Sainthood:The Case of Birgitta of
by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir
Cosmopolitanism and the Middle Ages by Päivi Salmesvuori
edited by John M. Ganim and Shayne
The Repentant Abelard: Family, Gender,
Aaron Legassie
and Ethics in Peter Abelard’s Carmen ad
Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Astralabium and Planctus
Culture by Juanita Feros Ruys
edited By Katie L. Walter
Teaching Medieval and Early Modern
The Medieval Fold: Power, Repression, and the Cross-Cultural Encounters
Emergence of the Individual in the Middle Ages edited by Karina F. Attar and Lynn
by Suzanne Verderber Shutters

Received Medievalisms: A Cognitive Geography Heloise and the Paraclete: A Twelfth-Century

of Viennese Women’s Convents Quest (forthcoming)
by Cynthia J. Cyrus by Mary Martin McLaughlin
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Edited by
Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters
Copyright © Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters, 2014.
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2014
All rights reserved.
Figure 3.1. Tibetan Children’s Jacket for a Prince. Sogdian silk with
Sassanian-Persian pattern of ducks in pearl roundels. Eighth century. (Tang
Dynasty) 18 7/8” high and 32 7/16” wide. © The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Figure 3.2. Lining of the Tibetan Jacket. Chinese silk damask. Eighth century
(Tang Dynasty). 18 7/8” high and 32 7/16” wide. © The Cleveland Museum
of Art.
Figure 3.3. Matching Pants of the Tibetan Jacket in Chinese Silk Damask.
Eighth century (Tang Dynasty). 20 1/2” high and 11” wide. © The Cleveland
Museum of Art.
Figure 9.1. Medoro and Angelica puppets, photographed by Onofrio
Sanicola. By permission of the Teatro Drammatico dei Pupi di Onofrio
Figure 9.2. Medoro and Angelica puppets, photographed by Daniele
Carrubba (Teatro dei pupi di Siracusa). By permission of the Associazione La
Compagnia dei Pupari Vaccaro-Mauceri.
First published in 2014 by
in the United States—a division of St. Martin’s Press LLC,
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Where this book is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world,
this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited,
registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills,
Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS.
Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies
and has companies and representatives throughout the world.
Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States,
the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries.
ISBN: 978–1–137–48133–7
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Teaching medieval and early modern cross-cultural encounters /
edited by Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters.
pages cm.—(The new Middle Ages)
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978–1–137–48133–7 (hardback : alkaline paper)
1. Civilization, Medieval—Study and teaching (Higher) 2. Civilization,
Modern—16th century—Study and teaching (Higher) 3. Civilization,
Modern—17th century—Study and teaching (Higher) 4. Acculturation—
History—Study and teaching (Higher) 5. Intercultural communication—
History—Study and teaching (Higher) 6. Intellectual life—History—
Study and teaching (Higher) 7. Literature, Medieval—History and
criticism. 8. Literature, Modern—15th and 16th centuries—History and
criticism. 9. Literature, Modern—17th century—History and criticism.
10. Education, Higher—Research. I. Attar, Karina F. II. Shutters, Lynn.
CB353.T43 2014
930.007—dc23 2014024278
A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library.
Design by Newgen Knowledge Works (P) Ltd., Chennai, India.
First edition: December 2014
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ISBN 978-1-349-50284-4 ISBN 978-1-137-46572-6 (eBook)
DOI 10.1057/9781137465726

List of Figures xiii

Foreword xv
Lisa Lampert-Weissig
Acknowledgments xix
Notes on Contributors xxi

Introduction 1
Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters

Part I Synchronic Cross-Cultural Encounters

1. Andalusian Iberias: From Spanish to Iberian Literature 21
Seth Kimmel
2. Using Feminist Pedagogy to Explore Connectivity in the
Medieval Mediterranean 37
Megan Moore
3. A Journey through the Silk Road in a Cosmopolitan
Classroom 53
Kyunghee Pyun
4. Teaching English Travel Writing from 1500 to the Present 71
Elizabeth Pentland
5. Stranger than Fiction: Early Modern Travel Narratives and
the Antiracist Classroom 87
Julia Schleck
6. Different Shakespeares: Thinking Globally in an Early
Modern Literature Course 103
Barbara Sebek

Part II Synchronic and Diachronic

Cross-Cultural Encounters
7. The Moor of America: Approaching the Crisis of Race
and Religion in the Renaissance and the Twenty-First
Century 123
Ambereen Dadabhoy
8. “Real” Bodies? Race, Corporality, and Contradiction in
The Arabian Nights and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Il fiore delle
mille e una notte (1974) 141
Andrea Mirabile and Lynn Ramey
9. Encountering Saracens in Italian Chivalric Epic and Folk
Performance Traditions 159
Jo Ann Cavallo
10. Beowulf as Hero of Empire 179
Janice Hawes

Part III Diachronic Cross-Cultural Encounters

11. Resurrecting Callimachus: Pop Music, Puppets, and the
Necessity of Performance in Teaching Medieval Drama 199
Jenna Soleo-Shanks
12. Teaching Chaucer through Convergence Culture: The
New Media Middle Ages as Cross-Cultural Encounter 215
Tison Pugh

Suggestions for Further Reading 229

Index 241

3.1 Tibetan Children’s Jacket for a Prince. Sogdian silk with

Sassanian-Persian pattern of ducks in pearl roundels.
Eighth century (Tang Dynasty). 18 7/8" high and
32 7/16" wide 59
3.2 Lining of the Tibetan Jacket. Chinese silk damask.
Eighth century (Tang Dynasty). 18 7/8" high and
32 7/16" wide 59
3.3 Matching Pants of the Tibetan Jacket in Chinese Silk
Damask. Eighth century (Tang Dynasty).
20 1/2" high and 11" wide 60
8.1 The film’s main antagonist, the blue-eyed Christian, is
also the only “white” character in the film 150
8.2 Eritrean-Italian actress Ines Pellegrini plays the female
lead, Zumurrud 151
9.1 Medoro and Angelica puppets, photographed by
Onofrio Sanicola 167
9.2 Medoro and Angelica puppets, photographed by Daniele
Carrubba (Teatro dei pupi di Siracusa) 171
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I feel compelled to begin this foreword with a forewarning: teachers

reading this volume for pedagogical inspiration will certainly find
it, but they may also experience, as I did, an unexpected side effect. In
these essays I found what I hoped to find. I was encouraged to think
more deeply about teaching, and I also learned about some very practi-
cal approaches and methods that I saw as readily adaptable to my own
classes. But the volume also surprised me by making me long to go back
to being a full-time student. Several times while reading, I was seized
with a palpable desire to pack a small suitcase and become an itinerant
student for a few years, traveling about so that I could sit in the class-
rooms of these engaged and engaging scholars and take part in the classes
they describe.
To be in these classrooms would be, I think, the intellectual equiva-
lent of embarking on a demanding but exhilarating journey. Each essay
describes a course that challenges the student to step out of his or her
comfort zone and to consider what it means to have a cross-cultural
encounter and to be part of a global community. These encounters are
imagined not only in the typical sense of building bridges between
groups or between different locations, but also, crucially, of creating
bridges across time. All teachers of early cultures and literatures must
help students confront the strangeness of the past; these essays help guide
teachers to getting students to do so in ways that directly address relevant
and pressing contemporary concerns, and do so in both historically and
ethically informed ways.
The contributors to Teaching Cross-Cultural Encounters bring alive for
teaching the paradigm-shifting visions of scholars like Janet Abu-Lughod
and María Rosa Menocal. Their marvelously connective and produc-
tively alternative views of medieval and early modern histories are carried
even further by the volume’s contributors, who explore their implications
through a range of disciplines, including art history and performance as
well as history and literature.
xvi F OR E WOR D

What will be especially useful for teachers here is the way that the
contributors not only lay out course plans and assignments, but also lay
out in careful and thoughtful ways their own processes and experiences
as teachers. Pyun describes her pedagogical journey as she attempted
to help students uncover their cultural assumptions about aesthetics
and as she and her students taught each other about the complexities of
embracing the potential in an ethically informed cosmopolitan outlook.
Kimmel’s essay demonstrates ways not only to encourage students to
rethink Iberian history, but also to consider the very nature of historical
evidence. Pentland guides her students to analysis that challenges pro-
gressive views of history and the implications of those types of views
on defining the human. Soleo-Shanks and Cavallo each use engaged
and experiential pedagogies of performance to help students understand
medieval drama and Sicilian puppet theater, respectively, as forms that
cross cultures geographically and temporally. The essays by Dadabhoy,
Schleck, Moore, and Mirabile and Ramey each address directly the chal-
lenges of creating a classroom that engages students simultaneously in
intellectual and political thinking. These scholars discuss how they have
engaged in explicitly feminist and antiracist analysis that demonstrates
concretely the cross-temporal legacy of the medieval and early modern.
These teachers demonstrate how the medieval and early modern are
critical objects of study because of how they help us to illuminate our
own lives.
My own primary training and much of my teaching is in the field of
English literature, and in reading the essays by scholars in this field I was
immediately struck by their creativity and innovation. Pugh’s artful “col-
lision” of “very old media” with “very modern students” has inspired me
to try a new unit in the Chaucer class I am currently teaching. Bringing
in contemporary performances of Chaucer, now so readily available
through the Web, has not simply drawn my students in through novelty,
but, as Pugh encourages, has shown the deeper connections between the
media of Chaucer’s time and of our own. Hawes’s thoughtful use of a
Victorian revision of Beowulf breathes new life into the standard Beowulf
to Virginia Woolf survey. Sebek and Pentland each push the boundaries
of the field in important directions not only by creating courses that ask
students to look beyond the Anglophone world to consider England in a
global context, but also, as with all of the essays in this book, by asking
students to think cross-temporally.
As Attar and Shutters point out, academia is currently abuzz with
talk about global education and preparing students for a newly global-
ized world. What these essays show most clearly is that this globalization
itself is not new; it has a very long history. Making students aware of this
F OR E WOR D xvii

history does not simply prepare them for a global marketplace, but also,
more profoundly, asks them to consider global citizenship and its respon-
sibilities. By paying serious and rigorous attention to what connects us,
these classes use innovative approaches to ask students to re-evaluate what
has long divided us.
These connections and divisions are at the very heart of the enter-
prise of these teachers. In an insightful blog post about the relevance of
the humanities, Natalia Cecire argued that perhaps the persistent recent
clamor over the humanities’ “demise” was actually a reaction by some to
the humanities’ relevance.1 It is precisely because humanities research is
continually evolving and developing and because it is politically and cul-
turally engaged that some view it as threatening. Cecire writes:

They stereotype us as standing up in front of a classroom and teaching the

same old syllabus in the form of lectures that remain the same from year
to year. But they only wish that were true. In reality, humanities scholars
continually rethink their syllabi, taking into account recent research in
the field, new approaches in our own research, and successes and failures
in our previous teaching, which rarely takes the form of lectures. That’s
because at the university level, the humanities, like every other field, is
a field in the making. New knowledge is being created all the time, and
that’s a good thing.

These essays and the classes and scholarly journeys that they describe
are perfect examples of scholarship and pedagogy that is continually
engaged. The classes also prove that some of the freshest and most infor-
mative approaches we can have to approaching today’s world can come
from studying past worlds. Each of these essays presents innovative con-
tent and method based both on scholarship and on a commitment to
innovative and culturally engaged pedagogy. This may make some, as
Cecire quips, “sad,” but for those of us concerned with the future of the
humanities, it will surely have the opposite effect.
The essays in this volume will likely be read primarily by medievalists
and early modernists, but I hope that we will encourage our colleagues
who work in later periods to examine them as well. Those who would
embrace a global framework for their scholarship and teaching would do
well to consider the temporal scope that is, I think, this volume’s most
important contribution. The complexities of a global scope can best be
understood, the contributors show, by considering not only where we
might be headed, but also where we have been. If we are the guides to
our students on their scholarly journeys, then it is our task to help them
understand how their past informs their future. And, since, alas, it is no
xviii F OR E WOR D

longer possible for me to pack it all in and become a student again, these
essays also comfort me by reminding me that each class is a journey and
that, for me, the true reward of teaching is that gift of perpetual discovery
that comes from attempting to help others find their paths.
Lisa Lampert-Weissig
Professor, English Literature and
Comparative Medieval Studies
Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization
University of California, San Diego

1. Natalia Cecire, “Humanities scholarship is incredibly relevant, and that
makes people sad,” Works Cited (blog), January 4, 2014, http://natali-
html?spref=f b.

T his collection of essays began as a three-day seminar at the American

Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Annual Meeting held
at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, from March 29–April
1, 2012. We thank the ACLA for providing a stimulating setting and
fruitfully interactive seminar format.
Lynn Shutters wishes to thank Leif Sorensen for his support, common
sense, and good humor throughout the editing process.
Karina F. Attar wishes to thank her parents for their support and
Shawn for keeping her grounded and over the moon.
This page intentionally left blank

Karina F. Attar is assistant professor of Italian in the Department of

European Languages and Literatures at Queens College, CUNY. Her
teaching and research interests include medieval and early modern Italian
literature and culture, particularly the novella tradition and the history of
Mediterranean interfaith and cross-cultural relations. She has published
articles on Pietro Fortini, Giambattista Giraldi, and Masuccio Salernitano
and is currently completing a book manuscript titled Scandalous Liaisons:
Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Italian Novella (forthcoming, ACMRS).
Jo Ann Cavallo is professor of Italian at Columbia University, where she
specializes in Renaissance literature and culture. Her most recent book, The
World beyond Europe in the Romance Epics of Boiardo and Ariosto (University
of Toronto Press, 2013), won the Modern Language Association’s
Scaglione Publication Award for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies
(2011). She is also the author of Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato: An Ethics
of Desire (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Associated University
Presses, 1993), The Romance Epics of Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso: From Public
Duty to Private Pleasure (University of Toronto Press, 2004), and co-editor
of Fortune and Romance: Boiardo in America (Medieval and Renaissance
Texts and Studies 183, 1998), and has published articles on early Christian
and gnostic literature, Italian authors from the medieval to the modern
period, and folk traditions that dramatize epic narratives. Her current
project is a volume of essays titled Speaking Truth to Power in Medieval and
Early Modern Italy (special issue of Annali d’italianistica, 2017).
Ambereen Dadabhoy is visiting assistant professor at Harvey Mudd
College in Claremont, California, where she teaches early modern
British literature. Her research focuses on early modern transnationalism
and Anglo-Ottoman encounter.
Janice Hawes is assistant professor of English at South Carolina State
University. Her research and teaching interests include medieval lit-
erature, medievalisms, postcolonialism, and monster theory. She has

published articles on the monstrosity innate in heroes of Old English and

Old Norse literatures, including an article on the Old Norse hero Grettir
Ásmundarson that appeared in Scandinavian Studies. Her essay “Beowulf
as Hero of Empire” is adapted from her current project, “Shaping Proper
Citizens of the British Empire: Translations of Beowulf for Children,”
which examines the role that women and colonialism played in the recep-
tion of Beowulf during the long nineteenth century.
Seth Kimmel is assistant professor in the Department of Latin American
and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University, where he specializes in
early modern Iberian literature and culture. His current book project is
an intellectual history of conversion and assimilation in the long sixteenth
century. His other interests include the history of science, theories of
secularism and religion, and comparative literature. Kimmel’s essays have
appeared in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, the Hispanic
Issues book series, the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, MLN, Comparative
Literature, and the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies.
Lisa Lampert-Weissig is professor of English Literature and Comparative
Medieval Studies and Katzin Professor in Jewish Civilization at University
of California, San Diego. Her teaching interests include medieval and
early modern English literature, literary representations of Jews and
Judaism and representations of the “outsider.” Her most recent book is
Medieval Literature and Postcolonial Studies (Edinburgh University Press,
Andrea Mirabile is associate professor of Italian at Vanderbilt University
in Nashville, Tennessee, where he specializes in the relationship between
literature, the visual arts, and literary theory. Mirabile is the author of
Le strutture e la storia (Led, 2006) on semiotics in Italy, Scrivere la pittura
(Longo, 2009) on Roberto Longhi, Multimedia Archaeologies (Rodopi,
2014) on Gabriele D’Annunzio’s French years, and co-editor with Alberto
Conte of Cesare Segre’s Opera critica (Mondadori, 2014). He is currently
working on the metaphor of blindness in contemporary Italian culture.
Megan Moore is assistant professor of French at the University of
Missouri, where her research focuses broadly on identity and gender in
medieval French narrative, particularly from a feminist and postcolonial
position. Her book, Exchanges in Exoticism (University of Toronto Press,
2014), focuses on how literature imagines women’s work in cross-cultural
marriage as integral to the exchange of culture and the creation of empire
throughout the medieval Mediterranean. Moore’s teaching focuses on
gender, genre, and identity in medieval and Renaissance French literature,

and her next project builds off of these interests to explore Mediterranean
narratives in which grief and death are eroticized.
Elizabeth Pentland is associate professor of English at York University
(Toronto, Canada), where she specializes in Shakespeare and early modern
literature. Her teaching includes courses on Shakespeare, global adapta-
tions and appropriations of Shakespeare, English travel writing, and early
modern political theory. Her recent published work includes essays on
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and Love’s Labor’s Lost, Christopher
Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris, and Mary Sidney’s Discourse of Life and Death.
She is completing a book-length study of late sixteenth-century writing,
in England, about the French civil wars.
Tison Pugh is professor in the Department of English at the University of
Central Florida. With Angela Jane Weisl, he edited Approaches to Teaching
Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and the Shorter Poems (MLA, 2006). His
recent books include An Introduction to Geoffrey Chaucer (University Press
of Florida, 2013) and Chaucer’s (Anti-) Eroticisms and the Queer Middle Ages
(The Ohio State University Press, 2014).
Kyunghee Pyun is assistant professor of History of Art at The Fashion
Institute of Technology, SUNY, where she specializes in cross-cultural
exchanges of art and artifacts between Asia and Europe. She has published
on Asian-American artists and art history collections and recently co-edited
Jean Pucelle: Innovation and Collaboration in Manuscript Painting (Brepols, 2013).
Lynn Ramey is associate professor of French at Vanderbilt University
where she specializes in Medieval French literature and film studies.
Ramey is the author of Christian, Saracen and Genre in Medieval French
Literature (Routledge, 2001) and Black Legacies: Race and the European
Middle Ages (University Press of Florida, 2014), and co-editor with
Tison Pugh of Race, Class, and Gender in “Medieval” Cinema (Palgrave
Macmillan, 2007). She is currently working with recreations of medieval
literature and culture in video games.
Julia Schleck is associate professor of English at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, where she specializes in English travel narratives. Her
book, Telling True Tales of Islamic Lands: Forms of Mediation in Early English
Travel Writing, 1575–1630, was published by Susquehanna University
Press in 2011. She is on the editorial board of Serai: Premodern Encounters,
an online collaboratory for scholarship on cultural interactions and
encounters across religious, linguistic, and geopolitical divides from late
antiquity to the early modern period, from the Mediterranean to the
Indian Ocean (

Barbara Sebek is professor of English at Colorado State University

where she specializes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She
co-edited Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in Early Modern
English Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and published essays in
Shakespeare Studies, Journal X, Early Modern Culture, and collections such
as A Companion to the Global Renaissance (Blackwell, 2009) and Emissaries
in Early Modern Literature and Culture (Ashgate, 2009).
Lynn Shutters is special assistant professor of English at Colorado State
University where she teaches medieval and early modern English litera-
ture, literary theory, and gender-focused courses. Her research examines
medieval literary representations of Christian-Islamic relations as well as
late-medieval representations of marital love. She has published articles
on Chaucer, John Gower, and the medieval romances Floire et Blancheflor
and Richard Coer de Lyon and is currently writing a book on Chaucer’s
engagement with love, marriage, and classical antiquity titled Chaucer’s
Pagan Women.
Jenna Soleo-Shanks is assistant professor of Theatre at University of
Minnesota, Duluth where her production of Detestable Madness, discussed
in this volume, was staged in March 2014. In addition to directing for
the stage, she teaches performance history, literature, and theory. Her
scholarship, focusing on the political function of performance in medi-
eval Italian city-states, has been published in Western European Stages and
the collection entitled Exploring the Thresholds of Medieval Visual Culture
(Boydell & Brewer, 2012). Her most recent work “The Spectacle of
Sainthood: Politics and Performance in the History of La festa et storia di
Sancta Caterina in Siena” will appear in Performance and Theatricality in the
Middle Ages (Brepols, 2015).

Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters

D iscover your global potential,” invites the home page of the
Cultural Intelligence Center, which offers testing, training, and
certification in “cultural intelligence” (or “cultural quotient,” CQ),
described as the ability to recognize, understand, and adapt to different
cultures in order to successfully harness one’s competitive edge in a glo-
balized economy.1 Today, CQ is an internationally accredited standard
applied by academic institutions, businesses, and governmental depart-
ments alike. The Cultural Intelligence Center (henceforth CIC), based
in East Lansing, Michigan, a leader in CQ research and implementation,
serves numerous high-profile clients, such as Coca-Cola, the London
School of Economics, and the US Department of Justice, to name a few.
Testimonials from patrons and enthusiastic media reviews scroll across
the CIC Web site’s home page with statements like, “For . . . leaders
who want to succeed in today’s increasingly global and interdependent
environment, . . . applying this simple four-step cycle will prepare you
for tomorrow’s world” (Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever). Browsing the
term “cultural intelligence” on the Internet suggests that this concept
now permeates thinking across a variety of fields including medicine,
psychology, architecture, urban planning, international adoption, and
international law.2
As professors of medieval English and early modern Italian literature
and culture, we find the CQ phenomenon both promising and worrying,
especially as it relates to our interests and to the interests of our contribu-
tors in teaching medieval and early modern cross-cultural encounters. On
the one hand, interest in CQ might promote the study of cross-cultural
encounters in earlier historical settings and foster connections between
past cross-cultural encounters and today’s global culture. However, com-
ments from CIC president David Livermore distance CQ from academic

study: in a 2010 NBC Education Nation Opinion Page posting, he argued

that “it’s not enough to simply amp up our efforts on teaching kids math,
science, humanities, and the arts. The world of opportunities and chal-
lenges awaiting today’s students is borderless. And research consistently
shows that academic and technical competence is not automatically trans-
ferable from one cultural context to another.”3 Indeed, the CIC presents
CQ not as specific cultural knowledge but as a set of transcultural capa-
bilities. We wonder, though, about this divorce between capability and
content. Perusing a sample CQ test on the CIC Web site, we, the editors
of this volume, would not necessarily score highly, despite the fact that
we have between us lived in multiple countries, both Western and non-
Western. One question, for example, asks the test-taker to indicate the
degree to which she is described by the statement: “I know the rules
(e.g., vocabulary, grammar) of other languages.” We immediately asked,
which languages? French? Arabic? Japanese? How many languages? Two?
Four? Ten? Does “know[ing] the rules” mean proficiency? Near-native
f luency? Our sense that content and context were crucial to this question
left us f lummoxed.
Clearly, we take exception to some of Livermore’s views. However,
we also recognize that part of the problem lies with academics, who must
better articulate the relevancy of content-based research to wider com-
munities, including our students. This imperative particularly applies to
the fields of medieval and early modern studies, which are historically
distant and have traditionally focused on one small part of the world,
Europe. The essays in this volume propose teaching medieval and early
modern cross-cultural encounters as a way to both increase student inter-
est in the past and encourage the sort of cross-cultural critical acumen
that would benefit students in today’s global world. Teaching this subject
material is challenging, however: cross-cultural encounters involve peo-
ples of different religions, ethnicities, languages, and geographic loca-
tions and therefore rarely fit neatly into the discrete academic fields that
traditionally govern our areas of specialization and departmental course
offerings. While we do not offer university instructors “a simple four-
step cycle,” Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Cross-Cultural Encounters
makes available the expertise and classroom experiences of scholars,
instructors, and their students to those who may be looking for new
ways of developing whole courses or discrete units on this topic. The
contributors to this volume formulate cross-cultural encounters from a
variety of perspectives, detail some of the pedagogical challenges they
have come up against in discussing this topic with students, and offer
a range of useful resources, methodologies, and activities that can be
adapted across disciplines.

Professors of medieval and early modern studies are already well aware
that the Europe of these eras was neither culturally homogenous nor cut
off from Asia, Africa, or, in the early modern period, the Americas. The
last couple of decades have witnessed an impressive surge of interest in
how medieval and early modern peoples of different cultural, religious,
linguistic, and ethnic groups perceived and encountered each other.
Renewed interest in Christian-Islamic-Jewish relations, revised histo-
ries of trans-Atlantic encounters, and new work on multicultural geo-
graphic regions such as the Mediterranean and Iberia have shed light on
the diversity and complexity of cultural identities as they were perceived
and negotiated during these eras. Moreover, important scholarship has
sought to think about cross-cultural encounters from non-European
perspectives or outside of continental Europe altogether. Scholars now
look beyond Paris, Rome, and London, traditional hubs of artistic, politi-
cal, and religious authority during these eras, toward Constantinople,
Baghdad, and Chang’an (now Xi’an). This exciting research encourages
us to extend our perception of past cultures beyond single, national tradi-
tions to instead think of multicultural, multigeographic, and multilin-
guistic networks. The contributors to this volume similarly encourage
professors to extend knowledge of these networks to students, who, in
our experience, are frequently surprised to find that medieval and early
modern cultures were complex and diverse, often in ways that challenge
current notions of identity.
Thus far, our account of this volume follows a route traveled by many
books on academic pedagogy: identify an important development in aca-
demic research and consider how to translate that development into effec-
tive teaching. This approach assumes that the system of higher education
employing medievalists and early modernists, supporting their research,
and providing them with teaching opportunities remains firmly in place.
However, higher education has recently undergone intense scrutiny,
with people besides Livermore questioning whether the version of the
humanities that emerged in twentieth-century academic contexts pre-
pares students for a twenty-first-century world. This volume addresses
such concerns by framing the teaching of medieval and early modern
cross-cultural encounters not only in terms of how to teach the research
that interests us, but also as a response to larger questions regarding insti-
tutional relevance.

Revitalizing the Humanities

“Crisis” and “Decline”: these words regularly appear in titles of pub-
lications on the status of the humanities in US higher education,

sometimes followed by a more hopeful question mark, but often as

dire proclamations that rhetorically link the fate of the humanities to
that of the Roman Empire.4 While academics disagree on the cur-
rent state of the humanities, such bleak prognoses ref lect, and can set
in motion, changes to humanities-based education.5 To cite just two
recent developments, state governors Rick Scott (R-Florida), Rick
Perry (R-Texas), and Patrick McCrory (R-North Carolina) “have,” as
Kevin Kiley reports, “questioned the value of liberal arts instruction
and humanities degrees at public colleges and universities.”6 And, in
2010, the State University of New York at Albany eliminated pro-
grams in French, Italian, Russian, classics, and theater. At the same
time, enrollments in Arabic and Chinese courses have grown signifi-
cantly, raising the question of whether the humanities in general or
only the European-focused programs that have traditionally consti-
tuted the humanities face crisis.7 As follow-up questions, we might
ask to what degree political and economic interests drive humanities
curricula and whether educators’ opinions regarding such interests are
relevant. While we cannot thoroughly examine these issues here, we
wish brief ly to address how this volume participates in ongoing con-
versations about humanities education.
Two important reports providing perspective on these issues are The
Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences, produced by the
Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences and published by
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Harvard University’s
The Teaching of the Arts and the Humanities at Harvard College: Mapping
the Future, both published in 2013.8 These reports have elicited mixed
responses in the academic community, and we do not seek fully to align
ourselves with either.9 In our reading, the American Academy report
raises particular concerns because it links humanities education to
national security in ways that imply that humanities education should
support and advance current US domestic and international policies. We
nevertheless find elements of both reports useful because they register
current perceptions of the humanities that we believe educators must
First, both reports underscore the centrality of the humanities to criti-
cal thinking, communication, and successful participation in multicul-
tural and global communities. Although “multicultural” and “global”
might seem to point to the study of contemporary cultures, our con-
tributors demonstrate that these educational imperatives can also be met
through the study of past societies. Moreover, our contributors teach
medieval and early modern cross-cultural encounters in ways that do
not simply encourage students to take part in multicultural and global

communities but to consider, critically and ethically, the terms on which

they do so.
Second, both reports emphasize the need for professors to move
beyond teaching only their specialized areas of research to develop
courses responding to broader, interdisciplinary questions and concerns.
As the authors of the Harvard report ask, “Even if, as we expect, our dis-
ciplinary formations survive, might our undergraduate teaching not be
energized as teachers move beyond departmentally-defined ‘disciplines,’
and beyond their immediate zones of expertise . . . in their undergraduate
courses?” (32). The Harvard report also emphasizes the value of studying
the past, noting that “close engagement with past societies encourages
us to appreciate and question systems of value and meaning within our
own,” even as the report also notes that “healthy challenges to the tradi-
tional focus of a liberal arts curriculum on western civilization encourage
us to ask not only how much of the past we should study, but also whose
past” (37).
For medievalists and early modernists, these “healthy challenges”
are particularly urgent. For generations, professors in these fields could
rely on teaching humanities courses stemming from Western cultural
traditions that would insure the need for experts in European lan-
guages, literature, and history. However, with university curricula
expanding significantly beyond Europe, teaching European-oriented
medieval and early modern studies is not a given—nor should it be—
and it is our responsibility as professors to articulate the relevance of
both the European and extra-European contexts of our research to
students. The essays in this volume model a variety of ways to meet this
objective in the classroom. Moreover, instead of viewing the historical
distance of the medieval and early modern eras as a hindrance to their
relevancy, our contributors view this distance as an advantage, one that
allows them to formulate cross-cultural encounters across both space
and time.

Cross-Cultural Encounters, across Space and Time

Cross-cultural encounters are traditionally understood as synchronic phe-
nomena, involving encounters between different peoples during a single
moment or historical era. Teaching synchronic cross-cultural encounters
of the medieval and early modern eras is already underway. For example,
US colleges and universities have begun to offer courses on the medieval
and early modern Mediterranean, sometimes even within recently cre-
ated departments or institutes dedicated to Mediterranean studies, a field
devoted to the study of multicultural networks extending from Iberia to

the eastern Mediterranean, and from North Africa to southern Europe.10

Similarly, courses on canonical medieval and early modern authors, such
as Dante, Shakespeare, and Cervantes, now frequently take into con-
sideration the multicultural literary and extra-literary contexts of their
times. Medievalists and early modernists have also increasingly employed
critical approaches to gender, race, class, and nation in the classroom.
These methodologies draw attention to the processes through which
peoples from the past distinguished between themselves and others and
to the causes and effects of such distinctions, including conf lict, regula-
tion, and exchange.
In line with these developments, the essays in this volume demon-
strate that the world was multicultural and global much earlier than stu-
dents might think. For instance, contributors encourage us to reassess the
geographic and cultural parameters of medieval French or early modern
English literature to consider the networks of exchange—whether across
the Mediterranean or between Europe, Asia, and the Americas—through
which these “national” literary traditions took shape. In the process, they
also show that a strict Western/non-Western divide did not obtain his-
torically, nor should it govern our approaches to teaching the cultures of
the past.
The essays of this volume move beyond synchronic cross-cultural
encounters to consider diachronic ones as well. By diachronic cross-
cultural encounters, we mean cross-cultural encounters that extend
across time. This expanded definition allows us to identify the cross-
cultural potential of texts and contexts that are ostensibly located in
a single cultural tradition. Medieval and early modern authors fre-
quently stage cross-cultural encounters between residents of their own,
Christian era and those of the non-Christian past, be it the past of
Greco-Roman antiquity or that of the pagan tribes of early medieval
Europe. The medieval Christian playwright Hrotsvit of Gandersheim’s
encounter with ancient Roman drama, for example, or the Christian
Beowulf poet’s reimagining of his own pagan ancestors, attests to the
complexity of such encounters. By theorizing the cross-temporal as the
cross-cultural, our contributors invite their students to view history
less as a straightforward march from past to present than as a palimp-
sest in which the past remains palpable in any single moment. Rather
than viewing cross-cultural encounters from the past as superseded,
contributors explore how they travel through time, accrue new mean-
ings, and continue to shape our actions and thoughts. In this way, syn-
chronic and diachronic cross-cultural encounters frequently converge,
leading some of our contributors and their students to pose the follow-
ing questions: How did nineteenth-century translations of Beowulf for

children shape British imperialism in India? What cultural work moti-

vates the adaptation of early modern Italian epics featuring Christians
and Muslims in nineteenth- and twentieth-century folk theatre? How
might Shakespeare’s Othello help us theorize questions regarding
President Barack Obama’s religion and nationality that surfaced in the
2008 US presidential campaign?
Crucially, the essays in this volume also demonstrate that studying the
medieval and early modern past itself constitutes a version of diachronic
cross-cultural encounter and that contemplating cross-cultural encounters
from the medieval and early modern pasts can help us ref lect on impor-
tant issues today. Because these two points are complex and interrelated,
they are worth considering in detail. First, the cross-cultural encounter
of studying the past: one of the challenges that university instructors of
earlier cultures face today is the collection of misconceptions and gen-
eralizations that govern how many of our students approach past eras.
In our experience, students often vacillate between viewing the past as
either different or the same. If different, the past is frequently inserted
into a linear model of history progressing from a benighted past to an
illuminated present (the medieval “Dark” Ages are particularly subject
to such treatment). The foreign past is also subject to reductive abstrac-
tions that in turn exoticize, idealize, and demonize peoples and cultures
viewed as strange and unfamiliar. When viewed as the same, people in
the past are understood through equally broad generalizations that render
them “just like us” in thought, interests, and emotion, in turn making
cultural and technological differences superficial. Othering versus identi-
fication, denigration versus idealization: these same binary dynamics fre-
quently govern people’s perceptions of foreign cultures today and remind
us that encounters with peoples who are diachronically distant from us
can be just as challenging and disorienting as our synchronic encounters
with those residing on the other side of the globe. Students with little
preparation for the study of diachronic cross-cultural encounters will not
fare any better than a person dropped into a foreign culture with no
knowledge of its language or customs and no framework through which
to make sense of the cultural differences that she will inevitably face.
One of the goals of this volume is to explore how teaching the medieval
and early modern pasts as a version of cross-cultural encounter benefits
our students not only by providing them with more sophisticated meth-
ods for studying earlier eras but also by inviting them to use diachronic
cross-cultural encounters to theorize synchronic ones. More broadly, by
engaging with the past in new and complex ways, students see connec-
tions and variances that can ground and enrich their encounters with
people across the globe today.

This leads to the second point: thinking about medieval and early
modern cross-cultural encounters can help students ref lect on contem-
porary issues. To return to the Harvard report on the humanities, the
authors note that “a focused, frontal assault on any particular task does
not always produce the best results; sometimes it is best to seek direction
through indirection. Allegiances among disciplines sometimes need to
shift in order to tackle (or untangle) complex questions” (35). In our view,
these allegiances should extend not only across disciplines, but also tem-
porally, from present to past. On the one hand, medieval and early mod-
ern cross-cultural encounters present students with cultural phenomena
that seem familiar, sometimes disturbingly so, as when a medieval author
denigrates one person for her place of origin or another for his skin color,
or when an early modern text describes conf licts between Christians and
Muslims. Cross-cultural encounters from the past also feature intellectual
exchange, friendship, and love, thus recollecting the more mutually ben-
eficial offerings of today’s global world. On the other hand, students find
past cross-cultural encounters unfamiliar and strange, as when medieval
and early modern authors describe people of different religions as differ-
ing not just culturally but somatically. Through the study of medieval
and early modern cross-cultural encounters, students can learn how to
think more critically and responsibly about differences and similarities
between past cultures and their own. They realize that categories like
religion and race are neither timeless nor universal, and that encoun-
ters between groups in the past resembling those of the present, be they
harmonious or hostile, actually played out quite differently in different
historical contexts. From this perspective, the simultaneous familiarity
and foreignness of past cross-cultural encounters that can result in mis-
conceptions and generalizations can lead instead to a productive tension.
This tension allows the past to gain relevancy for students even as it forces
them to reconsider their own assumptions about how human societies
operate and how our present world preserves and departs from earlier
paradigms of cultural difference. It is in this sense that we see medieval
and early modern cross-cultural encounters as providing an “indirect”
means to approach questions that are vital to both multicultural US and
global societies. Through the study of medieval and early modern cross-
cultural encounters students learn not just about the long history of cross-
cultural interaction, conf lict, and exchange but also how to think more
critically about cross-cultural encounters in general. In sum, the essays in
this volume demonstrate that the study of past cross-cultural encounters
can help students come to a better understanding of themselves, their
present realities, and the role they wish to play in the world.

The Essays
Our volume brings together scholars from a range of disciplines, includ-
ing art history, theater, English, French, Italian, and Latin American
and Iberian studies. The contributors represent diverse academic insti-
tutions, including public and private research universities and liberal
arts colleges, ranging in size from 800 to 59,000 students and located in
urban, suburban, and rural settings across the United States and Canada.
Although concerns regarding humanities and higher education extend
beyond North America, we have chosen to focus on this region because
it is the setting for much of our experience and expertise in univer-
sity education. We view this geographical scope not as a limitation
but as a starting point, and hope that this volume will stimulate fur-
ther discussion among international scholars, instructors, and students
who face different challenges in teaching and studying cross-cultural
encounters in diverse cultural contexts. The volume’s essays ref lect our
call for contributors to theorize cross-cultural encounters broadly and
creatively, and to offer practical, innovative, and interdisciplinary peda-
gogical approaches to this topic. The essays produce numerous points
of connection, and our organizational framework therefore emphasizes
the variety and complexity of cross-cultural encounters themselves.
Part I features essays on synchronic cross-cultural encounters; the
essays of Part II devote equal attention to synchronic and diachronic
cross-cultural encounters; and the essays of Part III focus exclusively on
diachronic cross-cultural encounters. These divisions provide a useful
heuristic rather than an exact taxonomy. Our goal, though, is to move
from more to less familiar versions of cross-cultural encounters, and to
encourage readers to peruse essays outside their content-based areas of
expertise. We hope that by emphasizing theorization and methodol-
ogy over the more traditional categories of historical era or linguistic/
national traditions, we might encourage interdisciplinary conversation,
itself a vital, if sometimes lacking, form of cross-cultural encounter
within academia.

Part I: Synchronic Cross-Cultural Encounters

Seth Kimmel’s essay, “Andalusian Iberias: From Spanish to Iberian
Literature,” opens the volume by discussing his course on Andalusian
Iberias. Through readings and discussions of poetry, prose fiction,
drama, philosophy, theology, and legal texts in Arabic, Hebrew, Latin,
and Romance vernaculars, the class covers the history of Iberian
Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations from the eighth-century Berber
10 K A R I N A F. AT TA R A N D LY N N S H U T T E R S

invasions to the seventeenth-century expulsions of peninsular Muslim

converts to Christianity. For Kimmel, the goal is not only for students to
puzzle out the multicultural workings of literary/artistic inf luence and
ideological agendas across medieval and early modern Iberia, but also
to investigate the institutional conditions and methodological assump-
tions informing such a diverse, comparative syllabus. Kimmel’s students
approach disciplinary methodologies relevant to Iberian studies not as
fixed paradigms to be passively accepted, but as modes of inquiry that
they can select, reject, and adapt, so long as they critically justify their
Demonstrating that empowerment must also extend to course instruc-
tors, the essays by Megan Moore and Kyunghee Pyun encourage profes-
sors to teach beyond their areas of expertise. “Using Feminist Pedagogy
to Explore Connectivity in the Medieval Mediterranean,” by Megan
Moore, examines a masters-level course on the medieval Mediterranean
that invites students to interrogate the parameters of Old French liter-
ature. Focusing on students’ responses to the eleventh-century Greek
romance Digenis Akritas, Moore discusses how she encourages students
to contemplate the cross-cultural currents that might account for simi-
larities between chronologically and geographically distant French and
Greek texts. Drawing on feminist theories of pedagogy, Moore viewed
her incomplete knowledge of Byzantine culture as an opportunity rather
than an obstacle: she pooled her knowledge and experiences with those of
her students to develop methodologies for assessing this unfamiliar text.
Moving beyond Europe, Kyunghee Pyun’s “A Journey through the
Silk Road in a Cosmopolitan Classroom” explores the cultural aware-
ness students can gain through her art history course on the Silk Road,
a trade route operative from antiquity until the early modern era and
stretching from China to Europe. Her essay tackles two challenges: first,
how to teach culturally specific aesthetic standards so that students can
appreciate art works of various cultures on their own terms; and second,
how to expand traditional scholarly narratives of the Silk Road, which
largely focus on China and India, to include the often-neglected role of
Central Asian cultures. Her class thus makes students aware of the cul-
tural biases that can govern even well-meaning judgments of aesthetic
merit and curricular choices. The extensive multiculturalism of the Silk
Road regularly required Pyun to teach beyond her scholarly expertise.
Therefore Pyun, like Moore, considers how professors and students can
collaborate to develop methodologies for studying unfamiliar cultures,
art works, and texts.
Julia Schleck’s and Elizabeth Pentland’s essays next present two dif-
ferent approaches to teaching early modern English travel literature. In

“Teaching English Travel Writing from 1500 to the Present,” Elizabeth

Pentland describes her experience of teaching a unit on early modern
travel writing as part of a survey of travel writing that spans five cen-
turies and brings texts by European and non-European writers about
the Americas, Europe, the Near East, and Africa into dialogue with
each other. Among other questions, Pentland encourages her students to
consider how closely an early modern English reader might have identi-
fied with the opinions or experiences of foreign cultures described by
various travel writers, and what factors might have worked against that
identification. Pentland’s course thus offers students the opportunity to
think about how travel writers and their readers worked to establish their
cultural identity in this period. Because many of Pentland’s students do
not specialize in literary studies, she has developed pedagogical activi-
ties, such as offering a creative writing assignment, that engage students’
interest in travel and travel writing.
Similarly addressing questions of identity formation, in “Stranger than
Fiction: Early Modern Travel Narratives and the Antiracist Classroom,”
Julia Schleck takes the critical paradigm of antiracism as the starting
point to discuss with students how they might interrogate both racist
and antiracist discourses across a wide range of early modern travel and
ethnographic materials. Not only does Schleck unsettle student percep-
tions that early modern Europeans were more politically powerful and
intellectually advanced than their non-European counterparts, but she
also explores early modern English biases against non-Europeans. While
not condoning these biases, Schleck helps students trace their origins
beyond simplistic notions of willful malevolence. Schleck also aims to
unsettle students’ assumptions about the redundancy of courses focused
on race and cultural diversity in today’s so-called postracial US society
and to show that early modern courses can and should be made relevant
to diverse student bodies.
Barbara Sebek’s essay, “Different Shakespeares: Thinking Globally in
an Early Modern Literature Course,” dovetails with Schleck’s by illus-
trating the pedagogical and intellectual advantages of a masters-level
course that at once decenters Shakespeare and situates his work within the
emerging field of global early modern studies. By pairing Shakespeare’s
Merry Wives of Windsor with travel accounts and commercial treatises,
and The Tempest with John Fletcher’s The Sea Voyage, Sebek encour-
ages students to think about how they can construe “resistance narra-
tives” about cross-cultural encounters in early modern texts, including
Shakespeare’s. More specifically, by discussing early modern notions of
gender and race, and the impact of trade on cross-cultural encounters
in this period, Sebek productively troubles her students’ assumption that
12 K A R I N A F. AT TA R A N D LY N N S H U T T E R S

English encounters with non-English cultures can fit a neat self/other

dichotomy, and thus works against binary thinking and straightforward
notions of othering.

Part II: Synchronic and Diachronic

Cross-Cultural Encounters
Ambereen Dadabhoy’s essay, “The Moor of America: Approaching
the Crisis of Race and Religion in the Renaissance and the Twenty-
First Century,” marks a shift to contributors who increasingly take
up diachronic cross-cultural encounters in their teaching. Dadabhoy
begins her essay by focusing on synchronic cross-cultural encounters in
Shakespeare’s Othello: she explores strategies for teaching the complex
interconnections of race and religion governing Othello’s otherness in
light of early modern European anxieties regarding the Ottoman Empire.
She then demonstrates how, for students, these early modern develop-
ments gain topical relevance when brought to bear on spurious but wide-
spread rumors regarding the religion and nationality of President Barack
Obama. Through a diachronic examination of current US politics and
Othello, Dadabhoy and her students contemplate the anxiety generated
by racial and religious difference in the twenty-first century, particularly
when that difference is Islamic.
The next essay, “‘Real’ Bodies? Race, Corporality, and Contradiction
in The Arabian Nights and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Il fiore delle mille e una notte
(1974),” co-authored by Andrea Mirabile and Lynn Ramey, discusses
approaches to teaching The Arabian Nights alongside Pier Paolo Pasolini’s
cinematic adaptation of this text in his 1974 film Il fiore delle mille e una
notte. As Ramey and Mirabile suggest, these works can be productively
combined in a range of courses across disciplines to facilitate discussions
of race, a topic that several contributors and their students report finding
difficult to address. Discussing medieval formulations of identity in The
Arabian Nights and Pasolini as a “reader” of this work, who brought his
own aesthetic, cultural, and political ideology to bear on his multilayered
film, opens up a space for students to consider their own experiences with
identities and race relations today.
In “Encountering Saracens in Italian Chivalric Epic and Folk
Performance Traditions,” Jo Ann Cavallo similarly moves from syn-
chronic to diachronic cross-cultural encounters in discussing her
approach to pairing Italian Renaissance chivalric epics with popular folk
performances of these epics in Italy today. Cavallo and her students first
read and discuss the representation of Christian-Saracen encounters in
specific episodes from Ludovico Ariosto’s romance epic poem Orlando

Furioso and then view, read, and discuss contemporary Italian puppet
theater adaptations of the same episodes. Cavallo’s students also had
the opportunity to discuss the factors that played into particular stag-
ing choices with puppet theater directors and performers. As Cavallo
and her students discovered, approaching cross-cultural encounters dia-
chronically through present-day folk performances that diverge from
early modern textual traditions offers insights into cultural identity,
anachronism, and perceptions of religious and ethnic others in Italy’s
past and present.
Janice Hawes’s “Beowulf as Hero of Empire” describes her experience
teaching the early medieval poem Beowulf and two works published in
1908 and aimed at young readers, H. E. Marshall’s Stories of Beowulf: Told to
the Children and Our Empire Story, in consecutive semesters of her English
Literature survey courses. Hawes and her students first explore how
pagan Germanic society is filtered through the imagination of Beowulf ’s
early medieval Christian poet, and then how Marshall’s translation of
Beowulf for children is filtered through the imagination of an Edwardian
writer who embraced empire. This cross-temporal, cross-cultural study
allows students to apprehend how later generations employed the past for
self-fashioning: Beowulf at once celebrates and registers discomfort with
ancestral, non-Christian traditions and martial codes, and Marshall’s
works similarly ref lect how British imperialists modeled themselves on
medieval chivalric values in order to justify their superiority to the colo-
nized even as they used the medieval past to argue for an India stuck in
the “Dark Ages.” By ref lecting on the Beowulf poet’s and liberal imperi-
alists’ problematic glorification of their respective cultural and political
times through a celebration of their respective and shared pasts, students
can begin to question their own assumptions about the recent past and its
inf luence on perceptions of our present.

Part III: Diachronic Cross-Cultural Encounters

In “Resurrecting Callimachus: Pop Music, Puppets, and the Necessity
of Performance in Teaching Medieval Drama,” Jenna Soleo-Shanks
provides strategies for teaching the drama of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim
as a double loop of diachronic cross-cultural encounters: her twenty-
first-century students engage with the culturally distant plays of the
tenth-century German canoness Hrotsvit, even as Hrotsvit engaged
with the culturally distant dramatic conventions of the Roman pagan
past. Focusing on Hrotsvit’s play Callimachus, Soleo-Shanks discusses
how performance-based pedagogy gives students the opportunity to
explore a culturally distant text not just intellectually but also affectively
14 K A R I N A F. AT TA R A N D LY N N S H U T T E R S

and kinesthetically, thus allowing them to traverse the daunting cul-

tural boundaries between Hrotsvit’s world and their own. Moreover,
performance-based pedagogy encourages students to examine in detail
Hrotsvit’s encounters with the ancient Roman playwright Terence,
from whom Hrotsvit draws stylistic inspiration even as she indicts his
plays for corrupting Christian souls. By emphasizing that cross-temporal
engagement is a form of cross-cultural engagement and adapting per-
formance-based pedagogy as a means to traverse cultural boundaries,
Soleo-Shanks provides innovative pedagogical techniques to engage
contemporary students in the medieval past.
Finally, Tison Pugh’s essay, “Teaching Chaucer through Convergence
Culture: The New Media Middle Ages as Cross-Cultural Encounter,”
also presents the study of the Middle Ages as a version of cross-cultural
encounter by foregrounding the practices of new media in his teaching
of Chaucer. Specifically, Pugh is interested in the media studies con-
cept of convergence culture, a term for the ways in which audiences and
consumers transform works from one artistic medium to another. Pugh
argues that theorizing the processes of cultural transmission through con-
vergence culture encourages students to view present-day adaptations of
Chaucer as a version of diachronic cross-cultural encounter. Pugh’s stu-
dents first study film, blog, and rap adaptations of Chaucer, and then cre-
atively transform Chaucer’s poetry into new media. These assignments
not only spark student interest in Chaucer but also provide opportunities
to reconceptualize cross-cultural encounters through the relatively new
discipline of media studies.

* * *

While contributors vary in their pedagogical approaches, their essays col-

lectively include several points of connection. Most broadly, and because
medievalists and early modernists must frequently counter perceptions
that their eras of study are irrelevant, several contributors provide strate-
gies for bringing medieval and early modern cross-cultural encounters
into dialogue with present-day questions and concerns. In this way, their
essays not only demonstrate how instructors might productively juxta-
pose cultural phenomena from the present and the past, but also how
cross-cultural encounters in the past continually shape our present. More
specifically and practically, each contributor thoughtfully considers the
selection of useful course materials, including textbooks, translations, and
online resources. All the essays foster student-centered learning, whether
by relinquishing professorial mastery of course content, exploring cre-
ative and performance-based approaches to cross-cultural encounters,

and/or using works of popular culture such as films, folklore, and blogs
in the classroom. Contributors thus employ strategies that make the study
of cross-cultural encounters accessible, relevant, and fun without sacrific-
ing intellectual rigor, and that model how to treat students as active par-
ticipants in the study of early cross-cultural encounters. Our contributors
also ref lect honestly on their own successes and failures in the classroom
and view their teaching as an ongoing process. We hope that these essays
will inspire instructors to include the medieval and early modern cultural
phenomena addressed in this volume in their courses. Pedagogical strate-
gies are as important as content, however, and these essays will well serve
any instructor contemplating how to incorporate historically and cultur-
ally distant materials into the classroom.

1. The Web site of the Cultural Intelligence Center, http://www.culturalq
2. See, for instance, the entry “A Prescription for Cultural Intelligence in
Medicine: ‘CQ Rx’” on the blog of Barri Blauvelt, president & CEO of
Innovara, Inc., Barry Blauvelt’s Blog, May 13, 2010, http://barriblauvelt.
medicine-cq-rx/; Taewon Moon, “Emotional Intelligence Correlates of
the Four-Factor Model of Cultural Intelligence,” Journal of Managerial
Psychology 25, no. 8 (2010): 876–98; the “SBS CQ Forum,” a series of
three forums produced in 2011 and research links available through the
Special Broadcasting Service, “a national public broadcaster with a spe-
cial mandate to ref lect the multicultural nature of Australian society,”; and Peter Alfandary, “Law Firm
Management News December 2012—Embracing Cultural Intelligence,”
International Bar Association,
3. For an expanded version of this posting, see David Livermore, “CQ: The
New IQ for American Students Competing in a Global Marketplace,”
David Livermore, Global Thinker and Writer (blog), September 30, 2010,
4. See, for example, Rosanna Warren, “The Decline of the Humanities—
and Civilization,” New Republic, July 17, 2013, http://www.newrepublic
.com/article/113763/why-we-need-liberal-arts; Gordon Hutner and
Feisal G. Mohamed, “The Real Humanities Crisis Is Happening at Public
Universities,” New Republic, September 6, 2013, http://www.newrepublic
.com/article/114616/public-universities-hurt-humanities-crisis; and
Verlyn Klinkenborg, “The Decline and Fall of the English Major,”
New York Times, June 22, 2013,
16 K A R I N A F. AT TA R A N D LY N N S H U T T E R S

5. For the point of view that the humanities are not in crisis, see Michael
Bérubé, who argues that while a decline in US humanities enrollments
occurred between 1970 and 1980, “undergraduate enrollments in the
humanities have held steady since 1980,” “The Humanities Declining?”
Chronicle of Higher Education, 59, no. 42 (2013): B4-B5, available at http:
Alexander Beecroft similarly critiques the claim for a humanities crisis in
his “The Humanities: What Went Right?” The Conversation: Opinions and
Ideas (blog), Chronicle of Higher Education, July 3, 2013, http://chronicle.
6. Kevin Kiley, “Another Liberal Arts Critic,” Inside Higher Ed, January
30, 2013,
7. The Modern Language Association publishes a report every three to four
years quantifying the study of languages other than English in US colleges
and universities. Their most recent report, published in December 2010,
surveys trends in language-course enrollments in Fall 2009. According
to this report, in 2009 Spanish, French, and German had the highest for-
eign-language enrollments. However, between 2006 and 2009, Arabic,
Chinese, and Korean enrollments increased at the highest rates. Arabic
enrollments, for example, increased by 126.5 percent between 2002
and 2006 and by 46.3 percent between 2006 and 2009, as compared to
Spanish enrollments, which increased by 10.3 percent between 2002 and
2006 and 5.1 percent between 2006 and 2009. Nelly Furman, David
Goldberg, and Natalia Lusin, Enrollments in Languages Other Than English
in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2009, a web publication
of The Modern Language Association, December 2010, p. 20, http://
8. The Heart of the Matter (Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts
& Sciences, 2013),
_report.pdf; and The Teaching of the Arts and Humanities at Harvard
College: Mapping the Future, Harvard University, May 2013, http:
// iles/humanities/f iles/mapping
_the_future_31_may_2013.pdf. Henceforth cited by page number.
9. David A. Hollinger has criticized the American Academy The Heart of
the Matter report on the grounds that it encourages increased division
between the humanities and sciences and that the report itself is so broad
that it can be “cherry-picked” to support practically any stance. See his
“The Wedge Driving Academe’s Two Families Apart: Can STEM and
the human sciences get along?” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 14,
Anthony T. Grafton and James Grossman argue that while there is much
to value in the Harvard report Mapping the Future, it fails to acknowledge
that undergraduate students do view the humanities as providing valuable
skills that will help them in future careers. See their “The Humanities
in Dubious Battle: What the Harvard Report Doesn’t Tell Us,” July 1,

2013, Chronicle of Higher Education,

10. Such programs include the University of California, Santa Cruz Center
for Mediterranean Studies (
inar/); Cornell University’s Mediterranean Studies Initiative (http://cies; New York University’s
Center for European and Mediterranean Studies (
/page/home); The Mediterranean Studies Forum at Stanford University
(; and
Georgetown University’s McGhee Center for Eastern Mediterranean
Studies, located in Alanya, Turkey (http://mcgheecenter.georgetown




Seth Kimmel

O n the first day of my undergraduate “Andalusian Iberias” seminar,

I distribute a multilingual and multiscriptural handout of a kharja
(pl. kharajāt) composed by Ibn al-Rā fi’ Ra’suh, an eleventh-century poet
from Toledo.1 The mixture of Ibero-Romance and Arabic that comprises
this refrain, found, as the Arabic word kharaja (to leave) implies, at the end
of an Arabic strophic poem, piques students’ curiosity: “Was the earliest
extant Spanish verse really written in Arabic script?” they ask. Over the
course of the conversation, this initial curiosity turns to terror: “Must we
know Arabic, not to mention Hebrew, Latin, Catalan, Portuguese, and
Provençal, in order to take this course? Isn’t this an upper-level Spanish
elective?” I assure my students, typically no more than ten, that although
knowledge of Spanish and English suffices, we will also read Spanish texts
alongside works of theology, philosophy, and literature translated from
those other languages. One goal of this approach is to see whether Spanish
literature looks different when studied within this interwoven Iberian fab-
ric. But we aim also to read works from beyond the Spanish tradition on
their own terms, paying attention to their generic conventions and cir-
cumstances of production and circulation. In this way, Spanish literature
serves as a gateway into the cultural complexity of the Iberian Peninsula,
so splendidly epitomized by Ibn al-Rā fi’ Ra’suh’s kharja.
By reading works produced between the eighth-century Berber inva-
sions and the seventeenth-century expulsions of peninsular Muslim
converts to Christianity, known as Moriscos, we pose the relationship
among the different Iberian religious communities and literary traditions

as methodological questions: What constitutes historical evidence of

cross-cultural encounter? How might we chart currents of literary inf lu-
ence through the meandering tributaries of translation, polemic, and
patronage? When to employ economic, aesthetic, or religious categories
of analysis? In my view, courses on medieval and early modern Iberian
literature should be comparative in design and content, but they must
also question the institutional conditions and methodological assump-
tions driving comparison. Let us follow Américo Castro in disputing
Spanish nationalist history and María Rosa Menocal in interrogating the
“myth of Westernness,” I tell my students, but let us also use the variety
of Andalusian Iberias that emerge from comparative study to think criti-
cally about such approaches.2
Especially since September 11, 2001, students come to classes on the
history and representation of premodern Christians, Muslims, and Jews
aware that contemporary politics of religion shape interpretations of the
past. Research on medieval convivencia and early modern inquisition,
for instance, are in part products of a present characterized by alarmism
about shar ī‘ah law in the United States, angst over public displays of piety
in France, and global uproar around free speech and religious tolerance
in Denmark.3 By addressing the approaches of previous specialists, from
early modern editors and literary critics to late nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century philologists, we can encourage students to scrutinize
the history as well as the present of scholarship and teaching about the
Iberian Peninsula. To cultivate historicizing habits is to foster both close
and distant reading skills.
In what follows, I describe the organization and content of my
Andalusian Iberias syllabus, further address the above pedagogical,
methodological, and political issues, and offer pragmatic teaching sug-
gestions. Scholars of Mediterranean studies, tolerance and intolerance,
regionalism, material culture, and a host of other issues have employed
the Iberian Peninsula as a laboratory for testing new interpretations and
disciplinary structures; I hope the same might become true for teach-
ers of cross-cultural encounters seeking to experiment with their course
designs and goals.

The Syllabus
According to Castro’s and Menocal’s narratives, Iberian cultural and
intellectual history is upside down. While much of Europe was mired in
the Dark Ages, Cordoba, Seville, Granada, and Toledo were hubs of phil-
osophical learning and artistic patronage. Here was medieval tolerance
in a crusader age. Likewise, when the roots of Enlightenment took hold

north of the Pyrenees in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, popu-

lar bigotry and institutionalized religious violence remained entrenched
to the south. In this view, Iberia was exceptional in myriad ways, not
least because it became “medieval” in the pejorative sense only in the
early modern period. As scholars such as David Nirenberg and Stefania
Pastore have demonstrated, however, this simple periodization does not
stand up to critical prodding.4 Daily conf lict and exchange structured
the medieval Iberian golden age, and erudite and popular opponents of
inquisition alike found ways to avoid the inquisitors’ clutches or limit the
reach of their power. From the political to the poetic, other sixteenth-
century gauges of peninsular periodization similarly complicate rather
than confirm the story of Iberian exceptionality.5 Grappling with this
tension between anachronism and exemplarity is an integral feature of
studying Iberian history.
Yet like history itself, syllabi require narrative structure. However
f lawed or contradictory, periodization should be part of any class with
historical breadth. We must mark the untidy transition between the
medieval and the early modern periods even as we study their common
features. One of my goals is to show how peninsular authors addressed
similar philological and political issues differently at divergent historical
moments. I also seek to underscore the extent to which the interpre-
tation of texts and the formulation of historical contexts are mutually
contingent processes. It is wrong to imply only that the latter condi-
tions the former. By showing that history is up for debate along with the
meaning of a particular metaphor or turn of phrase, the high stakes of
reading come into focus. That there are disagreements among specialists
about the unfolding of peninsular history and its scope of cross-cultural
encounter should empower rather than frighten us.6 The chronological
logic of the syllabus is thus a hypothesis in need of revision. It offers an
account of Iberian literature and culture over the longue durée, one that
students learn to assess critically.
Our reading does not represent an ideal Iberian multicultural canon,
but rather fosters methodological deliberation at the expense of com-
prehensiveness. We begin with Arabic strophic poetry and formal odes
called muwashsha ḥāt and qa ṣā’id, respectively, which we examine along-
side Provençal troubadour lyric from roughly the same period in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries.7 We then read Spanish-language collec-
tions of exempla, or brief moral anecdotes, such as the thirteenth-century
Sendebar and fourteenth-century El libro de buen amor, alongside parallel
traditions of episodic narratives from the medieval Arabic tradition, such
as The Arabian Nights and humorous, rhymed, prose vignettes known
as maqām āt. To explore overlapping approaches to classical philosophy,

theological polemic, and juridical inquiry among the Christian, Muslim,

and Jewish communities from the late eleventh through the early four-
teenth centuries, we study works by Averroës, Maimonides, Thomas
Aquinas, Ramon Llull, and Petrus Alfonsi. In surveying these texts over
the first half of the semester, students develop a sense of how generic
conventions work within and travel among the different linguistic and
religious communities of the Iberian Peninsula. Although we do not read
any secondary scholarship in this undergraduate course, I tell students
that the implicit formalist argument of the first half of the syllabus is
an artifact of recent Anglophone research in medieval Iberian studies.8
Chronology offers a handy literary-historical structure, but for many of
these specialists genre is the ultimate measure of cultural and religious
The second half of the syllabus is dedicated to the history of late medi-
eval and early modern Muslim and Jewish conversion to Christianity, the
cultural impact of inquisition, and Renaissance and Baroque literature in
which Muslims play prominent roles. Our focus shifts from the history of
cross-cultural encounter to its representation and legacy. By the middle of
the sixteenth century, following more than a century of coerced conver-
sions, there were no Muslims or Jews on the peninsula—only Moriscos
and conversos ( Jewish converts to Christianity). Representations of reli-
gious and cultural difference both produced and ref lected tension among
New Christians and their Old Christian counterparts. To study the poli-
tics of representation during this period by reading Fernando de Rojas’s
late fifteenth-century prose drama La Celestina, the anonymous mid-
sixteenth-century romance El Abencerraje, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s
early seventeenth-century drama El príncipe constante, and a selection of
materials related to the Moriscos is thus to confront classical concerns
about mimesis newly interwoven into peninsular religious and politi-
cal polemic. That is, anxiety over the dubious signs of New Christian
orthodoxy expanded into a concern about representation broadly. This
second half of the syllabus also echoes recent scholarship, particularly
“new historical” literary criticism and cultural history.9 To understand
poetry, prose fiction, and drama, it is sometimes necessary to step beyond
the traditional bounds of the literary.
Though balancing chronological and lateral reading is an effective
way to approach the history of language and narrative, in my experi-
ence students find close encounters with the odors and textures of manu-
scripts and early printed books to be the most memorable pathway into
a historicizing mindset. Confronted with an oversized fifteenth-century
choir book or a seventeenth-century collection of comedias, students’ eyes
widen and mouths drop. I seek both variants of well-known works and

bizarre textual anomalies, objects that highlight the profound instability

of the most canonical works. To thumb a late medieval manuscript Bible,
copied on vellum and held together by a Moorish-style binding, is to
open up an unimagined paleographic and codicological toolbox for stu-
dents accustomed to paperbacks and electronic media. Guided by expert
librarians, who often take pleasure in sharing their specialized knowl-
edge of book history, these sessions at local archives and museums are
invariable triumphs. Students from my Fall 2012 Andalusian Iberias class
trip to the Hispanic Society of America, for example, were astonished to
come across a coarse, goatskin book cover, stray tufts of hair poking their
fingers as they handled the text. On another trip to the Jewish Museum
for an exhibit of Hebrew manuscripts from the Bodleian Library’s collec-
tion, these students saw all manner of titillating theological and aesthetic
mash-ups, ranging from colorful Christian iconography in the margins
of Hebrew scripture to animal illustrations interspersed within exempla
collections. We even had the good fortune to discuss the Introduction to
Maimonides’s late twelfth-century Guide to the Perplexed the same after-
noon we examined the autographed notes for Maimonides’s Judeo-Arabic
commentary on the Mishnah. I am convinced that students internalize
the ebb and f low of linguistic, theological, and technological exchange
across cultural and religious lines through this sort of encounter with
material objects.
Yet proximity to museums and archives is a luxury rather than a
necessity. Facsimile editions of several texts on our syllabus are widely
available, and many university libraries have rare book rooms. With a
bit of foresight and instructor-librarian teamwork, it is usually possible
to construct a syllabus so that local holdings pack a pedagogical punch.
And even if you find yourself teaching a “Semester at Sea,” the online
resources of the Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE) and Biblioteca
Virtual Miguel de Cervantes (BVMC) provide a level of accessibility
unimaginable just a few decades ago. To transition from the medieval
to the early modern segments of our course, we dedicate a session to the
Complutense Polyglot Bible, which is available in brilliant color on the
BNE Web site, for instance.10 With a polyglot projected on the screen
and modern editions of the Bible circulating around the classroom, a
discussion about the continuities and transformations in the language and
materiality of scripture is guaranteed. That the early modern history of
comparative and multilingual exegesis is in the peninsular context insepa-
rable from the newfound legitimacy of converso scholars skilled in Hebrew
and Aramaic, on the one hand, and the inf luence of humanists trained in
Greek and Latin, on the other, adds an interpretive layer to the stratified
core sample of material culture and sectarian polemic. The early modern

transition from manuscript to print culture may have been no more deci-
sive or comprehensive than the contemporaneous Christianization of the
peninsula, but the two processes were more closely connected than may
initially seem. Material culture does more than foster student enthusiasm;
it gives shape to the chronological arc of peninsular intellectual and liter-
ary history.
The goal in a class like this should not be to fit multiple pieces of
Iberian history together into a single image, but rather to emphasize the
rough edges of incongruence. Like the balkanization of scholarly knowl-
edge itself, chronology’s fissures come into view by reading texts from
diverse moments and locations. Student-driven class discussions and reg-
ular visits to archives and museums, rather than any rigid sense of literary
order, hold our syllabus together.

Evidence and Argument

It is no exaggeration to say that peninsular evidence of medieval and
early modern cross-cultural encounter is ubiquitous: the Spanish lexi-
con is replete with words of Arabic origin; the traditional architecture
of Andalusia is a hodgepodge of Roman, North African, and Visigothic
forms; the racial make-up of contemporary Spaniards confirms a his-
tory of miscegeny. This linguistic, architectural, and racial evidence
is reason enough to speculate that a silo-model of Hispanic studies, in
which Romance and Semitic language specialists worked first in isola-
tion and then conf lict with each other, has obscured both the depth
of exchange among Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Middle Ages
and the intimacy of mistrust between Old and New Christians in the
early modern period. But what exactly constitutes textual evidence
of direct borrowing or inf luence? Formal evidence is not transparent
and rarely conclusive. Arabesque f lourishes on Christian churches and
Middle Eastern irrigation techniques in Christian-controlled regions
of the peninsula imply a history of social and cultural contact, but are
the standards of evidence and modes of analysis in architectural or
agrarian history compatible with literary criticism or intellectual his-
tory? Common tropes and shared philosophical problems do not tell a
straightforward story of inf luence or exchange any more than horse-
shoe arches or irrigation channels. Finally, what does the presence of
Judeo-Arabic (Hebrew written in Arabic script) or aljamiado (Spanish
written in Arabic script) convey about minority Jewish communities in
twelfth-century Cordoba or Morisco autonomy in sixteenth-century
Valencia? Philological evidence too is sometimes more opaque than at
first it might appear.

To answer these questions is to recognize differences among scholarly

arguments and to know the value of diverse primary sources. Formal,
thematic, and philological evidence do support important claims about
the literary, cultural, and political history of the Iberian Peninsula. But
these respective claims may contradict each other, and even well inten-
tioned experts sometimes marshal inapt evidence. In raising these meth-
odological concerns by reading and discussing a diversity of sources, I
encourage students to observe disciplinary distinctions. The hoary cloud
of authorial greatness that distorts students’ understanding of premodern
literature begins to lift by reading juridical or philosophical texts along-
side poetry and fiction. Student begin to see that not all old books speak
in the same way or tell similar stories, and that specialists from different
fields read in divergent ways. Some undergraduates at first feel paralyzed
by this peninsular complexity and these methodological conundrums.
But as we practice posing research questions, those recognized as such by
a clearly defined set of interlocutors, a sense of empowerment prevails. It
turns out to be enabling to privilege one set of evidence and argument
over another. In my view, this awareness of disciplinary distinctions is
acquired only by participating in sorties from the land of literary history
into the neighboring principalities of political, legal, and art history.
Though not all evidence of cross-cultural encounter is convincing,
neither is it all dubious. The formal and historical evidence of Hebrew
poetry’s reinvention through the encounter of Jewish poets with their
Muslim counterparts is particularly strong, for example. Until the tenth
century, post-biblical Hebrew poetry was largely liturgical. Secular
Hebrew poetry was born in the Muslim courts of al-Andalus during
the tenth and eleventh centuries, when Jewish dignitaries imitated their
Muslim peers in producing panegyrics, laments, invectives, and wine
songs. I place my students in a position to recognize this genealogy and
its legacy when studying the eleventh- and twelfth-century poetry of
Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Judah Halevi, and Moses Ibn Ezra, among other
Andalusian Hebrew poets, by having them read beforehand works by
contemporaneous Andalusian Arabic poets, such as Ibn Zaidūn, Ibn
Quzmā n, and Ibn ar-Rund ī. A brief introduction to the history of polit-
ical consolidation around the Caliphate of Cordoba in the tenth cen-
tury and the subsequent fragmentation occasioned by the Almoravid
and Almohad invasions of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, respec-
tively, helps students to see how the rigidity of Arabic poetic conven-
tions loosened along with the disintegration of centralized political order.
Similarly, the emigration of poets like Halevi and Ibn Ezra from Muslim
courts to Christian-controlled territory underscores the porousness of
the Muslim-Christian frontier, where Jews often functioned as conduits

for exchange. In this case, formal poetic analysis and historical evidence
corroborate each other.
The relationship between troubadour lyric in the Romance vernacu-
lars and these Arabic and Hebrew traditions is less clear. In the poetry of
Marcabru, Arnaut Daniel, Pierre Vidal, and other twelfth-century trou-
badours, topics familiar from Arabic and Hebrew poetry, such as love,
wine, and nature, frequently appear. Yet these laments of lost love exhibit
different rhyme schemes, pacing, and internal divisions than their Arabic
counterparts. It is entirely plausible that Christian troubadours traveled
to Muslim courts or imitated the Andalusian models they heard per-
formed by Jewish refugees in Christian courts.11 But, I ask my students,
can we hang our argument for cross-cultural encounter on common the-
matic evidence alone, given that no one poet or poetic tradition holds a
monopoly on love, wine, or nature? Extant manuscripts post-date the
original oral poetry in both the Romance vernaculars and Arabic and
Hebrew, and there is to my knowledge no independent archival mate-
rial that fills out the social and cultural context of a possible exchange
between Provençal bards and Andalusian patrons.
Despite its limitations in the case of medieval vernacular poetry, the-
matic evidence can be persuasive in other contexts, particularly concern-
ing arguments about the politics of representation. Consider La Celestina,
first published in 1499, in which all representation is potential deception.
In a parallel that I introduce during class discussion about the late fif-
teenth-century inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada’s Latin “Instructions for
the Holy Office of the Inquisition,” we modern students of La Celestina
are like inquisitorial readers, but we quarry the linguistic surface for alle-
gorical meaning or contemporaneous references to converso circumstances
rather than hidden heresy.12 Moreover, as is evident from El Abencerraje
and El príncipe constante, which depict encounters between honorable
Muslim and Christian knights, the history of religious difference became
in this period a useful literary trope. Yet by reading these two texts
alongside other materials from the sixteenth century, such as the Morisco
Muhammad Rabadan’s poetry, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza’s military
history, and juridical documents related to Morisco expulsion, it is pos-
sible to see how even the most anachronistic or hackneyed sentimen-
talism sometimes obscures grave political commitments. To construct a
convincing account of cross-cultural encounter, students must learn what
kinds of arguments thematic evidence can support, and in the process
they come to see the weaknesses of close reading itself.
Similar formal and thematic concerns structure scholarship on the exem-
pla collections, also known as “wisdom literature” or frame tales, which
traveled in multiple languages from South Asia, through the Middle East

and North Africa, and finally to the Iberian Peninsula in the thirteenth
century. The Spanish works Sendebar and Calila y Dimna are translations
from Arabic source texts, and the fourteenth-century El Conde Lucanor
and El libro de buen amor draw on a similar reservoir of eastern mate-
rial. So too does The Arabian Nights, which is why we read selections of
these Spanish and Arabic exempla collections together. In some cases, the
Spanish, Hebrew, and Latin translators of the Arabic material acknowl-
edged their sources and dated their work, and it is therefore possible to
trace their revisions and additions. This paratextual and paleographic evi-
dence suggests a close encounter across linguistic and religious lines, at
least among communities of elite intellectuals in places like thirteenth-
century Toledo. The shared frame-tale structure and common themes
and content reiterate this picture. Yet it is possible to overstate or misread
this varied evidence, particularly on the question of genre. Some scholars,
for example, have wondered whether the Archpriest of Hita Juan Ruíz,
who wrote El libro de buen amor in cuaderna vía, a Castilian lyric form
deeply indebted to the Latin didactic tradition, nevertheless also sought
to imitate the rhymed prose of the Arabic maqām āt.13 My students must
evaluate for themselves the validity of this suggestion by reading El libro
de buen amor alongside the maqām āt of the twelfth-century Andalusian
author al-Saraqusṭī, his Iraqi contemporary, al-Ḥar ī r ī, and their shared
early tenth-century Persian predecessor, al-Hamadhā n ī. In this case, the
formal commonalities between Ruiz’s cuaderna vía and al-Saraqusṭī’s saj‘,
or rhymed prose, raise more questions than they answer: Why does Ruiz
acknowledge his Latin and Castilian sources but not his Arabic ones? In
what language would he have known the famously difficult maqām āt? Is
Ruiz’s cuaderna vía unique, or is all such didactic poetry similarly indebted
to the Arabic tradition? Our immediate goal is not to answer these ques-
tions, which are best left to specialists, but rather to learn to pose them
systematically. The crucial point I aim to convey to students is that formal
and thematic analysis in the peninsular context is a struggle to determine
the conditions of comparative research and teaching.
Another line of discussion follows the trail of shared philosophical
problems or theological tensions out of the realm of the literary into
the domain of intellectual and religious history. Christian scholastics and
Jewish jurists came to know the works of Aristotle and other ancient
Greek philosophers through the translations and commentaries of the late
twelfth-century Islamic scholar Averroës, who spent much of his life in
Cordoba. In the Decisive Treatise, Averroës explores strategies for resolv-
ing the tension between classical learning and religious law, a concern of
Maimonides and Aquinas as well. Yet we must take care not to f latten
this common set of concerns into a cookie-cutter model of philosophical

and theological inquiry.14 For Averroës and Maimonides, the assimilation

of classical philosophy was a juridical question to be resolved through
conventional legal argument, sharpened over centuries of commentary
and dispute. For Aquinas and his university peers, classical philosophy
presented a challenge principally to Christian faith. A narrative of the
Peoples of the Book or a crude account of Mediterranean commonality
can obscure the particular philosophical and theological hearts of the
matter in different religious contexts.
Of all the diverse kinds of evidence examined during the semester,
the philological evidence of cross-cultural encounter is perhaps the most
intriguing and frustrating. It is difficult to know what conclusions to
draw from those muwashsha ḥāt that end in Romance kharaj āt, or those
other Andalusian forms of Arabic strophic poetry that also contain scat-
tered Hebrew or Romance words. Given the paucity of information
about this poetry’s initial performance and audience, it is impossible
to judge whether these foreign words were shrewd multilingual puns
meant for popular consumption, inside jokes among poets, or smidgeons
of foreignness with mysterious social and political valences. Parallel
interpretive enigmas characterize the Arabic words spoken by a prim
and witty Moorish woman in El libro de buen amor and the stray Arabic
terms in sixteenth-century Spanish ballads. Unlike many Spanish words
of Arabic origin, the Moorish woman’s command of ascut (shut up) and
the ballads’ account of Islamic zalá (prayer) are unassimilated Arabic
terms. They are foreign, but how foreign? This peninsular poetry has
survived, and so there must have been audiences able to record if not
understand and appreciate it. Yet the ability to reproduce a neighbor’s
rejection of romance or belittle her religious practice displays familiarity
rather than f luency. This evidence alone does not imply a kind of medi-
eval Iberian counterpart to twenty-first-century American “Spanglish.”
Running through their store of overheard subway conversations, my
students begin to construct a mental taxonomy of multilingualism’s
stages and meanings, and to note the grave political stakes of these liter-
ary concerns.
In the Renaissance, another kind of multilingualism served to
demarcate the Morisco community. Muhammad Rabadan’s sixteenth-
century Spanish-language lyric, Historia del día del juicio, for example,
is peppered with Arabic words culled from the Islamic liturgical and
juridical traditions, such as annabi (the prophet) and ruhu (spirit). This
was common practice among Moriscos writing in both Spanish and alja-
miado; Arabic words and script were markers of an increasingly fraught
religious identity. Paradoxically, students come to have more confi-
dence in their Spanish after working through this material, realizing

that certain words were supposed to be unfamiliar to early modern

audiences. These words denoted the boundaries of the New and Old
Christian lexicon. To make better sense of this poetry, however, it is
necessary to study it alongside archival and historical sources related
to the Moriscos. Reading the late sixteenth-century historian Diego
Hurtado de Mendoza’s Guerra de Granada, an account of a Morisco
uprising from the late 1560s and early 1570s, with juridical documents
like the Morisco expulsion decrees from the early seventeenth cen-
tury, gives focus to the early modern linguistic evidence of cultural
exchange and conf lict. It turns out that philological claims have a social
and political dimension as well.
As we strain against the reins of the available formal, thematic, and
philological evidence of peninsular cross-cultural encounter, I some-
times ask students to pause for a moment and imagine an important new
piece of evidence: Picture yourself in the reading room of an important
archive, such as Madrid’s Real Academia de la Historia, and imagine
happening upon a manuscript that contains a thirteenth-century copy
of muwashsha ḥāt bound with selections of Provençal lyric, or an aljami-
ado version of La Celestina. In formulating a case for why such evidence
would transform the field of medieval and early modern Iberian studies,
students refine their analytical skills. They must not only appreciate how
and why their peers reached divergent historical conclusions based upon
similar, imagined documents, but also determine whether the varied dis-
coveries of their dreams might prove or disprove the hunches of special-
ists. In the best case, students begin to see themselves as intrepid scholars
and researchers through this sort of methodological contemplation, at
once analytical and creative.

Conclusion: Practical Matters and Student Assessment

A class of this scope demands linguistic f lexibility. Since undergraduates
who are nonnative Spanish speakers aspire to improve their f luency, I
run class discussion in Spanish and, whenever possible, we read English
or Spanish translations of non-Spanish material in bilingual, facing-page
editions. This allows students with a bit of Arabic or Hebrew knowledge
to contribute their privileged insights. And advanced students of Spanish
often take great pleasure in fighting their way through Catalan and
Provençal in addition to thirteenth-century Spanish. I have also found
that for particularly difficult medieval Spanish works, a bilingual Spanish-
English edition is a useful crutch. Such texts allow the foreignness of
premodern Spain to be part of class discussion in a way that modernized
editions do not. Though I prefer to dampen student anxiety rather than

adhere to original language orthodoxy, I do think that students should

develop a feel for how Spanish has changed over time.
Continuing these philological conversations online is an effective way
to draw timid or less advanced students into the fray while constructing a
shared archive of images, music, texts, and research tools. To practice their
Spanish writing and prepare for class discussion, I ask students to pose at
least two questions and write one paragraph of commentary online about
each week’s reading. These exercises also force students to plant the argu-
mentative seeds of their take-home midterm and final exam essays, the
course’s two primary assessments. Past exam questions have treated the
conventions of humor, the relationship between advice and deception,
the tropes of travel and captivity, and the political uses of multicultural-
ism. For the final exam, I also require students to produce close readings
of unfamiliar images, such as a miniature from Alfonso X’s Cantigas de
Santa Maria or an early modern woodcut depicting Muslim conversions
and Morisco expulsions. Students must put their nascent multilingualism,
analytical sophistication, and historical awareness to spontaneous use while
drawing on first-hand experience from their archive and museum trips.
This experiment in teaching Iberian rather than Spanish literature and
culture is no isolated occurrence. Many of the literary scholars and his-
torians cited in the endnotes regularly teach their own versions of simi-
lar courses, and I have learned from their examples and benefited from
their generosity. That we are now able to teach in this comparative way
is the upshot of recent disciplinary reform. As a case in point, my two
latest institutional homes have been departments of “Iberian and Latin
American Cultures” and “Latin American and Iberian Cultures,” though
not so long ago both were departments of “Spanish and Portuguese.”
Newfangled nomenclature may ref lect rather than breed innovation.
Nonetheless, it does lend a sense of legitimacy to a paradigm shift that
implicates our students in current interdisciplinary debates about the
future of the humanities. In this way, the multiplicity of Andalusian
Iberias is an occasion both to evaluate the extent to which all peninsular
culture is cross-cultural and to determine the limits of our methods for
such evaluation.

Appendix: Texts on the Andalusian Iberias Syllabus

Alfonsi, Petrus. The Dialogue against the Jews. Edited by Irven M. Resnick.
Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006.
Aquinas, Thomas. Commentary on the Metaphysics. Translated by John Patrick
Rowan. Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1961.

Averroës. Decisive Treatise & Epistle Dedicatory. Translated and edited by Charles
E. Butterworth. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2008.
“Bando de la expulsión de los moriscos del reino de Valencia.” In Janer, Florencio.
Condición social de los moriscos de España. Seville: Ediciones espuela de la plata,
2006. Original imprint in Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 1857.
Biblia Políglota Complutense. Edited by Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros. Alcalá:
Arnao Guillén Broca, 1514–1517. Accessed at
Calderón de la Barca, Pedro, El príncipe constante. Edited by Fernando Cantalapiedra
and Alfredo Rodríguez López-Vázquez. Madrid: Cátedra, 1996.
El Abencerraje: Novela y Romancero. Edited by Francisco López Estrada. Madrid:
Cátedra, 1980.
Hamadhā n ī, Bad ī al-Zam ā n al-Hamadhā n ī al-. The Maq ām āt of Bad ī al-Zam ān
al-Hamadh ān ī. Translated by W. J. Prendergast. London: Curzon Press, 1973.
Ḥ ar ī r ī, Mu ḥ ammad al-Qā sim ibn ‘Al ī al-. “The Assemblies of al-Ḥ ar ī r ī.”
Edited and translated by Thomas Chenery. London: Williams & Norgate,
Hurtado de Mendoza, Diego. Guerra de Granada. Madrid: Editorial Castalia,
Jensen, Fred. Troubadour Lyrics: A Bilingual Anthology. New York: P. Lang, 1998.
Llull, Ramón. “The Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men.” In Selected
Works of Ramón Llull, vol. 1. Edited and translated by Anthony Bonner.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
Maimonides, Moses. Guide for the Perplexed: A 15th Century Spanish Translation by
Pedro de Toledo (Ms. 10289, B.N. Madrid). Edited by Moshe Lazar and Robert
J. Dilligan. Culver City: Labyrinthos, 1989.
Monroe, James. Hispano-Arabic Poetry: A Student Anthology. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1974.
Nebrija, Antonio de. Gramática castellana (Salamanca, 1492). Accessed at www.
Rabadan, Muhammad. Poemas de Mohamad Rabadan. Edited by José Antonio
Lasarte López. Zaragoza: Diputación General de Aragón, 1991.
Rojas, Fernando de, La Celestina. Edited by Dorothy S. Severin. Madrid:
Cátedra, 2000.
Ruiz, Juan. The Book of Good Love. Everyman Paperback (Bilingual Edition).
Translated by Elizabeth Drayson Macdonald. London: C.E. Tuttle, 1999.
Saraqusṭī ibn al-Aštark ūw ī al-, Abū l-Ṭā hr Mu ḥ ammad ibn Yū suf al-Tam ī m ī.
Al-Maq ām āt al-luzūm īya. Translated by James Monroe. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
Sendebar. Edited by María Jesús Lacarra. Madrid: Cátedra, 1989.
The Arabian Nights. Edited and translated by Muhsin Mahdi. Selected and edited
by Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010.
The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse. Edited by T. Carmi. New York: Viking Press,
Torquemada, Tomás de. “Las Instrucciones del Oficio de la Santa Inquisición.”
In Introducción a la inquisición española. Edited by Miguel Jiménez Monteserín.
Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1980.

1. Alan Jones, Romance Kharjas in Andalusian Arabic Muwašša ḥ Poetry: A
Palaeographical Analysis (London: Ithaca Press, 1988), 222–7. Other source
texts for kharaj āt include Emilio García Gómez, Las jarchas romances de
la serie árabe en su marco: Edición en carácteres latinos, versión española en calco
rítmico y estudio de 43 moaxajas andaluzas (Madrid: Alianza Editorial,
1990); and José Sola-Solé, Corpus de poesía mozárabe: Las ḥarğa-s andalusies
(Barcelona: HISPAM, 1973).
2. See Castro’s España en su historia: Cristianos, moros, y judíos, reprinted
in Américo Castro, Obra reunida, vol. 3, ed. José Miranda (Madrid:
Editorial Trotta, 2004), 147–290; María Rosa Menocal, The Arabic Role
in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), 1–25. For a succinct and cogent criticism
of Castro’s views and his arguments with the Spanish historian Claudio
Sánchez Albornoz, see Eugenio Asensio, La España imaginada de Américo
Castro (Barcelona: Ediciones El Albir, 1976).
3. Promoted by Américo Castro, convivencia denotes the “living together”
of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in medieval Iberia. See Maya Soifer,
“Beyond Convivencia: Critical Ref lections on the Historiography of
Interfaith Relations in Christian Spain,” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies
1, no. 1 (2009): 19–35.
4. David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the
Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); Stefania
Pastore, Una herejía española: Conversos, alumbrados e inquisición (1449–1559),
trans. Clara Álvarez Alonso (Madrid: Marcial Pons Historia, 2010).
5. Barbara Fuchs, “1492 and the Cleaving of Hispanism,” Journal of Medieval
and Early Modern Studies 37, no. 3 (2007): 493–510.
6. For a recent take on the history of these disagreements, see Karla Mallette,
European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and
a Counter-Orientalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
7. For introductions to muwashsha ḥāt and qa ṣā’id, as well as the maq ām āt
discussed below, see essays by Tova Rosen, Beatrice Gruendler, and
Rina Drory, all in The Literature of Al-Andalus, eds. María Rosa Menocal,
Raymond P. Scheindlin, and Michael Sells, The Cambridge History of
Arabic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). As
teaching texts, consider selections from James Monroe’s Hispano-Arabic
Poetry and the various maq ām āt translations (listed in the Appendix).
8. Michelle Hamilton, Representing Others in Medieval Iberian Literature (New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 103–46; David A. Wacks, Framing
Iberia: Maq ām āt and Frametale Narratives in Medieval Spain (Leiden: Brill,
2007), 41–85, 157–93.
9. Barbara Fuchs, Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early
Modern Spain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009);
Francisco Márquez Villanueva, El problema morisco: Desde otras laderas

(Madrid: Ediciones Libertarias, 1998); Felipe Pereda, Las imágenes de la

discordia: Política y poética de la imagen sagrada en la España del 400 (Madrid:
Marcia Pons Historia, 2007); and Mercedes García-Arenal and Fernando
Rodríguez Mediano, Un Oriente español: Los moriscos y el Sacromonte en
tiempos de Contrarreforma (Madrid: Marcial Pons Historia, 2010), recently
translated as The Orient in Spain: Converted Muslims, the Forged Lead Books
of Granada, and the Rise of Orientalism, trans. Consuelo López-Morillas
(Leiden: Brill, 2013).
10. The BNE’s “Biblioteca Digital Hispánica” (
Catalogos/BibliotecaDigitalHispanica/Inicio/index.html) also includes
an important copy of El libro de buen amor, multiple early editions of La
Celestina, Antonio de Nebrija’s Gramática castellana, Morisco expulsion
documents, and much else. Similarly, the BVMC (www.cervantesvirtual.
com) offers searchable access to El príncipe constante, scans of sixteenth-
century editions of Jorge de Montemayor’s La Diana, which contains
El Abencerraje, and a plethora of scholarly articles for future research.
Though these collections include texts in many languages, those looking
for quick access to material in English can consult Early English Books
Online (, the British Library (http://, or the Perseus Digital Library (http://www.perseus.tufts.
11. Echoing the work of A. R. Nykl, María Rosa Menocal updated this
argument. See A. R. Nykl, Hispano-Arabic Poetry and its Relations with the
Old Provençal Troubadours (Baltimore: J. H. Furst, 1946); Menocal, The
Arabic Role, 71–90.
12. On Rojas and his converso milieu, see Stephen Gilman, The Spain of
Fernando de Rojas: The Intellectual and Social Landscape of La Celestina
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972).
13. Michelle Hamilton and David Wacks are recent voices of this view, previ-
ously maintained in varying forms by Américo Castro, María Rosa Lida
de Malkiel, and James Monroe. In addition to their above-cited works,
see Michelle Hamilton, “The Libro de buen amor: Work of Mudejarismo
or Augustinian Autobiography?” eHumanista 6 (2006): 19–33; and David
A. Wacks, “Reading Jaume Roig’s Spill and the Libro de buen amor in the
Iberian Maq ām ā Tradition,” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 83, no. 5 (2006):
14. Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Philosophy before the Law: Averroës’s Decisive
Treatise,” Critical Inquiry 32, no. 3 (2006): 412–42.



Megan Moore

F eminism and Mediterranean studies intersect in some surprising ways,

especially in the classroom, despite assumptions about the region’s
tendency toward misogyny.1 The empathetic search for comprehension
across boundaries of difference motivates both disciplines, and the gen-
erous nod toward intersectionality structures teaching and research in
both domains. Yet, while I suspect many teachers approach the classroom
in ways that are consonant with these tenets, few have combined these
fields to theorize a pedagogical approach, one born of concern for under-
standing connections between cultures by fostering connections within
the classroom. Working in medieval and Mediterranean studies—both
sites of connections and fields in which one can hardly master every-
thing, from geographic, linguistic, and cultural diasporas to the thousand
years of history that constitute our time period—has led me to seek a
pedagogy that invites us to leverage our collective reading skills to better
understand a period and place rich in intersections but relatively poor in
sources, one divided into falsely nationalized disciplinary frameworks by
its nineteenth-century forefathers.2
In this essay I explore how what I call a pedagogy of connectiv-
ity, inspired by the intersection of both medieval Mediterranean
and feminist studies, encourages students to embrace the discomfort
of non-mastery in order to leverage their group thinking and ana-
lytic skills to become better readers. The Mediterranean—with all its

interconnections and trade, with the exchange and warfare conducted

for millennia on its shores—offers a perfect staging ground for explor-
ing connections, even in a period to which students have seemingly
little connection at all. Here, I will examine one particular instance
of such cross-cultural discomfort, when my students and I took on
the challenge of reading the medieval Greek ballad Digenis Akritas in
a graduate seminar on the medieval Mediterranean taught in English
to students from across the campus. Our resulting discussion of Digenis
Akritas suggested that abandoning our modern need for linguistic or
disciplinary mastery and approaching the text from a Mediterranean,
cross-cultural standpoint would allow us to better understand how
mobility helped construct nobility in Mediterranean literature. Our
questions revolved around imagining Mediterranean noble identities
as not constructed through strict ties to nation, but rather through
practices of exchange and travel. Mediterranean studies and feminist
pedagogy are a natural fit, since they both assume we can let go of dis-
ciplinary mastery to shift the questions of our inquiry to focus on the
intersectionality of existence.
Teaching outside my disciplinary comfort zone revealed how valu-
able feminist pedagogy—anchored in admitting discomfort and letting
go of mastery—can be to a classroom dedicated to cross-cultural explo-
ration, specifically in encounters in the medieval Mediterranean. To that
end, I begin by exploring how feminist pedagogy and Mediterranean
studies intersect, and explore how that intersection—the pedagogy of
connectivity—plays out in the classroom. Finally, I turn toward broader
implications for teaching through connectivity.

* * *

“Why won’t you tell us what to think about this text?” It is a ques-
tion I get at least once per semester from my students who, perplexed
by the otherness of medieval French literature, struggle to understand
and relate to ideas far outside of their comfort zone. They, like many
outsiders to whom I explain my profession, are perplexed by the idea of
studying the medieval world, and their questions are always the same:
How can I understand the medieval world, given the little evidence we
have about it? What do we know about the medieval world, and what are
our assumptions? Their questions of discomfort with the medieval era,
though, differ from that first, and most basic, question—the one focused
around my role as a facilitator who guides a discussion about medieval
literature and culture, and which reveals anxieties about who can help
them establish connections to the medieval world. Why am I reluctant

to tell students what is happening, to “tell [them] what to think?” as they

always put it?
It would be easier to simply tell them what was happening in Cligès,
The Song of Roland, or any other number of Old French texts than to let
them puzzle it out, but my understanding of the joy and job of teach-
ing is to help students think analytically, express themselves coherently
about complex ideas, and facilitate their arrival there themselves. As a
scholar and student of literature, I believe that each reading, at any level,
always yields new ideas; each discussion is therefore a unique moment of
exchange. My classroom is an extension of these basic tenets, and requires
exchange and contact to accomplish the goal of student comprehension
and analysis; it therefore focuses on student-led discussions and group
work rather than lecturing. It would be antithetical to tell students what
to think—I would rather teach them how to read and how to voice their
own questions about the text.
One of the main reasons I refuse to tell students what to think is that I
want them to work together to come to understanding and make their own
connections, and I employ feminist pedagogy in my classroom to facilitate
this.3 This is not to say that other forms of pedagogy do not engage stu-
dent thinking or share these goals. However, I recognize that thinking
critically and voicing critical questions can be intimidating and difficult,
and I invite students to work together to create a welcoming atmosphere
built around interpersonal exchange, consistent with the goals of feminist
classrooms across a wide range of pedagogic and political objectives.4 As
Carolyn Shrewsbury points out, “A classroom characterized as persons
connected in a net of relationships with people who care about each oth-
er’s learning as well as their own is very different from a classroom that is
seen as comprised of teacher and students.”5 Hallmarks of feminist peda-
gogy include fostering an environment in which conversations develop
through connections; in which listening and considering preclude lectur-
ing and judgment; and in which, in the field of literary studies, literature
is discussed by questions that build on one another.
As Alexis Walker argues, feminist educators “strive to be student
centered and to make education relevant to students’ lives.”6 Such work
highlights the inherent imbalance between teachers and students, and
underlines how the feminist classroom is one in which power differences
are identified and continually recognized.7 In my classroom, the teacher is
not the center of learning, but one participant in a multiple-input learning
environment. We learn from each other, through exchange and consid-
eration; we also learn from multimedia resources, manuscripts when we
can visit special collections, and codicological and musical reproductions.
As others have noted, this feminist approach does not deny the ultimate

differences between student and teacher, but rather embraces them to

offer the student a chance to teach herself, to become more responsible
for the material and the discussion surrounding it.8
While I ultimately assign grades and do control the f low of ideas and
information, and while this is obviously a power differential, at the same
time I strive to create an environment in which we all encourage each
other to think collectively about medieval literature while respecting
our different levels of knowledge and background experiences shaping
our readings.9 Oftentimes, the distinct advantage of this approach is that
we learn from others’ experience, and, through mistaken perceptions
about medieval politics, culture, and literature, we also learn about our
“modern” assumptions about what “medieval” people may have thought,
done, or written. One way we do this is by drawing conceptual maps at
the beginning and end of the semester, which evolve from simple depic-
tions, for example, of the Mediterranean as a geographical feature, to a
place by the end of the semester rife with exchange and violence, where
we see drawings of sea-travel, crusade, and the exchange of silk and art.
A feminist classroom does not have to be one in which challenges
are not launched and difference cannot f lourish.10 The feminist class-
room need not be a place where only personal value systems and beliefs
are endorsed, as bell hooks has pointed out.11 Her feminist politics and
pedagogical explorations of identity have inspired many teachers to
embrace exploration and equality, rather than instruction and hierar-
chy, in the undergraduate classroom.12 And while recent work suggests
that such pedagogical approaches encourage students to explore not
only their readings about texts but also their uncertainties and questions
more fully, the intersection of a feminist pedagogy and the study and
discussion of Mediterranean connectivity has not yet been explored. Yet
medieval identities—and, as I argue, in particular medieval Mediterranean
identities—lend themselves particularly well to such a pedagogy.
Recent work suggests that the Mediterranean provides an important
and central site for understanding connections in the medieval world; like-
wise, the methodology of Mediterranean studies is grounded in connec-
tions spanning national, linguistic, geographic, and religious boundaries.
While Carmel Borg and Peter Mayo worry about the effect of global-
ization on Mediterranean pedagogy, it is precisely the Mediterranean
itself that permitted the near-globalization of the medieval world: the
Mediterranean was a place characterized by connections.13 Because
Mediterranean studies depends on connections, it is from this methodol-
ogy that I borrow when I turn toward a pedagogy of connectivity, one
that would be both feminist in its classroom practices and grounded in a
sense of Mediterranean connection: connection between texts, between

peoples, and across boundaries whose lines become blurred upon deeper
examination in the classroom.
A pedagogy of connectivity focuses on the interstices and intersec-
tions of ideas by looking for connections not only between ideas pre-
sented in the classroom, but among the constituents of the classroom.
The classroom is a place of connections between individuals and teachers,
but also among the students themselves. Encouraging students to puzzle
things out with each other, building on competencies and even uncer-
tainties they have about texts and questions about the Middle Ages, helps
them build their own analytic and discursive skills while empowering
each student to take charge of her own learning and participation. I do
this often by asking students to bring one question to class and making a
list on the blackboard of the most pressing questions, then asking them to
discuss these in small groups. In this way, they control both the learning
process and its resolution by building on group aptitude.
Having considered the groundwork for a pedagogy of connectivity, I
would like to explore one of the specific instances in which I used this
approach to ground a class on the medieval Mediterranean, a graduate-level
seminar on medieval literature produced in and about the Mediterranean.
This seminar was taught in English to encourage discussion among stu-
dents from several different departments (Classics, Romance Languages,
English, and History). Our readings and discussion stemmed from a
common interest in understanding how the Mediterranean grounded and
shaped these texts, and we embarked on a search for connections between
texts, characterization, plot, and even manuscript histories.
We read mostly Old French texts such as Cligès, Le Roman d’Alexandre,
Floriant et Florete, Floire et Blancheflor, and Aucassin et Nicolette, but we also
read a set of texts outside of the purported linguistic and disciplinary
home base of the class. We read The Arabian Nights, documents retrieved
from what was essentially a medieval recycling bin in the Cairo Genizah,
excerpts from Marco Polo’s Travels and the Libro del buen amor and, finally,
the medieval Greek Digenis Akritas. By exploring non-“French” materi-
als stemming from cultures traditionally known as “other” to France in
the Middle Ages (in particular, the Byzantine romance Digenis Akritas
and the Arabic Arabian Nights), students are better able to interrogate the
assumptions we make about medieval “French-ness.” This combination
of texts underscores for students the fact that the medieval French expe-
rience cannot be dissociated from its Mediterranean roots, and is highly
dependent on the connections fostered by women in cross-cultural
marriages of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, for almost every text
stages intercultural exchange through women’s work in cross-cultural

Though my own work has focused extensively on many of these texts,

my classroom is not based upon the idea of my mastery of these mate-
rials, but rather on a literary journey across the sea, one launched to
seek connections and parallels between texts from diverse linguistic, cul-
tural, and religious backgrounds. The interdisciplinary nature of both
the texts and the students required abdicating a dictatorial position of
authority in the classroom; for example, I myself admit that I have little
expertise in Spanish, Catalan, or Islamic literature, and happily deferred
to my students whose specialization in those languages most helped us
read the Libro del buen amor attentively in its original wording when nec-
essary in class. The idea of mastery and control—even at the graduate
level—is abandoned in order to let the texts tell us their tale of how
the Mediterranean is shaping storylines and identities within medieval
literature. We agreed during our first meeting that we would use our
varied backgrounds in languages and history to help us create textual
authority together, seeking connections between and triangulating mean-
ing through our shared knowledge.
Despite claiming our group expertise and admitting our limitations,
we still felt uncomfortable working beyond our traditional disciplinary
boundaries. Students openly expressed their anxiety over discussing the
Greek and Arabic texts.14 Yet the moments when we lacked expertise—
such as in our discussion of the incredibly varied treasure trove of the
Cairo Genizah, in a language and about a culture none of us had studied
formally—offered the most possibility for discussion, for it was a moment
to reveal our frankest, most basic queries about the text. I would like
to focus in particular on our discussion of Digenis Akritas to show how
a feminist pedagogy of connectivity facilitated a lively discussion and
helped us produce meaning from an essentially “foreign” Mediterranean
Digenis Akritas is an eleventh-century poem about Basil Digenis, the
fictional eponymous hero who lives on the frontier between Byzantium
(basically comprised of the territory of present-day Greece and much
of Turkey), and Syria, its eastern neighbor. The story spans two gen-
erations of Basil’s family, and begins with the life of his parents and an
explanation of how he came to be double-blooded, as the title implies.
We learn that his father, a Syrian emir, abducted and married his mother
from her Doukas kin, converted to Christianity for love of her, and had
Digenis, his son. We then learn of Digenis’s exploits and his eventual rise
to fame within the Byzantine army administration, and follow him as
he, like his father, claims a foreign woman as his bride and negotiates the
interfamilial bride exchange and reparations with an equally unfriendly
set of brothers. The romance/epic is predicated on cross-culturalism

and blended identities, and reveals the problematics of existing in and

through borderlands, for both men and women. Our seminar focused on
the borderlands of Digenis as a place where women’s actions shape how
men negotiate and claim heroic masculinity.
For medievalists steeped in the Western tradition, Digenis might make
a surprising read in all its psychology and attention to familial detail (for
example, Digenis’s mother bemoans her son’s abduction of his would-be
bride, and curses him for betraying his family in ways that sound surpris-
ingly modern). For students, such texts can be baff ling. But starting with
a text “far from home,” is actually a call to do what we all seek to do best:
observe, with an attentive eye. Reading well beyond our ken reminds us
that all texts are foreign and should be read as such: this makes us better read-
ers. Reading something outside our disciplinary and linguistic expecta-
tions helps us be more attentive, permits us to dwell on details of plot
and repetition that we often ignore because we have “mastered” them in
our own home genres, and reminds us that each piece of literature is a
journey of understanding and meaning-making. Reading the “foreign”
becomes, then, an exercise rife with possibility, in which shedding our
need for mastery within the feminist classroom permits us to explore and
play with the words on the page, and permits us to ask “dumb” questions.
Students who are allowed to explore without the expectation of mastery
suddenly reveal their thought processes much more readily. Together,
we can answer the fundamentals of any literary text, whether written in
medieval Greek or modern English: What do we see on the page? What
are our assumptions about this genre and are they met? What exceeds
or even disappoints our expectations? Why? What phrasing or mise-en-
scène is particularly shocking?
In the classroom, beginning with these essential and basic questions
helps us articulate our own disciplinary assumptions about what medieval
literature (and medieval French identities) should look like. We began our
discussion by looking at what seemed the most familiar to us within the
epic: it was written like a story, it traced genealogy (a central concern of
Western medieval romance), and it was narrated chronologically to detail
Digenis’s heroic exploits. Yet, for several students, there were moments of
disjuncture. Students were surprised at how explicitly the text dealt with
the issue of “passing.” For most of these students, grounded as they were
in today’s cultural studies and women’s studies movements, in which pass-
ing is a seriously charged and political issue, the appearance of it nearly
a thousand years before in a random medieval text was shocking.16 In
the “passing” episode of Digenis, the eponymous hero comes to the real-
ization that he cannot cross back into his own society and be accepted
there without changing his clothing. Crossing through the borderlands

involves crossing into new clothing, an act rife with meaning and inter-
pretive possibilities. He crosses from one family, wife, religion, and set of
cultural and gendered practices (all Syrian) to another (all Byzantine), and
he marks this transition by changing from f lowing garments into more
clearly articulated pants.
Reading these texts in a classroom devoted to connectivity means that
students were able to identify the passing taking place as well as build off
of other passages of passing that their own disciplinary and reading back-
grounds may have prepared them for. Students used intertextual con-
nections to read the passing episode within a Mediterranean framework
of nobles desperate to position themselves through the consumption and
display of exotic Mediterranean goods. My graduate students seized on
it as analogous to Old French texts such as Erec et Enide, in which Enide,
too, is made to “pass” through clothing, dressed as she is by the queen to
be admitted into the nobility through sericultural means. While in Erec
et Enide the passing is done between classes, in Digenis Akritas the bor-
ders are multiple: religious, linguistic, and ethnic, but are also bridged
by citizens of the world like Digenis. Students ultimately identified the
episode as revealing how f luid identities can be, even in the Middle
Ages, bringing medieval identity politics closer to their modern under-
standing of the world. Discussing how Digenis passes from one cul-
ture to another also shows that there is a certain amount of knowledge
developed through cross-cultural exchange around the Mediterranean,
as the f luidity of borderlands permits the f luidity of identities performed
As our discussion progressed, students began to see parallels between
the outsider Digenis and dynamics plaguing the Greek court in a con-
temporary medieval French romance, Cligès. The disjuncture they felt at
some of the basic elements of narrative composition in reading Digenis—
its “book,” rather than verse form, its chapter-like organization, and its
attention to rhyme—had them thinking about form in our initial discus-
sion, which in turn spurred them to think about how the structure of the
story is very similar to the structure of the later, Old-French Cligès. Like
Digenis, Cligès is a bi-generational story of cross-cultural reproduction
in the borderlands: this time, it is the Byzantines who travel to Arthur’s
court in search of knightly prowess and renown; it is there that they woo,
abduct, and eventually wed their future brides. As students discussed,
they focused more and more on connections between the texts—and
then they sought to explain critical differences in plot. In particular, they
started to interrogate the parallels in the narrative structure of a bi-gen-
erational story about dual-blooded protagonists who love and gain honor
abroad, only to bring that culture back to their homelands.

By thinking from a perspective of connectivity my students learned

to ask important methodological questions only attentive, tuned-in read-
ers can achieve. They began to think like medievalists, because they
were acknowledging the conditions of the texts’ production, which, in
a manuscript culture, are very specific. They posed questions such as:
Why are there parallels not only in the plot but also in the structure of
these two disparate romances? When were each of these texts composed,
and by whom? Their initial inquiries led to even better, codicologically
based questions such as: What evidence do we have of their produc-
tion, circulation, and popularity? Is it probable that the stories traveled?
Were they copied out or performed abroad for onlooking crusaders?
Students were trying to get at questions about textual circulation, and
their questions relied on two basic (and correct) assumptions that they
had gained throughout a semester dedicated to connectivity in our class-
room: first, ideas traveled in the Middle Ages, and they often traveled
along the Mediterranean with trade, war, and conquest; and, second,
cultural information would come to be reported through storytelling.
Their assumptions revealed not only what they already knew, but formed
a basis for articulating what it is they wanted to know: Is it possible that
the story of Cligès, composed much later than Digenis, in some ways is
referencing the former tale? How can we account for the circulation of
this motif among texts that are linguistically, generically, and geographi-
cally dissimilar?
While we eventually agreed that we could not claim a textual geneal-
ogy, one student was able to challenge others even farther. “Maybe,” he
posited, “it doesn’t matter that much which text inf luenced the other,
but maybe it’s more interesting that on two ends of the Mediterranean,
they’re thinking about the same thing.” This, of course, is the whole point
about connectivity: that a complex web of ideas, an intricate network of
exchange, created conditions in which people on disparate ends of politi-
cal, ideological, and religious spectrums were grappling with the same
questions of identity. Essentially, the questions revolved around fashion-
ing the self in a multicultural world, and, for the nobility especially, how
to represent that self in a way that people across the Mediterranean could
recognize, interpret, and decode as noble.
For my students, reading on the edge of their comfort zone helped
them gain new knowledge about other texts. For them, reading from a
position of liminality helped articulate the assumptions of their center,
in this case Old French literature. Many had assumed Paris or Rome to
be the center of the medieval world, they had assumed French or English
language literature to be the most sophisticated in articulating emotion,
and they had assumed that France was as important an economic player

as it was in later centuries. Digenis and other Mediterranean texts helped

contextualize Paris as important to the medieval West, but paling in
comparison to Cairo and Constantinople in terms of trade, music, food
culture, literary psychology, and luxury goods. Other texts helped put
French literary production into a context in which many cultures were
writing about exchange across the sea and using the Mediterranean to
imagine nobility, explain identity, and justify warfare. Reading together
and across boundaries helped students understand medieval nobility to be
dependent on the Mediterranean.
Unlike my undergraduates, my graduate students do not, of course,
ask me what to think about Digenis Akritas or any of the texts we read.
They are, however, invested in understanding the dynamic of the text
in its quest to articulate a borderland identity, and to get to that, we try
to explore how interpersonal relationships are represented. We know by
now that identity is always dependent on what it is not: on the liminal,
the “other.” Digenis is a kind of text that is perfect for reading identity,
for it is a borderline text, about borderland existence and the identities
produced there. It is at this moment that the culture of connectivity we
cultivate in our classroom really came to our aid: we valued the contri-
butions made by the classicists (who pointed out that certain elements of
Digenis’s quest have parallels in the wording of the Odyssey), the French
students (one of whom pointed out that there are connections to be made
with The Arabian Nights), and the Spanish students (who identified narra-
tive hooks used later in other borderland epics like Don Quixote). It was
particularly rewarding that when some of these intertexts were brought
up, students would engage in debate among themselves over whether
they really made a good comparison, and how they brought more mean-
ing to Digenis. Sometimes, our model only made us more acutely aware
of the narratological differences separating the Greek text from our other
readings; yet this, too, was knowledge gained.
The usual vehicles for defining the peripheries of identity are fam-
ily/marriage, profession, religion, gender, and language, and in Digenis
we found that these categories, while defined much differently on the
frontiers of Byzantium than on the shores of Sicily, still operated in
important ways. Students whose main goal was to understand how the
Mediterranean functions as a methodology used the test case of a lone,
mixed-blood frontiersman to understand how far the approach can be
pushed, and they began to collectively question the categories of identity
set up in Mediterranean studies scholarship to see if its tenets still held.
For some, Michael Herzfeld’s assertion that there is no Mediterranean
was upheld in Digenis’s existence on the frontier; for others, his very
borderland position resonated with the concept of cultural exchange and

micro-histories articulated by Fernand Braudel or, more recently, by

Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell.17 Most importantly, the culture
of connectivity that permeated our classroom became a new methodol-
ogy for reading, one that seeks connections between the disparate texts
on our syllabus.
The classroom is a microcosm of the connectivity we read about in
texts: teaching across disciplinary boundaries; encouraging students to
reach out and plant, harvest, and even trim away suggestions about how
texts overlapped and interlaced; exploring the ways scholarship and mod-
ern perception confront medieval expectations of how to define oneself
in the world. Cultivating these strategies allowed me and my students
to pinpoint methodological and ideological issues at stake in recover-
ing the complex network of identities that characterized the medieval
Mediterranean world, no matter one’s position on its shores. Creating a
feminist classroom grounded in fostering connectivity permitted us to seek
resonances with that same connectivity in the medieval Mediterranean,
irrespective of whether our discussions in each class focused on gender
or other aspects of identity politics. The Mediterranean, with all its pro-
clivities to exchange, encounter, and connections, was our site. Feminist
pedagogy, with its proclivity toward building knowledge together and
fostering classroom connections, was our tool. Combined, the two
brought out interesting and unexpected moments of exchange among
participants and within texts, and revealed the usefulness of a feminist
pedagogy beyond the borders of a gender studies classroom.
While a graduate seminar specializing in medieval Mediterranean lit-
erature was an ideally specialized vehicle for trying out this new feminist
approach, it lends itself well to larger pedagogical practice. With careful
syllabus design and an insistence on losing mastery in the classroom, this
approach may bear fruit in a wide variety of settings. By encouraging
all of us to behave as novices, by going “back to the basics” with our
critical questions about how various texts play with a basic form (son-
net? play? ballad? epic?); how they build off of common, shared cultural
knowledge about religion, plot structure, or literary genre; and how they
articulate identity through language, we can encourage all students at all
levels to abandon their fears of expressing the most important, most basic
questions about texts, and to look for connections to other things they
might know, other areas of knowledge they might have. My experiences
teaching texts outside my linguistic area of expertise—from The Arabian
Nights to the Livro del cavallero Cifar (a Spanish prose adaptation of the life
of Saint Eustace, c. 1300) to Marco Polo’s Travels—suggest that in a class-
room designed to seek connections between texts and ideas, reading and
discussing beyond the borders of one’s comfort zone yields fresh insights

about how medieval identities were constructed. Though this approach

will not be possible in every “area” study of the medieval world, even its
failures will alert us to problems in our models and differences between
different groups in fruitful ways; it is therefore a useful strategy in most
medieval classrooms. While linguistic, historical, and literary expertise
would be every student and scholar’s dream, asking the text to speak
for itself without any of our expectations of mastery and asking how its
response resonates within a syllabus designed around a contextualized
reading program can bring some of the most fruitful results of a pedagogy
of connectivity, at every level.
By discarding the necessity for mastery, and making connectivity
an integral part of the pedagogic approach, this material can be easily
converted for discussion in an undergraduate classroom. Issues such as
identity and cross-cultural exchange, which figure prominently in medi-
eval texts like Digenis Akritas and Cligès, have natural resonance in most
undergraduate classrooms in this country, which are themselves often
a melting pot of traditions, classes, genders, and customs. Many of the
more academically theorized concepts that inform my graduate semi-
nar—such as the permeability of borderlands, the intersectionality of
feminist standpoint epistemolgical theory, and postcolonial notions of
centers and peripheries—can be adapted to the undergraduate classroom
because many students are already interested in identity politics, whether
they have been formally trained or not. For undergraduates, starting from
the readings—progressing from the questions of identity posed by the
text, and moving toward these bigger theoretical frameworks—is doubly
advantageous. First, they need not be masters of either the text or a theo-
retical dialogue when they start—rather, the texts are designed to produce
important questions about identity and intersectionality, ones that can
then be tied to theory in an upper-level course, or simply left as “impor-
tant questions” in a classroom in which theoretical discussion is prohib-
itive. Second, they are taught that the medieval is accessible and asks
many of the same questions about identity (gender, region, language, and
religious practices) that still interest us today. Since most of the primary
texts staging Mediterranean exchange are available in English, abandon-
ing mastery to explore what seem like inaccessible texts translated from
medieval Greek can produce fundamental discussions of self and other
that are integral to any undergraduate study of culture.

1. Howard R. Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic
Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Pau Gilabert Barberà,

“Greek Misogynist Tradition in Andreas Capellanus’s De Amore” (1996;

revised for 2010 digital edition), 12 pgs, available through the Dipòsit
Digital de la Universitat de Barcelona,;
David D. Gilmore, Misogyny: The Male Malady (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Richard F. Patteson, “Manhood and
Misogyny in the Imperialist Romance,” Rocky Mountain Review of
Language and Literature 35, no. 1 (1981): 3–12.
2. The teaching and study of medieval literature has been framed by the
nationalist interests and falsely “scientific” didactic approach created
by nineteenth-century scholars such as Paulin and Gaston Paris, and
Joseph Bédier; these methodologies were left virtually untouched until
the 1970s. Modern pedagogical theory—including feminist theory—has
revalued the place of the student in the classroom, changing even medi-
eval studies by shifting its focus from patrilineal models of father/teacher
and son/student relationships to models of equality and pluralism in ways
that deny scholastic genealogies of the past. Some of the tenets of feminist
pedagogy may seem natural to us now, but they are a recent intervention
in a field that still seeks to complicate the dynamics of medieval identity
in ways that defy its founding in nineteenth-century ideologies focused
on the role of men in power.
3. For more on feminist pedagogy, see Carolyn M. Shrewsbury’s “What
is Feminist Pedagogy?” where she defines it as “a theory about the
teaching/learning process that guides our choice of classroom prac-
tices by providing criteria to evaluate specific educational strategies
and techniques in terms of the desired course goals or outcomes. These
evaluative criteria include the extent to which a community of learners
is empowered to act responsibly toward one another and the subject
matter and to apply that learning to social action.” Women’s Studies
Quarterly 15, no. 3/4 (1987): 6. See also Audrey Lorde’s classic essay
about revealing traditional assumptions by thinking outside the box,
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” in
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, eds.
Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa (New York: Third Women
Press, 2002), 98–101.
4. Linda Briskin and Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement
of Women, Feminist Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning Liberation (Ottawa:
CRIAW, 1990); Jane Kenway and Helen Modra, “Feminist Pedagogy
and Emancipatory Possibilities,” in Feminisms and Critical Pedagogy, eds.
Carmen Luke and Jennifer Gore (New York: Routledge, 1992), 138–
66; Kathleen Gallagher, “The Everyday Classroom as Problematic: A
Feminist Pedagogy,” Curriculum Inquiry 30, no. 1 (2000): 71–81; Carmen
Luke, “Feminist Politics in Radical Pedagogy,” in Luke and Gore,
Feminisms and Critical Pedagogy, 25–53.
5. Shrewsbury, “What Is Feminist Pedagogy?,” 6.
6. Alexis J. Walker, “Cooperative Learning in the College Classroom,”
Family Relations 45, no. 3 (1996): 327.

7. Carmen Luke, “Feminist Pedagogy Theory: Ref lections on Power and

Authority,” Educational Theory 46, no. 3 (1996): 283–302. Such theories
resonate with Miriam Wallace’s assertion that “first, feminist pedagogy
had to mean more than a different set of texts to be read; rather, it ought
to mean a self-questioning and self-aware pedagogical practice which
began with the assumptions that power differentials exist in all social
situations, that the language in which we describe ourselves and our
activities is constitutive as well as descriptive, and that shifting pedagogi-
cal practices and assumptions would reveal some of the ways in which
social power is created and made invisible.” “Beyond Love and Battle:
Practicing Feminist Pedagogy,” Feminist Teacher 12, no. 3 (1999): 184.
8. Gallagher, “The Everyday Classroom As Problematic”; Briskin and
Women, Feminist Pedagogy; Frances A. Maher and Mary Kay Thompson
Tetreault, The Feminist Classroom: Dynamics of Gender, Race, and
Privilege (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); Frances Maher,
“Progressive Education and Feminist Pedagogies: Issues in Gender, Power
and Authority,” The Teachers College Record 101, no. 1 (1999): 35–59;
Becky Ropers-Huilman, Feminist Teaching in Theory and Practice: Situating
Power and Knowledge in Poststructural Classrooms (New York: Teachers
College Press, 1998); Elizabeth J. Tisdell, “Poststructural Feminist
Pedagogies: The Possibilities and Limitations of Feminist Emancipatory
Adult Learning Theory and Practice,” Adult Education Quarterly 48, no. 3
(1998): 139–56.
9. As Kathleen Weiler points out, we must acknowledge our own position-
ality in the classroom; no one teacher can speak for or address problems of
“women” as a group any more than they can describe the identity politics
of “medieval” people or even “French” people. “Freire and a Feminist
Pedagogy of Difference,” Harvard Educational Review 61, no. 4 (1991):
10. Kathleen Martindale critiques modern feminist pedagogy, claiming the
assumption of nurturing and mothering inherent in these writings only
replicates—rather than interrogates—societal norms about woman-
hood. “Theorizing Autobiography and Materialist Feminist Pedagogy,”
Canadian Journal of Education / Revue Canadienne de l’éducation 17, no. 3
(1992): 328.
11. bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South
End Press, 1989), 20.
12. See in particular the kinds of pedagogical equality and challenges she
identifies in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New
York: Routledge, 1994).
13. Carmel Borg and Peter Mayo, “Challenges for Critical Pedagogy: A
Southern European Perspective,” Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies
6, no. 1 (2006): 143–54.
14. Of course, the disturbing sense of lack of mastery is by no means limited
to texts from other languages and cultures: the medieval, too, has its own

alterity for students and scholars alike, and by bringing the alterity of
textual “others” to the forefront, we are able to begin to interrogate our
assumptions about our disciplinary “home.”
15. Digenis Akritis: The Grottaferrata and Escorial Versions, ed. Elizabeth Jeffreys
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Denison Bingham
Hull, Digenis Akritas; the Two-Blood Border Lord. The Grottaferrata Version
(Athens: Ohio University Press, 1972). For a sampling of critical readings,
see Roderick Beaton, The Medieval Greek Romance (London and New
York: Routledge, 1996); Roderick Beaton and David Ricks, eds., Digenes
Akrites: New Approaches to Byzantine Heroic Poetry (Aldershot; Brookfield,
VT: Variorum, 1993), especially the essay by Paul Magdalino, “Digenis
Akrites and Byzantine Literature: The Twelfth-Century Background
to the Grottaferrata Version,” 1–14; Sarah Ekdawi, Patricia Fann, and
Elli Philokyprou, “Bold Men, Fair Maids and Affronts to Their Sex:
The Characterization and Structural Roles of Men and Women in the
Escorial Digenis Akritis,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 17 (1993):
25–42; Théologitis Homère-Alexandre, “Digenis Akritas et la littéra-
ture byzantine: problèmes d’approche,” Collection de la Maison de l’Orient
Méditerranéen Ancien. Série Littéraire et Philosophique 29, no. 1 (2001): 393–
405; Paul Bancourt, “Etude de quelques motifs communs à l’épopée
Byzantine de Digenis Akritis et à La Chanson d’aiol,” Romania 95 (1974):
16. In class, students would cite work by feminists and other borderland the-
orists working on identity politics. Most commonly cited were Gloria
Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco:
Aunt Lute Books, 2012); Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds.,
This Bridge Called My Back; Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Feminism on the Border:
Chicana Gender Politics Literature (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2000). There is a longer critical tradition about border
identities that would also help contextualize the discussion of this femi-
nist vein within the larger borderlands literature.
17. Michael Herzfeld, “Practical Mediterraneanism: Excuses for Everything,
from Epistemology to Eating,” in William V. Harris, Rethinking the
Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 45–63; Fernand
Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip
II (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996);
Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of
Mediterranean History (London: Blackwell, 2000).



Kyunghee Pyun

Personal Experience of the Silk Road

In the fall of 2010, I was asked to teach a course at Brooklyn College
titled “Development of the Silk Road.” Having been educated in Seoul,
South Korea, I was already familiar with the long tradition of scholar-
ship formulated from the East Asian perspective. From elementary school
through college, with keen national pride, I learned about the Silk Road
as a crucial conduit for international trade across Eurasia. The Korean
Peninsula, though relegated to the northeastern corner of Eurasia, was
part of this global trade route. I also learned that several trade items from
the heyday of the Silk Road during the seventh and eight centuries CE
were excavated in tombs in South Korea and across the ocean in the islands
of Japan. Some of our Korean ancestors were significant players in this
history. For example, Hyecho (704–787 CE), a Buddhist monk from the
Unified Silla Dynasty (668–935 CE), studied esoteric Buddhism in Tang,
China, and left for India in 723 CE. He recorded his four-year journey
in a book titled Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Indian Kingdoms, which
includes valuable accounts of the five Indian kingdoms and the Byzantine
Empire, as well as reports about Arabs, Persians, and Central Asians. As a
child growing up in East Asia, I was particularly fascinated by the jour-
ney of Xuanzang (602–664 CE), a Buddhist monk who traveled to India
and produced an eminent historical document, Great Tang Records on the
Western Regions, and captured the interest of new generations of Koreans
as a popular character in children’s animations.1 In college, I read an
official version of Xuanzang’s documents in classical Chinese in courses

on Buddhist art and architecture. A course on the history of Central Asia

also motivated me to browse chapters in Xuanzang’s book describing the
customs and geography of various ethnic groups along the Silk Road. I
was also inspired to visit Chang’an (now Xi’an), the capital of the Tang
Dynasty and the eastern end of the Silk Road.
When I began studying for my graduate degrees in the United States
in the late 1990s, however, I had yet to discover a new aspect of the
Silk Road in courses on Byzantine art and Roman art. The materials
were familiar: fragments of Chinese silk demonstrate how much silk was
treasured in the West, while Persian metalwork and glass went from the
West to the East. But associations were quite different. My perspective
on the Silk Road transitioned from being centered on Buddhist religious
objects to including a range of artifacts and ethnic communities. I often
fantasized about how Byzantine emperors and aristocrats could have been
fascinated by Chinese and Central Asian silk carried along the Silk Road,
as shown, for example, in the patterned dresses of Empress Theodora and
her companions on wall mosaics of the San Vitale Church in Ravenna,
built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I (527–565 CE). The animal
patterns in roundels that decorate their dresses stem from Sogdian silk or
Tang-dynasty silk fabrics with the same patterns.
When planning this course on the Silk Road in 2010, I was thrown
into yet another world to interpret and find meaning out of the Silk
Road in a classroom in Brooklyn—a physical space far removed from
this ancient trade route. In this essay, I present my extraordinary experi-
ence of teaching cross-cultural encounters on the Silk Road, both in the
medieval and early modern periods, and as they relate to our post-9/11
context. I address the practical and conceptual challenges I encountered,
focusing on two challenges in particular: (1) discussing the difference
between aesthetic standards in order to interpret material culture, and
(2) offering a balanced view of Central Asia and Islam. I also discuss how
theorizations of cosmopolitanism equipped my students with a frame-
work to more effectively analyze historical, literary, and artistic content
related to the Silk Road. Through this teaching experience, I have firmly
come to believe that studying cross-cultural encounters, past and present,
is highly beneficial to students in our new information age crowded with
so-called knowledge workers, for example software engineers, scientists,
doctors, business consultants, and the like from all over the world.

Thinking of Cosmopolitanism
Students in my Silk Road class, which was developed as an interdis-
ciplinary humanities course for Brooklyn College’s Core Curriculum

program, were conversant neither with history-related disciplines nor

with Asian studies, whether East Asian or Pan Asian including India.
They did, however, possess a wealth of multicultural and international
experiences from which to draw. Out of 37 students, five were Chinese;
six from countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe; nine were Muslims
from Turkey, Iraq, and Pakistan; and there were some Jewish students
from Brooklyn, as well as students from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nigeria,
Brazil, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. Teaching a multicultural
course on the Silk Road was an effective way to engage these multiethnic
students in a course on the medieval and early modern periods, which
might otherwise strike them as exclusively white and European. One
student later told me that she came from Samarkand and was excited to
take this course to learn more about her place of ethnic origin. Another
student told me that he was pleased to learn more about the Timurid
Empire because he was named after Timur, the fourteenth-century hero
in Central Asia.
While perusing a list of enrolled students with a wide variety of for-
eign names and meeting with them in the first class, I could imagine
what a cosmopolitan city like Chang’an or Kucha (an oasis kingdom
in Central Asia; currently Xinjiang of China) might have looked like
in the eighth century CE. It occurred to me that students could easily
relate these medieval metropolises to contemporary New York, also full
of foreign residents and tourists. To help theorize multiculturalism, in
both the present and past, I began my course by discussing several views
on cosmopolitanism along with some controversies on immigration.
Kwame Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers won the
most favorable opinions from my students.2 Among various definitions of
cosmopolitanism as a philosophical idea or ideology, Appiah’s view states
that individuals from varying locations (geographical, economic, or cul-
tural) can establish relationships of mutual respect despite their differing
beliefs (religious, political, and ethical) in a cosmopolitan, functional, and
harmonious community. Appiah’s version of cosmopolitanism seemed
a useful concept for New York City students, who resented the lack of
ethical and respectful treatment of others in their city even as they were
often taught to make efforts to create inclusive communities.
In addition, I was able to historicize the concept of cosmopolitanism
for the ancient and premodern world along the Silk Road by introduc-
ing a balanced view of cross-cultural “interactions” between Byzantine,
Islamic, Indian, Central Asian, Chinese, Turkish, and Mongolian people.
My goal was to expand the common perspective of emphasizing Chinese
or Indian contributions to the Silk Road, an approach familiar from my
own undergraduate courses. At the same time, I was careful neither to

conceive of Central Asia as a peripheral extension of the Chinese Empire

nor to describe the Islamization of Central Asia as a brutal triumph.
Because I also included more materials from the Islamic world, our dis-
cussion also often included the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My Syllabus on the Development of the Silk Road

I chose two textbooks as primary readings: Susan Whitfield’s Life along
the Silk Road (2001), in which the development of the Silk Road is retold
from various fictional characters’ perspectives, and Richard Foltz’s Religion
of the Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Exchange from Antiquity to the
Fifteenth Century (2004). Both are easy to read at about two hundred pages
of text, and contain some black-and-white images. In his traditionally
historical account, Foltz succinctly summarizes various ethnic and reli-
gious groups coming in and out of the Silk Road, particularly in Central
and West Asia. Susan Whitfield’s collection of narratives contains rich,
historically accurate details of real events, well-known figures, material
culture, philology, and religion; this imaginative work stimulates stu-
dents to discuss their new knowledge and relate it to their personal expe-
riences.3 For each week’s reading, I paired a chapter in Foltz’s book with
a story in Whitfield’s. Students were able to obtain a timeline of events
and a summary of religious practices from Foltz. This skeletal outline was
enriched by Whitfield’s microscopic description of peoples and famous
Memorable chapters from Whitfield’s book include her account of the
waning international trade along the Silk Road during and after the An
Lushan Rebellion in Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty (755–763
CE). The chapter “Courtesan’s Tale” intertwines political turmoil with an
individual’s fate: a woman from Kucha travels to Chang’an to work as an
entertainer and experiences the chaotic An Lushan Rebellion firsthand.
As an old woman back in Kucha, she recounts a life-threatening moment
when Chinese soldiers ruthlessly pursued foreigners in Chang’an and she
watched her friends being killed. My students were particularly fascinated
by the Chinese demand for foreign-born entertainers, musicians, cour-
tesans, and merchandise. Another chapter, “Merchant’s Tale,” is about a
merchant from Samarkand of Sogdia, a territory currently corresponding
to parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. He travels along the Silk Road to
sell specialty merchandise from Central Asia and buy enough silk to bring
back to people in West Asia. Whitfield’s account of the training of these
two protagonists, as entertainer and merchant, respectively, and of their
tumultuous journey along the Silk Road, offers rich information on how
precarious life was in premodern Central Asia. After reading “Monk’s

Tale,” “Nun’s Tale,” “Official’s Tale,” and “Artist’s Tale,” students often
also related their own experiences of acculturation from their birthplace
to their adopted country. One student, who was majoring in chemical
engineering, pointed out that having a special skill can be beneficial in
multilinguistic, multiethnic communities, as in the case of the Central
Asian monk who had medical expertise and settled in Dunhuang, or
the Tibetan painter with a talent for copying Buddhist iconography who
remained a popular employee among Chinese monks and artists.
Because Foltz and Whitfield do not discuss artistic production along
the Silk Road in detail, I supplemented these readings with visual materi-
als drawn from exhibition catalogues and art historical documents. For
example, Central Asian entertainers and musicians on camel were often
represented in three-color glazed earthenware of the Tang Dynasty.4
Foreign merchant figurines made of the same material are also avail-
able in major collections of Chinese art. Most importantly, fragments
of textile from the Byzantine Empire, Sassanian Empire, Central Asian
regions, and China enriched our reading materials and fired students’ his-
torical imagination. I made these visual materials available on Brooklyn
College’s Blackboard online learning system, so students could identify
well-known artworks from the Dunhuang Cave Temples, the Shōsōin
Treasury in Japan, and the ceramics and textiles of China and Central
Asia in major art museums.
When I teach this course again, I am likely to include readings from
the following publications, most of which were not available for Fall
2010. Frances Wood’s The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of
Asia (2004) is a survey book of art history, arranged chronologically with
rich color illustrations of major monuments and artworks. For instructors
who are not art historians, Wood’s book is a wonderful resource. Two
recent books from the series New Oxford World History, The Silk Road
in World History (2010) by Xinru Liu and Central Asia in World History
(2011) by Peter B. Golden, encompass modern times and the present,
and so can supplement Foltz’s book, which ends abruptly in the fifteenth
century. Christopher I. Beckwith’s Empires of the Silk Road: A History of
Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (2011) could serve as a use-
ful reference, and finally The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction (2013)
by James A. Millward is short yet essential introductory reading on the

Discussing “Quality” in Material Culture

One of the challenges of teaching cultural artifacts from non-European
regions or premodern periods is that many of these artifacts may not

appear to have artistic merit to students or indeed any modern viewer. My

students understood that artifacts in rare materials such as glass bowls or
ivory ornaments were considered valuable, and that desire for luxurious
goods prompted international trade across the Silk Road and later across
the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, but struggled to find the aesthetic merit
in individual works. One student pointed out that many of the art objects
covered in our Silk Road class were not “fine arts” as we understood
them in the Eurocentric tradition of art history. Though I carefully chose
politically correct terms for the peoples, cultures, and artistic productions
of Central Asia, I had to admit that by trying to present material objects
from the Silk Road as comparable to the standards of fine arts museums
in the West, I was also a product of the European Enlightenment.
When we discussed examples of Buddha statues from regions across
the Silk Road and the spread of international trends in Buddhist iconog-
raphy, for instance, some students wondered why these statues appear “less
naturalistic” than Greco-Roman sculpture. It seems conceivable that, as
modern viewers, students might fail to see the artistic merit of a piece of
art despite understanding that certain objects were valued in a liturgical
or funerary context in their original period and thus considered worth
collecting in a museum. We discussed the fact that what to them seemed
“less naturalistic” in Buddhist iconography is based on Western aesthetic
biases. As Appiah argues in Cosmopolitanism, people impose their own
aesthetic values and symbolic meanings on artifacts made in different
cultures.5 We further explored the fact that this attitude has thoroughly
permeated our culture since the early modern period, as illustrated by
the views of Renaissance humanists and Catholic missionaries, so that
many people educated in the tradition of Western Enlightenment take
Eurocentric aesthetic standards for granted.
To overcome this challenge, our discussion of archaeological findings
also tackled questions such as the following: In which context would a
piece of textile from Central Asia be collected and displayed? Does it
belong to an art museum or a natural history museum? Are images on a
wall painting unclear or murky because the original pigments are opaque,
or because of deterioration over time? A famous jacket from Central Asia
now in the Cleveland Museum of Art presented many fascinating issues
(see Figures 3.1–3.3).
Students asked why a child’s jacket, an ethnic costume made of Sogdian
silk for a Tibetan client of the eighth century, ended up in the collection
of an art museum—why not in a natural history museum along with cos-
tumes and artifacts for a “hall of Asian peoples,” for example?6 I explained
that the silk was a rare specimen from Sogdiana, and the pattern with two
ducks facing each other in pearl roundels alternating with cross-shaped
Figure 3.1 Tibetan Children’s Jacket for a Prince. Sogdian silk with Sassanian-
Persian pattern of ducks in pearl roundels. Eighth century (Tang Dynasty). 18 7/8"
high and 32 7/16" wide. © The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Figure 3.2 Lining of the Tibetan Jacket. Chinese silk damask. Eighth century
(Tang Dynasty). 18 7/8" high and 32 7/16" wide. © The Cleveland Museum of

Figure 3.3 Matching Pants of the Tibetan Jacket in Chinese Silk Damask. Eighth
century (Tang Dynasty). 20 1/2" high and 11" wide. © The Cleveland Museum of Art.

lotus blossoms originated from the Sassanian Dynasty, thus serving as

important evidence of Iranian inf luence on silk textile. Students then
wondered why the jacket was housed in the collection of “Textiles and
Iranian Art” rather than “Chinese Art,” even though the silk lining of
the jacket and matching pants are made of Chinese damask of the Tang
Dynasty. In response, we discussed the curators’ wish to classify this item
by the geographic location of its fabric, not of the tailored clothing. That
these outfits are tailored in a Tibetan style further intrigued my students.
They speculated on how a Tibetan prince or member of a high-class
family could have acquired such luxurious fabrics, and in turn on how
textiles might have been traded.
I also addressed my own sensitivity to different aesthetic standards
and shared my personal experiences. I explained how, during my grand
tour of museums in Europe and North America in the early 1990s, I
was mildly offended to see a scanty collection of musical instruments,
household items, and agrarian tools alongside fine examples of Korean
porcelain and wooden furniture in a glass case designated “Korean peo-
ple” or “Asian Peoples.” It seemed to me that such collections were a

continuation of the nineteenth-century world expositions exhibiting

native people from European colonies in a national pavilion as living
specimens. Had these objects remained in Korea, they would have been
legitimately classified and housed in a folk art museum, historic society,
or art museum. I also informed students that in the late 1990s Korea
and China ran national campaigns to promote their “fine art” traditions
and funded special exhibitions and galleries in major art museums. Some
students related this context to their knowledge of pre-Columbian and
African art works found in art, folk art, and natural history museums. An
integral component of my teaching was a mission to expose my students
to the most sophisticated aesthetics of non-Western art works. With this
in mind, I sent students to New York City’s newly furbished galleries of
Asian, Islamic, and Southeast Asian art. We also discussed the compara-
tive perspectives of aestheticism and technology. For those who do not
have access to superb collections of Asian art, I would recommend the
educational Web sites of museums and documentary videos.7
The artistic merit of some Silk Road artifacts, however, does translate
easily from their original cultural context to be valued by different cul-
tures and historical eras. For example, it is relatively easy to convince stu-
dents of the artistic merit of ceramics and textiles. In the case of porcelain,
European counterparts never reached the superb quality of Asian works.
This is exactly why Europe was so eager to trade with Asia. Chinese
porcelain vessels were so outstanding in their artistry that Persian and
later Arab potters tried hard to imitate them but never achieved the same
standards. The same was true for silk: even though the Byzantine Empire
launched a successful silk industry under Emperor Justinian, Europe was
always in need of high-quality silk textiles imported from the East.8
Similarly, transparent glass vessels were usually the monopoly of West
Asia, which became part of the Arab world through Muslim conquest in
the seventh century, following the lingering demise of Roman civiliza-
tion. Precious glass vessels from Sassanian Persia were buried in tombs
or deposited in pagodas as reliquaries in Korea and Japan. They looked
lovely and attractive regardless of religious, linguistic, or ethnic back-
ground across the Silk Road.
Another hurdle for my Silk Road class was that most artifacts and
material objects dated from the sixth to twelfth centuries and represented
a diverse range of religious beliefs: their intrinsic value as liturgical or
devotional objects was often incomprehensible to young people in the
twenty-first century. Students were often at a loss to understand the
highest accomplishments of Buddhist scripts, wall paintings, and hang-
ing scrolls. Unlike porcelain or silk textile, these objects require careful
“reading” or “veneration” based on traditions of religious iconography

and doctrines. Moreover, it is difficult for an audience accustomed to

the tactile pleasure of objects, for instance of Renaissance paintings with
glaring oil varnish, to appreciate a Buddhist pantheon illustrated in dusty
old books.9
Whether I taught the history of book illumination from the European
tradition or Buddhist paintings from the Silk Road, students were not
responding intuitively and convincingly to sophisticated types of mate-
rial culture like illustrated books, whether Asian, European, or Islamic,
in their original cultural context. Students had difficulty appreciating
what these art works were about because of their own lack of cultural
background in the doctrines and values of various religions. To overcome
this challenge, we discussed how Christian, Buddhist, and Islamic cul-
tures all produced illustrated books as instructional tools and devotional
objects, splurging on precious materials like gold and silver to decorate
sacred scriptures. Illuminations of Christian iconography and silk paint-
ings of Buddhist iconography are similar in their hierarchical depictions
of figures and conventional representation of religious visions such as
the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Western Paradise of Amita Buddha,
although the degree of naturalism differs depending on subperiods and
pictorial styles. By reading anthologies of literary, religious, and philo-
sophical treatises, students came to understand that certain religious ico-
nographies, for instance those depicting three deities together (the Holy
Trinity, the Three Graces, or a Buddha Triad) could be commonly found
in different cultures. Our readings included essays on ethnographic art,
such as those in Views of Difference: Different Views of Art, which effectively
address aesthetic differences in the visual arts of East Asian, European,
South Asian, and African cultures.10 Including one or two essays on this
topic can usefully explain the intrinsic values, functions, materials, and
“quality” of material artifacts from Central Asia.11

Central Asia in the Post-9/11 Era

Another factor that renders Central Asia’s contribution to the Silk Road
a complex issue to tackle in the classroom is Central Asia’s long history of
being colonized or controlled by others. Central Asia is currently under
the inf luence of Russia and China, much as it had been under the Chinese
or Arab Empires before. Modern political views of Central Asia origi-
nate from the discourses of imperialism (for example, Peter Hopkirk’s
Great Game) because Central Asia’s geographic conditions never allowed
its people to establish a powerful nation state.12 Thus, the cultural con-
tributions made by various tribes populating regions in Central Asia are
not properly addressed in histories of the Silk Road and in general works

of art history. Because most accounts of Central Asians during the Silk
Road era were not written by Central Asians themselves, it is important
for students to take into consideration the cultural biases that inform
these accounts.
To address these biases, we studied depictions of Central Asians in
artistic and textual traditions. For example, we analyzed the physical
appearances of foreigners depicted on Chinese porcelain and wall paint-
ings. In these artifacts, Central Asian people are presented as “foreign”
or “unusual” in their neighbors’ eyes. Additionally, we discussed the cus-
toms and languages of Central Asians we read about in Chinese historical
documents and Arabic sources. The Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang,
for instance, characterizes people in the Kingdom of Kashmir as “light
and frivolous, of a weak, pusillanimous disposition . . . handsome but
given to cunning.”13
We also considered how such biases were filtered through more recent
publications on the Silk Road, like Whitfield’s. The book’s stories of
fictional characters from Central Asia often include a section describing
appearances or reputations to add lively details to the historical figures
of Uighur soldiers, Sogdian merchants, or Indian monks. For example,
Whitfield identifies a horseman named Kumtugh as a Uighur Turk with
“a characteristically broad face, thick eyelashes, and deep-set green eyes”
and “a short-belted blue tunic with narrow sleeves, and trousers tucked
into soft leather boots.”14 Similarly, a Sogdian merchant has a “heavily
bearded face” and wears an idiosyncratic Sogdian dress so that he could
be easily distinguished from the Chinese, Turks, and Tibetans.15 I pointed
out that many of these features were primarily based on well-known
Chinese historical sources like Sima Tian’s Shiji and Xuanzang’s travel
essay. Many students wondered what Central Asian historical tribes had
really looked like, and how local people would have described certain
events. I also introduced the historiography of Central Asia and touched
upon the preconceptions and personal interests of great scholars of the Silk
Road. Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky (1839–1888; Polish-Russian),
Aurel Stein (1862–1943; Jewish-Hungarian-British), Sven Hedin (1865–
1952; Swedish-German), and Paul Pelliot (1878–1945; French) were all,
whether willingly or involuntarily, in service of the Imperial expansion-
ism of the late nineteenth century. This was one of the best moments of
the class: to think like a real historian trying to skim off deep-rooted
biases and preconceptions and to maintain fairness as much as possible.
To contextualize the ethnic profiling evident in historical documents,
I brief ly returned to Appiah’s concept of cosmopolitanism and asked stu-
dents whether various depictions of Central Asians demonstrated the lim-
its of cosmopolitanism for the multicultural Silk Road. Students agreed

with Appiah’s positive outlook on cosmopolitanism and the ethical issues

related to it, but they also pointed out xenophobic incidents in history
and expressed doubt about creating a harmonious cosmopolitan society
without discrimination. Treating strangers with unconditional hospital-
ity through ethical principles is easier said than done. Even in New York,
an archetype of a global city, according to students, many people are con-
strained by their own stereotypes and biases. Several students mentioned
how negatively “strangers” are portrayed in public media in our society.
This sentiment lingered on in our discussion of people and artifacts in
Central Asia.
The discussion on the early modern history of the Silk Road and
Central Asia also presented opportunities to discuss Islam. The ques-
tion of why Central Asians converted to Islam made students deliberate
outside the simplistic mindset that conversion comes only from conquest.
Foltz’s final chapters discuss the Islamization process in the region. After
the fall of the Mongolian Empires, myriad ethnic groups converted to
Islam one after another. My question to students for this portion of Foltz’s
book concerned those aspects of Islam that might have been appealing.
Foltz describes in a judicious tone how Islam was chosen out of business
interests to benefit from more trade with the Islamic world, or in some
cases was voluntarily adopted by people to avoid a lawless void of power.
He sets a balanced tone to overthrow the stereotype of Islamic invaders
imposing merciless conversion on the conquered.
Studying later historical developments along the Silk Road provided
students with opportunities to discuss the positive aspects of Central
Asians’ conversion to Islam and also enhanced their understanding of
Islamic culture in general. The topic of Islam as a dominant ideology in
the region was of particular interest to my Muslim students and broad-
ened our discussion. I often divided the class of 37 students into five or
six small groups and sat in on each group so that I could hear some stu-
dents who had not voiced opinions during the larger group discussions.
One student from Turkey described the many positive aspects of being a
Muslim today. Women students from Pakistan or Indonesia also empha-
sized the importance of charities in Islamic societies as represented by
Zakat or almsgiving in the Five Pillars of Islam.
We were able to link our discussion of Islam in early modern Central
Asia to more recent events in the region, including the Taliban’s explo-
sion of the Bamiyan Buddhas. The heated, but productive, discussion
that this event inspired demonstrates the useful perspectives that cross-
cultural encounters from the past can provide when examining current
world events. These two colossal Buddhas of the sixth century were con-
sidered wonders of the world for several hundred years and functioned

as important points of reference for travelers and soldiers. Students were

already familiar with seventh- and eighth-century Buddhist pilgrims’
descriptions of the Buddhas. I related to students my own experience
of viewing large hanging photographs of the destroyed Buddhas at the
Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris during research for my doctoral dis-
sertation in 2001. Having spent a good portion of my twenties studying
Gandhara art, including the Bamiyan Buddhas, I told students how bereft
I felt about their destruction. Some Muslim students became agitated
and interrupted my empathetic reaction to the destroyed Buddha statues.
One student remarked that the anthropomorphic icons of other religions
are considered idols in the Islamic tradition and quoted a Taliban state-
ment that the West offered money to preserve the Bamiyan Buddhas but
refused to provide funds to feed Afghan children.
This was the perfect moment to discuss Muslim attitudes toward other
religions. From an article on the Bamiyan Buddhas written in 2002 by a
specialist of Islamic art, Finbarr Barry Flood, students learned that despite
Muslim rulers’ iconoclastic tendency of smashing religious symbols and
icons in newly occupied regions, before the thirteenth century, Muslims
were rather tolerant toward the monuments and statues of other reli-
gions.16 The Bamiyan Buddhas were well integrated into Muslim sen-
timents and historical imagination in the early modern period. Flood
quotes Muslim authors who described the Bamiyan Buddhas, popularly
called “red idol” and “grey idol,” as “wonders and marvels” of the world.17
In his erudite examination of Islamic sources, Flood presents iconoclastic
measures in a spectrum from disfigurement to idol trampling. In this
context, the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas, which had been previ-
ously damaged, seemed extremely peculiar.18 Flood concludes by relating
the carefully staged destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas to the political
protest by the Taliban government in Afghanistan. We also discussed
other images from Flood’s book, including defaced figural sculptures and
columns looted from Hindu and Jain temples and reused in the con-
struction of mosques such as Delhi’s Qutb Mosque. Several Muslim stu-
dents were surprised by the f lexible and creative adaptation of foreign
visual elements by the Ghaznavid and Ghurid Sultanates in Islamized
Afghanistan and Indian territories from the eighth to the thirteenth cen-
turies.19 Once again, students learned that it is inappropriate to impose
traditional (Western) paradigms of aesthetic taste and artistic transmission
on Central Asian monuments and artifacts by classifying them as Indian,
Islamic, Turkish, or Chinese.
If I teach this course again, I plan to learn more about recent political
issues related to the post-9/11 world and to gain more knowledge of coun-
tries currently occupying the regions along the Silk Road. As a historian

of premodern periods, I was always more comfortable staying away from

current political issues. But our discussion of the Bamiyan Buddhas nec-
essarily led us to consider the Taliban’s solicitation of humanitarian aid for
Afghanistan; the aloof responses of powerful countries including Russia,
China, and the United States to Afghanistan’s drought and food short-
ages; and the enthusiastic willingness of the United Nations, major art
museums, and some Taliban-friendly countries such as Pakistan and Iran
to restore the Bamiyan Buddhas.20 Although students did not condone
the destruction of cultural monuments by the Taliban, and did point out
that this was a politically motivated act, they also expressed sensitivity
toward humanitarian causes and the difficulty of maintaining a delicate
balance of power in the post-9/11 era.

Conclusion: To Be a Cosmopolitan Citizen

In retrospect, my course on the Silk Road at Brooklyn College was
unusually satisfying because most of the students already had some
college experience and came from diverse cultural backgrounds. One
Muslim student thanked me for giving him an opportunity to eluci-
date more about his own religious practices through our readings and
discussions. I also learned a lot from his presentation on the policy for
converting non-Muslims conquered by Islamic powers in Central Asia.
A group of Chinese students also gave a presentation on Chinese imperial
policies of tolerance and polytheism. Overall, the students and I felt that
we accomplished a baby step toward Appiah’s ethical predisposition of
mutual respect for strangers.
As an instructor, the Silk Road class was not easy to teach. That is
perhaps why similar courses are often only offered in schools with large
programs in regional studies. In ten years of teaching at various col-
leges in New York City, I always included some materials from Central
Asia in courses on East Asian art or Buddhist art. This Brooklyn College
class was the first time I was able to teach a course dedicated to the Silk
Road. It would be difficult to replicate this course because it would have
an uneven distribution of materials depending on the instructor’s back-
ground. My own syllabus focused much more on ancient and medieval
periods; an Islamist teaching a variant of this course might give more
time to the post-Mongolian Empires; with a Byzantinist or an Asian art
historian instructor, the syllabus and readings would also be very differ-
ent: the burden on the instructor is to read more broadly and provide a
balanced viewpoint.
Ultimately, it is not easy to develop this kind of cross-cultural material
without institutional support. The best way to replicate this Silk Road

course would be to form a team of two or three instructors within inter-

disciplinary and interdepartmental settings to draw students from dif-
ferent majors. The more diverse the class, the better the outcome for
classroom discussion. If two professors in the same department, or ideally
several professors across the disciplines of history, anthropology, political
science, and regional studies, could organize a forum for regular meetings
as well as classroom lectures, this would offer students a great opportunity
for intellectual development and professors avenues for future research as
Expanding the chronological scope to include the modern and con-
temporary periods is also crucial for American universities and colleges in
less cosmopolitan regions. The United States has made indelible contact
with Central Asia through its recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
the Silk Road is an important precedent of global encounters and cross-
cultural exchanges for Eurasia, encounters and exchanges that now focus
more on economic interests such as natural gas pipes and railroad con-
structions. Instead of devoting two-thirds of my semester to the ancient
ruins of Gandhara art and Buddhist cave temples along the Silk Road,
next time I teach this course, I will include modern and contemporary art
works inspired by Central Asia or created by artists from these regions.
Ours was a unique journey to connect the past and the present, and
to feel the urgency of nurturing a cosmopolitan community tolerant of
our own and others’ values and belief systems. I am convinced that more
pedagogical activities, such as those described in this essay, would nur-
ture cosmopolitan classroom communities tolerant of multiple belief sys-
tems and values. My journey along the Silk Road in a Brooklyn College
classroom taught me more than any book on the subject. Although I still
struggle to portray cross-cultural encounters that were mutually ben-
eficial and that do not favor a single tradition, I encourage others to
have the courage to teach a class on the Silk Road that favors multiple
perspectives including those of Central Asians, even if they do not have
complete expertise in all the cultures along the Silk Road. Teaching a
course on the multicultural Silk Road provides a learning opportunity
for both students and the instructor, and approaching the class in this way
allows professors to cover material beyond their disciplinary mastery and
to learn with students during the course.

1. The children’s animation series is based on A Journey to the West, a fic-
tional account of Xuanzang’s travels written in the sixteenth century dur-
ing the Ming Dynasty and first translated into English by Arthur Waley

in 1942. The Waley translation has also been published as Adventures of

the Monkey God, Monkey to the West, Monkey: [A] Folk Novel of China,
and The Adventures of Monkey, and in a further abridged version for chil-
dren, Dear Monkey in 1973. See also the complete translations by William
John Francis Jenner, Journey to the West (Beijing: Foreign Language Press,
1982–1984); and Anthony C. Yu, The Journey to the West (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1977–1983 and 2012), which includes an
extensive scholarly introduction and notes. The latter was also abridged
as The Monkey and the Monk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
2. Kwame Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (New York:
W. W. Norton and Co., 2006).
3. Jennifer Ball, who taught this course for many years and invited me to
teach it during her sabbatical, recommended several books. I thank her
for sharing her syllabus and textbook recommendations with me.
4. The most famous artwork, Camel Carrying a Group of Musicians, discovered
at a tomb near Xi’an (Chang’an) is at the National Museum in Beijing.
A similar representation of Central Asian musicians is also found in the
well-known eighth-century painting on a lute (“biwa” in Japanese) in
the Shō sōin treasury in Nara, Japan. Similar images are available in major
collections of Chinese art housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries
in Washington, DC.
5. Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, 122–5 and 128–30.
6. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1996.2.1 at the Cleveland Museum
of Art. Color plate 10 in Susan Whitfield, Lives along the Silk Road
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 82–83. The lining silk
has accession number as Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1996.2a;
matching pants, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1996.2b.
7. “The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History” on the Metropolitan Museum
of Art Web site ( includes a num-
ber of useful articles on the Silk Road and Asian art works. Any major
art museum would also be a great resource: Los Angeles County
Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Cleveland Museum
of Art, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Freer and Sackler Galleries in
Washington, DC, and Brooklyn Museum of Art.
8. In the famous Annunciation panel at the Uffizi Gallery (ca. 1333), Simone
Martini’s angel wears a dress made of sumptuous silk with golden pat-
terns. According to the Metropolitan Museum’s Mongolian art exhi-
bition catalogue, it was imported from Central Asia: Textile with Floral
Pattern, late thirteenth or mid-fourteenth century, Central Asia; silk and
metallic thread lampas; 4 3/4 x 11 in. (12.1 x 27.9 cm); The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.191.3). See When
Silk Was Gold: Textiles: Central Asian and Chinese Textiles (New York:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997). The Legacy of Genghis Khan:
Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353 (New York: The

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002) also includes luxury silks traded

along the Silk Road. A group of students in my class undertook an inter-
esting project on materials derived from these catalogues. Afghanistan:
Forging Civilizations along the Silk Road (New York: The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, 2012) is another useful reference.
9. When my class on East Asian art was observed by faculty members, I was
often asked why my images looked unclear and whether the projector
was out of focus. Old images on a clay wall or on silk do not preserve
well, and natural pigments made from minerals and plants do not bear
clear, saturated hues.
10. Catherine King, ed., Views of Difference: Views of Art (New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 1999). Students responded well in discus-
sions after reading the Introduction. I thank Bokyung Kim for drawing
my attention to it.
11. In my Objects as History class, a new style of introductory-level art his-
torical survey course at the New School University, Parsons School of
Design, I assign readings about Native American and Pre-Columbian
art for a unit called “Silk Road and Beyond 200–800,” including Claire
Farago, “Silent Moves: On Excluding the Ethnographic Subjects from the
Discourse of Art History,” in Art History & Its Institutions, ed. Elizabeth
Mansfield (London: Routledge, 2002), 191–214 and Timothy Mitchell,
“The World as Exhibition,” Comparative Studies in Society and History
31, no. 2 (1989): 217–32. See also Satya P. Mohanty, “Can our Values be
Objective? On Ethics, Aesthetics, and Progressive Politics,” in Aesthetics
in a Multicultural Age, eds. Emory Elliott, Louis Freitas Caton, and Jeffrey
Rhyne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 31–43. These articles
are also available in Donald Preziosi’s The Art of Art History: A Critical
Anthology, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009): Farago, 195–
214; Mitchell (revised as “Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order”),
409–23; and Mohanty, 443–54. The Oxford History of Art series includes
excellent volumes on Native American and Pre-Columbian art. Literary
criticism on Orientalism and race can provide additional crucial issues for
12. Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia (1990;
repr., London: John Murray, 2006).
13. A quotation from Xuanzang’s Buddhist Records of the Western World in
Whitfield, Lives along the Silk Road, 113.
14. Whitfield, Lives along the Silk Road, 77.
15. Whitfield, Lives along the Silk Road, 29: “A Phrygian hat, conical with the
top turned forward; a knee-length, belted over-jacket of deep-blue silk
brocade woven with decorative roundels enclosing two deer facing each
other; and narrow trousers tucked into calf-length brocade boots with
leather soles.”
16. Finbarr Barry Flood, “Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic
Iconoclasm, and the Museum,” The Art Bulletin 84, no. 4 (2002):

17. Flood, “Between Cult and Culture,” 649nn73–74.

18. Flood, “Between Cult and Culture,” 651.
19. Finbarr Barry Flood, Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval
“Hindu-Muslim” Encounter (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
20. For good summaries of the incident see W. L. Rathje, “Why the
Taliban Are Destroying Buddhas,” USA Today, March 22, 2001, http:// y/2001-03-22-
afghan-buddhas.htm and Carlotta Gall, “Afghans Consider Rebuilding
Bamiyan Buddhas,” New York Times, November 5, 2006, http://



Elizabeth Pentland

E nglish travel writing in the early modern period is full of cross-cul-

tural encounters, and the study of that literature today also involves
a complex set of cross-cultural negotiations. Our job, as teachers, is to
facilitate those negotiations by introducing students to the pleasures of
exploring early modern literature, and by giving them the tools they need
to effectively contextualize their encounters with the past. In this essay,
I address some of the difficulties and delights of teaching early modern
cross-cultural encounters in the context of an undergraduate survey of
English travel writing from 1500 to the present. Survey courses present
a predictable set of challenges when it comes to teaching cross-cultural
encounters in early modern literature—not least the need to historicize,
in a very concise way, those encounters—but they can also be richly
rewarding to both teachers and students. They present us, for example,
with unique opportunities to explore how writers respond, at different
times, to changing literary and cultural contexts. And they also offer the
opportunity to think not just about cross-cultural encounters that occur
within literary texts, but also those that might occur between or among
texts, and between ourselves (as readers) and the early modern texts we
are studying.
In the 13-week, second-year survey course that I teach on travel writ-
ing in English, we spend three weeks at the beginning of the term look-
ing at early modern texts. The course, which focuses on nonfiction, is
organized into three broadly defined temporal units: early modern travel
writing (1500–1630), the long eighteenth century (1680–1832), and the

contemporary (1975-present). Much, by necessity, is left out of such a

brief survey. The Victorians and the moderns—and thus many of the
best-known travel writers in the English tradition—are conspicuously
absent. Instead, as a specialist in early modern literature, my desire is to
expose students to earlier, less familiar periods in English literature, and
to bring these rich and complex works into dialogue with contemporary
travel writing. The “encounter” that this sets up for us, between modern
and early modern literature, is both fascinating and highly productive
for undergraduate students, as they come to grips with what is strange
(and sometimes estranging) about early modern culture but also what is
familiar in it.
In each of the three units, we tackle writing about three or four
broadly defined regions: our readings in the early modern period focus
on English writing about the Americas, Europe, and the Near East.1 Our
eighteenth-century readings revisit some of these places, but also venture
into new territory, exploring the rise of domestic travel in Britain, the
literature of Atlantic slave trade, and the interplay of science and colo-
nialism in narratives about Australia and the Pacific. Rather than privi-
lege any single writer during these first weeks, I assign works in excerpt
to give students a sense of the multiple and often contradictory points
of view that characterize this early literature. For our final unit on con-
temporary travel writing, we look at four different authors, each writing
about a different part of the world. Contemporary works are chosen for
the way they ref lect critically on earlier traditions of travel and travel
writing, which tended to favor white, Christian, Eurocentric, and, for
the most part, male perspectives: the Afro-British writer Caryl Phillips
addresses the consequences of Europe’s colonial past and its narratives of
national identity in The European Tribe; Jon Krakauer explores a young
man’s anti-Capitalist asceticism and the idealization of the American
wilderness in Into the Wild; Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita offers a femi-
nist perspective on the history of Antarctic travel; and in Sun after Dark:
Flights into the Foreign, Pico Iyer explores, through a Buddhist lens, the
porous boundaries of the “foreign” in contemporary, global culture.2
Writing assignments and exam questions ask students to put early mod-
ern writers into dialogue with their eighteenth- or twenty-first-century
counterparts—to identify shared interests and attitudes among writers
and to trace the broader effects of historical and cultural change on the
literature. The course thus enables us to historicize the early modern
cross-cultural encounters we read about as well as our own assumptions
about the past.
Establishing the historical context for early modern English travel
writing in just three weeks, while also explicating the literature itself, is
T E A C H I N G E N G L I S H T R AV E L W R I T I N G 73

one of the main challenges of teaching this course. Originally designed

as a “popular genres” offering in our department, the course typically
draws as many non-majors as majors. Students come to the course with
an enthusiastic interest in travel and perhaps even the desire to become
travel writers themselves.3 Few, however, have much knowledge of the
early modern period, and most, coming from other disciplines, have
never taken the kind of survey course in English literature that would
help them to situate the works or periods we cover. I find, therefore, that
an interactive, or dialogic, lecture style helps me to identify the areas
where students are most knowledgeable and to home in on historical top-
ics that need further explication. I thus begin almost every lecture with
questions about the assigned readings: Was there anything about them
that surprised you? What did you find most challenging? Were there
things that didn’t make sense to you or that needed more explanation?
From this discussion, I move to the day’s lecture, which develops one or
two aspects of the broader literary or historical context for that week’s
readings. As time allows, we then turn to the readings themselves and
address issues or contexts specific to individual works. Since there is usu-
ally more material here than can be discussed in a two-hour class session,
we spend much of our additional tutorial hour on further close reading
and discussion.
Having structured the course around multiple and conf licting points
of view, I look for ways to put individual writers into dialogue: Francis
Bacon, for example, argued that the educational and professional benefits
of European travel far outweighed the dangers; Queen Elizabeth’s tutor,
Roger Ascham, was of the opposite opinion, warning that young men
often returned from Italy “not onely with worse manners, but also with
lesse learnyng: neither so willing to live orderly, nor yet so hable to speake
learnedlie, as they were at home, before they went abroad.”4 I often start
by asking students who is right, and why. From their initial answers (gen-
erally on the side of Bacon), we talk about the dangers associated with
travel in the sixteenth century, and why Roman Catholic Italy might
have seemed especially threatening to an Englishman in 1570. To lay the
groundwork for this discussion, my lecture on early modern travel writ-
ing about Europe begins with a discussion of the European Reformation
and the religious struggles of the sixteenth century. I make available
the main points of my lecture on slides illustrated with images from the
period, so that students can take notes and ask questions as we proceed.
I touch brief ly on several key events—Henry VIII’s dispute with the
Catholic Church and the Act of Supremacy of 1534; the country’s sub-
sequent changes of religion under Mary I and Elizabeth I; the trauma of
the French religious wars (1562–1598); and Spain’s attempted invasion of

England with the Armada of 1588. Each of these topics provides some
context for the week’s reading: if we understand the threat that Spain
posed to England’s political and religious autonomy during this period,
for example, we can begin to appreciate the paranoia and hostility that
inform William Lithgow’s sensational account of his imprisonment there
in the excerpt we read from his Totall Discourse of the Rare Adventures
(1632).5 I also make a point of addressing the difficulties of early mod-
ern English up front: I explain that I do not expect them to understand
everything all at once, that learning this “new” language will take some
effort, and that it has taken me years of working closely with sixteenth-
century literature to feel I understand it well.
English travel writing in this period is perhaps not as diverse as it
becomes in later eras—there are no women writers represented in our
textbook, differences in social class are limited and often hard to dis-
cern, and we must, generally speaking, look to works in translation (Leo
Africanus’s History and Description of Africa, for example) for writers of
non-European descent. But it is diverse in other ways: political and reli-
gious differences are especially important in this period and register quite
powerfully in the published literature; and the term “travel writing” can
be applied to a broad range of genres—from histories and cosmographies
to voyages, epistles, diaries, essays, guidebooks, and surveys—that tend
to ref lect the predominantly professional or educational orientation of
travel in the period. Modern travel writing is considerably less diverse in
this respect. By looking at narratives written at different times about the
same broad geographical areas, we can see how the contours of travel (not
just who travels but how, where, and why) and the cultural and aesthetic
concerns of writers change over time (with the development of scientific
empiricism, for example, or the language of the picturesque in Romantic
writing). We can see, for instance, how the religious concerns that shape
so many of the cross-cultural encounters in Reformation-era English
writing give way, in later works, to other political and economic issues.
Eighteenth-century writings about the Atlantic slave trade, for example,
and travelers’ accounts of Revolutionary France allow us to consider the
development of human rights discourses, which we first encounter in the
sixteenth-century writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas. We can also see,
very clearly, how (and when, and why) new voices and perspectives—
women writers, Afro-British writers, working-class writers, diasporic
writers—emerge in English travel writing as a ref lection of broader cul-
tural and historical changes.
Cross-cultural encounters are a central concern of English travel writ-
ing in every period, and so it would be useful to define more specifi-
cally the kinds of encounter that occur in this course. Geraldo U. de
T E A C H I N G E N G L I S H T R AV E L W R I T I N G 75

Sousa usefully defines cross-cultural encounter as “the locus where a

foreigner—a Moor, an Amazon, an Egyptian, a Jew—and a European
interact, where the domestic and the alien meet.”6 He is concerned here
with the kinds of cross-cultural encounter that occur in Shakespeare’s
plays, but his paradigm applies as well to English travel writing and the
experience of studying it. We might, however, need to complicate de
Sousa’s definition since most of the writers in my course are English
nationals, and the foreigners they encounter also include other Europeans
(Florentines, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and, arguably, Muscovites). We do,
however, read several foreign writers in translation (our early modern
unit includes work by the French essayist Michel de Montaigne, the
Spanish bishop Bartolomé de Las Casas, and the Moorish historian Leo
Africanus).7 These works add some diversity to the range of perspectives
students encounter in this unit, and they also help us to think about
how English writers worked to establish their cultural identity in this
period. Paradoxically, perhaps, one of the ways they did so was through
the translation or appropriation of foreign texts—two processes by which
they adapted French or Italian or Spanish works to their purposes, and
made them “their own.”
How “foreign” did these translated works seem, at the time, to English
readers? How closely might an English reader have identified with the
opinions or experiences of a writer like Montaigne, and what factors
might have worked against that identification? Reading the works of
Montaigne or Las Casas in translation, and in a course explicitly devoted
to “English” travel writing, students sometimes forget that these writers
were not Englishmen. Pointing this out to students opens up the oppor-
tunity to think about communities of readers in the early modern period,
and the circulation of texts and ideas across national boundaries. To a cer-
tain extent, English readers did share (or were receptive to) the opinions of
Montaigne, Las Casas, and other foreign writers. Their works, we know,
were immensely popular in England. Yet writers like Montaigne or Las
Casas were highly critical of their own cultures, and sometimes served to
reinforce English prejudices. The first English translation of Las Casas,
for example, emphasized his descriptions of “Spanish barbarity” rather
than his “elaborate defence of the rights of the Amerindians” and thus
contributed to anti-Spanish sentiment in England at a time when politi-
cal tensions between the two nations were running high.8 Students in
my course thus discover that cross-cultural encounters occurred not just
beyond the borders of Europe or Christendom, but also within them.
English writers often resorted to stereotypes about other nations in
their writing: In The View of Fraunce (1604), Robert Dallington, for
example, writes at length about “the French nature and humour,” finding

them “idle, wavering, and inconstant.”9 He describes the English, by

comparison, as “mature,” “judicious,” and reluctant to quarrel. Rather
than simply dismiss these stereotypes as retrograde or offensive, we
should ask what “work” they do here: in this case, Dallington draws
on ancient stereotypes to try to account for the civil wars that divided
and devastated France during the second half of the sixteenth century.
How, he asks implicitly, had England managed to avoid similar conf lict
within its own borders? Dallington’s answer ultimately goes beyond these
“superficial” considerations of national character—as should ours—but
understanding how commonplace (or inherited) notions of cultural dif-
ference functioned for English writers helps us, in turn, to contextual-
ize their descriptions of non-European cultures. The term “barbarous,”
for example—also inherited from classical writers—was applied to the
Tartars and the “Canniballes” of Brazil, but it also served at various times
to describe some of England’s closest neighbors, including the Irish and
the French. We risk misunderstanding the terms and tenor of England’s
encounters with non-European “others” if we overlook this broader
context. By engaging critically with early modern discourses of cultural
difference, students can become more attuned to the functioning of ste-
reotypes and cultural commonplaces at different historical moments—
including our own.
Cross-cultural encounters are also an intrinsic part of the experience
of reading early modern travel writing today at a large, culturally diverse
university like York, which is situated in Toronto, Canada’s largest urban
center. I shall talk later about the institutional context for the course, but
first it would be useful to consider how de Sousa’s definition of a cross-
cultural encounter might be amended to address the cross-cultural cur-
rents we experience in the classroom as we read and discuss this literature.
Since my students and I come from a range of cultural and religious back-
grounds, the precise nature of this encounter differs somewhat for each
of us, but our historical time and place is such that the guiding cultural
perspective in the classroom is neither European nor early modern. The
English travel writing we encounter is already, by definition, foreign to us
on several counts. As a teacher, an important part of my job is to encour-
age and facilitate these complex cross-cultural encounters. Early modern
literature can be alienating and overwhelming for students encountering
it for the first time. The vocabulary is often difficult, the spelling irregu-
lar, and the syntax complex and confusing. De Sousa argues that “cross
cultural encounters may take the form of seduction or confrontation, dis-
covery or recovery, desire or loathing, wonder or disillusionment, peace
or war.”10 And while some students are immediately “seduced” by an
eccentric writer like Thomas Coryat, or fascinated by Fynes Moryson’s
T E A C H I N G E N G L I S H T R AV E L W R I T I N G 77

descriptions of the Turkish Empire, others are more ambivalent: some are
disturbed by the overt racism and religious intolerance they encounter
in the readings, while others find problematic the absence of women’s
voices. What is more, the difficulties of early modern English can leave
students feeling vulnerable (especially when they encounter a text that
does not make sense to them). All of these objections can open the way
to productive discussion: Why are there not more travel narratives by
early modern women? Why is religion so contentious in the sixteenth
century, and is it any less so today? How does our experience of language
shape the way we perceive other cultures? Early modern travel writing is
full of contradictions, and can elicit a passionate curiosity in students to
learn about times, places, and cultures radically different from our own.
The challenge is to find ways of engaging this curiosity and encouraging
students to open themselves to this encounter with a literary history that
is both “our own” and ineluctably foreign to us.
Language difficulties are often a feature of cross-cultural encounters,
and one of the first things we must address in my course is the diffi-
culty of working with unmodernized texts. Although every encounter
with the past is mediated, we are, in a way, meeting these authors on
their own terms—letting them speak for themselves—by engaging with
their language in its original form. Toronto, where I teach, is one of
Canada’s most culturally diverse cities, and English is a second language
for many of my students.11 Informal conversations with them over the
years have revealed that a significant number are international students,
recent immigrants, or first-generation Canadians who oftentimes speak a
language other than English at home. This can prove advantageous in the
classroom: quite often, bilingual or polyglot students can shed light on
our reading of early modern texts that monolingual Anglophones can-
not. This may be because they recognize more easily the presence or
inf luence of other languages in the vocabulary of early modern English.
Or it may be because they are better attuned to the slipperiness of words
both within and across languages. As we work together to unpack these
“strange” English texts, I look for ways to involve students in classroom
discussions by drawing on their knowledge of other languages. Treating
early modern English like a foreign language—and using all the tools at
our disposal, including the Oxford English Dictionary, to supplement the
glosses in our textbook—allows us to shed our assumptions about what
we “should” understand and bring instead the kinds of self-awareness and
skepticism to our reading that will enable us to engage more deeply with
early modern culture.
Cultural differences are another defining feature of any cross- cultural
encounter, and race or ethnicity, religion, gender, and disciplinary

background (the large number of non-majors who enroll) also con-

tribute to the broad range of perspectives that students bring to the
course. Almost all my students, as I have said, express an interest in
travel and travel writing, but few have any knowledge of the early mod-
ern period, its politics, or its literature. Most will have read a few plays
by Shakespeare in high school or in a first-year English or Humanities
course. For all of my students, then, reading early modern English lit-
erature involves a complex set of negotiations and is, itself, a kind of
cross-cultural encounter. In this way, the course methodology ref lects
its content. Early modern literature is often strange and estranging to
our modern, pluralistic sensibilities. Indeed, I expect my students to
be affronted by some of the intolerance they encounter in early mod-
ern writing; our job, as readers, is to try to understand critically the
intent of such writing and the conditions that produced it, and to learn
what we can from other aspects of the narrative as well. Making stu-
dents aware that our engagement with this literature is a cross-cultural
encounter can help them to think critically about the challenges and
value of this work.
We might, for instance, consider the Scottish writer William Lithgow,
whose account of his imprisonment in Spain is an exemplary work of
religious and ethnic hostility. Why ask my students to read this, if not to
illuminate some aspect of early modern English culture or more specifi-
cally of seventeenth-century English travel writing? Our job is to guide
our students toward an appreciation of what their discomfort (and the
writing that has prompted it) can teach us—not just about the past, but
also about the attitudes and innovations that inform our present culture.
The rewards of such inquiry might be as simple as witnessing an early
instance of souvenir-taking in William Lithgow’s account of his visit to
Jerusalem (and realizing that the souvenir industry has a history). Or,
they might be as complex as exploring the roots of early modern religious
intolerance, the broader cultural forces behind the fear and ambivalence
(as well as the genuine curiosity) that so markedly shaped English travel
writing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary (1617), “English” fear and ambiva-
lence take a comic turn in a passage that describes, in rich detail, his
encounter with a giraffe among the ruins of the Palace of Constantine
in Constantinople. Reminiscent, for Moryson’s readers then and now, of
the exotic tribute paid to Roman emperors in ancient times, the animal
serves in this instance as a sign of the immense power and reach of the
Turkish Empire at the close of the sixteenth century.12 The passage that
follows, in which Moryson earnestly endeavors to describe the giraffe,
also offers us a delightful, and humanizing, glimpse of the traveler—his
T E A C H I N G E N G L I S H T R AV E L W R I T I N G 79

self-consciousness and vulnerability in this moment of intimate encoun-

ter with the unknown. He writes:

His haire is red coloured, with many black and white spots; I could scarce
reach with the points of my fingers the hinder part of his backe, which grew
higher and higher towards his foreshoulder, and his necke was thinne and
some three els long, so as hee easily turned his head in a moment to any
part or corner of the roome wherein he stood, putting it over the beames
thereof, being built like a Barne, and high (for the Turkish building, not
unlike the building of Italy, both which I have formerly described) by
reason whereof he many times put his nose in my necke, when I thought
my selfe furthest distant from him, which familiarity of his I liked not; and
howsoever the Keepers assured me he would not hurt me, yet I avoided
these his familiar kisses as much as I could.13

The description continues for a few more lines, but I like to pause here,
when I am teaching this text, because Moryson’s fear—his efforts to
remain at a safe distance from the animal, which is much larger than
him, and rather more affectionate than he would like—and, at the same
time, his fascination and sense of wonder are palpable in this moment.
As are his efforts to remain dignified before his hosts, the janissary (his
guide), and the giraffe’s keepers, while avoiding those unwanted “famil-
iar kisses.” It is a moment that, for me and my students, is both memo-
rable and amusing.
I also like to draw attention to this anecdote because this is the kind
of story travelers, and travel writers especially, love to tell—a story that
depends upon the narrator’s privileged access to a world that remains
exotic and, in all practical terms, inaccessible to the vast majority of
his readers. Travel literature, as a rule, traffics in such encounters, and
Moryson paints a vivid picture of his meeting with the giraffe both to
call attention to the exceptional elements of his narrative—not every
traveler to Constantinople could gain access to the sultan’s menagerie—
and to foreground his very Protestant, English response to the beast’s
gentle advances (“which familiarity of his I liked not”). Indeed, while
we may simply be amused by the embarrassment that Moryson feels at
being “kissed” by this “monster,” the passage also captures for us the
rich complexity of early modern travel writing and the cross-cultural
interactions it describes. How, we might ask, does this passage ref lect
Moryson’s anxieties about Ottoman sexuality, a topic to which he returns
several times in the text? How might it enable us, also, to ref lect on the
mixed emotions we might feel about our own encounter with Moryson,
who may not always seem as likeable (or as like to us) as he does in this
moment? Like Moryson, my students wish to present themselves—in the

classroom, at least—as confident interpreters of a culture that can seem,

by turns, fascinating, strange, and overwhelmingly foreign.
Early modern writers can seem more approachable if we treat their
claims with a little skepticism. From the beginning, my aim is to foster
discussions in which every student feels encouraged to ask questions. When
we come up against an interpretive problem, we might need to test out dif-
ferent answers, and indeed there might be more than one right answer. For
instance when Moryson calls Africa “the Mother of Monsters,”14 I ask my
students: What does he mean, and how is he using the word “Monsters”
here? In asking the question, I am checking with them about what they
know and also inviting them to query their own assumptions: a monster,
according to the Oxford English Dictionary, can be any “creature of huge
size.” But it can also refer to something “marvelous” or “astonishing” to
behold. And it can carry the more negative sense of something “frighten-
ing” or “repulsive,” “unnatural,” “prodigious,” or “malformed.” Which of
these meanings does Moryson have in mind? Or is his ambivalent choice of
word meant to suggest all of them? And is Africa, then, a place of wonder
or something more fearful? Early on in the course students discover that
early modern English is full of what we might call “false friends”—words
that seem familiar but carry meanings that are far more complex or mul-
tivalent than their modern usages might suggest.15 Looking beneath the
surface of these words, and exploring the range of their possible meanings,
increases our capacity to understand and perhaps, in a limited way, to iden-
tify with the “other”—the author—as we read.
Similarly, when we encounter religious intolerance or racism in early
modern writing, we talk about it. It is okay not to like everything we
read—we are not here to endorse these opinions, but to try to under-
stand something about them and the culture that produced them. And
what of our own assumptions and expectations? What can we learn from
the gaps between our beliefs and those of early modern or eighteenth-
century writers? My students tend to take a progressive view of history,
by which I mean that they view early modern culture as inherently
more primitive than our own. This may translate into the belief that
we are more tolerant or “know better” than writers like Lithgow or
Moryson. At the same time, my students make blanket statements about
the English (or European) sense of superiority over other cultures. This
is where it becomes especially important to consider dissident voices like
Montaigne’s, and to historicize the literature we are reading. If we look
closely enough, travel writing in the post-Reformation period in fact
reveals the fragility and insecurity of English identity during this time.
England’s cultural identity was in f lux during the sixteenth century, as
the nation’s religion and its relations with the rest of Europe went through
T E A C H I N G E N G L I S H T R AV E L W R I T I N G 81

a series of profound upheavals. Even the briefest survey of English travel

writing during this period suggests the extent of Europe’s internal divi-
sions, and reveals a fear—so clearly expressed by Queen Elizabeth’s tutor,
Roger Ascham—that English travelers were, on the whole, too susceptible
to foreign (and especially Catholic) inf luences. While the English might,
like Dallington, assert their cultural superiority over other nations, this is
not yet the language of imperial domination. For students who routinely
associate England, and English travel writing with the cultural arrogance
of the far-reaching British Empire, the fact that in the sixteenth century
this empire did not exist, and could not have been anticipated, comes as
a great surprise.
In the same way that we think of travel today as a vehicle for self-dis-
covery, the project of English self-definition, or the creation of an English
national identity, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries
depended upon the narratives of cross-cultural encounter that emerged
from English travel writing during this period. Nevertheless, Europeans
did not always assume, and could not always maintain, that their ways of
being were superior to those of the alien or foreign cultures with which
they came into contact. In England, Shakespeare’s drama challenged pre-
cisely these sorts of assumptions; as we know, the playwright acquired at
least some of his intellectual skepticism from his reading of Montaigne.
Although Montaigne never set foot in the New World, his essay “Of
the Canniballes” is a crucial text for thinking about English travel writ-
ing in the early modern period. His Essais, first published in 1580, were
famously translated for English readers by John Florio in 1603, but known
in England much earlier.
“Of the Canniballes” registers the deeply unsettling effects of some
cross-cultural encounters and the kinds of self-examination that were
prompted by them. Writing of the ritualistic cannibalism reportedly
practiced by the indigenous peoples of Brazil,16 Montaigne observed:

I am not sorie we note the barbarous horror of such an action, but grieved,
that prying so narrowly into their faults we are so blinded in ours. I thinke
there is more barbarisme in eating men alive, than to feed upon them
being dead; to mangle by tortures and torments a body full of lively sense,
to roast him in peeces, to make dogges and swine to gnaw and teare him
in mammockes (as wee have not only read, but seene very lately, yea and in
our owne memorie, not amongst ancient enemies, but our neighbours and
fellow-citizens; and which is worse, under pretence of pietie and religion)
than to roast and eat him after he is dead.17

My students sometimes mistake Montaigne for an English writer, since

they are reading him in Florio’s 1603 translation, and so once more it is

important to consider how this text might have resonated differently for
English readers than for French. The “we” in this passage refers specifi-
cally to Montaigne’s compatriots, and the violence to which he alludes is
that of the French Civil Wars, a sectarian conf lict that dominated French
politics from 1562 until 1598. An English reader in 1604 might very well
be persuaded by Montaigne’s assertions that Europeans, whatever claims
they might make to ideological superiority, have shown themselves to
be more “savage” and “barbarous” than the “Canniballes” of Brazil.
To the extent that the reader identifies with Montaigne’s thinking, we
can say that transnational sympathies are aroused, at least provisionally.
But, conveniently perhaps, for the same reader it is the French, not the
English, who are the principal exemplars of the barbarism described by
Montaigne18 —a fact that might equally serve to alienate reader from
writer in this instance. While an astute student might pick up on this
fact, more important for the purposes of an introductory, undergraduate
survey is the diversity of opinion that this essay sets up among the writers
we study. Indeed, to the extent that Montaigne may have prompted his
English readers to ref lect on their own culture’s potential for barbarism—
and we know, for example, that he inf luenced Shakespeare’s writing in
this way—his voice serves as an important corrective to English asser-
tions of moral or cultural “superiority,” too. Montaigne is not the only
critic of colonial attitudes we encounter in this part of the course—as I
mentioned earlier, we also read excerpts from Las Casas—but without
him it is much harder to make the case for the kind of critical self-ref lec-
tion that cross-cultural encounters could produce in the period (and still
can produce today).
Early in the course, students explore the diversity of opinion among
early modern writers by discussing, in a short essay assignment, how
three different works treat the same issue (topics might include religious
difference, the customs and mores of other nationalities, or the bene-
fits—and dangers—of travel). Later, they are given the opportunity to
compare works by eighteenth-century or modern writers with those of
their early modern counterparts. We do this informally in the course of
our weekly discussions, but I also encourage these kinds of exploration
through comparative essay and exam questions. How do we account for
the significant differences we see among these writers? Can we identify
how they are responding to the historical or cultural assumptions, and
pressures, of their time? Toward the end of the course, students are given
the additional opportunity to set themselves, and their own writing, in
dialogue with the works we have studied.
One of the best ways to draw students into the learning process is
by engaging their creative energies. My course regularly draws students
T E A C H I N G E N G L I S H T R AV E L W R I T I N G 83

from our Creative Writing and Professional Writing streams. These

students typically express a desire to write travel literature themselves.
Seeing an opportunity to encourage a kind of “hands on” engagement
with the literature we are studying, I offer an optional creative writing
assignment at the end of the course. Students can choose to write their
own travel narrative—or, in fact, three short narratives—in lieu of a final
research paper. The first of these pieces is to be written in the student’s
own voice—it could be a short narrative about any sort of travel they
have undertaken (a life changing trip to South America or Europe, for
example, a summer job in the wilds of Northern Alberta, or even a walk
through their own neighborhood). The other two narratives should be
variations on that theme: students are asked to pick two writers we have
studied, one working before 1800 and one after, and write a new ver-
sion or installment of their travel narrative in the style of each author.
The final step in the assignment is to assemble the three narratives into
a “collection” and supply a “scholarly introduction” that discusses their
process and models. Why did the student choose those two authors in
particular? What narrative techniques or strategies did they use, what sty-
listic elements did they emulate for each of them? And what challenges or
insights did they encounter as they wrote from another author’s perspec-
tive? In preparing their narratives and their introduction, students must
consult at least three scholarly works on their chosen travel writers to help
them better understand their authors’ writing and the context in which
it was produced. The assignment thus contains both creative and critical
components, and adds an experiential element to the work students can
undertake in the course.
About 40 percent of my students have chosen this option over the
conventional research paper, and the results have been delightful and
sometimes even brilliant. Imitating the presentation of contemporary as
well as early modern books, students have produced narratives illustrated
with finely detailed maps and “woodcuts”; they have added epigraphs and
abstracts, classical allusions and cultural, botanical, or even zoological
references to ref lect the sensibilities of their chosen authors; moreover,
their ability to mimic the vastly different prose styles of Thomas Coryat,
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, or James Boswell has been astonishing.
To do so requires an ability to empathize or identify—in a provisional
way, at least—with those writers. In the process, students also deepen
their historical knowledge, experiment with literary genres, expand their
vocabularies, and explore different rhetorical structures and strategies. In
conjunction with other, more traditional, modes of evaluation, this kind
of assignment can also provide a good measure of what students have
learned in the course.

Probably the most challenging part of teaching early modern cross-

cultural encounters in this survey course is the need to establish, suc-
cinctly, a historical context for those encounters. The chronological
ordering of the course does, however, allow us to develop the early
modern context of these works over several consecutive lectures. We
are able, moreover, to revisit the concerns of the early modern period—
and to consider the representation of early modern travel and exploration
by subsequent writers—as we work our way through the literature of
later periods. The other great challenge is, of course, getting students to
engage with the language of early modern writing, a process that must
begin in the lecture hall and continue in the more intimate setting of the
tutorial. Neither of these challenges can be met unless we also find ways
to engage our students’ natural curiosity and their creative energies. It is
this curiosity—to learn about others, and in the process, themselves—
that has brought many of our students into our classrooms in the first
place. A survey course on travel writing is uniquely positioned to situate
early modern cross-cultural encounters within a much longer tradition
of cross-cultural negotiation, and to set that writing in dialogue with
the literature of later periods. It can also provide important opportuni-
ties for students to situate their own attitudes and think critically—and
creatively—about their own encounters with a past that does, oftentimes,
seem quite foreign to us.

1. We generally follow the categories established by our textbooks. For the
early modern period, I use selections from Andrew Hadfield’s Amazons,
Savages, and Machiavels: Travel and Colonial Writing in English, 1550–1630
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). I supplement these selections
with other short essays, excerpts, woodcut images, and early modern
maps. If I were teaching this course as a seminar, I would include a visit
to our library’s special collections or the University of Toronto’s Thomas
Fisher Rare Book Library to give students more direct exposure to these
early printed materials.
2. Caryl Phillips, The European Tribe (New York: Vintage Books, 1987); Jon
Krakauer, Into the Wild (New York: Anchor Books, 1997); Sara Wheeler,
Terra Incognita (New York: Modern Library, 1999); Pico Iyer, Sun After
Dark: Flights into the Foreign (New York: Vintage, 2005).
3. While they come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds including
history, anthropology, sociology, and biology, many are English majors
or minors, and a significant number each year are concurrently enrolled
in our Creative Writing or Professional Writing programs.
4. Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (1570), in Hadfield, Amazons, Savages,
and Machiavels, 20.
T E A C H I N G E N G L I S H T R AV E L W R I T I N G 85

5. In Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, 106–15.

6. Geraldo U. de Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-Cultural Encounters (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 2.
7. The English translations of their works were enormously inf luential.
8. Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, 250.
9. Robert Dallington, The View of Fraunce (1604), in Hadfield, Amazons,
Savages, and Machiavels, 47.
10. De Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-Cultural Encounters, 2.
11. York University draws many of its students from the Greater Toronto
Area, where, according to the most recent Census data, less than 51 per-
cent of residents report that English is their first language. International
students currently account for about 9 percent of York’s undergraduate
12. A marginal gloss gives “A.D. 1597” as the date for Moryson’s descrip-
tion of Constantinople. See Fynes Moryson, “Description of the City
of Constantinople, and the Adjacent Territories and Seas,” An Itinerary
(1617), in Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, 173.
13. Ibid., 178.
14. Ibid.
15. I borrow the term “false friends” from translation studies because, despite
its resemblances to modern English, early modern English is in many
respects a foreign language—especially for readers, like my students,
who are encountering it for the first time.
16. Michel de Montaigne did not, himself, travel to Brazil. He took his
information from several sources, including the first-hand account of
his servant (Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, 287) and, very
likely, Jean de Léry’s Histoire d’un Voyage en la Terre du Bresil (1578) (Ibid.,
17. Montaigne, “Of the Canniballes” (1580), trans. John Florio (1603), in
Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, 291.
18. Montaigne also alludes to the cruelty shown by the Portuguese in Brazil,
but nowhere mentions the English. This is not surprising, however, since
at the time Montaigne was writing, the English had made few forays into
the New World: the disastrous Virginia Colony, their first attempt at
establishing a permanent settlement there, was founded five years later,
in 1585.



Julia Schleck

M idway through Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, Irie Jones, daugh-
ter of a white Englishman and a black Englishwoman of Jamaican
descent, is quizzed about Shakespeare’s sonnets in her London high
school English class by her teacher, the “strawberry-mousse” colored
Mrs. Moody.

“Have you anything to say about the sonnets?”

“Is she black?”
“Is who black?”
“The dark lady.”
“No, dear, she’s dark. She’s not black in the modern sense. There weren’t
any . . . well, Afro-Carri-bee-yans in England at that time, dear. That’s a
more modern phenomenon, as I’m sure you know. But this was the 1600s.
I mean I can’t be sure, but it does seem terribly unlikely, unless she was a
slave of some kind, and he’s unlikely to have written a series of sonnets to
a lord and then a slave, is he?”
Irie reddened. She had thought, just then, that she had seen something like
a ref lection, but it was receding; so she said, “Don’t know, miss.” . . .
“Dear, you’re reading it with a modern ear. Never read what is old with a
modern ear. In fact, that will serve as today’s principle—can you all write
that down, please.”

5F wrote that down. And the ref lection that Irie had glimpsed slunk back
into the familiar darkness.1

Mrs. Moody’s uncertainty about the presence of black women in early

modern England, and her certainty that Shakespeare could not possi-
bly have composed sonnets lauding the beauty of a truly dark-skinned
woman, once ref lected the state of early modern scholarship and is prob-
ably an accurate representation of current popular opinion. But recent
work has made clear that neither position is justified by the historical
record, nor is her assumption that any black individuals residing in Europe
in 1600 would have to be slaves. Imtiaz Habib has located numerous
“black” individuals living in London at this time, merchants and ambas-
sadors from around the globe regularly made voyages there, and recent
studies in art history have uncovered a rich pictorial tradition of “black”
individuals, many of whom were not slaves, or even servants, but inde-
pendent actors in European society.2 Teachers of early modern canonical
texts like Shakespeare’s sonnets can now answer with greater confidence
the queries of students like Irie, and in an entirely different vein.
As this passage makes clear, the stakes of our answers are high. We
all read “old” literature with a “modern ear,” and cannot do otherwise.
Students of color seeking ref lections of themselves in early modern lit-
erature classes are understandably frustrated and/or depressed by the
frequent absence of all but white writers and actors from early modern
history. White and black students alike are reinforced in their general
ignorance of the artistry, science, literature, and history of all peoples
except white Europeans until at least the late seventeenth or early eigh-
teenth centuries.
Happily, there is now available an abundance of visual and textual
sources depicting nonwhite individuals and their interactions with white
Europeans in the years prior to 1700. A wide range of early modern
European travel and ethnographic materials are accessible through Early
English Books Online, and increasingly in modern editions as well.3
Prose travel narratives in particular are well suited to discussions of both
history and literature, as they most resemble what today we call “creative
nonfiction.” They bring up questions of veracity, and of the pressure ide-
ology, genre, and personal and national politics exert on the making of
“knowledge” of the past. They are also excellent sites for antiracist work
in the early modern classroom.
This essay addresses the many ways that incorporating early modern
travel and ethnographic materials into undergraduate classrooms can for-
ward the work of antiracism. After years of researching such materials
and teaching them at the graduate level, I have become convinced of the

importance of introducing them to undergraduates as well, whether in

courses dedicated to the topic, or as part of broader surveys and other
canonical classes. This essay offers ideas on how we as teachers might
productively do so. I have framed the essay around two antiracist works,
one detailing four racist ideological strategies frequently deployed by stu-
dents and others in contemporary society, and another treating the phe-
nomenon of “white ignorance.” Setting as a goal the countering of these
racist strategies and the rolling back of white ignorance will, I believe,
help us prepare lessons productive both for students’ understanding of
early modern literature and history, and for our society’s efforts to grapple
with the effects of racism.

Modern Racisms and Early Modern Texts

According to Eduardo Bonilla-Silva in Racism without Racists: Color-Blind
Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, today’s
students have grown up in a society in which the open racism of the Jim
Crow period has been replaced by a more subtle set of racist ideological
beliefs held by many white citizens. Using a survey of 627 college stu-
dents from three geographically diverse institutions, Bonilla-Silva draws
attention to four ideological strategies prevalent in the general culture
for maintaining the status quo of white dominance. The first strategy he
labels “naturalization,” in which such phenomena as racial segregation
are depicted as “natural” to human beings. The second is the “minimiza-
tion” of racism, in which racism is seen as a thing of the past, progres-
sively disappearing from our culture, and no longer playing a strong role
in the organization of our society or the distribution of its resources. The
third is “cultural racism,” in which negative qualities previously consid-
ered the genetic inheritance of certain races are now ascribed to racially
identified subcultures. The fourth ideological strategy is “abstract liberal-
ism,” wherein the characteristics of classical liberalism such as individual-
ism, equality, and personal choice are used without reference to context
in order to justify positions that would perpetuate discrimination against
nonwhites.4 I believe that several of these strategies, and in advanced
classes all four, can be productively engaged and challenged when study-
ing travel and ethnographic texts from the premodern period.
Bonilla-Silva’s first two strategies, naturalization and minimization,
can be effectively addressed in both introductory and advanced early
modern courses. They rely on two different conceptions of the past,
both of which are challenged by a study of premodern literature and
history. Naturalization posits certain forms of human behavior—for
example, racial segregation or the use of skin color as a primary mode

of identification and discrimination—as essential and eternal. There are

numerous historical moments and locations one might use to debunk
such broad generalizations. Early modern travel and ethnographic texts,
particularly when one includes non-European as well as European mate-
rials, are dense with such examples. The Ottoman and Mughal Empires
are notably syncretic both “racially” and religiously, and European
sources provide good evidence to counter racist naturalizations as well.5
Generally speaking, most European nations in this period have yet to
establish large overseas empires, so few of the assumptions drawn from
later nineteenth- and twentieth-century racist imperial discourses can
consistently be found in writings from this period. Depending on where
they journeyed, European travelers might find themselves at a military,
cultural, and artistic advantage in comparison to their hosts, but more
frequently they found themselves at a disadvantage. European writers
respond to this in a variety of ways, some of which are clear predecessors
to later racist discourses, but many of which are not. Racist and xeno-
phobic statements are just one response in the remarkable early modern
hodgepodge of attitudes and beliefs regarding somatic, national, and reli-
gious difference.
Minimization as an ideological strategy relies on a contradictory
assumption about human history, namely, a progress narrative in which
the arc of history is bending evermore closely toward racial justice. This
historical process is understood to occur—contra obvious evidence from
the life of Dr. King—naturally, without the need for action on the part of
any group or individual.6 When hierarchical forms of bias such as racism
or misogyny are understood naturally to improve as time continues, stu-
dents consequently expect earlier eras to provide evidence of increasing
repression, until interracial and gender relations are “positively medieval”
or “Byzantine.” (Both of these are popularly understood to be only a step
away from the proverbial “caveman” era.) Providing students with an
entirely different historical arc, which begins in the early modern period,
shows a dramatic deterioration in race and gender relations in the eigh-
teenth and nineteenth centuries, and then improves again in the second
half of the twentieth, can seriously undermine this ideological strategy.
Many courses in American history that treat race and ethnicity begin
with the late seventeenth or eighteenth centuries and thereby miss the
opportunity to provide this alternative historical narrative. Although it
may disrupt traditional subdisciplinary categories to include early mod-
ern English materials in American literature or history classes, plus force
teachers to move outside their chronological comfort zone, I believe it is
an important move to make. For if the historical records show that ideas of
racial equality, and racially hierarchized social structures can potentially

become worse, rather than always growing increasingly better, students

are asked to recognize that some analysis, vigilance, and quite possibly
some action may be required to promote equity and justice.
Both naturalization and minimization are possible only when students
lack a full and detailed knowledge of the history and literature of past
centuries. This state is produced in part by what antiracist scholars call
“white ignorance,” which actively generates and maintains “a lack of
knowledge or an unlearning of something previously known . . . for pur-
poses of domination and exploitation.” 7 This process operates on both
individual and social levels, creating ignorance of the achievements of
people of color and erasing all knowledge of the crimes and brutalities
of whites, resulting in a “collective amnesia” about our shared history.
Consequently, the antiracist scholars Nancy Tuana and Shannon Sullivan

the politics of such ignorance should be a key element of epistemological

and social and political analyses, for it has the potential to reveal the role
of power in the construction of what is known and provide a lens for the
political values at work in our knowledge practices.8

In the context of the classroom, selecting travel and ethnographic nar-

ratives that highlight the achievements of peoples today described as
“of color” and the atrocities of those now understood as “white” is one
important thing instructors can do to combat white ignorance. There is
no substitute for reading Columbus’s diary entries detailing his first meet-
ings with the Arawak peoples of the Caribbean, in which he describes
their land as a paradise, the people as extremely friendly and generous,
“very well built with fine bodies and handsome faces” and “very intel-
ligent,” and then goes on to note that the latter quality will render them
“good servants” who will “easily be made Christians, for they appeared
to me to have no religion.”9 The admiration Columbus shows toward
the peoples he meets does not preclude their violent enslavement and
forced conversion. Indeed, it invites it. There are any number of early
modern travel accounts, many more graphic than those by Columbus,
that describe the extraordinary violence with which Europeans, particu-
larly the Spanish, asserted their military dominance over the peoples of
the Americas. Bartolomé de las Casas’s Brevísima relación de la destrucción
de las Indias and other “Black Legend” accounts are rife with depictions
of conquistador atrocities. As a former Spanish military élite who gave
up his Native American slaves and dedicated his life to campaigning for
their protection and manumission, Las Casas was a powerful critic of
his countrymen’s treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas. His

account provided considerable fodder for Spain’s European enemies to

use in spreading the “Black Legend,” which undermined Spain’s imperial
glory with accusations of excessive brutality and immorality, and assisted
other European nations in pursuing their own, allegedly less violent,
colonial agendas.
Presenting Las Casas’s work as part of a Black Legend, however, imme-
diately brings up knotty epistemological issues about the production,
reception, and historical maintenance of many European travel tales, in
other words, questions of knowledge and ignorance. Which stories do
we know/remember and why? Who wrote them? Who (re)printed them?
For whose consumption? Why are Spanish “black deeds” in this period
remembered and not those perpetrated by the English, Dutch, or French?
Classes could also dig into the contemporary scholarly debate surround-
ing the widely varying estimates of how many indigenous Americans
died as a result of European diseases and violence in the period, and
whether these deaths constitute a “genocide.”10
Travel narratives also provoke difficult epistemological questions,
through their odd tendency to elide the use of translators, or their habit
of confidently reporting the meaning of speeches given in non-European
languages when no translator could possibly have been present (as in first
contact scenarios). Teachers can also call attention to the persistent use
of metaphors to describe lands and peoples entirely new to European
travelers, exploring why this happens so frequently as well as the implica-
tions of given metaphors. The most deeply embedded are often the most
provocative: What does it mean when a male interlocutor is identified as
a “king” or a woman as a “wife” by a European male author? To make
these questions vivid to students, I often use a classroom exercise that
requires three or four students to orally describe an animal they have
never seen before to another student, who must draw the animal based
solely on their description. The descriptors inevitably slip into metaphor,
and the metaphors they choose are telling of their response to the animal
pictured. (I usually use electron micrograph images of insects: they are
huge, weird, and totally unfamiliar unless you have lots of entomology
majors in your classes.11) This exercise helps students understand one of
the underlying structural and cultural features of early modern travel
narratives, namely their use of the familiar to describe the unfamiliar. I
then ask students to return to the assigned travel narrative, and locate an
explicit or embedded metaphor within it. After compiling their finds on
the board, we critically consider the ramifications of each comparison
and then the group as a whole. Such an exercise makes visible European
responses to non-European lands and peoples in a way that simply read-
ing and discussing the content of the text does not.12 These exercises in

critical reading also enable students to move beyond the idea of travel
narratives and ethnographies as either verifiable eyewitness accounts,
or self-interested fictions/lies. It similarly moves the discussion beyond
individual travelers to broader cultural discourses, and forces students to
confront the question of “how we know what we know” both about the
period and about the history of race/racism.
In addition to providing evidence of white atrocities and opportuni-
ties for studying the cultural production of knowledge, early modern
travel and ethnographic texts also usefully present students with examples
of cultural, military, artistic, and intellectual accomplishments of non-
European peoples. Setting one’s historical focus prior to European impe-
rial dominance upends the power dynamic students are most familiar
with, presenting them with evidence of European inferiority in the face
of powerful empires such as the Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal, Ming, or
Qing. Syllabi could feature selections from Daniel Vitkus’s collection of
captivity narratives, penned by Englishmen who escape their enslave-
ment by North Africans and Levantines, and commit their stories to
print.13 They could include accounts of Sir Thomas Roe, the first English
ambassador to the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Roe’s gifts to the emperor
were repeatedly derided as inferior, and easily copied by Mughal court
artists. One painting, by the highly respected artist Bichitr, is particularly
telling of this dynamic. In it, Bichitr uses a miniature of James originally
given to Jahangir by Roe to create an image of the English king as one
of Jahangir’s many servants and admirers.14 In the painting Jahangir turns
away from these secular alliances and concerns himself instead with the
divine, represented by the figure of the Sufi Shaikh Husain. Similarly
useful is the account of organ maker Thomas Dallam as he journeys to
Istanbul to help install an organ given as a gift to Sultan Mehmet III from
Elizabeth I. Dallam is repeatedly tempted to convert to Islam and remain
at the Sultan’s court, a possibility made more real and dangerous by the
presence of former Englishmen who have done precisely that.15 Selections
from Roe and Dallam have helpfully been excerpted and reprinted along
with scholarly essays by Jyotsna Singh and Ivo Kamps, and a whole
range of selected primary sources such as these are available in Andrew
Hadfield’s indispensable Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels.16
These accounts and others from the period push back hard against
embedded assumptions of white racial superiority. They ask students to
consider why such accounts might be surprising to them, leading back
into the issues of knowledge and ignorance brought up by Sullivan and
Tuana. These authors note that “although racial oppression has been
investigated as an unjust practice, few have fully examined the ways in
which such practices of oppression are linked to our conceptions and

productions of knowledge.”17 Today’s students are almost always in full

agreement regarding the injustice of racial oppression. It is the process of
discovering instances of their own ignorance and considering how this
lack of knowledge might be linked—still—to practices of racial oppres-
sion that opens an entirely new mode of thinking about the operation of
racism in our society. It also makes the maintenance of an unref lective
minimization strategy even more dubious.
Unawareness of the history of antiracism is yet another type of igno-
rance at work in our collective memory that can productively be addressed
through early modern travelers and travel narratives. As Herbert Aptheker
writes in his book, Anti-Racism in U.S. History: The First Two Hundred
Years, “the belief exists . . . that anti-racism has been rare and that racist
thought has been well-nigh universal. A significant source of this view is
prevailing historical literature that either omits or minimizes anti-racism
or affirms racism’s unchallenged acceptance. The truth . . . is otherwise.”
Aptheker cites numerous examples of antiracism from the early mod-
ern period, including the frequent marriage or cohabitation of mixed
race couples in colonial Virginia.18 Similarly, historian Edmund Morgan
details friendly military alliances between English privateers and the
Cimarrons, Africans escaped from Spanish slavery in Central America.
The Cimarrons sought to free other slaves through raiding Spanish settle-
ments, a practice the English assisted with on numerous occasions.19 The
Mediterranean world offers even more opportunities for investigating
what today would be called racially integrated communities. The politi-
cal, social, and legal structures of the Ottoman Empire or the move-
ment of merchants, artists, and women between Western Christian and
Ottoman territories would make good topics for study, and a unit on
the extraordinarily diverse “pirate” f leets based on both sides of the
Mediterranean would likely prove a popular choice.20
Together, these examples highlight a pattern in the history of antira-
cist individuals or groups. They are frequently economically or socially
marginal, or in Aptheker’s words, “anti-racism is more common among
so-called lower classes than among the so-called upper class; and . . . more
common among women than men.”21 A discussion with students about
why this might be can bring important issues of intersectionality into
considerations of race.
The numerous expressions of admiration for the Ottomans and other
non-European peoples penned by European travel and ethnographic
authors can provoke a related debate on what constitutes antiracist work.
Positive comments do not always assist in this effort and can even further
racist discourses. As Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton have reminded
us, “putatively ‘positive’ as well as clearly ‘negative’ traits feed into

racialized discourses,” as in the figure of the “noble savage.”22 Inevitably,

discussions of what ideas or actions truly work against racism force a
more careful consideration of what constitutes racism, and its various
manifestations throughout history. Students are pushed to think beyond
individual expressions of hostility or disdain for those of differing appear-
ance and consider the work of broader racist discourses in societies, as
well as their institutionalization in law, religion, economic practices, sci-
ence, medicine, et cetera.
Upper-level classes can dive into the scholarly debate over whether
and how racism “begins” in the early modern period. How is racism
connected to the development of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the
advent of the seaborne empires of Europe? Is it a post-facto justification
for an economic labor practice? Or is it a deeply rooted ideological con-
struct that conditions, enables, and/or finds its fullest expression in the
rise of European imperialism? Is racism a European phenomenon, or is it
evidently at work in other political and economic formations around the
globe in this period?
Some scholars have posited that the early modern period is a “time
before race” in which neither the word nor the concept exists in a form
recognizable to modern society.23 Those who argue against this position
often make a distinction between the so-called biological racism of later
centuries, which locates marks of difference and of superiority/inferiority
on the body itself, and an earlier form of racism that was based on reli-
gion and national/ethnic identity rather than written in the f lesh. The
latter is often termed “cultural racism,” and it bears many similarities to
Bonilla-Silva’s third racist ideological strategy, wherein negative qualities
previously considered the genetic inheritance of certain races are instead
ascribed to racially identified subcultures. Today one might point to the
racist assertion that Hispanics are lazy due to their cultural inheritance;
prime examples from the early modern period include the stubbornness
and treachery of Jews or the cruelty and greed of the Spanish. Exploring
whether the development of these stereotypes in early modern European
travel narratives constitutes racism, and/or contributes to the later devel-
opment of “biological” racist discourses (and how) helps students to iden-
tify similar moves at work in our own time, and to greet them with
One notable feature of the shift in European racist discourses across
the centuries is an increasing awareness of, and interest in, skin color.
Especially in earlier travel accounts, somatic difference is minimized or
even absent, while dress is dwelt upon in great detail.25 But a fascination
with skin pigmentation, whiteness as well as blackness, emerges in the
seventeenth century. Dramatic performances such as Jonson’s Masque of

Blackness, in which Queen Anne and her ladies dress up as Africans, or

Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus or Othello are forefront considerations of
skin color. Why this becomes an important marker of difference in some
genres and not others can lead once again to questions of class and gender
as well as play into considerations of the roots of biological racism.26
In sum, the early modern period, situated as it is on the cusp of Western
European imperial domination of the globe, marked by increased interac-
tions between Europe and the non-European world, and flush with writ-
ings detailing cross-cultural contacts made by individuals in widely varying
positions of power and social status, is a rich mine of resources for teachers
wishing to bring discussions of race into their classrooms or simply to pro-
vide students like Irie Jones a better “reflection” of themselves amid the
intricacies of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Travel narratives, with all their episte-
mological complexities, are excellent texts with which to pursue these goals.
They are particularly helpful for considering the history of racial thought
and racist practices as they developed in “the West,” and the discussions they
provoke can be instrumental in pushing back against the racist ideological
strategies many students unconsciously deploy when thinking about race in
contemporary America. The early modern classroom thus has the potential
to be a particularly strong site of antiracist work in the university.

Historical Distance and Contemporary Discomfort

Given this potential, why is race not already a frequent theme of early
modern courses offered at American universities? There is much good
work being done in this area, but much more is needed. This may partly
be due to a lack of awareness of the recent studies on race in the period,
or of useful teaching materials, something this collection is designed to
address. However, it seems likely to me that other factors are at work as
well. In her recent book, I Hope I Join the Band: Narrative, Affiliation, and
Antiracist Rhetoric, Frankie Condon considers the reluctance of even well-
disposed white people to engage with issues of race:

Among the catalog of reasons any of us might offer for not taking up race
matters within our communities, our families, our classrooms, one of the
most prevalent and powerful narratives has to do with how uncomfort-
able, how angry, discussions about race and racism seem to make white
people feel. We doubt our ability to engage in meaningful conversation
about race and racism productively.27

This anger and discomfort stems, Condon asserts, from the fact that
“many of us have been taught and have passed on the lesson that any

discussion of race and racism is always also a discussion aimed at the

assignation of blame and the determination of guilt . . . [and in particular]
the guilt or innocence of individuals.”28 Speaking for myself as a white
teacher, I find these assumptions ref lected both in my students (white
students and often those of color as well) and in my own mind as I plan
syllabi and develop lesson plans.
Approaching these lessons through early modern materials has, how-
ever, made discussing race in my classroom less emotionally charged for
both myself and my students, and ultimately made our conversations
more productive. Learning about the development of racial ideas through
early modern English texts alleviates the expectation of blame or guilt
since the subjects are so far from our contemporary society. It feels “aca-
demic” in the sense of studying something new and foreign, something
easily kept at an intellectual distance. Freed from excessive anxiety about
addressing the topic (white) students (in particular) can focus on the issues
at hand, and develop an honest curiosity about and engagement with the
questions of how racism changes and/or begins, how it manifests in soci-
eties, and how it maintains itself, in particular through the production of
suspect knowledge or of racially charged ignorance.
If the conversation and learning stopped there, however, the “com-
fort” achieved through intellectual distancing could arguably be said to
contribute to the maintenance of racism since it allows especially white
students (and teachers) to avoid the difficult work of thinking through
the operations of racism in their own lives. It would be easy to satirize
such an endeavor, with those privileged to teach and attend universities
spending ivory-tower hours ruminating on historical questions of how
racism used to operate in European society four hundred years ago and
then blithely going about their lives. There is similarly a danger that such
historical distancing will enable a recurrent form of minimization, in
which racism is reinforced as something that took place in the past but is
no longer strongly at work in our world.
For these reasons, it is important that early modern texts and questions
lead to the frequent consideration of contemporary parallels or causal
results. These forays into modern American life can happen informally,
encouraged as they arise in the moment, or be formally worked into les-
son plans or syllabi, depending on the requirements of the course or the
preferences of the instructor. What they cannot do is be ignored or let
slip as the ease of continued discussion about the seventeenth century
There is a (usually unremarked) demographic pattern in the ranks
of early modernists: despite recently increasing numbers of Middle
Eastern and Subcontinental scholars, most of us are white.29 Similarly

and relatedly, and speaking strictly from my own experience teaching at a

principally white mid-western institution, the students of color who take
English classes rarely choose early modern ones. I strongly suspect that
this is linked to the perception that the literature and history taught in
our classrooms will be explicitly and exclusively white, as well as taught
by a white professor—in other words, some version of the scene from
Smith’s novel with which I began. We need to change this impression
if we hope to have a more inclusive profession and more inclusive class-
rooms. And frankly, if we wish seriously to participate in the work of
antiracism through the teaching of literature and history rather than con-
tribute, even passively, to the perpetuation of white ignorance, we must
engage more deliberately and consistently with this issue as a field. Our
work will inevitably be f lawed in many ways, and require correctives
from each other at every turn. This is, after all, the nature of learning,
and the way that knowledge is produced in our communities, scholarly
or otherwise. Incorporating the teaching of early modern travel and eth-
nographic texts into our classes is an excellent way to begin and/or to
further that learning process, both for teachers and for students.

* Sincere thanks are due to my students Alicia Meyer and Kelsey Comfort.
Our many conversations on this topic were instrumental to the development
of the ideas in this essay.
1. Zadie Smith, White Teeth: A Novel, 1st US ed. (New York: Random
House, 2000), 226–7.
2. See for example, Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500–
1677: Imprints of the Invisible (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008); Kate Lowe,
“Visible Lives: Black Gondoliers and Other Black Africans in Renaissance
Venice,” Renaissance Quarterly 66, no. 2 (2013): 412–52; Joaneath Spicer,
“Free Men and Women of African Ancestry in Renaissance Europe,” in
Exhibition Catalogue (Baltimore: The Walters Art Museum, 2012), 81–98.
3. For Early English Books Online (EEBO) see
home. This excellent database requires an individual or institutional sub-
scription. Recent editions of early modern travel texts include Walter
Raleigh, Sir Walter Ralegh’s Discoverie of Guiana, ed. Joyce Lorimer, Works
Issued by the Hakluyt Society 3rd ser., no. 15 (Aldershot: Ashgate for the
Hakluyt Society of London, 2006); Kenneth Parker, ed., Early Modern
Tales of Orient: A Critical Anthology (London: Routledge, 1999); Andrew
Hadfield, ed., Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels: Travel and Colonial
Writing in English, 1550–1630: An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2001); Peter C. Mancall, ed., Envisioning America: English Plans for
the Colonization of North America, 1580–1640 (Boston: Bedford Books of
St. Martin’s Press, 1995); Catalina de Erauso, Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of

a Basque Transvestite in the New World, trans. Michele Stepto and Gabriel
Stepto (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).
4. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and
the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, 3rd ed. (Lanham:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010), 25–52. I have listed the four
ideological strategies in the order I will treat them here, rather than how
they appear in Bonilla-Silva’s book.
5. In a thought-provoking article, Nabil Matar takes on the question of
whether Orientalism has an “Occidentalist” counterpart as evidenced
in early modern Moroccan sources. He concludes that such an ideologi-
cal construct did not exist there at the time, or potentially in any of the
Islamicate nations of the era, due to the respected place of Jesus within
Islam, and the lack of a developed print culture. See Nabil Matar, “The
Question of Occidentalism in Early Modern Morocco,” in Postcolonial
Moves: Medieval through Modern, eds. Patricia Claire Ingham and Michelle
Warren (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 153–70.
6. This is especially the case in early twenty-first-century America, which
some commentators went so far as to claim was in a “postracial” era fol-
lowing the election of Barack Obama. This claim was of course imme-
diately challenged in many quarters, and was eventually very publically
disrupted by the trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman after he shot
and killed the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
7. Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana, Introduction to Race and
Epistemologies of Ignorance, ed. Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 1.
8. Sullivan and Tuana, Introduction to Race and Epistemologies, 3.
9. Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book,
Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives, ed. J. M. Cohen (London:
Penguin, 1969), 55–6.
10. Estimates of the number of American Indians killed post-conquest vary
according to estimates of population on the continent prior to contact.
These population estimates can range anywhere from 8.4 million to
101.3 million. For an overview of the evidence on this topic, includ-
ing a chart indicating the widely varying estimates made by different
scholars in the field, see Massimo Livi Bacci, Conquest: The Destruction
of the American Indios (Cambridge: Polity, 2008). For Russell Thornton’s
controversial argument that scholars should use the terms “genocide” and
“holocaust” in relation to post-conquest Native American deaths, see
his American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492
(Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).
11. The idea to use student drawings of electron micrograph images to make
clearer the conditions governing the production of natural history images
in the early modern period belongs to John Dettloff, who deployed it in
a History of Science class taught at Princeton University in 1996.
12. Anthony Grafton and Nancy Siraisi’s accessible, image-filled book New
World, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery

(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992) provides useful

descriptions of the European visual and intellectual traditions from
which travel authors borrow their visual and verbal metaphors.
13. Daniel Vitkus, ed., Piracy, Slavery, and Redemption: Barbary Captivity
Narratives from Early Modern England (New York: Columbia University
Press, 2001).
14. Bichitr, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaykh to Kings, c. 1615–18, The Freer
Gallery of Art F1942.15, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington,
DC. This painting is viewable at the museum’s Web site: http://www.
15. There are numerous travel narratives and dramatic representations that
explore the temptation to “turn Turk” faced by Englishmen voyaging
in the Mediterranean. Classes could pair Thomas Dallam’s account with
captivity narratives from Vitkus’s collection and with stage plays like
A Christian Turn’d Turk or The Renegado. See also Nabil Matar’s “The
Renegade in English Seventeenth-Century Imagination,” Studies in
English Literature, 1500–1900 33, no. 3 (1993): 489–505.
16. Ivo Kamps and Jyotsna Singh, eds., Travel Knowledge: European “Discoveries”
in the Early Modern Period (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001) and
Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels.
17. Sullivan and Tuana, Introduction to Race and Epistemologies, 2.
18. Herbert Aptheker, Introduction to Anti-racism in U.S. History: The First Two
Hundred Years (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992), xiii. For early colo-
nial examples of interracial marriages see pages 3–4, and 15–16. The
latter describes the white grandmother of the mixed race surveyor and
scientist, Benjamin Banneker, who corresponded with Thomas Jefferson
on the topic of racial equality.
19. Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of
Colonial Virginia (New York: Norton, 1975), 10–14.
20. For a compelling and accessible book detailing several women crossing
political and religious boundaries between Venetian and Ottoman terri-
tories, see Eric Dursteler, Renegade Women: Gender, Identity, and Boundaries
in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 2011). Nabil Matar’s Introduction to Vitkus’s Piracy, Slavery, and
Redemption is a useful introduction to the mixed-race crews aboard the
ghazi f leets. Claire Jowitt’s The Culture of Piracy, 1580–1630: English
Literature and Seaborne Crime (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010) contains
numerous citations to early modern texts treating piracy as well as an
insightful analysis of its place in Jacobean culture.
21. Aptheker, Introduction to Anti-Racism in U.S. History, xiv. This broad
generalization is drawn from Western sources. The Ottomans and other
non-Western empires had markedly different social and political orga-
nizations that allowed for and at times mandated religious and ethnic

22. Jonathan Burton and Ania Loomba, Introduction to Race in Early Modern
England: A Documentary Companion, ed. Jonathan Burton and Ania
Loomba (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 7.
23. See for example Helen Scott, “Was There a Time before Race? Capitalist
Modernity and the Origins of Racism,” in Marxism, Modernity, and
Postcolonial Studies, eds. Crystal Bartolovich and Neil Lazarus (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2002), 167–82.
24. Burton and Loomba challenge this distinction between “biological” and
“cultural” racism: “We need to rethink the time line of racism that the
supposed historical transition of ‘culture into biology’ establishes, and in
doing so, query the very boundaries between these categories . . . Early
modern writings graphically illustrate how both culture and nature are
organically interconnected and historically changing concepts that have
always been central to the ideologies of human difference.” See Burton
and Loomba, Introduction to Race in Early Modern England, 27–8.
25. Advanced classes could, in conjunction with this point, take on the com-
plex issue of early modern subjectivity and identity formation, which do
not conform to later Western patterns as inf luenced by classical liberal-
ism. Bonilla-Silva’s final racist ideological strategy regarding the decon-
textualized deployment of tenets of classical liberalism could thereby also
be addressed in the context of early modern studies.
26. For an early but excellent consideration of blackness in the period, see
Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early
Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995); for whiteness,
Kimberly Poitevin, “Inventing Whiteness: Cosmetics, Race, and Women
in Early Modern England,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 11,
no. 1 (2011): 59–89.
27. Frankie Condon, I Hope I Join the Band: Narrative, Affiliation, and Antiracist
Rhetoric (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2012), 112–13.
28. Condon, I Hope I Join the Band, 112.
29. This is a bald assertion based on personal observation. I have yet to locate
a study or survey on this issue, and would be extremely pleased to be
proven wrong should such a study demonstrate otherwise. A study would
in any case be very welcome, as it would provide information on which to
base a broader conversation about the racial demographics in our field.



Barbara Sebek

A s in the canon of English literature generally, Shakespeare plays an

oversized role in the study of early modern cross-cultural encoun-
ters, particularly The Tempest and critical debates on its participation in
(proto)colonial ideologies. In an essay that I assign early in “Different
Shakespeares”—a masters-level course devoted to developing critical
approaches to questions of difference and identity in Shakespeare’s plays
and the early modern period—Ania Loomba notes that Shakespeareans
have recently sought to interrogate and dislodge what was once taken to
be an organic connection between Shakespeare and a notion of essen-
tial “Englishness.”1 In this course—whose title I borrowed from an
essay by Jyotsna Singh discussing appropriations of Shakespeare in India
that displace the cultural authority of the “universal Bard”—I aimed to
acknowledge and reckon with this critical history, situating Shakespeare
in relation to the emerging field of global Renaissance/early modern stud-
ies.2 At the same time, the course strove to decenter Shakespeare, placing
The Tempest, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor,
and Titus Andronicus alongside other primary texts, including Philip
Massinger and John Fletcher’s The Sea Voyage, overseas voyage accounts
and commercial treatises, a twentieth-century postcolonial appropriation
(Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempȇte), as well as a range of secondary sources.3
A quick glance at the texts students chose to write about in their final
papers might suggest that we failed to “decenter” Shakespeare: eight out

of the 11 students selected a play by Shakespeare as their primary object of

analysis. However, the critical questions that students formulated reveal a
developing understanding of how we can construe “resistance narratives”
about cultural encounters at work “within” early modern texts, including
those to which the proper name of Shakespeare is attached.
“Different Shakespeares” was a course for students in a two-year MA
program: many of them are not bound for doctoral studies, some are not
literature concentrators, and several have had little exposure to advanced
forms of textual and cultural critique. Given that most are just “getting
their feet wet” in advanced study, the course was compatible with an
upper-level undergraduate course. In this chapter, I offer an account of
how I organized the course, including the texts, critical issues, and writ-
ten assignments that were central to it. I describe assignments for both
the graduate and possible undergraduate versions that encourage close
reading of literary and secondary texts, and that work to challenge cer-
tain easily replicable, received theoretical notions. As I attempted in the
course itself, I try here to keep in view four interwoven strands of critical
interest: “The work of gender in the discourse of discovery” (as Louis
Montrose titled an inf luential 1991 article);4 the importance of race as a
category of analysis; the formative role of trade as catalyst for and shaper
of the meanings of cross-cultural encounters; and a rigorous critique of
the ahistoricism and binary thinking that often paves the way for simplis-
tic notions of “othering.”
The description advertising the course during registration and on the
syllabus pointed out that

a variety of developments in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth

centuries reconfigured how many Englishmen and women understood
their place in the world, and how they conceptualized the contours of the
“global” itself: Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe; transformed
technologies of mapping and navigation; the establishment of organized
long-distance trading companies and expanding trade networks; English
incursions into the waters and territories of rival and more established
colonial and economic powers; the growth of London as an economic,
political, and cultural center.

I situated Shakespeare in these historical developments by noting that

his “professional theatrical company—operating like a guild and orga-
nized according to principles not unlike those of the long-distance trad-
ing companies—took to the stages of the Theatre, the Curtain, the Globe,
and the Blackfriars at the historical moment when these developments
were transforming the cultural imagination.” Before the course began,
I e-mailed students a set of readings for our first meeting, including an

episode of the BBC Radio 4 podcast Shakespeare’s Restless World called

“England Goes Global.”5 Addressing Francis Drake’s circumnavigation,
various cultural artifacts commemorating it, and the impact of these rep-
resentations on the English cultural imagination, the podcast served as an
accessible introduction to the globalizing forces in the period. Because
this was a graduate course, I articulated the broader goal of exploring
how critical theory, various historicisms, cultural studies, postcolonial
studies, and the more recent field of “global Renaissance” studies have
transformed what we mean when we say “Shakespeare.” For undergrad-
uates, I would de-emphasize the latter because it focuses explicitly on
metacritical concerns in establishing our subject matter and methods.
As a specialist in early modern English literature and culture, with
interests in feminist theory and economic history, especially English
involvement in expanding networks of global trade in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, I create special topics graduate courses that explic-
itly historicize and theorize categories of identity and difference, and I
have often infused my undergraduate Shakespeare, English Renaissance
Drama, and multigenre Renaissance literature courses with these criti-
cal concerns. In designing “Different Shakespeares,” I drew on previous
courses I have taught, graduate ones such as “Early Modern Discourses of
Difference” and “Early Modern Women Writers,” and an undergraduate
course on “Colonial and Postcolonial Literatures.” These included but
did not emphasize Shakespeare; like the course discussed here, however,
they were interested in discerning the multiple axes of difference that
were emergent or fully operative in our period. All these courses there-
fore shared an interest in the fourth of the threads enumerated above:
scrutinizing and critiquing ahistorical binary oppositions that can fuel
simplistic notions of “othering” to describe cross-cultural encounters.
When foregrounding cross-cultural encounters, I combine attention to
how literary and other cultural texts participate in emergent colonial
ideologies with consideration of dynamics of gender, status, occupation,
class, or sexuality. In both graduate and undergraduate courses, I often
encourage students to examine how particular texts at once generate
and problematize persistent yet unstable hierarchized binary oppositions
(civility/savagery, settled/nomadic, Christian/pagan, master/servant,
urban/pastoral, and male/female). I both invoke and challenge notions
of “othering” or “negative cultural self-definition” as laid out clearly in
the Norton Shakespeare General Introduction section on “The English
and Otherness” I assigned for the first class meeting.6 In their 300-word
weekly Reading Responses circulated to the whole class to initiate our
discussions, many students targeted Stephen Greenblatt’s points about
“negative self-definition”: “Perhaps most nations learn to define what

they are by defining what they are not. This negative self-definition is,
in any case, what Elizabethans seemed constantly to be doing, in travel
books, sermons, political speeches, civic pageants, public exhibitions, and
the theatrical spectacles of otherness.” 7
Most students, especially those less theoretically prepared, seem
comfortable with this accessible model of “negative self-definition.”
Interestingly, early in the course, students seized on Greenblatt’s state-
ment that particular social groups (Italians, Indians, Turks, and Jews)
served as “emblems of despised otherness,” but overlooked his more
important simultaneous point that “the boundaries of national iden-
tity were by no means clear and unequivocal” and that even groups
stigmatized as “irreducibly alien” are constructed in unstable ways in
the English imagination.8 I offered combinations of texts or moments
within texts that foreground this instability of identity categories, par-
ticular social groups, or the conventional markers of identity, so that
the idea of negative self-definition is seen in all its persistence as well
as its malleability and partiality. We worked against the potential for
a dyadically framed concept of “othering” (civility/savagery)—often
transported wholesale from one text, period, or cultural formation to
another—to generate “cookie cutter” readings. I modeled close read-
ings that show how the “rush to othering” can blind us to cosmopolitan
features of certain occupational groups or discourse communities in a
given cultural moment.9 As Loomba points out in the essay mentioned
above, “Ideologies of difference were both geographically and tempo-
rally mobile—not only did notions of outsiders honed in one part of the
world shape attitudes in another, but older habits of thought were rein-
forced and reshaped by newer developments.”10 One exemplary student
final paper, discussed at more length below, demonstrates that the course
provided the tools to emphasize such “reshaping,” aided by attentiveness
to the specificities of cultural, geographical, and temporal contexts and
supported by close reading of primary and secondary texts. Cultivating
awareness that conceptual mobility is distinct from conceptual replicability
was one of the central critical aims of the course.
With these larger conceptual and historical goals in mind, in advance
of our first meeting, I also assigned the section “Shakespeare’s World”
from the General Introduction to The Norton Shakespeare, which includes
the section “The English and Otherness” just cited and covers a variety
of other topics that served as basic context for those masters students who
had not studied the period previously.11 In order to jostle against the
presumption that Shakespeare, England, or Europe was the hub of the
early modern world, we read Jerry Brotton’s The Renaissance: A Very Short
Introduction, focusing particularly on his chapters “A Global Renaissance”

and “Brave New Worlds.”12 Among other topics, our discussion on the
first day of class juxtaposed the Norton section on “The English and
Otherness”—which sets up the idea of negative self-definition and can
inadvertently lead students to formulate simplistic notions of “othering”—
with Brotton’s insistence on cross-cultural currents and shift away from
Eurocentric understandings of the period. For instance, we turned to
Brotton’s discussion of trade negotiations among Portuguese, Ottomans,
and Egyptians, which he concludes by remarking that “as so often in the
Renaissance, when trade and wealth were at stake, religious and ideologi-
cal oppositions melted away.”13
I kept this strand of thought in play the next week by assigning excerpts
from the prefatory materials to Lewis Roberts’s The Merchants Mappe of
Commerce. First published in 1638 and much reprinted into the eighteenth
century, Roberts’s treatise is a work of cartography, a commercial atlas,
and an explication of “exchanges mysteries.”14 A hefty book of nearly 700
pages, its title page addresses “all Merchants or their Factors that exercise
the Art of Merchandizing in any part of the habitable World.” Roberts
sought service with the East India Company in 1617, and was employed
by it and the Levant Company, later becoming director of both. In his
“Epistle to the Merchants of England and readers in general,” Roberts says
he spent 12 years collecting information “during my abode and imploy-
ment in many parts of the World.”15 After this description, I presented a
page of excerpts from the prefatory materials, and asked students to con-
sider the following questions for their weekly writings and discussion:

What are the fruits of global travel (and/or publishing about global travel)
that emerge in the excerpted prefatory epistles and commendatory verses
below? What are some specific word choices that help construct this vision
of the purposes or benefits of global travel? Select a couple of words to
look up in the Oxford English Dictionary.

In addition to noting the excerpts’ emphasis on “traffique” as the impe-

tus for global travel in his work on this assignment, one student kept this
thread active in his Reading Responses across the semester, including in
his response to Louis Montrose’s discussion of Walter Raleigh’s Discovery
of Guiana and his discussion of the complex centrality and irrelevance of
material treasure in The Sea Voyage. This interest in specific commercial
practices and competing notions of profit and value in constructions of
cross-cultural encounters bore fruit in this student’s final paper, a consid-
eration of the depiction of moneylending, trade, and competing views of
financial risk as they impinge on and complicate notions of Shylock-as-
Other in The Merchant of Venice.

In addition to the handout on Roberts, with its emphasis on trade and

profit as the catalyst for global ventures, we discussed William Sherman’s
survey of travel writing and taxonomy of travelers, an excerpt from
Jyotsna Singh’s Introduction to her Companion to the Global Renaissance,
John Gillies’s consideration of theatre and cartography in his chapter
“Theatres of the World,” and the piece by Loomba already mentioned.
Each of these readings helped establish the “four strands” of the course.16
Students compared Gillies’s discussion of how atlases perform theatrical
functions to the BBC podcast’s discussion of the splendid Whitehall wall
map and the small silver medallion depicting the route of Drake’s circum-
navigation.17 The telescoping of global and miniature led to consider-
ation of Singh’s juxtaposition of the Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth,
hand atop a terrestrial globe, and a court painting of the Mughal emperor
Jahangir embracing the Persian monarch while both stand on a large,
up-to-date, and geographically accurate globe.18 This cluster of read-
ings recalled the previous week’s discussion from Brotton of the “circula-
tion of geographical knowledge, navigational skills, and trade between
Christian and Muslim communities” as they are registered in fourteenth-
century working maps known as “portolan charts.”19 We thus considered
what Gillies calls “the new geography” in its aesthetic, ideological, and
practical functions and effects.
With this material under our belts and hopefully a less simplistic
sense of xenophobia or English insularity, we turned to our first play by
Shakespeare, his only comedy set in England, The Merry Wives of Windsor.
More than any other Shakespeare play, Merry Wives centers on a female-
dominated domestic sphere, and is concerned with quotidian and house-
hold stuff. We read for the presence of the global and the non-English
in this “most English” and “domestic” of Shakespeare’s plays.20 Reading
this play after the texts in the first two weeks prompted one student to
remark, “I’ve read this text twice before, and I’ve never focused so heav-
ily on the material I did this time around. Hopefully this means I am
beginning to think more globally.” Another commented, “While read-
ing Merry Wives and actively looking for mentions of global trade, I was
surprised by how often small mentions of trade cropped up.” In some
instances, this “new” view of the play merely yielded a list of textual
examples illustrating the presence of the foreign in Windsor, xenophobic
mockery of non-English characters, or English linguistic nationalism.
Other students went further, however, offering analysis of the interplay
of class and gender dynamics in the play’s constructions of identity and
difference. One student advanced this analysis by referring back to the
pieces by Gillies and Loomba:

In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff uses global trade met-
aphors to describe Mistresses Ford and Page as his “East and West Indies”
(1.3.61) and refers to one of them as “a region in Guiana, all gold and
bounty” (1.3.59–60). He intends to woo both women and proclaims, “I
will trade to them both” (1.3.62). Ania Loomba remarks on this compari-
son in her essay “Outsiders in Shakespeare’s England,” noting that “Like
Falstaff, England . . . seized the opportunity to traffic in both regions”
(153) . . . Falstaff ’s reference to his “cony-catch[ing]” and being “cheaters
to them both” ref lect[s] a parallel exploitative attitude toward the objects
of his anticipated traffic (1.3.29, 60). The Norton Shakespeare glosses “cony-
catch” as “swindle” (Greenblatt 1272) and explains that “cheaters” can
mean “deceivers, robbers” (Greenblatt 1273n7). This metaphor portray-
ing women exploited for financial gain as territories that contain valuable
commodities is a twist on what John Gillies in “Shakespeare and the geog-
raphy of difference” calls an “Ortelian innovation: the first appearance of
personified female continents within a printed cartographic work” (74).
Falstaff reverses Ortelius’s imagery, imagining the women as territories
instead of the territories as women. Nevertheless, the link between femi-
ninity and exploitation is forged in both Falstaff ’s descriptions of the wives
and Ortelius’s cartographic representation of the continents. 21

This student’s comments allowed us to discuss not only how the play’s
depiction of homely Windsor draws on xenophobic responses to the
wider world, but also how its constructions of the “middling sort” and
the down-on-his-luck predatory knight Falstaff rub against an inclu-
sive or harmonious sense of Englishness, as ideas of men-versus-women,
court-versus-town, English-versus-French, and English-versus-Welsh
easily morph into an array of uneasy cross-alliances.
With “Englishness” and “the local” thus complicated by our dis-
cussion of Shakespeare’s “most English play,” we turned next to The
Merchant of Venice, alongside the entries indexed by Loomba and Burton
in their documentary companion to Race in Early Modern England, and
Lindsay Kaplan’s Introduction to the Bedford edition of the play.22
We then turned to Othello, The Moor of Venice in week five, reading it
with the indexed excerpts on Moors and Turks from the Documentary
Companion, Kim F. Hall’s excellent Introduction to her Bedford edition
(which discusses engagements with race in the play and by its critics),
and Carol Neely’s “Circumscriptions and Unhousedness: Othello in the
Borderlands” (which brilliantly models how to keep multiple categories
of difference in play).23 Before reading The Tempest, we spent two weeks
on various secondary and primary readings, including Montrose’s foun-
dational essay, “The Work of Gender in the Discourse of Discovery,” an
excerpt from William Strachey’s shipwreck account, True Reportory of the

Wrack off the Bermudas, and Michel de Montaigne’s “Of the Cannibals.”
Following our reading and discussion of the play, we read several of the
critical pieces included in Gerald Graff and James Phelan’s edition of the
play in Bedford’s Case Studies in Critical Controversy series.24
After our four-week unit on The Tempest and its animating contexts,
its participation in colonial ideology, and the recent critical controversy,
we read John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s The Sea Voyage. Performed
at Blackfriars in 1622, this has long been considered an adaptation of
Shakespeare’s Tempest, which was likely performed in that same venue
just over a decade earlier. In addition to (probably) sharing the more
exclusive indoor Blackfriars hall that the King’s Men took possession of
in 1608–1609, the two plays share an acting company, the King’s Men.25
Moreover, Fletcher served as the company’s principal playwright after
Shakespeare’s retirement, and Philip Massinger, his collaborator on The
Sea Voyage, took up that role upon Fletcher’s death in 1625. Attending
to the plays’ specific performance venue, audience, and particular trade
organizations helped alert students to the competing and overlapping
ways these plays imagine the relations between London-based merchants
and wider networks of global trade. This cluster of concerns helps dis-
lodge a simple sense of opposition between valorized European “self ”
and despised native “other.”
Both plays begin with shipwrecks and dramatize the plight of castaway
European voyagers or exiles on islands. The Tempest’s island is described
as “an uninhabited island” that—with the exercise of Prospero’s magic
and the material labors of Caliban—can nevertheless sustain its castaway
inhabitants. The Sea Voyage presents two islands. The first is “a desert
island” that offers no means of sustenance; the second is a resource-
providing one. After the opening wreck of a crew of French voyagers,
the play presents some castaway Portuguese, former colonial settlers who
were long ago “displanted” by French invaders and have been scraping
out a miserable, spare existence on the desert isle for several years—long
enough for the Portuguese castaway Sebastian’s wife, daughter, and their
serving women to have established themselves—unbeknownst to their
male countrymen—as a separatist Amazon society on the “other island”
or land mass across the water. The ship that wrecks in the play’s open-
ing scene carries the pirate Albert, a son of one of the French corsairs
who displanted the Portuguese, along with his fellow travelers, includ-
ing his captive-turned-beloved Aminta, who is hoping to find her lost
brother Raymond, himself a son of another corsair. Rather than focus-
ing exclusively on the faraway places that serve as the plays’ settings, I
asked students to think in terms of London audiences at the Blackfriars
and the specific trading organizations in which they might have held

interests, particularly the Spanish and Virginia Companies and the con-
f licts and organizational questions they faced in the years surrounding
the Blackfriars performances. While this sort of microhistory did not
necessarily captivate my students, I prefaced the 20-minute lecture on
this material by explaining that studying such detail is one way to work
toward the critical goals of the course: learning about particular con-
f licts within specific trading organizations helps discourage easy gener-
alizations about English or European identity vis-à-vis “the Other” and
complicates simple binaries such as English/non-English and civilized
European/savage Other.
In addition to opening with a shipwreck and remote setting, The
Sea Voyage shares The Tempest’s apparent use of the Virginia shipwreck
account by William Strachey. Two plot elements in The Sea Voyage bor-
row more directly from Strachey’s account than anything in Shakespeare’s
play. The first is a mutiny by a rogue band of French gallants who try to
steal the Portuguese castaways’ treasure; the second is when this rogue
band stumbles on and prepares to eat the sleeping Aminta, the captive-
turned-beloved of the French pirate Albert, while he, wounded from
the scuff le with these rogues, valiantly swims across the dark lake and
is taken quasi-captive by the lusty, food-providing Amazons. At vari-
ous points as the different groups of castaways meet, they misrecognize
each other, using such terms as “strange beast,” “beast,” “devil,” “mon-
ster,” “Mongrels,” and “savage beasts.”26 Several students noted that the
play pointedly frames the more familiar Europeans, not native inhabit-
ants of the islands, as the would-be cannibals. We also noted this play’s
explicit attention to the perils of wreck, starvation, and physical suffer-
ing that voyaging potentially entails as well as its direct representation
of those staples of travel literature inherited from Herodotus, Pliny, and
Mandeville: Amazons, cannibals, and monstrous races of people. Despite
all these elements, this play mocks—even domesticates and defuses—
anxieties that attend overseas travel and trade: we know all along that
these Amazons will be recuperated; we recognize immediately the error
in perceiving fellow Europeans as monstrous races; and the cannibal-
ism threat evokes laughter not terror. For example, the would-be can-
nibal rogue LaMure says to Aminta, “Marry, we’ll eat your ladyship,”27
amusingly blending the threat of cannibalism with mild oath and terms
of polite address. As critics of this play never fail to note, there are no
Calibans here. The humor of the scene in which the French rogues
threaten cannibalism—combined with a classmate’s comments on the
scene in her Reading Response—prompted the student presenters to
have a group of students perform the short scene. Notwithstanding
this strain of comical undercutting, the play offers enough dislocation

and misrecognition that the islands of The Sea Voyage are called by Jean
Feerick “a Pandora’s box of identity”—a line quoted by two students
in their Reading Responses—particularly given the gender inversions
that the play entails.28 Through a combination of careful textual analysis
and playful performance activity initiated by the students, we teased
out how the play reshapes and even debunks the process of “othering.”
Rather than projecting cannibalistic urges onto native inhabitants of
remote islands, “new world” spaces, or “emblems of despised otherness”
(as Greenblatt phrases it) such as Turks, Moors, or Jews, this play jest-
ingly maps these urges onto rapacious European gallants, rival would-be
settlers, and resource marauders.
After The Sea Voyage, we turned to a postcolonial appropriation of
Shakespeare’s play, Aimé Césaire’s Une Temp ȇte, reading it alongside
Jonathan Gil Harris’s excellent chapter “Postcolonial Theory.”29 This
unit helped to explore the generative tensions between studying the plays
in their originating contexts and studying their global and postcolonial
afterlives. Inspired by setting the “original” in critical dialogue with a
postcolonial adaptation, two students chose to write their final papers
on Césaire’s play, and another researched a recent Bollywood adaptation
of Othello, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006). The final week of class was
devoted to a play the students voted on. I laid out some non-Shakespear-
ean options, including John Fletcher’s The Island Princess, Marlowe’s The
Jew of Malta or his Tamburlaine, and invited students to make a case for
any one of these, or any Shakespearean play we had not studied. Thanks
to some persuasive pleas from classmates, the class selected Shakespeare’s
first tragedy, Titus Andronicus, thus bookending our study by moving
from a globally infused, homely, and “de-localized” Windsor in week
three to one of the playwright’s most relentless figurations of civilization
as a “wilderness of tigers” (3.1.53) that obliterates the dichotomy between
civility and savagery even as it evokes it.
In order to f lesh out how I infused the critical aims of the course
into the students’ own work, I conclude by sharing two sets of writing
prompts. In addition to completing at least six of the “open topic” Reading
Responses, students were required to write one brief thought-piece and a
longer final paper on directed, if open-ended, topics. In our discussion of
postcolonial theory, Harris’s treatment of “resistance narratives” helped
students discern how the resistant features associated with the “postcolo-
nial” can be seen to reside “in” the “colonial” texts, and conversely how
the twentieth-century appropriation can itself be marked by structures of
power or exclusion that we might associate with colonial ideology. It was
useful for students to realize that we do not need to wait until studying a
twentieth-century text to perceive the troubling of grand narratives or of

strict binary oppositions. To explore these concerns in writing after we

discussed The Sea Voyage and Une Temp ȇte, students wrote a three-page
thought-piece in response to one of the following prompts:

A. In his chapter on postcolonial theory, Harris discusses Soyinka’s

claim that the Egyptian playwright Shawqi’s work in rewriting
Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra “had already been done for him
by Shakespeare” in the original play (197). This claim invites us to
“listen for” glimmers of postcolonial resistance and/or non-Anglo-
centric (or non-Eurocentric) insights in the Shakespearean text.
Explore some feature of Shakespeare’s The Tempest that “already
does the work” that Césaire offers in his rewriting of the play.
(Perhaps think through the benefits or drawbacks of such an effort
to regard the Shakespearean text as anticipatory of postcolonial
B. Unlike Shakespeare’s Tempest, which offers only a single staged
female character (and references to others such as Miranda’s mother
and Sycorax), Fletcher and Massinger’s Sea Voyage depicts an entire
community of women. Regardless of the number and diversity of
female characters, both plays provide insight into the interlocking
dynamics of colonialist and patriarchal ideologies. Which play do
you think does so most compellingly? How so?

About six weeks before the final paper was due, I presented the following
prompts as reminders of ongoing preoccupations or threads of analysis
from our course overall:

1. We have studied the persistence—and the instability—of a vari-

ety of binary oppositions that function to create hierarchies,
construct “Others,” or define civility: Nobleman/Commoner;
Master/Servant; Man/Woman; White/Black; Protestant/Catholic;
Christian/Pagan; English/non-English, and so on. Explore the
critical value of disrupting “binary thinking”; analyze how vari-
ous categories of identity and difference overlap or contradict one
another; read for “resistance narratives” (Harris 201) in which
constructions of culture and nation don’t conform neatly to these
binary formations.
2. Deconstruct facile generalizations about “othering” by analyzing
the specificities of how one of the plays depicts a given region,
cultural group, religious group, et cetera. Perhaps take up Loomba
and Burton’s discussion of “traveling tropes” (20–22) as both fixed/
persistent and malleable/adaptable to different times and places.

3. Return to one of the presemester or early semester readings

(Brotton, Singh, Loomba, BBC podcast, handout on Lewis
Roberts’s Merchants Mappe of Commerce, et cetera) and pick up
a thread laid out there. For example, some points from Singh’s
Introduction to A Companion to the Global Renaissance: “The Global
Renaissance” is a way of construing our period of study that chal-
lenges the traditional conception of the European Renaissance,
centered on Italy, in which humanist elites revived the ideals of
classical antiquity, giving birth to a valorized “Renaissance Man”
or “modern man.” This notion of “man” purports that white,
European man embodies civilized values and a superior culture,
a view that itself ref lects a nineteenth-century colonial/impe-
rial worldview (Singh 4–5). Various strands of recent scholar-
ship decenter this idealist figure, relocating him in an expanding
global world, recognizing how the era of European expansion
ushered in paradigm shifts in knowledge production and belief
about various aspects of human experience: geography, trade,
religion, history, natural philosophy, and beyond. (Compare this
sense of paradigm shift to the analogy made in the BBC podcast
between Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe and the moon
4. The era of European expansion witnessed both cosmopolitan
modes of cross-cultural interaction as well as “uneven strains of
xenophobia . . . Complicated discursive operations [were] involved
in negotiating these opposing tendencies” (Singh 5). How do we
see this at work in one of the Shakespearean texts we studied?
5. Focus on the “work of gender in the discourse of discovery,”
following or tweaking Louis Montrose’s essay. Unpack the
complex discursive operations that draw on tropes of virginal
land, female chastity, controlling female desire, protecting the
female body from marauding “others” (Spanish conquistadors,
French would-be cannibals, Calibans, et cetera). Find moments
in which a space of critique or resistance opens up even in texts
that perpetuate patriarchal or misogynist figurations of power
and expansion.
6. How does one of the Shakespearean texts we have studied reveal
“Englishness” itself (or “Europeanness” itself ) to be an unstable,
shifting category? How might we read this as a response to expand-
ing global consciousness?
7. How do representations of appetite and habits of consumption work
to construct difference and identity? How do these representations
work with or against notions of somatic difference?30

In her final paper, student Amy Moore, an articulate and impassioned

advocate for concluding the course with Titus Andronicus, extended her
response to thought-piece Prompt A by combining it with the final paper
Prompt 1. She focused on Titus, arguing that Shakespeare’s play features
a range of unstable binary oppositions that serve to “destabilize concepts
of civility and otherness within the play.” Unpacking the multivalent
sense of “barbarous” by way of the OED, Moore targeted a wide array
of specific moments in which the hierarchical divide between barbarous
and civil, Goth and Roman, black and white, is asserted unequivocally,
inverted, and then f lattened out. In addition to careful close reading of
many moments in the play, she drew thoughtfully and judiciously on the
Introduction to the play in the Norton Shakespeare, and on the assigned
essays by Harris, Loomba, Montrose, and Singh. In her words: “The play
continues to push back against stereotypical binaries by participating in
something similar to what Jonathan Gil Harris calls ‘resistance narra-
tives.’” She discerned resistance to the demonizing characterization of
the play’s Goths and of Aaron the Moor as coming “from within the
play.” Overall, in this student’s reading, “Titus Andronicus contains a great
deal of internal resistance to the stereotypical binaries it initially seems
to endorse, especially as they relate to civility or morality . . . by the end
of the play, the idea of a barbarous Roman is no longer a contradiction
in terms.” She concluded by claiming that the play “draw[s] back the
curtain to reveal a gaping void behind Lucius’s moral imperative and
the notion of Roman civility.” It is difficult to capture the richness of
the paper’s analysis without quoting at length, but I hope to have given
some glimpse of the quality of thinking about identity, difference, and
cross-cultural encounter that this student offered in engaging with a dif-
ferent Shakespeare.
Ref lecting on the course with some distance has prompted me to
realize the degree to which I take as a “given” the value of working
toward complexity and nuance, and of avoiding reductive thinking about
cultural identity and difference (or about any topic, for that matter). In
future courses, I might ask the students to chime in on whether they
agree with this axiom—or, more importantly, if they share my firmly
held belief that the critical skills that we exercise on texts from a past
period translate to our engagement with issues of cultural identity and
difference in the present. I remain convinced that keeping a critically
inf lected Shakespeare in the curriculum performs important work, given
the historical uses to which “Shakespeare” has been put as a conveyor
of some kind of essential “Englishness” or, in an American context, as
a bearer of universal or “timeless” human values.31 Earlier periods are
a crucial arena for cultivating the kinds of critical skills I have been

discussing here; getting students to care about subject matter that strikes
them as “foreign” because it is historically remote can be made to foster
critical skills, even when cultural encounter and Shakespeare are not the
explicit topics of study. Many teachers and scholars interested in the topic
of the current volume will not be surprised by the critical tenets under-
lying my course; it is hardly new to insist that constructions of cultural
identity and difference are historically variable and context dependent—
that they are contingent and not universal. While sounding by now like
a cliché to those who have been engaged in such pedagogical and critical
projects, conveying how binary models of power relations do not yield
nuanced understandings of cultural encounter persists as an important
goal in teaching earlier periods to new generations of students.

1. Ania Loomba, “Outsiders in Shakespeare’s London,” in The Cambridge
Companion to Shakespeare, eds. Margreta de Grazia and Stanley Wells
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 147.
2. Jyotsna Singh, “Different Shakespeares: The Bard in Colonial/
Postcolonial India,” Theatre Journal 41, no. 4 (1989): 445–58.
3. The Sea Voyage appears in Anthony Parr, ed., Three Renaissance Travel
Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000). Aimé Césaire,
A Tempest: Based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, trans. Richard Miller (St.
Paul, MN: TCG Books, 2002).
4. Louis Montrose, “The Work of Gender in the Discourse of
Discovery.” Representations 33 (Winter 1991): 1–41.
5. Neil MacGregor, May 11, 2012,
r4shakespeare/all. Neil MacGregor, the creator and narrator of the series
in which this episode appeared, has since published a book based on the
podcasts: Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects
(London: Penguin, 2013).
6. Stephen Greenblatt, General Introduction to The Norton Shakespeare, ed.
Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton, 2008), 22–5. I assigned all
plays by Shakespeare from this edition.
7. Greenblatt, General Introduction, 25.
8. Ibid.
9. See Barbara Sebek, “Morose’s Turban,” in Jean Howard’s forum on
“English Cosmopolitanism and the Early Modern Moment,” Shakespeare
Studies 35 (2007): 32–8.
10. Loomba, “Outsiders in Shakespeare’s London,” 153.
11. Other topics include “Wealth” (3–5), “Imports, Patents, and Monopolies”
(5–7), “Haves and Have-Nots” (7), “Riot and Disorder” (8–9), “The
Legal Status of Women” (9–11), “Women and Print” (11–13), “Henry
VIII and the English Reformation” (13–15), “The English Bible” (17–18),

“A Female Monarch in a Male World” (18–21), “James I and the Union of

the Crowns” (25–26), and “James’s Religious Policy and the Persecution
of Witches” (29–30). I have found the Norton General Introduction to
work effectively in a variety of advanced undergraduate and MA-level
courses, both as a basic introduction to the period and as a springboard
for discussion.
12. Jerry Brotton, The Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2006).
13. Brotton, The Renaissance, 89.
14. Roberts, The Merchants Mappe of Commerce (London, 1638), sig. A4v.
The handout I describe here drew on my discussion of Lewis Roberts in
“Good Turns and the Art of Merchandizing: Conceptualizing Exchange
in Early Modern England,” in Early Modern Culture: An Electronic
Seminar, issue 2 (2001), and my
Introduction to Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English
Literature and Culture from 1550–1700, eds. Barbara Sebek and Stephen
Deng (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
15. Roberts, The Merchants Mappe, sig. A5.
16. William Sherman, “Stirrings and Searchings, 1500–1720,” in Cambridge
Companion to Travel Writing, eds. Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 17–36; Jyotsna Singh,
“Introduction: A Global Renaissance” in her A Companion to the Global
Renaissance (London: Blackwell, 2009), 1–28; John Gillies, “Theatres of
the World,” in his Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1994), 70–98; and Loomba, “Outsiders in
Shakespeare’s London.”
17. As of this writing, the silver medallion and a few other images related
to the podcast are viewable online at
pdf. The Whitehall wall map is not among the images offered in this
online “Penguin taster” of MacGregor’s book (cited in note 5 above), but
appears in the book itself.
18. The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth appears on the cover of Singh’s
Companion to the Global Renaissance. On page 3, Singh reproduces the
court painting of the Mughal emperor Jahangir with permission of the
Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. As of this writing, this painting
appears in color at
utesdata/1600_1699/jahangir/jahangirsdream/jahangirsdream.html and
the Armada portrait of Elizabeth can be viewed at
19. Brotton, The Renaissance, 81.
20. My teaching of this play thus dovetailed with my essay situating Merry
Wives in the context of the Anglo-Spanish wine trade, “‘Wine and sugar
of the best and the fairest’: Canary, the Canaries, and the Global in

Windsor,” in Culinary Shakespeare, eds. David Goldstein and Amy Tigner

(Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, forthcoming).
21. Each week, students who wrote Reading Responses (RR) e-mailed them
to the entire class the day before our class met. The group of classmates’
RRs was required reading for all. Each class session began with a student
presenter’s summary of and commentary on the Reading Responses.
Presenters were also responsible for initiating discussion of the assigned
readings by formulating questions emerging from their classmates’
22. Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton, Race in Early Modern England:
A Documentary Companion (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
M. Lindsay Kaplan, Introduction to The Merchant of Venice: Texts and
Contexts, by William Shakespeare, ed. M. Lindsay Kaplan (New York:
Bedford, 2002).
23. Kim F. Hall, Introduction to Othello: Texts and Contexts, by William
Shakespeare, ed. Kim Hall (New York: Bedford, 2007); Carol
Thomas Neely, “Circumscriptions and Unhousedness: Othello in the
Borderlands,” in Shakespeare and Gender: A History, eds. Deborah Barker
and Ivo Kamps (London: Verso, 1995), 302–15.
24. William Shakespeare, The Tempest: A Case Study in Critical Controversy,
eds. Gerald Graff and James Phelan (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s,
2008). I assigned the seminal essays by Paul Brown, and Francis Barker
and Peter Hulme from Graff and Phelan’s section on “The Challenge of
Postcolonial Criticism,” and Deborah Willis and Ania Loomba’s essays
from the “Responding to the Challenge” section. I also recommended
the essays by Meredith Skura and Ann Thompson in that edition, and
my own essay on the play that combines feminist and economic modes
of analysis. In an undergraduate version of the course, I would be much
more selective in which and how many of the critical essays I assigned,
but would assign the same five- to ten-page paper that requires a thor-
ough and cogent two- to three-page summary of one of the critical essays
and a three- to five-page response to it.
25. The only documented performances of The Tempest were at court, but
Andrew Gurr confidently claims that The Tempest was “unquestionably”
the first play that Shakespeare wrote for the Blackfriars rather than the
Globe. “The Tempest’s Tempest at Blackfriars,” Shakespeare Survey 41
(1989): 92. In the Introduction to his Oxford edition of the play, Stephen
Orgel agrees, albeit more cautiously: “We can say with reasonable confi-
dence that before the closing of the theatres The Tempest was performed
at the Blackfriars as well as at court.” The Tempest (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1987), 64.
26. The play appears in Anthony Parr’s edition, Three Renaissance Travel Plays
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995). The quoted phrases
come from 2.2.32, 2.2.103, 2.2.108, 2.2.184, 4.2.35, and 4.4.17.
27. 3.3.127–28.

28. Jean Feerick, “‘Divided in Soyle’: Plantation and Degeneracy in The

Tempest and The Sea Voyage,” Renaissance Drama 35 (2006): 30.
29. The chapter appears in Jonathan Gil Harris, Shakespeare and Literary
Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 192–208.
30. For an undergraduate course, I would pare down the number of prompts
for the final paper and provide additional scaffolding in the form of tar-
geted critical questions and quotations from criticism.
31. In Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2011), Ayanna Thompson offers an exciting
example of a “presentist” approach to putting contemporary Shakespeare
studies and contemporary race studies in critical dialogue. I might use
her book as a way to encourage students to question or test the historicist
thrust of my course in the ways only gestured at in this conclusion.





Ambereen Dadabhoy

I t is something of a liberal bon mot to declare that Barack Obama,

the 44th president of the United States, is the country’s first Muslim
president.1 The jest trades on the paranoia of right-wing extremists (and
even of some conservative moderates) who pounce on the president’s
Muslim middle name, Hussein, as evidence of his “true” faith. Its bite
comes from the obvious ignorance of those who subscribe to this belief
despite the president’s repeated avowals of his Christian religion. At
the same time that the quip marks the absurdity of attempts to graft a
Muslim identity onto Obama, it delegitimizes that identity and in effect
colludes with polemical pronouncements that baldly declare Muslim and
American to be antithetical. Winking at the exclusionary, reactionary,
and simplistic notions of American identity and belonging articulated
by the Right, the Left participates in its own brand of identity politics,
not only through self-congratulating ridicule about Obama’s religion,
but also through its heralding of a “postracial” America. 2 The phantas-
magoric difference that can be shunted aside or laughed off (Islamic) is a
substitute for the real, visible, somatic difference (black) that is acknowl-
edged only insofar as it is erased. In other words, the election of the first
man of African ancestry to the highest political office in the United
States has ushered in a new era of race relations in the country, relations
constituted by the invisibility and purported irrelevance of race. 3

The fastening of the twin discourses of religious and racial difference

to candidate and later President Obama evokes the forms of difference
that characterize Shakespeare’s (in)famous Moor, Othello. It might seem
that a 400-year-old English play and twenty-first-century American
political spectacle have little in common save for an African/black man
as the central character; however, I am not the only person to observe this
connection.4 Both Othello and Obama are men of African heritage who
rise to prominence within a majority white military/political milieu,
both have exotic (read foreign) histories, and both are uneasily identi-
fied as Christian. To base my argument only on such superficial connec-
tions would suggest a race-based methodology that reduces successful
and prominent black men into Othello figures; therefore, the focus of
this essay is not how Othello and Obama are alike, but rather how early
modern anxieties about religious and racial difference emerge in our con-
temporary moment to vex us with questions about cultural and politi-
cal inclusion and exclusion.5 Shakespeare’s play and Obama’s candidacy
articulate and confront forms of difference that elicit fear regarding nor-
mative identity. To delineate and critique those fears is also to problema-
tize notions of normative American identity that promise assimilation
but operate through color-coded and religious discourses that exorcise
certain objectionable forms of difference.
In this article, I first rehearse my pedagogical approach to Othello,
uncovering the challenges of teaching a play that is ambivalent in its treat-
ment of its tragic hero and the meanings we might draw from his situa-
tion. I then consider how students can apply questions that Othello raises
about difference to the similar challenges confronted by Barack Obama’s
candidacy for president of the United States. I do not claim that modern
racism or racial discourse has roots in the early modern period (although
such a line of inquiry might be valid), but rather that blackness and Islam
disturb normative, Western, European, American constructions of iden-
tity because they are represented as ontologically and epistemologically
other, marking their difference on the bodies subject to them. Such
notions expose neither the reality of Islam’s inherent incompatibility with
“the West,” nor the inferiority of black or African culture to European/
American culture, but the limits and boundaries of Western liberalism.
My objectives in linking Othello to Obama are to offer opportunities for
my students to reconsider their progress-oriented approach to history, to
problematize the narrative of racial erasure that our present moment valo-
rizes, and to ref lect on the importance of difference within the cultural
and political body. I do not aim to rescue the play from the charge of rac-
ism or racist thinking but to reorient the play’s anxieties as they pertain
not only to race and religion, but to nation and empire as well.

Othello, the Moor of Venice

William Shakespeare’s Othello confronts its audience with forms of dif-
ference that are easy to perceive yet difficult to accept and reconcile.
It meets its modern readers at the intersection of identity where race,
religion, gender, and nationality collide and compete. Its eponymous
character is both an insider and outsider within the culture he strives to
maintain, and his liminal status is preserved in his body, which signals his
ontological difference. The movement between doubt and certainty that
structures the play is also replicated within Othello’s body, in his black-
ness. Shakespeare layers blackness with multiple registers of difference
(moral, religious, cultural, and sexual), thereby complicating its apparent
clarity and necessitating its interrogation.6
The multiplicity of meanings attached to Othello and his blackness
makes the play simultaneously rich and challenging in the classroom.7
Most students, especially freshmen, have not read the play, even if they
have acquired some cultural points of reference to its charged racial and
gendered representations. During my first experience teaching Othello,
my students were reluctant to deal substantively with issues of race. When
pressed, they mimicked sentiments articulated by the Duke in Act 1
Scene 3: Othello is valiant, good, and honorable, “despite his race.” 8 As a
graduate student instructor teaching a Renaissance course and Othello for
the first time, I was ill-equipped to thoroughly critique that sentiment.
When I pointed out that such an evaluation reproduced a color-coded
binary that identified black as deviant and white as good, my students
responded by noting that this is what the play presents. All further dis-
cussion reiterated this point and became unproductive. When I broached
the topic later in the semester, my students noted that discussing cultural
diversity and inclusion was passé because it had been “drummed” into
them in high school, and they were tired of it. Furthermore, my own
racial and ethnic background may have contributed to their reluctance in
being more vocal, for fear that I might judge them because I was visibly
racially marked and consequently had a personal investment in the kinds
of inquiry we were pursuing.
I returned to Othello in another course in which I paired the play
with Tim Blake Nelson’s film adaptation O (2001), hoping that a cultur-
ally familiar setting would tie the play’s racially motivated concerns to
conventional American cultural tropes.9 O tells the story of Odin James,
a star basketball player and the only black student enrolled in an all-
white boarding school in the American South. The film relies on cul-
tural stereotypes in order to assign symbolic meaning to its geographic
and color-coded representations; for example, Odin displays exemplary

athletic prowess, listens to gangster rap, takes drugs, and becomes sexu-
ally violent. Similarly, Desi—the Desdemona analogue—is pristine in
her fair beauty, but invites sexually derogatory comments through her
choice of a black boyfriend. The domestic realism of the setting and its
characters allowed for an analytical return to the previously frustrating
questions of race and racial thinking found in the play.10
My students were quick to point out the stereotypes in the film’s con-
struction of characters, but not so adept at questioning the operation of
stereotype as a discourse. More difficult was getting them to see that in its
construction, stereotype used the notion of biological, natural, or racial
“truth” to establish its authority. To develop our discussion, I divided
my students into groups and asked them to analyze the film’s presenta-
tion of various social, racial, and gender divisions. They were to iden-
tify elements such as speech patterns, musical tastes, and wardrobe that
were associated with specific groups. Once we reconvened, they pre-
sented their findings and related them to the film’s construction of race
as stereotype. By focusing on the specifics of character formation, my
students understood how identities were shaped by discourse. This new
critical lens allowed them to revisit the play and denaturalize some of its
racial and racist elements. One reservation I have regarding teaching O is,
ironically, the film’s own blindness to the social and cultural power of the
stereotypes it rehearses. The characteristics it fixes onto blackness, such
as deviance, promiscuity, and violence, are only emphasized by Odin’s
contingent status within the film’s school setting.11 Moreover, imbuing
Hugo/Iago with a motive—jealousy over Odin’s status as a surrogate son
in the eyes of his father—mitigates his culpability in transforming Odin
into an “angry black man.” In other words, the film infelicitously trans-
mits stereotype as truth and slips into the trap Shakespeare deliberately
Most recently, I returned to Othello in a course on early mod-
ern contact zones, which emphasized the importance of transnational
networks in the early modern world.12 I wanted to reorient the per-
spective through which my students approached the play by exploring
Shakespeare’s aborted engagement with “the Turk” and the Ottoman
Empire. One thing that was necessary for my students to consider was
their own geographical perspective and bias vis-à-vis the United States
and the world. The East was either a part of their consciousness as an
unfamiliar, nebulous mass or a location from which some of them traced
their ethnic heritage. Mostly, however, it was a void in their cultural and
political imaginary. I began my instruction of Othello with a brief intro-
duction to the play’s eastern Mediterranean landscape. I used slides to
show England’s geopolitical position, at the margins of Mediterranean

culture, and highlighted not only the Venetian Republic’s position as

a trade center, but also all of the territory occupied by the Ottoman
Empire at the time of Othello’s composition. These visual supplements
exposed the fiction of Venetian triumph that Shakespeare imagines in
the play, given that the hotly contested island of Cyprus was ceded to the
Ottomans in 1571. Focusing on the eastern Mediterranean as a social,
political, and cultural center necessitated the inclusion of the Ottomans
within a European framework.
In addition to visually reinforcing Ottoman supremacy in the geo-
graphical scope of Othello, I provided my students with a catalog of
Ottoman conquests in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, which I
supplemented with some pages from Richard Knolles’s Generall Historie
of the Turkes (1603).13 Knolles collated European and reportedly Ottoman
histories of the empire into one extensive volume. Over 1500 folio pages
in length, the Historie collects information “from the first beginning of
that nation to the rising of the Othoman Familie . . . until this present
year.”14 The pages I distributed exhibit the awe, majesty, and fear that
the Ottomans inspired in Europeans, especially the English who were
relatively late arrivals on the imperial scene. Particularly noteworthy is
Knolles’s reference to the Ottoman Empire as “the present terrour of the
worlde.”15 I asked students to identify what made the Ottoman Empire
terrible for Knolles and which “world” it was terrorizing. Both ques-
tions were designed to question the ideological biases that frame Knolles’s
history. More importantly, they acknowledged a deep-seated “Western”
bias against Islam and Muslims that contemporary US culture typically
views as running from Islam toward “the West.” Paired with Othello,
Knolles is essential to a pedagogy that calls attention to the social, politi-
cal, religious, and cultural investments that bolster Othello’s cross-cultural
conf lict. In fact, in a play where “the Turks” are conjured and swiftly
banished in an offstage tempest, attention to that absent presence sup-
ports the invisible cultural and psychic anxieties informing the action on
Just as I contextualized Othello’s geography, I also underscored the
need to interrogate the meaning of the term “Moor” in its early mod-
ern context and in the play. I linger on Moor not only because it is the
identity associated with Othello, but also to distinguish it from terms like
Turk and Saracen and consider not only how Shakespeare constructs this
figure, but also what its role is in relation to the imperial contest between
Venice and the Ottoman Empire. Early modern English discourses about
Moors displayed an elasticity that allowed the term to be applied to the
inhabitants of North Africa and Spain, of sub-Saharan and West Africa,
and in some cases of South Asia and even the New World. A capacious

marker, Moor could contain “almost any darker-skinned peoples”; at the

same time, the term had strong associations with Islam, so that

Muslims on the Indian subcontinent were habitually called ‘Moors,’ and

the same term is used in East India Company literature to describe the
Muslim inhabitants of Southeast Asia, whether they be Arab or Indian
traders, or indigenous Malays . . . In such contexts it is simply impossible to
be sure whether Moor is a description of color or religion or some vague
amalgam of the two.16

To explore the concept of Moor within the eastern Mediterranean

geography of Othello, I gave my students the Oxford English Dictionary
definition of the word paired with the state portrait of the Moroccan
Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud.17
In addition, I asked them to read a brief excerpt from Leo Africanus’s
Description of Africa and a small section of Queen Elizabeth I’s proclama-
tion banishing Moors from her dominions.18 Of note in all of these exam-
ples is the connection between Islam and blackness contained in “Moor.”
I asked my students to examine how these forms of difference were con-
nected and to interpret the reasons why both markers were loaded with
negative symbolic meaning. The tropes of Moorish identity established
by these texts facilitated a deeper understanding of Shakespeare’s use of
that term.
Shifting from context to text, I asked students to chart the play’s ref-
erences to “Moor,” blackness, and religion. For “Moor,” my students
were to identify when the term is used, who the speaker is, and the
context, whether laudatory or pejorative. For blackness, I required them
to look for Othello’s relationship to his color as well as other characters’
references to either him or to moral, cultural, and spiritual darkness.
For religion, I directed them to search for specifically religious terms,
such as baptism, consecration, Christian, and circumcision, and iden-
tify the speakers and the context. As with the stereotype assignment I
used in teaching O, the goal was to expose the constructed and ambiva-
lent nature of racial and ethnic categories of difference.19 My students
observed that the racial and sexual tropes that open the play, “thick-lips”
and “an old black ram / . . . tupping your white ewe,” did not ref lect ram-
pant xenophobia in Venice, but rather were coercive and gross simplifica-
tions of identity encoded with the talismanic power to turn Othello from
“valiant” to murderous Moor (1.1.68, 90–91; 1.3.50). That is not to free
the play from its color-coded binary but to offer a lens through which
Othello is not “noble despite his race” at the beginning and “reduced” to
his race at the end.

An inquiry into the cultural meanings of “Moor” facilitated our inves-

tigation of another aspect of the play that is connected to issues of racial,
cultural, and religious inclusion. Othello’s subtitle, “The Moor of Venice,”
links an ethnic designation onto a political one, inviting difference into
the body politic. In fact, the play articulates the contingent terms of this
belonging: one of the conditions of Othello’s naturalized and elite social
status seems to be his Christian faith, to which he converted prior to the
action of the play.20 However, when he tries to prove the extent of his
sameness, through his choice of a Venetian bride, the play emphasizes his
difference. An obvious question that arose for students was what consti-
tutes the objection to Othello as a suitable bridegroom, the fact that he is
not Venetian or the fact that he is black? Given the derogatory allusions
that taint the marriage in the eyes of those who oppose it, my students
concluded that Shakespeare suggests that it is Othello’s blackness, his
Africanness, his strangeness, and his difference, all of which are signified
by the identity marker of Moor.
If we make Moor a cognate for Muslim, how does that further trans-
form Othello’s difference? I posed this question to my students because it
seems vital in the closing moments of the play, which fix ontological reli-
gious difference onto Othello and expose the suspicion and doubt inher-
ent in religious conversion. Moreover, it reorients our inquiry toward the
imperial framework of the play, which is a fantasy of Christian, white,
European triumph over Muslim, Moorish, black, African, and Asian cul-
ture. At the time of the play’s composition, however, the power that
was colonizing Europe was foreign, other, and Muslim. Thus, Othello
both conjures this danger and also expels it, because the play, in fact,
enacts the reverse: Europeans colonizing Muslims and the superiority
of Christianity over Islam. That is why, in Othello’s final moments, the
Moor disappears and the colonial and religious polarities that frame the
play return:

And say besides that in Aleppo once,

Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus. (5.2.362–66)

Othello geographically situates his final moments not in Africa or Venice,

but in Ottoman-controlled Syria. His imagery is rooted in Middle Eastern
or Islamic places, practices, and rituals. Most interesting, however, is that
he is at once both the Venetian and the Turk, and neither of them; both
identities vie for supremacy. When I ask my students to interpret the

identity paradox Othello rehearses, they rightly note that his adopted
or colonial identity has defeated his ethnic one. As evidence, they point
out that through suicide Othello circumvents the state’s right to justice
and commits an un-Christian act, which simply proves that he remains
an outsider.
These brief examples of my pedagogical approach to Othello do not
fully address the play’s rich complexity. What I hope to accomplish is
for my students to consider the play within an imperial, cultural, and
social context that invests religious and racial difference with symbolic
meaning while also excluding certain forms of such differences from
the political body of the nation. These topics were further emphasized
in other course readings that included Shakespeare’s The Tempest and
Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. Like Othello, both texts offer ambivalent rep-
resentations of difference, articulating points of similitude and identi-
fication even as they attempt to fix otherness through taxonomies of
race. Indeed, Oroonoko presents its titular “royal slave” as having the
somatic and cultural markers that secure his position as a “well-bred
great man,” such as his “Roman” nose, “fine” mouth, “refined notions
of true honor,” and French tutor who taught him “morals, language, and
science.”21 Nonetheless, with Oroonoko we arrived at a crucial historical
moment when blackness, no matter how noble its mien, was nonetheless
reduced to a deviant and undesirable trait.22 Ending the course in such a
fashion allowed my students to enact a cultural triumph over the past, as
they perceived their temporal moment as having seen through the igno-
rance and bigotry of racism. The specter of progress-oriented historical
perspective haunted my students’ response to these texts; therefore, I
employed a contemporary cultural referent to challenge their compla-
cency regarding issues of difference. In the final weeks of our class I
shifted our inquiry toward President Barack Obama and the religious
and racial discourses of exclusion that marked his road to the pinnacle
of American politics.

Obama, the American President

When I told students that we would turn our critical gaze toward
President Obama, to connect tropes we had uncovered in Othello to tropes
of difference that problematized his campaigns and presidency, they were
amused. My students immediately compiled lists of persons who would
match characters in the play; for example, Mitt Romney was Iago, and
Paul Ryan was Roderigo. They could not find an adequate Desdemona,
since Michelle Obama, as a black woman, disrupted their otherwise tidy
correlations. I suggested that we abandon the search for likenesses to

focus instead on symbolic associations, particularly for Desdemona, since

the claim that Obama makes is not on the body of a woman but the body
of the nation. Abandoning the literal for the symbolic allowed us to ana-
lyze Obama’s two presidential campaigns by looking for constructions of
identity, belonging, and political participation, topics that also concerned
the texts we had read.
As with our close attention to the forms of difference that disturbed
normative identity in Othello, our examination of Obama rested on the
particular facets of his background that made him unpalatable as a can-
didate and then as president to a portion of the American electorate.
Inaugurating our study with a graphic that depicted the likenesses of all
44 United States Presidents, I asked my students to tell me what they
noticed first. They unanimously pointed out that Obama’s “visage” (to
use a term from Othello) was darker than those of his cohort. The point
of this exercise is to make explicit Obama’s blackness and the extent to
which it should be noted. The visual cue allows me to position Obama
as an Othello-figure: the sole black man within a very white milieu.
Obama’s somatic difference is obvious at the same time that it is a form
of difference that, officially, at least, is not objectionable. What, then,
supports the opposition to Obama’s presidency? To answer this question I
asked my students to explore two of the “controversies” that surrounded
Obama, his putative foreign birth and Islamic faith, and to observe
whether there was a connection between these potentially politically
damaging allegations and his racial difference. I divided the class in half,
assigning one group the “birther” theory and the other Obama’s alleged
Muslim religion. Each group explored the origins and claims behind each
allegation and wrote a brief response paper on the anxieties that sustained
the theory. In addition, students were assigned the Introduction to Tim
Wise’s Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age
of Obama.23 This text provided a lexicon for a contemporary discussion
on race. Our investigation uncovered the multivalent ways in which race
was always an issue in the campaign and presidency, even (or especially)
when it was not explicitly mentioned.
Obama’s first presidential campaign witnessed the development of the
“birther” theory, according to which Obama was not born in the United
States but in Kenya. Proponents of this theory suggested that Obama
was lying about his birthplace and that his supposed foreign birth barred
him from the presidency, since the Constitution mandates that only a
“natural born Citizen . . . shall be eligible to the Office of President.”24 I
asked students to give evidence for why the “birther” theory was believ-
able, and they cited his Kenyan father and upbringing in Indonesia: both
locations in Africa and Asia imbued Obama with a form of difference

reminiscent of Othello because they connoted an especially foreign ele-

ment to the American public. Students also indicated that many people in
the media and in the Obama campaign objected to these attacks, claim-
ing that they exposed a latent and coded strain of racism, which identi-
fied the racial and ethnic markers of Obama’s identity as un-American.
The Obama campaign eventually released his “Certificate of Live Birth”
issued from the state of Hawaii, but even that was not sufficient proof
of his “natural born” eligibility. In fact, my students indicated that the
innuendos continued to pour forth, even in the 2012 election cycle, when
his then opponent Mitt Romney remarked, “no one’s ever asked to see
my birth certificate.”25 Romney’s remarks signaled the popularity of the
belief, and, as my students claimed, subtly equated whiteness with being
American, since Obama’s birth certificate is only an issue because he is
racially different. Thus, Obama’s candidacy tested the inclusivity of the
American “melting pot.”
Ancillary to the “birther” objection is its equally misinformed cog-
nate, Obama’s secret Islamic faith.26 The Muslim identity marker gained
traction by virtue of Obama’s middle name, Hussein, which Americans
increasingly associated with Islam in wake of the War on Terror, the
American invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent ousting of its dictator,
Saddam Hussein. Moreover, both Obama’s father and stepfather were
of Muslim origin, lending credence to the possibility of Obama having
an “other,” non-Christian faith.27 When I asked my students why being
Muslim was a problem for Obama, most of them noted that Muslims
were perceived as terrorists and therefore anti-American. Moreover, the
claim that Obama was a secret Muslim was connected to the “birther”
theory because Muslims were also popularly believed to be foreigners by
birth, culture, or belief.
The Muslim label hurled at candidate (and even President) Obama car-
ries the sediments of xenophobia, intolerance, and a dangerously licensed
form of prejudice that targets “other” Americans.28 I was quite interested
in my students’ conclusions because I am an American Muslim and an
Obama supporter, and the religious and cultural vitriol loaded onto the
word Muslim in these scenarios transforms my marker of religious identity
into a pejorative, betraying the already fragmentary claim to American
identity that I and other Muslims can make.29 My students proposed that
Obama’s denial of being affiliated with the Islamic faith was necessary
because he was a Christian and such a response was politically expedi-
ent.30 Finally, I asked them if it was possible to be American and Muslim,
to which they answered in the affirmative but maintained that perhaps
not in politics. Their conclusions were revealing because they signaled an
essential incompatibility between Muslim and American, emphatically

pointing out to American Muslims that their assimilation into the politi-
cal body is contingent.
The implication that Obama was not really American or not American
enough because of his suspect birth and religion was a substitute for
another form of difference that made him a problematic president, his
blackness. What is most striking, however, is the erasure of race in the
first successful presidential campaign by a man of African descent.31 Only
when his hand was forced by the surfacing of inf lammatory videos of his
minister Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright did Obama directly confront the
issue of race in America. What might have been an exceptional occa-
sion for Americans to substantively address issues of white power and
the socioeconomic depression of communities of color became, instead,
a moment for Obama to soft-pedal race for mass consumption with his
“More Perfect Union” speech. I assigned this speech in conjunction with
our reading of Wise to have my students consider Obama’s position vis-
à-vis his race and his political aspirations. I asked them to closely read
the speech to find substantive answers, solutions, and dialogue or to find
political rhetoric designed to manage a politically damaging situation.
Of primary importance to their investigation was whether Obama sub-
stantively addressed race as a concept and social and economic reality for
African Americans.
Because Obama is a sublime orator, the fact that his audience was
captivated and moved by the “race speech” should come as no surprise.
However, the speech focused less on the tangible inequities in health care,
justice, education, and wealth that systematic racism yields and its dispro-
portionate effect on black Americans, than on letting those who might
feel guilty about reaping the benefit of race-based structures of power
off the proverbial hook.32 In order to distance himself from his pastor’s
impolitic remarks, Obama excoriated Wright as a relic from the past who
could not see beyond old wounds to find the greatness in America: “The
remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controver-
sial . . . they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view
that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with
America above all that we know is right with America.”33 While we did
not have time to discuss the history of activism that characterizes much
black church experience, I did indicate that Obama’s account of Wright
ignored traditions of black religious and protest rhetoric that inspire
action through hyperbole and emotion.34 Instead, Obama made a banal
comparison between Wright’s legitimate, if ill-phrased, critique and his
own grandmother’s prejudicial remarks: “I can no more disown him than
I can my white grandmother—a woman who helped raise me . . . who
once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street,

and . . . uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.” My stu-

dents noted that Obama’s inclusion of this personal experience defused
a charged issue, but when reading critically they admitted that his race
strategy indicated the limited trajectory of a discussion on race and privi-
lege that the American electorate was willing to endure.35 Bringing their
reading of Wise into our conversation, I asked them to consider whether
Wise is correct when he concludes, “Obama deftly managed to speak
about racism without forcing white folks to confront just how real and
how present-day the problem is.”36 Their answers were mixed, yet the
reading troubled their imagined narrative of an enlightened US culture
that had triumphed over racism.
My aim with this section is to have students consider the rhetoric of
“transcendence” that we now easily deploy. Allegedly, Obama “tran-
scended race” to become president of the United States and inaugurated
a new phase in American history, the so-called postracial era.37 Who or
what postracial signified was obscured in the immediate aftermath of the
congratulatory sentiments stemming from his victory. Comments about
racial transcendence demand critical scrutiny, for they bear a more than
passing allusion to Othello and the Duke’s pronouncement to Brabantio that
his “son-in-law is far more fair than black” (1.3.292).38 Just as we observe
an exceptional Moor in Othello, one suitably unlike the exotic Africans he
describes and distances himself from (1.3.144–152), postracial or transcen-
dent discourse encodes racial thinking within an ideological framework
that offers examples of exceptional individuals who differ from the larger
black community: “‘Enlightened exceptionalism’ manages to accommo-
date individual people of color, even as it continues to look down upon
the larger mass of black and brown America with suspicion, fear, and
racism.”39 We only recognize the mechanics of the racially lodged think-
ing at work in “enlightened exceptionalism” when the curtain is pulled
back and the discourse founders on its limited postracial vocabulary, such
as when in 2010 Chris Matthews claimed Obama “is post-racial, by all
appearances you know I forgot he was black tonight,” in response to
Obama’s “profound” State of the Union address.40 Ironically dovetailing
with the Duke’s sentiments above, Matthews’s praise of Obama’s ora-
tory and political strategy recall an earlier moment in Shakespeare’s play,
when Othello’s rehearsal of his courtship of Desdemona moves the Duke
to respond, “I think this tale would win my daughter too” (1.3.174). In
both situations, it does not matter what color Othello or Obama is, what
matters is the symbolic meaning fastened to difference, be it racial or
religious, by white hegemony.
By thinking critically about the election of Barack Obama at the end
of a semester in which we investigated early modern concern regarding

nation, race, culture, and empire, I had, as I hoped to do, disoriented my

students. It is not often that we investigate contemporary political dis-
courses in early modern literature courses; however, the strong discursive
links between Othello and Obama, particularly in the form of racial and
religious difference, proved to be simultaneously provocative and fruit-
ful. Examining a work of fiction for its cultural resonances in the early
modern period is challenging, yet examining it through the filter of my
students’ contemporary moment opened up the play in relevant ways and
showed them the literary or textual qualities of political discourse. Our
discussion helped students investigate the implicit political structures in
Othello, which both allow and deny the titular character participation in
culture and society. It also showed students how current political situa-
tions ref lect a long history of cultural encounters and conf licts, which are
governed by actual, historical experience and literary cultural artifacts.
As teachers and scholars of cross-cultural contact, we must press and
trouble notions that would declare the United States a postracial society
simply by virtue of the election of Barack Obama to the highest office
of the land. The postracial declaration obfuscates not only the sustained
social and economic disparity between persons of color and white people
in this country but also obscures the coded, racially motivated attacks on
the president and other Americans whose difference is labeled un-Ameri-
can. Indeed, as teachers and scholars of the early modern period our task is
doubly mandated, because our contemporary moment allows our students
to adopt a teleological, progress-driven narrative of history that declares
the notions of difference that vex texts like Othello to be relics from the
past, given the purported triumph of humanism and Western liberalism
manifested through the election of Obama. I hope that my brief review of
the anxieties and tensions generated by his presidency exposes the terms
by which the politics of race continue to color our politics.

1. Jon Stewart made the joke on election night 2008; see “Decision 2008
Obama Victory Coverage,” The Daily Show, video, originally tele-
vised by the Comedy Network on November 5, 2008, http://www.
obama-victory-coverage. Madonna recently made a similar statement
at a concert; see “Madonna ‘Muslim’ Comments about Obama were
‘Ironic,’” The Huffington Post, September 26, 2012, http://www.huff-
ironic_n_1916054.html. Obama himself made the joke during the 2013
White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “Obama Jokes: Not ‘Young
Muslim Socialist’ I Was,” posted on Bloomberg TV, April 29, 2013,
socialist-i-used-to-be-e8bNDMziTTyz6wjPhYj5HA.html. The New
Yorker featured a satirical cover during the 2008 campaign in which
Obama is dressed as a Muslim; see Mike Allen, “Obama Slams New
Yorker Portrayal,” Politico, July 13, 2008,
2. For an example of the media coverage in the wake of Obama’s election
and the new postracial era, see Susan Heavey, “Election Shines Light on
Long Path to Post-racial America,” Reuters, November 8, 2008, http://
3. To observe this phenomenon, it is only necessary to look back at media
coverage on election night. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s recent decision
on the Voting Right’s Act also makes this same argument; see Adam
Liptik, “Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act,”
New York Times, June 25, 2013,
4. The Warwick Arts Centre hosted a panel discussion on the Obama/
Othello connection on November 9, 2009, titled “Is Obama an Othello
for Our Times?” The discussion can be accessed as a YouTube video,
53 minutes, posted November 29, 2011,
watch?v=a3PAC7FJzgM. Peter Sellars toured with a “postracial” pro-
duction of Othello, indicating that the election of Obama had opened
up new avenues for production of the play; see David Cote, “Postracial
Othello,” Time Out: New York, September 15, 2009, http://www.tim- Other African-American
men to whom the “Othello” epithet has been applied include Supreme
Court Justice Clarence Thomas and sports figure O. J. Simpson. Both
men rose to prominence and acceptance within mainstream white cul-
ture, were married to white women, and embroiled in scandals.
5. By “Othello figure,” I suggest both an exceptional black man and a vio-
lent, incoherent, murderer. For a discussion on colorblind casting and
the Othello-complex, see Celia R. Daileader, “Casting Black Actors:
Beyond Othellophilia,” in Shakespeare and Race, eds. Catherine M. S.
Alexander and Stanley Wells (New York: Cambridge University Press,
2000), 177–202.
6. For the multivalent construction of Othello’s difference, see Anthony
Barthelemy, Black Face Maligned Race: The Representation of Blacks in
English Drama from Shakespeare to Southerne (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
University Press, 1987); Daniel Boyarin, “Othello’s Penis: Or Islam in the
Closet,” in Shakesqueer, ed. Madhavi Menon (Durham: Duke University
Press, 2011), 254–62; Ania Loomba, Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Ian Smith, Race and Rhetoric
in the Renaissance: Barbarian Errors (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009);
and Virginia Mason Vaughan, Othello: A Contextual History (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1994).

7. The classroom experiences I trace in this essay are primarily from my

introductory Humanities course “Gender, Power, and Culture on the
Renaissance Stage” (2004) at Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont,
California. The course was targeted at first-semester freshmen students
and focused on critical thinking and writing. I also include experiences
teaching the play to second-semester freshmen. All of my students at
HMC are non-majors.
8. As the Duke comments to Desdemona’s father Brabantio, “If virtue no
delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (1.3.
291–92). This passage and all subsequent quotations of Othello are taken
from William Shakespeare, Othello: Texts and Contents, ed. Kim F. Hall
(New York: Bedford St. Martin, 2007).
9. O, directed by Tim Blake Nelson (2001; Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate,
2002), DVD. The student level of this course was identical to the previ-
ous one. The topic, however, was Shakespeare and film: “Looking for
Shakespeare: Adaptation, Interpretation, and the Bard” (2006).
10. In my use of racial thinking as a mode of inquiry, I follow Kim F. Hall;
see the Introduction to her edition of Othello, page 5.
11. One example of the film’s negative portrayal of blackness is when Odin
imagines Michael Cassio with Desi while he is having sex with her. His
fantasy intrudes into his interaction with Desi and the film suggests that
the rough sex he engages in is rape.
12. This course was titled “Old and New Worlds: Narratives of Discovery,
Contact, and Empire” (2013).
13. Richard Knolles, The Generall Historie of the Turkes (London, 1603). Early
English Books Online, STC (2nd ed.) 15051. I use prefatory material from
this text, including the “Dedicatory Epistle to King James” and the “Note
to the Reader.”
14. The full title of Knolles’s book as it appears on the title page is The
Generall Historie of the Turkes, from the first beginning of that nation to the
rising of the Othoman Familie: with all the notable expeditions of the Christian
Princes against them. Together with the Lives and Conquests of the Othoman
Kings and Emperours Faithfullie collected out of the best Histories, both auncient
and moderne, and digested into one continual Historie until this present year 1603
By Richard Knolles London. STC 763:40.
15. Knolles, The Generall Historie of the Turkes, Chapter 1.
16. Michael Neill, “‘Mulattos,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors’: Othello and
Early Modern Construction of Human Difference,” Shakespeare Quarterly
49, no. 4 (1998): 364–5.
17. Unknown artist, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun,
Moorish Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I, c. 1600, owned by the University
of Birmingham. An image and history of the portrait can be found at
18. I employ the Folger Shakespeare Library’s online handout for Leo
Africanus; “Handout #1: The Description of Leo Africanus,” Folger

Shakespeare Library, 2007,

From the royal edict: “the Queen’s Majesty . . . is highly discontented to
understand the great numbers of Negars and Blackamoors which . . . are
crept into this realm . . . hath given especial commandment that the said
kind of people should be with all speed avoided and discharged of this
Her Majesty’s dominions.” Quoted in Eldred Jones, The Elizabethan Image
of Africa (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1971), 60.
19. This assignment is theoretically informed by Homi Bhabha’s reading of
postcolonial subjectivity in The Location of Culture. In particular, I am
indebted to his insight about the constantly shifting, ambivalent nature
of stereotype that opens up the space for resistance. Homi Bhabha, The
Location of Culture, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2004), 132.
20. Othello’s admission of his slavery and redemption from “the insolent
foe,” as well as Iago’s claim that he can get Othello “to renounce his
baptism” suggest his converted Christian status (1.3.135–140; 2.3.303).
21. Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, ed., Janet Todd (New York, Penguin, 2003),
22. One of the ways to counter what appears to be an inescapably negative
color-coded binary in this text is to have my students interrogate the
construction of whiteness that seems to be valorized but is equally impli-
cated in cultural deviance.
23. Tim Wise, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the
Age of Obama (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2009).
24. US Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 5.
25. Felicia Sonmez, “Mitt Romney: ‘No One’s Ever Asked to See My Birth
Certificate,’” Washington Post, August 24, 2012, http://www.washing-
26. For more on the fomenting of Obama/Muslim hysteria see, “Smears 2.0,”
Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2007,
27. Islam is a patriarchal faith, with the religion being passed from the father
to child; thus, for many Muslims in America and around the world,
Obama is perceived as ethnically Muslim even if he avows another
faith. See Asma Gull Hassan, “My Muslim President Obama,” Forbes.
com, February 25, 2009,
28. During the October 10, 2008, election town hall in Lakeville, MN,
McCain was confronted by a supporter who claimed that Obama was
an Arab (a designation commonly, but incorrectly used as a synonym
for Muslim). McCain immediately refuted the suggestion; for a video
of McCain’s response, see “McCain Counters Obama ‘Arab’ Question,”
YouTube video, 1:15, uploaded October 11, 2008, However, his reply, like the Duke’s

ambivalent acceptance of Othello, is equivocating, “No, ma’am. He’s a

decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements
with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.”
Rather than making the claim that an Arab or Muslim could still be an
American, McCain’s reply suggests that those identities are opposed to
decency, family, and American identity. A Pew Research Center Poll in
2010 found that a “substantial and growing number of Americans say
that Barack Obama is Muslim.” See “Growing Number of Americans
Say Obama is a Muslim,” Pew Research Center, August 18, 2010, http://
Americans-Say-Obama-is-a-Muslim.aspx. In the 2012 election, Rick
Santorum, running for the Republican primary, faced similar accusa-
tions about Obama’s secret Islamic religion, to which, on one occasion,
he remained silent and even nodded in assent. The woman making the
accusations noted quite readily that his “avowed Muslim faith,” and
her view that he had “no legal right to be calling himself president” go
hand in hand. See “Event goer calls Obama ‘avowed Muslim,’” YouTube
video, 1:33, uploaded January 23, 2012,
29. For an account of conservatives’ use of ethnic markers to delegitimize
Obama’s claim to American identity, see Adam Murphree and Deirdre
A. Royster, “Race Threads and Race Threats: How Obama/Race-
Discourse among Conservatives Changed Through the 2008 Presidential
Campaign,” in Race in the Age of Obama, eds. Donald Cunnigen and
Marino A. Bruce, Research in Race and Ethnic Relations 16 (Bingley,
UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2010), 267–99.
30. For more on Obama’s revelations about his religion, see Steve Waldman,
“Obama’s Fascinating Interview with Cathleen Falsani,” Christianity
Today Politics Blog (blog), Christianity Today, November 11, 2008, http://;
“Q&A: Barack Obama,” interview by Sarah Pulliam and Ted Olsen,
Christianity Today, January 23, 2008,
ct/2008/januaryweb-only/104-32.0.html; and “Obama Defends His
Religion,” USA Today, March 2, 2008,
31. On this erasure of race, see Nadia Y. Kim “Campaigning for Obama and
the Politics of Race: The Case of California, Texas, and Beyond,” Race in
the Age of Obama, 247–66.
32. See David H. Ikhard and Martell Lee Teasley, Nation of Cowards: Black
Activism in Barack Obama’s Post-Racial America (Bloomington, Indiana
University Press: 2012), 58–82.
33. A transcript of Obama’s “More Perfect Union” speech is available
at “Text of Obama’s Speech: A More Perfect Union,” The Wall Street
Journal Washington Wire (blog), March 18, 2008,

34. Ikhard and Teasley, Nation of Cowards, 60–3.

35. David Ehrenstein, “Obama the ‘Magic Negro’,” Los Angeles Times, March
19, 2007,
36. Wise, Between Barack and a Hard Place, 35.
37. Adam Nagourney, “Obama Wins Election, New York Times, November
4, 2008,
html?pagewanted=all; Mark Z. Barabak, “It’s Obama,” Los Angeles Times,
November 5, 2008,
na-ledeall5; Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler, “Obama Sweeps to
Historic Victory,” Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2008, http://online.
38. George Will, “Obama Transcends Racial Confinements,” Real
Clear Politics, December 30, 2007,
articles/2007/12/obama_transcents_racial_conf in.html; See Wise,
Between Barack and a Hard Place, for a sustained critique of the discourse of
39. Wise, Between Barack and a Hard Place, 23.
40. For Chris Matthews’s comments, see Kate Phillips, “MSNBC’s Matthews:
‘I Forgot He Was Black,’” The Caucus: The Politics and Government Blog
of the Times (blog), New York Times, January, 28, 2010, http://thecau-



Andrea Mirabile and Lynn Ramey

F or many of our students, the folk tales of The Arabian Nights are a fan-
tastic world of encounter, where images of exotic women in harems
and genies in lamps are part of their horizon of expectations before they
begin reading—and they are rarely disappointed! While The Arabian
Nights is a cultural artifact originating from India, North Africa, and the
Middle East, the stories have been transformed and retold in the West
since even before the early eighteenth century, when French Orientalist
Antoine Galland undertook a compilation and translation of tales he
titled Les mille et une nuits.
The Arabian Nights can be approached from many different directions
in the classroom, and looking at remakings of the iconic tales can pro-
vide students with insight into contemporary issues as well as aspects of
medieval culture. With demons and djinn circulating in worlds where
Christian and Jewish characters interact with Muslims, The Arabian
Nights provides fertile ground for discussions of cultural, racial, ethnic,
and sexual difference. By adapting this many-layered work in his 1974
film, Il fiore delle mille e una notte, Pier Paolo Pasolini is a “reader” of The
Arabian Nights, and we in turn read his film as an impetus to discuss
race and identity past and present. Pasolini’s film begins with an African
slave woman who selects her own master and evinces a deep mistrust
for a white, blue-eyed stranger, thus immediately bringing race to the
142 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

forefront. Race is a difficult subject to discuss in the American classroom,

so approaching it through Pasolini allows us indirect access for an initial
discussion, that we then use to talk about student experiences with iden-
tities and race relations in their own lives.
Pedagogically guided by Henry Giroux’s work on critical pedagogy
and teaching film post 9/11, we understand a primary role of the teacher
to be that of empowering students to seek social justice. Giroux challenges
a prevailing notion that educators should be “neutral,” presumably so as
not to alienate any student in the class. Instead, educators “should make
clear that they occupy particular positions and not decry the relationship
between knowledge and commitment” and “underscore their own polit-
ical projects and emphasize their own partiality.”1 Giroux’s call for peda-
gogical praxis motivates our approach to teaching race and identity in the
classroom. With this in mind, we believe that instructors should early
on inform students of their own engagement and theoretical approach to
the issues discussed. While this may feel like “too much information,”
personal revelations need not be overly detailed. In turn, students should
be encouraged to make positive, negative, or neutral short statements on
race—this is not yet the moment for debate, but rather for acknowledging
that we all have personal experiences to contribute. An example might
be, “Do you consider your academic institution to be racially diverse?
Write three or four sentences explaining your answer.” The instructor
can then have the students read, circulate, or post to a class website their
responses. If the goal of the instructor is to get students to think about
race and identity in an historical and cultural context through literature
and film, then this should be stated at the outset.
In addition to our own motivations for reading and teaching about
race, a critical pedagogical approach to this question should also include
the motivations stated or implied by the author or artist of the works stud-
ied. In a sense this argues against the “author is dead” critical approach
to reading. This differs, however, from a psychoanalytical reading of the
work; the author’s stated motivations may help us understand the work,
but our goal is to understand how students and instructors experience and
interpret problems. Our examination of Pasolini as an interpreter of The
Arabian Nights is facilitated by Pasolini’s own writings and interviews he
gave about his creative process, and these statements can in turn provide
students and instructors with a starting point for debate.
Clearly, any discussion about controversial topics should take into
account the unique context of each classroom. We teach at a research
university where students are overwhelmingly “traditional”: they have
just completed high school, reside on campus, and tend not to have
significant outside responsibilities such as full-time jobs, children, and
R A C E , C O R P O R A L I T Y, A N D C O N T R A D I C T I O N 143

elderly parent care. This does not, however, mean that they all share the
same background. On the contrary, the student population represents
many cultures. Because Pasolini is such a compelling filmmaker, and The
Arabian Nights a text with endless appeal, this segment could be taught
(with slight modification) in an Italian or Arabic language class, a class on
medieval culture, a film class, a comparative literature class, or a course on
race or Orientalism. Our own experience involves teaching the text in a
medieval comparative literature class and the film in an Italian film class.
We brought our experiences together to create a module that addresses
real needs: (1) helping students make medieval texts relevant to their own
lives, and (2) giving modern film and culture students the historical per-
spective to appreciate aesthetic interpretations of the medieval past in a
medium that may be foreign to them—European art house cinema.
Difficult choices must be made about how to teach these works. While
scholars may disagree on what the ideal or original text of The Arabian
Nights might look like, teachers must order books. In addition to Pasolini’s
film, which is our primary vector for approaching The Arabian Nights, we
suggest providing the frame tale and several additional tales. Though not-
ing the controversies surrounding all of the extant editions, we have cho-
sen Muhsin Mahdi and Husain Haddawy’s version of the frame tale due to
its scholarly approach, wide dissemination, and unexpurgated form.2 The
core or frame of Pasolini’s film can be related to nights 310–323, the story
of the slave girl Zumurrud. Pasolini therefore selects from the original
text, as his title, Il fiore delle mille e una notte—“The flower” or “The best of
the thousand and one nights”—illustrates.3 An additional tale from Richard
Burton’s version of The Arabian Nights, “The Pious Black Slave” (nights
467 and 468), is found in Pasolini and serves as a springboard for further
discussion about notions of race and racism, both past and present.4

The Arabian Nights: Text and Film

The medieval tales of The Arabian Nights were transmitted orally through-
out Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, likely from the ninth century
CE onward.5 The stories are couched in a frame tale, wherein the narrator,
Scheherazade, marries a sultan who has vowed to marry a different woman
every day, enjoy her that evening, and have her killed the next morning.
Scheherazade, a gifted storyteller, hopes to end the deadly cycle by tell-
ing the sultan a story with a dramatic cliff hanger, so that he must await
the following evening to hear the ending. Within this frame, any number
and variety of short, cyclical stories embellish the pages of the manuscripts
divided into two traditions, Syrian and Egyptian. No two versions of the
text are the same, though there is a small core of shared tales.
144 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

Following this nonlinear notion of oral storytelling, Pier Paolo

Pasolini’s Il fiore delle mille e una notte (hereafter referred to as Il fiore)6 was
released in 1974, a final episode in his Trilogy of Life, which also included
films of two episodic Western European medieval texts: Boccaccio’s
Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Filming took place through-
out some of the areas where the oral tales originated: Ethiopia, Yemen,
Iran, and Nepal. Arguably the most complex of the three movies in the
Trilogy, Il fiore is also the most ambiguous. Pasolini combined the literary,
visual, and political in a dialogue between Western and Eastern cultures,
the present and the past: the result is both seductive and disorienting.

Pasolini’s Contradictions
Pasolini was born in 1922 in Bologna, Italy. He spent most of his life
in Rome, where he died in 1975. His family was from Friuli, a region
in northeast Italy, whose landscape, traditions, and ancient dialect
left a profound impression on him and became the subject of nostal-
gic remembrance as a mythical land of sensuous yet innocent beauty.
Unconventionally mixing Marxist materialism, Catholic mysticism, and
homoeroticism, Pasolini was a controversial intellectual whose creativ-
ity transgressed the guardrails between poetry, narrative, theater, literary
criticism, dialectology, linguistics, journalism, politics, and cinema.7
The Italian author was simultaneously a member of the cultural estab-
lishment and one of its fiercest opponents. Criticized by both Left and
Right, Pasolini seemed to be aware of his contradictions, in particular
when he became a commercially successful filmmaker: “Insofar as it is
art, cinema is impure being also commodity; and insofar as it is com-
modity, it is impure being also art. The ambiguity is thus total.”8 In fact,
Pasolini’s fame was due in large part to his fight against what granted
him success: industrialized Western societies, their mass media, and the
ties between mass culture and mass consumption. His love for the past,
in particular classical and medieval, and for non-Western cultures, espe-
cially African, Arab, and Asian, mirrored his strenuous refusal of the
West and the present, which he considered dominated by the imperative
to conform and consume. During the making of Il fiore, he declared: “I
prefer to move through the past, precisely because I believe that the past
is the only force able to contest the present.”9

Which Nights? Establishing “the” Text

Pasolini took on one of the most richly complicated works of the past
with his Il fiore. When studying or teaching The Arabian Nights, the
R A C E , C O R P O R A L I T Y, A N D C O N T R A D I C T I O N 145

question inevitably arises as to “which” Arabian Nights is the subject of

study. The written text itself, from which films and adaptations emerge,
is not a fixed artifact. It has long been recognized that the 1001 sto-
ries that came to the attention of European audiences in the eighteenth
century is an amalgam of different sources, some very likely entirely
invented by the editor, Antoine Galland. Richard Burton’s The Book of
the Thousand Nights and a Night also included tales that have no textual
antecedent in Arabic literature; most scholars believe Burton felt com-
pelled to reach 1001 nights because that was the title of the collection, so
he added new stories “in the style of ” The Arabian Nights. Both transla-
tors noted that they included undocumented oral sources who recounted
certain episodes that were added to the collection without further analy-
sis of their authenticity.
In an attempt to correct the imposition of Western views of Arabic-
language literature and culture, in the 1990s Muhsin Mahdi and Husain
Haddawy made it their mission to find the earliest manuscript of The
Arabian Nights and provide an edition and English translation of this text.
Even this effort was met with criticism. First, any stories that originated
in oral cultures would necessarily vary from manuscript to manuscript,
and the oldest manuscript might not be the best representative of a rich
oral tradition. Second, Mahdi and Haddawy made it clear that they
were looking for an ur-text in order to celebrate a certain conception of
“purity” of Arab culture. Their search for origins pointed to a national-
istic notion of “Arab” culture, discarding other variants of The Arabian
Nights as unacceptable simply because they originated outside Mahdi and
Haddawy’s vision of what constitutes “Arab” culture.
In addition, Galland’s and Burton’s problematic versions have impreg-
nated the West in ways that make it impossible to separate their compi-
lations from received notions about what constitutes The Arabian Nights
are. Certain popular stories, including those of Aladdin and Sinbad, are
absent from or unrecognizable in the “pure” Arabian Nights of Mahdi and
Haddawy. In discussing Pasolini’s adaptation of The Arabian Nights, we
must recognize that his knowledge of the tales could not have included
the skepticism of recent scholars such as Mahdi and Haddawy. Even given
that Pasolini was a fervent admirer of Romance philologist Gianfranco
Contini (whose theory of variantistica stressed the dynamism of literary
texts seen as works in progress rather than fixed entities) and a trained
medievalist who certainly understood the post-Paul Zumthor concept
of mouvance (the idea that an oral text was inherently ever-changing and
without definitive written textual counterpart), he could not have pre-
dicted the establishment of an ur-text in the 1990s. We also know by
looking at Pasolini’s Decameron and Canterbury Tales, two texts with less
146 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

controversy as to their original state, that he did not feel bound by the
actual content of the medieval texts he adapted.
Pasolini’s own view of both the text and his film can guide us in think-
ing about the relationship between written versions of The Arabian Nights
and Il fiore. Speaking about the structure and meaning of the text, Pasolini
observed that “the Arabian Nights are a narrative model . . . Unlimited nar-
ration. One thing after the other, and one inside the other, to infinity.”10
Within the infinite narration that this storytelling implies, Pasolini aimed
to combat Western consumerism with nostalgia for a precapitalist past:

I made [the Trilogy of Life] in order to oppose the consumerist present to

a very recent past where the human body and human relations were still
real, although archaic, although prehistoric, although crude; nevertheless
they were real, and these films opposed this reality to the non-reality of
consumer civilization.11

Nevertheless, on several occasions Pasolini both supports and contradicts

the idea that film can represent and/or reproduce “reality.” Indulging
in the metaphor of film as written language, Pasolini divided cinema
into two tendencies: the “cinema of prose” and the “cinema of poetry.”12
“Cinema of prose” is “communicative”: it focuses on linear narrative,
mimetic naturalism, and illusionistic realism. Classic Hollywood cinema,
for example, tries to convince the viewer that she or he is not enjoying a
work of art but the f low of reality itself: there is an apparent transparency
between cinema and the world, or, as Pasolini put it, the viewer does not
“feel” the presence of the camera.13 “Cinema of poetry,” on the other
hand, is “metaphoric”: it foregrounds rather than conceals the presence
of the camera. In other words it stresses the conventional relationship
between the filmic and the real, on the one hand, and the aesthetic/polit-
ical framework of the filmmaker, on the other.
While viewing and discussing Il fiore in class, students should be
encouraged to identify several ways that Pasolini’s filmmaking style
subverts the linear continuity and mimetic naturalism of “cinema of
prose.” American students are often disoriented when they first encoun-
ter European art film techniques. Instructors could first provide students
with brief descriptions of conventional cinematographic techniques, and
then elicit students’ observations on Pasolini’s use of amateurish special
effects, post-synchronized dialogues, elliptical plots, frequent close-ups
with no transitions from close-up to close-up, and trembling frames.14
In this way, students can better appreciate how Pasolini’s “cinema of
poetry” works to expand or explode perceptual habits: questioning how
and what we see leads us to question how we think. In the Trilogy, the
R A C E , C O R P O R A L I T Y, A N D C O N T R A D I C T I O N 147

intermingling between the cinematic, the pictorial, and the political is

striking. Class discussion on the complexity of narrative structure can be
enriched by comparison of film and text frameworks.15
Pasolini opposes the past, the erotic, and the unfamiliar to the present,
the rational, and the West, which the filmmaker considered to be spoiled
by industrialization and consumerism, two phenomena that negatively
affect life in its most intimate aspects, including sex. Consumer capital-
ism, Pasolini argued, made sex “a convention, an obligation, a social duty,
a social anxiety, and an inevitable part of the consumer’s quality of life.”16
Pasolini’s self-declared purposes play an important role in class discussion:
How is the film structure alike or different from The Arabian Nights text?
What makes consumer civilization “non-real”? For a class or course unit
treating questions of race, corporality, and identity, we are drawn to address
two questions: In what ways does Pasolini succeed or fail in his attempt to
portray “real” bodies and not just his idealized vision of youth and beauty?
And how does Pasolini’s film help or impede our understanding of gender
and racial thinking embedded in the text(s) of The Arabian Nights?

Race in the Medieval East and West

Exploring notions of race in the Middle Ages—both inside and outside
of European cultures—helps students realize that race is a historical and
mediated construction. Race is subject to change over time and place, a
concept not immediately obvious to some students. While discussing race
in conjunction with a medieval text was seen in the not-too-distant past
as “presentism,” studies noting the importance of genealogy, blood, and
skin color have dominated recent scholarship.17 Religion was one way
that identity was constructed in the period from 1000 to 1500 CE, but
attributes connected with what we now term “race,” including somatic
properties, were also part of medieval European conversations about
Research into racial thought in the medieval East is more difficult to
find, though there are several key studies.18 David Goldenberg purports
to examine race in medieval Islam, though the majority of his analysis is
focused on Judaism, with some attention to Christianity and far less on
Islam. In addition, he excludes preference for light-skinned women from
his analysis opining that it is a “gendered” rather than “racial” bias,19
which may explain his only passing mention of the curse of Ham in The
Arabian Nights, referring to Burton’s translation of the 335th night:

It is also found in The Thousand and One Nights: Noah blessed Shem and
cursed Ham. The result: Shem’s face turned white and from him came the
148 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

prophets, caliphs, and kings; Ham’s face turned black, he f led to Abyssinia,
and from him came the Blacks.20

This night and those immediately following, however, deserve further

attention because the women in the story debate each other about the
preeminence and desirability of their skin color and body shapes. Noting
that Burton’s translation is problematic due to his likely addition of spuri-
ous tales, this story is nonetheless a useful addition to the class, and appre-
ciated by our students due to arguments for and against certain skin colors
being voiced by the slave women who wish to impress their master.
Bernard Lewis treats The Arabian Nights brief ly in his study on race
and slavery in the Middle East. Lewis outlines an earlier finding in
Arnold Toynbee’s Study of History (first published in 1947, and still widely
consulted) that “Primitive Arabs who were the ruling element in the
Umayyad Caliphate” participated in a sort of “reverse racism” wherein
the “white” but “swarthy” Arabs preferred brunettes and married their
daughters to black African Muslims.21 Questioning Toynbee’s claim
that medieval Muslims were problack, Lewis points to the prologue (or
frame) to The Arabian Nights, where King Shahzaman finds his wife in
bed with a male black slave and his brother finds his wife and 20 other
women “attended to” by 20 male black slaves. Based on this debauchery,
Shahzaman begins killing his wives after only one night so that they
cannot dishonor him. Calling the two brothers “white supremacists with
sexual fantasies, or rather nightmares, of a sadly familiar quality,” Lewis
states that both views of Islam are attested in the historical record:

We thus have two quite contradictory pictures before us—the first con-
tained in [Toynbee’s] Study of History, the second ref lected in that other
great imaginative construction, The Thousand and One Nights. The one
depicts a racially egalitarian society free from prejudice or discrimination;
the other reveals a familiar pattern of sexual fantasy, social and occupa-
tional discrimination, and an unthinking identification of lighter with
better and darker with worse.22

The familiar pattern to which Lewis refers is, of course, part of our own
modern racist discourses that see black bodies as overly sexualized and
corrupted. Lewis, by not considering the problack discourse in tale 335
and elsewhere, misses the point that even within the same work there
exist pro- and antiblack sentiments.23
St. Clair Drake’s study of race, Black Folk Here and There, on the other
hand, points out the contradictions within the medieval text. While he
finds some of the stories, particularly those of black cuckolds, “extremely
pejorative,” he also notes the insecurity of the white males and their
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fundamental misogyny.24 In a comparison that would make for fascinat-

ing debate in the American classroom, Drake suggests that the copu-
lation between high-born white (Arab) women and black slaves found
in the text is “inconceivable as arising or being transmitted within the
color-caste system of the American South.”25 In other words, high-born
white women of the American South would not be depicted as willing
sex partners with black slaves. Students might also discuss Drake’s view
of the Arab women in The Arabian Nights as “white” as compared with
post-9/11 portrayals of Muslims as “dark.”26
A non-Western text, The Arabian Nights challenges Western norms.
For example, in the West blue eyes are stereotypically associated with
beauty. Yet the blue-eyed Christian who figures in the tale of Zumurrud
(nights 310–323) is an evil and scary figure. Zumurrud, a remarkable slave
girl, is taken with the appearance of a poor young man in the slave market
and insists she will only be sold to him. She insults the rich brother of the
blue-eyed Christian who attempts to buy her and instead secretly gives
the penniless youth the money to purchase her. The blue-eyed Christian
kidnaps the slave girl and aids his brother in her torture and abuse, but
ultimately she escapes, reunites with her lover, and the Christian miscre-
ants are summarily executed. As Nabil Matar notes, the Christians are
punished so severely not because of their religion but because of their
attempt to convert Zumurrud from Islam to Christianity, thus compli-
cating any attempt to neatly categorize the stories as “anti-Christian” or
“racist” (as marked on the body of the Christian by his blue eyes).27
Even more intriguing is the story of the “Pious Black Slave,” nights 467
and 468 in Burton’s version. In this tale, a theologian tells of a drought
that provoked many of the town’s boys to pray for rain. Nothing happens
until a poorly clad black slave comes to pray and is immediately answered
with a huge downpour. The theologian questions the slave, asking how
he could imagine being loved by God given that he has black skin, and
the slave responds that he is confident of God’s love, pointing to the rain
as proof. Impressed, the theologian offers to buy the slave from his owner,
who agrees saying that the slave is useless. The theologian proceeds to
tell the newly purchased slave that now he will serve the slave, reversing
their roles. The slave prays to God for relief and is struck dead. When the
theologian examines the body, he finds the dead slave to be transfixed
with a smile and his skin whitened. In his version of the tales, Burton
perverts the theologian’s “reading” of the white body as the holy body
with a footnote interpreting the description of the slave’s slender legs:

According to all races familiar with the negro, a calf like a shut fist planted
close under the ham is, like the “cucumber shin” and “lark heel,” a good
150 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

sign in a slave. Shapely calves and well-made legs denote the idle and the

This strikingly crude physiognomic reading of the black body points

back to Burton’s own presuppositions rather than those of the medieval

Race in Pasolini’s Il fiore

Medieval versions of The Arabian Nights offer evidence of positive (or
at least neutral) interaction between Christians and Muslims. From the
earliest versions of the Arabic text, however, black slaves are treated as
nefarious and subordinate. According to Matar, “There is not a single
black hero in either the Syrian or the Bulaq versions of the Nights,” and
“Black people almost without exception serve as negative stereotypes.”29
To the surprise of many students, Pasolini portrays many of the Muslims
in Il fiore as black Africans, while most other adaptations of The Arabian
Nights (for example, Disney’s Aladdin) employ characters with a “Middle
Eastern” look. Pasolini’s choice is in part motivated by his filming loca-
tions in Eritrea and Ethiopia; Italy’s former colonial involvement in these
areas may have held particular interest for the filmmaker. 30 His black
characters are largely sympathetic and play the roles of the slave woman,
Zumurrud, and most secondary characters. While the film includes sev-
eral rude or inconsiderate characters, the only truly evil person is the
red-haired, blue-eyed Christian (see Figure 8.1).

Figure 8.1 The film’s main antagonist, the blue-eyed Christian, is also the
only “white” character in the film (from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Il fiore delle mille e
una notte, 1974).
R A C E , C O R P O R A L I T Y, A N D C O N T R A D I C T I O N 151

Lest Pasolini’s film be seen as an attempt to rehabilitate the black body

in European culture, we should note that he used Italian men to play
almost all the male leads. The “real” bodies that he claimed to use are
in fact “black-face” white Europeans from the very consumerist society
that Pasolini condemns. Significantly, after Il fiore premiered, Pasolini

I had no intention of telling the stories from within the Arab world . . . One
popular culture is, for these purposes, like another. My polemic was with
the dominant Eurocentric classes. It is pointless to make distinctions
between Syrian culture and Ethiopian when those societies are equally
distant with respect to the Europe-centered one. 31

Henceforth, several critics accused Pasolini of “exoticism.”32 Some stu-

dents, too, tend to see non-Western cultures as a monolithic entity with-
out distinction. Pasolini’s statement can stimulate class discussion about
the challenges of approaching the varieties of non-Western cultures.
Edward Said’s Orientalism, published a few years after Pasolini’s film,
speaks to the leveling Western gaze toward the East, and instructors may
wish to include the Introduction to Said’s book on the syllabus to further
class discussion on this point.33
Rather than identifying a specific ethnic group, historical period, or
geographical area, Pasolini stresses the analogies between all the places,
periods, and people that can be considered “marginal” to the eyes of
the bourgeois Western viewer.34 The leading actors in Il fiore are a black
Italian woman of Eritrean descent, Ines Pellegrini (see Figure 8.2), and a

Figure 8.2 Eritrean-Italian actress Ines Pellegrini plays the female lead,
Zumurrud (from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Il fiore delle mille e una notte, 1974).
152 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

16-year-old Sicilian, Franco Merli; Eritrea was an Italian colony until the
end of World War II, and Sicily is one of the poorest areas of the Italian
peninsula. Furthermore, almost all the dialogue in Pasolini’s Trilogy
of Life is voiced-over by speakers with thick Southern Italian accents,
emphasizing the distance between the speakers and the economic center
of Italy in the North. In the 1970s, the filmmaker contested the effect
of industrialization in Italy: with the partial exception of certain areas,
in the years after World War II, industrialization polluted, reduced, or
even destroyed Italy’s environment, local cultures, and customs. Pasolini
argued that the effects of global capitalism, which unstoppably dissolves
local identities, spared only the non-Western world, the past, and the art
forms of the past.
Consequently, races and genders are blurred by the strong agenda of
the filmmaker. “Real” genders and races are filtered by both aestheti-
cism (Pasolini’s fascination with the past and the distant) and ideology
(Pasolini’s analogy between all the “marginal” races and nations, regard-
less of specific historical, cultural, and geographical distinctions). It must
be pointed out, however, that Pasolini’s approach is not without inherent
problems. In his embrace of a “pure” expression of sexuality, Pasolini
himself falls prey to accusations of Orientalism.35 Following and build-
ing on Edward Said’s groundbreaking work, critics of nineteenth- and
twentieth-century Orientalist views of the East often note the overly
sexualized, pederastic, and homocentric view of the Orient that Western
artists produce in their overly sentimentalized and nostalgic work.
It is difficult to define what Pasolini exactly meant with the words
“reality” and “nonreality” in his writings on cinema. Similarly, it is dif-
ficult to separate “reality” and “art” in his films, which unf laggingly
explode the illusory intransitivity between the two realms. In Pasolini’s
Il fiore, for example, the characters’ psychology, social status, and ethnic
background are unspecified, as if the characters were pure images rather
than f lesh and blood women and men: “Reality now springs from, and
merges into, pure appearance: narratives woven into tapestries start to
unfold in ‘real’ life, which becomes, as a consequence, one more fiction.
A series of realistic figures,” said Pasolini, “that you gradually see embed-
ded in other realistic figures becomes a series of fictional figures.”36 The
Italian filmmaker’s “cinema of poetry” is based on stylistic contamina-
tions between different art forms, erratic narratives, and the subversion
of the viewers’ habitual perceptions of filmic images as “real” or “natu-
ral”: “I hate naturalness,” Pasolini declares in an interview, “I reconstruct
And yet, even as the Italian filmmaker repeatedly stresses his styl-
ized reconstruction of reality, he wants his films to preserve reality, in
R A C E , C O R P O R A L I T Y, A N D C O N T R A D I C T I O N 153

particular when the latter is, in Pasolini’s view, destroyed by consumer

societies. Pasolinian “reality,” one might argue, coincided with what the
poet loved, and saw at risk, in reality. In the case of the filmic adaptation
of The Arabian Nights, the vanishing “reality” seems to coincide with the
changing attitudes toward sex in the Western world during the 1970s. In
an interview, Pasolini explains:

For me eroticism is the beauty of the boys of the Third World. It is this
type of sexual relation—violent, exalting and happy—that still survives
in the Third World and that I have depicted almost completely in Il fiore
although I have purified it, that is, stripped it of mechanics and movements
by arranging it frontally, almost arresting it. 38

In Pasolini’s Il fiore, the Middle Ages, the Orient, races, and bodies are
both real and imaginary, for they are represented in light of an ambivalent
fusion of political critique of the present and escapism toward a mythical
past. We can reconstruct the complex narrative structure of the film, but
we never know exactly whether the beautiful adolescents on the screen
are making love, or just frozen in a tableau vivant based on a precious
miniature. Moreover, we never know exactly when, where, and why
actions take place. As Pasolini admitted: “I always intend [my films] to
remain suspended.”39 Il fiore resists exhaustive interpretations and main-
tains a deliberately ambiguous vibrancy.
In conclusion, the text of The Arabian Nights and its filmic adaptation
by Pasolini can provide stimulating occasions for discussion. While
adapting literature into cinema is intrinsically challenging, adapting
The Arabian Nights was particularly complex for Pasolini, a modern
Western artist whose film derived from an ancient, fragmented, non-
Western text (or group of texts). Moreover, the ambiguous treatment of
the themes of gender, social class, and race in the literary work is mir-
rored by Pasolini’s film. The latter continues to stir controversies forty
years after its original release, and it is either praised for its aesthetic
achievements or strongly criticized for its escapist and Eurocentric
agenda. For these reasons, dealing with The Arabian Nights—verbal
or visual—is dealing with a momentous topic: the problems and the
opportunities of a difficult but inevitable dialogue between different

Pasolini’s ambiguity is one that the instructor can embrace given the
unusual ambiguities about race in The Arabian Nights text. Armed with
154 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

an understanding of Pasolini’s aesthetic, students are prepared to under-

take assignments that ask them to relate past to present, and their own
situations to that of other readers of The Arabian Nights. To that end,
we propose the following as questions for class discussion or writing

1. Laura Pérez suggests that “One of the racist, dominant culture’s

most effective ideological strategies has been to educate us all—
minorities and non-minorities—to the national myths of equality,
democracy, and freedom for all. We are taught that these principles
are attainable realities in the U.S. and furthermore, as minorities
we wish that this were true.”40 In what ways does Pasolini’s inter-
pretation of The Arabian Nights question or contribute to this ideol-
ogy? How do Americanized versions of the Nights, such as Disney’s
Aladdin, figure into this analysis?
2. Pasolini’s Marxist views seek to bring into perspective the advan-
tages of a preconsumerist society. How does this goal interplay
with the identities and subjectivities constructed in the film? In
other words, when class is privileged in the language of analysis,
what happens to race, gender, and sexuality? Do The Arabian Nights
tales justify this use?
3. Pasolini’s beliefs about similarities between poor and premodern
cultures can lead to seeming contradictions in his characters whose
bodies and voices do not match. Likewise, the tales of The Arabian
Nights indicate an attitude toward black skin that does not seem to
corroborate studies by historians such as Bernard Lewis and P. A.
Hardy. How does the treatment of bodies differ in Pasolini and The
Arabian Nights? What implications might this have for actual bodies
of historical black and Muslim persons?
4. Pasolini’s Il fiore begins with the quote: “Truth is not to be found
in a single dream, but in many dreams.” Consider the structure and
origins of The Arabian Nights in light of these questions: What truth
is Pasolini seeking? What about Burton?
5. Why do you think Pasolini changes the famous frame tale, sub-
stituting the story of the slave girl Zumurrud (normally found in
nights 310–23) for that of Scheherazade? What effect does this have
on our view of race in the medieval Islamic world?
6. How does scholarly debate over the correct text for The Arabian
Nights compare with Pasolini’s vision of the tales? What role do
nationalism and ethnocentrism play in the positions and interpreta-
tions taken by editors and filmmakers?
R A C E , C O R P O R A L I T Y, A N D C O N T R A D I C T I O N 155

1. Henry A. Giroux, “Pedagogy, Film, and the Responsibility of
Intellectuals: A Response,” Cinema Journal 43, no. 2 (2004): 125.
2. Mahdi Muhsin, ed., The Arabian Nights, trans. Husain Haddawy, New
Deluxe Edition (New York: Norton, 2008).
3. On Pasolini’s selection of the text of The Arabian Nights due to its narra-
tive complexity, see Peter Bondanella, Italian Cinema from Neorealism to the
Present (New York: Ungar, 1983), 292–93.
4. Richard Francis Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night
(1885–1888), Nights/.
A similar classroom use of Burton as a reader of The Arabian Nights
could be extremely fruitful but unfortunately exceeds the scope of this
5. This dating is based on the appearance of Harun al-Rashid, Abbasid
caliph from the late eighth to early ninth centuries, as a protagonist in
several tales, though of course he could have been added to existing oral
tales, or the tales could have been written after his death when he would
have been part of the mythologized past.
6. Pasolini’s film is normally translated as Arabian Nights in English. To
avoid confusion, we have called the text The Arabian Nights and the film
Il fiore.
7. On Pasolini’s complex legacy, see Zygmunt Baranski, “The Importance
of Being Pier Paolo Pasolini,” in Pasolini Old and New, ed. Zygmunt
Baranski (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), 13–40.
8. Pasolini as cited in Patrick Allen Rumble and Bart Testa, Pier Paolo
Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives (Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
1994), 40.
9. Pasolini as cited in Patrick Allen Rumble, Allegories of Contamination: Pier
Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life (Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
1996), 58.
10. Ibid., 63.
11. Ibid.
12. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, ed. Louise K. Barnett, trans. Ben
Lawton and Louise K. Barnett (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1988), 167–86.
13. Ibid., 183.
14. For a useful guide to cinematographic techniques in the Italian context,
see Carlo Celli and Marga Cottino-Jones, A New Guide to Italian Cinema
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). On Pasolini’s film style, its rela-
tionship to the filmmaker’s literary corpus, and its relevance in the con-
text of modern Italian cinema, see Robert S. C. Gordon, Pasolini: Forms of
Subjectivity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 205–18; Millicent Marcus,
Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1986), 246; and Celli and Cottino-Jones, 108–10.
156 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

15. Pasolini draws a series of equivalences between the art of the filmmaker
and the art of the painter. Three characters of Il fiore (43:78) are filmed
while they are creating miniatures and mosaics, as if the movie itself
were a mosaic or a miniature in progress. Like visitors to an art gallery,
spectators are invited to interpret rather than merely enjoy images. If
poetry disrupts standardized linguistic habits, “cinema of poetry” chal-
lenges regimes of looking and cultural conventions, including racial and
sexual stereotypes.
16. Naomi Greene, Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1990), 180.
17. Pioneering studies include those by Kofi Omoniyi Sylvanus Campbell,
Literature and Culture in the Black Atlantic: from Pre- to Postmodern (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); Geraldine Heng, “The Invention of Race in
the European Middle Ages I: Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle
Ages,” Literature Compass 8, no. 5 (2011): 258–74; Bruce Holsinger, “The
Color of Salvation: Desire, Death, and the Second Crusade in Bernard
of Clairvaux’s Sermon on the Song of Songs,” in The Tongue of the Fathers:
Gender and Ideology in Twelfth-Century Latin, eds. Andrew Taylor and
David Townsend (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998),
156–86; and Lisa Lampert, “Race, Periodicity, and the (Neo-) Middle
Ages,” Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal of Literary History 65, no. 3
(2004): 391–421.
18. See, for example, P. A. Hardy, “Medieval Muslim Philosophers on Race,”
in Philosophers on Race, eds. Tommy L. Lott and Julie K. Ward (Oxford:
Blackwell, 2007); Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An
Historical Enquiry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); and David
M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).
19. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham, 91.
20. Ibid., 102.
21. Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, 18–19.
22. Ibid., 20.
23. An important point to discuss with students, if class time allows, would
be the perspectives of the various commentators on The Arabian Nights.
Just as our pedagogical model encourages us to make our own theoretical
and pedagogical aims clear to students, so students might be encouraged
to look behind the points made by Burton, Goldenberg, and Lewis to see
what ends their approaches might serve. The context around Burton’s
trip to the Middle East is a fascinating story of nineteenth-century
adventurism, and carries with it the nineteenth-century debates on sci-
entific racism. Goldenberg’s focus is fairly clearly on Judaism, and his
conclusion that Judaism was not racist may be apparent in the ways that
he approaches his material. Finally, Lewis has made public statements
about problems he sees in modern Islam and has implied a superiority of
Western culture. These elements, too, may find their way into his analy-
ses of medieval Islamic culture.
R A C E , C O R P O R A L I T Y, A N D C O N T R A D I C T I O N 157

24. St. Clair Drake, Black Folk Here and There: An Essay in History and
Anthropology, vol. 1 (Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies,
University of California, 1990), 151, 162.
25. Ibid., 163.
26. This phenomenon gained public attention in 2013 when Boston
Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was described as a “dark-skinned
individual” by various media outlets, including CNN, prompting a
response by the National Association of Black Journalists; see “NABJ
Statement on References to Race in Boston Bombing Coverage,” posted
April 17, 2013,
27. Nabil Matar, “Christians in The Arabian Nights,” in The Arabian Nights in
Historical Context: Between East and West, eds. Saree Makdisi and Felicity
Nussbaum (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 142.
28. Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885–1888), http:// Nights/.
29. Matar, “Christians in The Arabian Nights,” 134n9.
30. Pasolini’s father Carlo Alberto was an officer in the Italian army and served
in the Italian colonies in Northern and Eastern Africa in both World War
I and World War II. See Barth David Schwartz, Pasolini Requiem (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 30, 52, 54, 57, and 124. On the (quite
rare) cinematic representations of Italy’s colonial past, see Luca Barattoni,
Italian Post-Neorealist Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
2012), 210; and Noa Steimatsky, Italian Locations: Reinhabiting the Past
in Postwar Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008),
31. Schwartz, Pasolini Requiem, 602.
32. See Chris Bongie, Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de
Siècle (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 188–228; and Maurizio
Sanzio Viano, A Certain Realism: Making Use of Pasolini’s Film Theory and
Practice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 263–93.
33. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978).
34. When asked about possible censorship of his adaptation of The Arabian
Nights, Pasolini argued: “Those who make love [in the movie] are those
whom the bourgeoisie consider racially inferior. If there are two English
people, as in Canterbury Tales . . . the judges are severe. When those mak-
ing love are two blacks or two Arabs, the judges shut an eye” (Schwartz,
Pasolini Requiem, 606–07). Pasolini was wrong: as for all Pasolini’s movies
of the 1970s, Il fiore was the target of intense censorship by Italian and
foreign judiciary systems (Ibid., 607).
35. See Joseph A Boone, “Framing the Phallus in the Arabian Nights:
Pansexuality, Pederasty, Pasolini,” in Translations/Transformations: Gender
and Culture in Film and Literature East and West, eds. Cornelia Moore and
Valerie Wayne (Honolulu: University of Hawaii East-West Center, 1993),
36. Greene, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 193.
158 A N D R E A M I R A B I L E A N D LY N N R A M E Y

37. Oswald Stack and Pier Paolo Pasolini, Pasolini on Pasolini: Interviews with
Oswald Stack, Cinema one, vol. 11 (London: Thames & Hudson, 1969),
38. Greene, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 194.
39. Stack and Pasolini, Pasolini on Pasolini, 57.
40. Laura Pérez, “Opposition and the Education of Chicana/os,” in Race,
Identity and Representation in Education, eds. Cameron McCarthy and
Warren Chrichlow (New York: Routledge, 1993), 276.



Jo Ann Cavallo

M y principal field of research and teaching, the medieval and

Renaissance romance epic, includes countless examples of cross-
cultural relations, especially encounters (friendly and amorous as well
as bellicose) between European Christians and “Saracens” from Spain,
North Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia.1 The course discussed
in this essay, “The Renaissance Chivalric Epic and Folk Performance
Traditions,” which I have taught at Columbia University at both the
undergraduate and graduate level, has presented a particular set of chal-
lenges and opportunities for cross-cultural work. In investigating how
popular theatrical traditions—primarily, Sicilian puppet theater (Opera
dei pupi) and the epic Maggio of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines—have
refashioned centuries-old chivalric narratives, my students and I examine
the varying treatment of foreign characters across distinct art forms, in
different time periods, and among local performance communities oper-
ating concurrently. In this essay, I first draw attention to the practical and
methodological obstacles, strategies, and resources related to this course.2
I then consider more closely a chivalric episode that held particular inter-
est for students due to its iconoclastic refashioning by some Sicilian pup-
peteers: the amorous encounter between the East Asian princess Angelica
and the North African foot soldier Medoro based on Ariosto’s Orlando
Furioso. I hope our experience of studying cross-cultural encounters in
the Renaissance epic and Sicilian puppet theater will show the timeliness
160 J O A N N C AVA L L O

of this material in current debates on cultural globalization and help other

instructors in thinking about pedagogical strategies across disciplines.3

Textual Challenges and Resources

The corpus of Italian medieval and Renaissance chivalric literature is
exceedingly vast and anything but monolithic in its depiction of Saracens.
At one ideological extreme is the legendary battle of Roncesvalles, most
famously retold in Luigi Pulci’s Morgante maggiore (1483). Preserving the
crusading ethos that gave rise to the original Chanson de Roland, the epi-
sode presupposes Christendom locked in inexorable conf lict with the
Saracen enemy over religious difference. The hero Roland/Orlando is
unconditionally devoted to his religion, king, and country, and willing
to die outnumbered in battle rather than call for reinforcements. At the
opposite end of the ideological spectrum lies Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato
(1482–1483, 1495), which created a literary sensation by recounting how
the reputedly stalwart Frankish paladin Orlando actually deserted both
the emperor and his wife, Alda, to traverse the globe as a would-be
Arthurian knight errant seeking to win the affection of the princess of
Cathay. The Innamorato’s interlacing narrative features characters from
East Asia, northern Africa, the Middle East, and Europe who interact in
myriad ways, from armed conf lict to friendship and romance, motivated
not primarily by religious or ethnic difference but by a range of pas-
sions such as love, ambition, empathy, and the desire for glory, honor,
or revenge. Although Boiardo does not refute the eventual tragic fate
of Charlemagne’s rearguard in the Pyrenees, he provides an alternative
vision in which knights and damsels undertake adventures across the
entire stretch of the known world of the time. The epic battle between
good and evil shifts from Charlemagne’s invasion of Saracen Spain to the
North African King Agramante’s attack on Christian Europe; no longer
viewed as a clash between religious creeds, the conf lict becomes a quest
for territorial dominion in the spirit of the king’s ancestor Alexander of
A seemingly straightforward way to approach the convergence of lit-
erature and theater, medieval and modern, elite and popular culture in
the classroom would be to compare the written text with the staged per-
formance. Many factors complicate this process, however. The first is
that traditionally puppeteers have not drawn their material directly from
the original sources, but rather from Giusto Lo Dico’s Storia dei paladini
di Francia (1858–1860).4 This prose compilation of over 3000 pages com-
bined medieval and Renaissance chivalric works into an uninterrupted
narrative stretching from before the birth of Orlando to after the battle of

Roncesvalles. In 1895–1896, Giuseppe Leggio extended Lo Dico’s popu-

lar work by adding even more episodes. This expanded Storia dei paladini,
reprinted several times in the early 1900s, follows Christian and Saracen
knights across three centuries of romance epic, including Barberino’s Reali
di Francia and Aspramonte, Tasso’s Rinaldo, Cieco da Ferrara’s Mambriano,
Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Cinque canti,
Francesco Brusantino’s Angelica innamorata, and Pulci’s Morgante maggiore.5
The interlaced episodes are seamlessly woven together, without indicat-
ing where one (always unnamed) source ends and the next begins.
A second challenge in studying the original epics and their folk adap-
tations with students is that material published in such serial novels
extended the cycle back to the exploits of Alexander of Macedonia and
forward to the events of the First Crusade and its aftermath via a prose
rendering of Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and new prose continuations.
Despite a sense of comprehensiveness supplied by the chronological order
of events, and the prose narrators’ attempts to fill in missing details and
smooth out contradictions among the source texts, the vastly different
ideological perspectives in this mix make for a plethora of viewpoints
regarding the world outside Christian Europe.
Another issue is that each Sicilian puppet company devised its own
canovacci, or outlines, breaking up Lo Dico’s narrative into segments with
stage instructions and some set speeches. Unfortunately, most of the cano-
vacci have either been lost or are jealously guarded by puppeteer families
so that not even a trip to Sicily would have been of use. Fortunately for
us, however, right in New York City we were able to pour over original
handwritten outlines devised by Agrippino Manteo, the Catanese-born
puppeteer who ran a puppet theater in Little Italy between 1919 and 1939,
thanks to his granddaughter, Susan Bruno, who gave us access to the
manuscripts in her private collection.6

Accessing Folk Performances: Challenges

and Resources
Until the late 1950s, Sicilian puppeteers traditionally adapted the narra-
tive of La storia dei paladini into a cycle of plays lasting a year or more. The
final transformation of third-person prose into plays consisting of action
and dialogue thus occurred as the puppeteers improvised conversations
amongst the characters during performances. Unfortunately, however,
there is no record of a complete puppet theater cycle on film. Sadly, the
movie camera that was partly responsible for the demise of l’Opera dei
pupi was not employed to document this once ubiquitous form of popular
culture, which now survives only in a drastically reduced manner. The
162 J O A N N C AVA L L O

Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino, operating in

Palermo, maintains a videoteca, but only a limited number of its films are
of Sicilian puppet performances of the paladins of France.7
My course syllabus focused on Sicilian puppet plays that I had person-
ally filmed each summer from 2001 to 2004.8 Columbia University’s
Center for New Media Teaching and Learning uploaded selected scenes
from my miniDV tapes onto the university’s online course management
system (CourseWorks). Italian majors and graduate students were encour-
aged to consult Lo Dico’s prose rendering of each episode and note any
meaningful discrepancies during class. Students with little knowledge of
Italian read the texts in translation and followed the corresponding scenes
using an outline I provided. In addition, I arranged an event through
the “Speakers in the Humanities” program in which Tony De Nonno
discussed his experiences with the Manteo puppeteer family in the mak-
ing of his documentary, It’s One Family, Knock on Wood (Brooklyn, NY:
De Nonno Pix, 1982), and Susan (née Manteo) Bruno shared her direct
memories of her family’s Sicilian puppet theater in New York. Students
also viewed videos from recent puppet plays on YouTube and consulted
scripts published in scholarly studies.9
My students and I analyzed specifically visual aspects by compar-
ing videos of recent puppet plays with photographs from critical stud-
ies (especially Pasqualino’s L’Opera dei pupi [Palermo: Sellerio, 1977]),
museum and puppet theater company publications and Web sites, and
related postings on f Students could follow the visual his-
tory of specific characters and scenes back in time through illustrations
in printed editions. Many distinguishing traits in puppet costume and
armature are modeled on images in Lo Dico’s Storia dei paladini and other
nineteenth-century serial novels, some of which were in turn taken from
those found in earlier editions of chivalric romance.11 Illustrations fea-
turing encounters with Saracen characters in major sixteenth-century
editions of the Furioso are now readily accessible thanks to Lina Bolzoni’s
online project, “L’Orlando Furioso e la sua tradizione in immagini.”12
Another resource for contextualizing the visual aspects of cross-
cultural encounters in Sicilian puppet theater are the cartelli (or cartel-
loni), painted scenes serving as publicity posters for specific puppet shows.
These posters, which likewise draw inspiration from printed illustra-
tions, depict a single scene in the tradition of Catania, but in Palermo are
divided into six or eight illustrated blocks, each one corresponding to one
evening’s performance and accompanied by titles. Alessandro Napoli’s Il
racconto e i colori: “Storie” e “cartelli” dell’Opera dei Pupi catanese (Palermo:
Sellerio, 2002) offers the most extensive comparative study of both tradi-
tions, historical as well as analytical (based on the extensive collections

of cartelli in Catania’s Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli and Palermo’s

Museo Internazionale delle Marionette). Even students with little or no
Italian could profitably view the 55 illustrations accompanying Napoli’s
discussion of pictorial technique and his appendix’s additional 111 color
illustrations of cartelli identified by author’s name, cycle, specific episode,
and date of composition (when known).

Secondary Sources and Methodology

Although the existence of puppet theater in Sicily was noted in both
antiquity (Xenophon’s Symposium) and the Middle Ages (the early thir-
teenth-century court of Federico II13), oral testimony indicates that
Sicilian puppeteers revolutionized the genre in the early 1800s by creat-
ing puppets dressed in decorative metallic armor and capable of intri-
cate movements. This art form does not receive sustained scholarly
attention, however, until the work of Sicilian folklorist Giuseppe Pitré
(1841–1916).14 Beginning in the 1970s, renewed interest in puppet the-
ater has occasioned a number of critical studies of this tradition in both
Italian and English, most importantly those by Antonio Pasqualino, John
McCormick, and Alessandro Napoli. Individual puppet theater compa-
nies, moreover, publish booklets and present varying amounts of mate-
rial on their Web sites.15 In addition to these resources, students viewed
filmed interviews with puppeteers, corresponded with them via e-mail,
and consulted puppeteers’ and puppet companies’ Facebook pages for
news of events and puppet photos.
In addition to comparing source texts to recent theatrical adaptations,
examining visual aspects of Saracen characters and choreographed bat-
tles, and exploring the art form’s historical context, we also discussed
various methodologies not customarily used to analyze puppet theater
that can nevertheless illuminate some features of the genre. In a weekly
testing ground at the opening of each class, we applied theoretical work
in social history, cultural anthropology, orality, and performance the-
ory (by Clifford Geertz, Richard Bauman, John Foley, Walter J. Ong,
Paul Zumthor, Victor Turner, and Benedict Anderson) to the material
at hand.16 We also discussed articles on culture and globalization and on
epic traditions in the contemporary world.17
The principle asserted by Ong (and others) that “oral traditions ref lect
a society’s present cultural values rather than idle curiosity about the past”
(48) served as a working hypothesis as we considered the contemporary
significance of Saracen characters originating in texts written several
centuries earlier. We discussed, for example, the epic genre’s “ability to
absorb new motifs, to apply [itself ] to lived experience without being
164 J O A N N C AVA L L O

altered profoundly” (Zumthor 95), the status of puppet theater today as

an example of “residual culture” (Bauman 47–48), folk performance as
“metacommentary . . . on the major social dramas of its social context”
(Turner 16), and instances in which formulaic phrases would have con-
veyed deep meaning for traditional audiences who shared the same
semantic universe as the puppeteers (Foley 2–11).
An approach that had particular currency for students was Foley’s
Receptionalist focus on the performance arena, that is, the “horizons of
expectation within which the text or performance becomes the work.” If,
as Foley states, “precisely because the audience recognizes the surround-
ings from attending previous events, it is in a position to decode the sig-
nals that constitute this particular event” (49), then we needed to address
how today’s public—and, by extension, the students themselves—could
attempt to decode signals without the knowledge that traditional puppet
theater audiences would have brought to each performance. We could all
remember the scene in Roberto Rossellini’s film Paisà (1946) in which
an African-American soldier in Naples during World War II views a pup-
pet theater performance depicting black puppets as the sworn enemy and
attempts to destroy the theater à la Don Quixote. Whereas Cervantes’s
Spanish knight had mistaken Master Pedro’s puppet fiction for reality,
Rossellini’s American soldier Joe, having experienced discrimination in
his own country, mistook codes stemming from the medieval Italian epic
tradition for an attack upon his race. With the poignancy of that scene in
mind, we also examined how the puppeteers themselves might be reshap-
ing their plays in light of the fact that contemporary spectators not only
lack an agreed-upon code, but also include tourists of all creeds, colors,
and nationalities.

The Relevance of Repertory

In seeking to understand the symbolic and historical relevance of Saracen
characters in contemporary puppet theater, we found that the Sicilians’
long-lived fascination with an art form dramatizing battles between
Christian defenders and Saracen invaders is sometimes attributed to the
island’s extensive history of invasion by different foreign armies. In a July
2002 interview, for instance, Palermitan puppeteer Mimmo Cuticchio
asserted that in the mid-nineteenth century the Saracen invaders were
likened to the foreign (Austrian) domination that preceded Italy’s lib-
eration and unification in 1870. In addition, Sicily’s sustained history
of contact with the Muslim world, from the Arab invasions and occu-
pation in the early Middle Ages, to centuries of East-West trade passing
through the Mediterranean, to its most recent contact through extensive

emigration from Africa and, indirectly, media coverage of world news,

led us to ask how approaching the Sicilian Opera dei pupi as living the-
ater imbued with meaning might lend significance to encounters with
Saracen characters staged in Sicilian puppet theater today.
Given that in recent decades Sicilian puppet theater companies regu-
larly perform a very limited number of plays, we inquired whether the
choice of repertory could provide a clue to understanding the current
presentation of the foreign “other.” In Palermo and the surrounding area,
the most frequently staged Opera dei pupi episode is the battle between
Orlando and Rinaldo for “la bella Angelica,” which condenses an extended
narrative sequence from Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato into a single per-
formance.18 As Mimmo Cuticchio writes: “The Arrival of Angelica is
one of the episodes most loved by the traditional public, because the most
beautiful stories, interlaced with love, with duels, with enchantments,
begin from this point.”19 In the episode, Angelica of Cathay suddenly
appears in Paris, disrupting Charlemagne’s international tournament
and eventually drawing the Frankish paladins (including the previously
unblemished Orlando) from Latin Christendom to the farthest reaches
of the globe (Innamorato 1.1.20–35).20 Subsequently, Angelica falls victim
to the Fountain of Love and pines for the paladin Ranaldo (Boiardo’s
spelling for Rinaldo), whom she saves from a death-trap at Castle Cruel.
Although Ranaldo initially spurns Angelica due to the magic Fountain
of Merlin, later on he succumbs to her charm thanks to the Fountain of
Love at the same time that the maiden has tasted the opposing waters
that quench her passion. Orlando and Ranaldo then resume a battle
interrupted earlier, now both enamored of Angelica. Admittedly, there
is quite enough material here to keep a puppet show lively, but is the
universal appeal of Boiardo’s inventiveness—or the perennial themes of
romance and dueling—sufficient to account for the continued popularity
of this narrative thread in today’s Opera dei pupi?
Students questioned whether the love triangle between Angelica,
Rinaldo, and Orlando provided puppeteers with a means to move away
from the recurrent battles between Christians and Saracens to rivalry
within the Frankish court. Interviews with some puppeteers indicated,
in fact, that they had shifted away from the Christian-Saracen conf lict as
a response to the contemporary reality of contact with Muslims. Mimmo
Cuticchio explicitly tied his intention to avoid theatrical confronta-
tions based on ethnic or religious differences to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001.21 Indeed, Cuticchio has increasingly staged creative
puppet plays outside the medieval epic arena, including Macbeth (2001),
San Francesco e il Sultano (co-authored in 1992 but featured in his 2002
festival “La Macchina dei Sogni”), and Aladino di tutti i colori (2008), an
166 J O A N N C AVA L L O

“Aladino multietnico” inspired by The Arabian Nights in which Cuticchio

and the Iranian cantastorie and narrator Yousif Latif Jaralla appear on
stage alongside the puppets.22 Perhaps the most poignant overturning of
the traditional Christian-Saracen paradigm is an original play staged by
the Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli, L’Oro dei Napoli, in which King
Agramante’s attempt to prevent the destruction of his North African
kingdom (from the Orlando Furioso) parallels the efforts of Natale Napoli
and his family to forestall the demise of traditional puppet theater in
eastern Sicily.23
Such a deliberate reorientation surprised all my students. The Italian
graduate student Irene Bulla later ref lected:

I was certainly surprised (as it went against my previous view of the Opra
as ‘traditional,’ therefore, in some way, oriented towards preservation and
repetition more than innovation) to hear Cuticchio talk about the need
for an Opera dei pupi that is more attuned to the political and ideological
concerns of the present time. It helped me put the paradigm Christian vs.
Saracens into context and realize how the fundamental deep structure of
the Opra would not be affected by turning the Christian/Saracen opposi-
tion into other kinds of oppositions (moral/immoral, loyal/traitor, etc.).

Angelica and Medoro in the Epic and

Puppet Traditions
As we continued examining this folk tradition, my students and I found,
however, that delimiting and rechanneling the repertory were not the
only responses of today’s puppeteers to Sicily’s (and the world’s) increas-
ingly multicultural environment. Two companies in particular have
experimented with reconceptualizing Renaissance Saracen charac-
ters when using a later episode from Angelica’s story: her enamorment
with the North African foot soldier Medoro in the Orlando Furioso.24 In
the “Pazzia di Orlando,” the Teatro Drammatico dei Pupi di Onofrio
Sanicola continues to portray Angelica as fair, but presents Medoro in
an uncharacteristic—and, as far as I could ascertain, unprecedented—
fashion as a black African infantryman. Taking seriously Medoro’s rank
as a foot soldier, the puppeteer Onofrio Sanicola represents him through
one of the small anonymous Saracen puppets generally brought on stage
to die after a few sword strokes (these are commonly referred to as a sud-
dateddu d’incolpo, or “little soldier who dies at the first hit”). The puppet’s
small, dark, unheroic figure is clothed with a simple white tunic.
In the scene in question, Orlando falls asleep in the foreground call-
ing out Angelica’s name and naively assuming that the princess loves

him for his knightly prowess. Angelica and Medoro then appear in the
background, accompanied by romantic music and soft lights. After writ-
ing their amorous declarations on trees in parallel movements, the lov-
ers lie down together, and the ensuing intimate rendezvous is rendered
through slow, stylized dance-like motions. The Angelica puppet is scant-
ily dressed, partially exposing her breast and highlighting the sensuality
of the nighttime encounter (see Figure 9.1). The workings of Orlando’s
dreaming unconscious thus suggestively capture Angelica’s true object of
desire hidden from the paladin in his wakeful state.
In explaining his iconoclastic presentation of Medoro, Onofrio
Sanicola asserted in an e-mail that he envisioned the character as a black
foot soldier with features recalling sub-Saharan Africa as part of his gen-
eral response to requests from schoolteachers to adhere more faithfully
to the canonical texts upon which l’Opera dei pupi is based. Ironically,
however, Sanicola actually veers away from the Orlando Furioso: although
Ariosto initially identifies Medoro as a Moor, he consistently fashions
him as a Greek Adonis. Medoro is said to have been born in Ptolemais
(“Tolomitta,” OF 18.165), an ancient capital of Greek Cyrenaica (mod-
ern Libya) that was conquered by the Arabs in the mid-seventh century.

Figure 9.1 Medoro and Angelica puppets, photographed by Onofrio Sanicola.

By permission of the Teatro Drammatico dei Pupi di Onofrio Sanicola.
168 J O A N N C AVA L L O

He worships pagan Greek divinities such as the goddess Selene, and has
“lovely fair skin and pink cheeks” (“la guancia colorita / e bianca”) and
a “golden head of curls” (“chioma crespa d’oro”) (OF 18.166).25 The
Cathayan princess, in fact, becomes inf lamed with love as she gazes upon
his beautiful eyes and blond head (“testa bionda”) (OF 19.28). In the
course of the episode, Ariosto associates Medoro with the bravery of
Nisus, loyalty of Antigone, and passion of Aeneas, and depicts him com-
posing love poetry in ottava rima. It is only when the knight Rinaldo
learns of Angelica’s new love interest that the poet refers to him as a
young African (“giovine african”), a most vile barbarian (“un vilissimo
barbaro”), and a Saracen (“un Saracino”) in three consecutive stanzas that
represent the viewpoints of a demon, the wizard Malagigi, and Rinaldo,
respectively (OF 42.38, 42.39, 42.40). The fact that Ariosto disparagingly
underscores Medoro’s ethnic difference—thereby increasing Angelica’s
culpability in Rinaldo’s eyes and thus motivating his rage—only after
having fully established his Hellenistic pedigree, seems calculated to
spare his contemporary readers the kind of culture shock experienced by
the Frankish knight.26
If Sanicola had indeed presented his black Medoro as part of his inten-
tion to adhere more faithfully to Ariosto’s poem, then he appeared to be
drawing from Rinaldo’s alarmed reaction rather than from the image
the narrator had so painstakingly constructed for the reader. But what
reaction did he expect on the part of the spectator? The puppeteer main-
tained that “the scene is not erotic, but delicate and has always met with
the consensus of the public” (“La scena non è erotica ma delicata e nel
pubblico ha sempre suscitato consenso”).27 Did students agree? As part of
a larger contemporary audience, even if their viewing experience was on
the screen rather than live, their own reactions to the scene allowed us to
discuss further the question of reception. Michelle Mulas, who noted that
for her the degree of sexual content was more surprising than the depic-
tion of a black Medoro, furnished a thematic consideration:

The duration and intensity of the love scene between the two characters
was unexpected. My initial reaction was uncomfortable because I felt like I
was given a glimpse into the puppet master’s perverted mind. My viewing
experience felt unnatural, clandestine and voyeuristic. With some after-
thought, I feel that my stunned reaction mimics the unsettled nature of
Orlando’s reaction when he realizes what has transpired between Angelica
and Medoro that ultimately results in his madness.

Noting that “the ever-changing features and representations of the

characters are, naturally, inf luenced by what is behind-the-scenes,”

Alexa Elmakki viewed Angelica’s sexuality as appropriate for a con-

temporary adult audience: “While her hypnotizing beauty captured the
hearts of medieval knights, modern heroes value an updated version of
seduction: simply, sex talks. So why not expose her as sexual as pos-
sible?” In his e-mail correspondence, Sanicola in fact pointed out that
his representation of “una Angelica sensuale” would have been impos-
sible in traditional puppet theater, where “sex and love were considered
inappropriate” (“il sesso o l’amore erano considerati inopportuni”) fol-
lowing religious prohibitions.28 In this light, the scene may also ref lect
Sanicola’s principal aim of breaking out of the traditional limits of pup-
pet theater to recognize it as a full-f ledged form of modern theater.
Sanicola’s status as an “outsider” (he was not born into a family of
puppeteers and immigrated to Milan in his youth) who began his new
vocation as a “puparo” after acquiring the theater of a retired puppeteer
in the late 1980s may also have impacted his willingness to defy puppet
theater convention.
The other company we found departing from the traditional depic-
tion of Angelica and Medoro was the Compagnia dei Pupari Vaccaro-
Mauceri in Siracusa. In the 2002 play viewed by the class, the Mauceri
brothers Alfredo (b. 1975) and Daniel (b. 1982) portrayed Angelica as
Indian, complete with a bindi, nose piercing, and Henna tattoos. This
was a notable departure from Boiardo’s original poem and its continua-
tions, the pictorial tradition across centuries, and Sicilian puppet theater
itself—all of which overwhelmingly presented Angelica as a paragon of
beauty tout court according to Christian European convention, albeit in
the latter case more often with dark brown rather than blond hair. 29 The
formulaic phrase “la bella Angelica,” frequently used in titles and in the
improvised dialogues of the puppeteers and cuntisti (storytellers), further
reinforces the impression of beauty without any regard to the character’s
foreign provenance.30
We initially discussed whether the Mauceri puppeteers intended to
underscore the character’s geographical origins since in the Innamorato
the princess claims that her native realm of Cathay lies within India. This
reading was supported by an interview with the Palermitan puppeteer
Enzo Mancuso (Associazione Carlo Magno) who, while himself using
an Angelica puppet with European features and fair skin, pointed out a
brown-toned Angelica constructed by his uncle, remarking: “This is an
Angelica that my uncle always saw this way, he always saw her ‘mulata’
because quite rightly she is Indian” (“Questa è una Angelica che mio
zio ha visto sempre così, ha visto sempre mulata perché giustamente è
170 J O A N N C AVA L L O

When Alfredo Mauceri responded by e-mail to my question about the

puppet’s origin, however, he gave an entirely different explanation:

The Angelica with a violet dress and the “bindi” on her forehead and the
earring in her right nostril arose from the fact that we constructed her
during the time of the New Age (and Madonna’s “Ray of Light” album),
and being young (easily inf luenced by what was fashionable) we decided
to give an Indian touch to the character in addition to decorating her
hands with Henna tattoos.
L’Angelica con abito viola e il “bindi” sulla fronte e l’orecchino alla narice
destra scaturiva dal fatto che quando fu realizzata era il periodo della NEW
AGE (e dell’album “Ray of light” di Madonna), ed essendo giovani (facil-
mente inf luenzabili dalle mode) decidemmo di dare un tocco di indiano al
personaggio oltre a decorare le mani con tatuaggi all’Henné. 32

Mauceri’s surprising revelation that his inspiration came from American

media culture led us to reconsider Diana Crane’s discussion of “theoret-
ical models of cultural globalization.” The reconfiguration of Angelica
in the guise of a New Age Madonna did not correspond to the “cul-
tural imperialism” model in which a “homogenous mass culture . . . is
accepted passively and uncritically” (3), but rather to a “cultural f lows/
networks” model in which “inf luences . . . do not necessarily originate
in the same place or f low in the same directions” (3). Moreover, while
in the outline of this latter model the process of cultural transmission
leading to the “hybridization of culture” results typically from “two-
way f lows,” we were witnessing a three-way f low: traditional Indian
culture inf luencing the pop icon Madonna inf luencing Sicilian puppet
theater. This brought us back to discussing cross-cultural contact in the
Italian Renaissance, including the extent to which Boiardo’s invention
of a paragon of beauty arriving from India to shake up Charlemagne’s
Frankish court corresponded to a fascination with material culture
arriving through trade from eastern countries. In fact, the desire to
reach Cathay for commercial purposes was so pressing in the late 1400s
that the Spanish monarchs financed a highly risky, unprecedented
expedition by a Genoese navigator who sought to reach this distant
land more swiftly by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. Columbus
originally presented this audacious plan to the Portuguese crown, after
all, around the same time that the first two books of the Innamorato
appeared in print. The Mauceri brothers’ example of hybrid culture also
demonstrated for us the permeability of a local tradition—not through
passive acceptance, but through continuous negotiation and innovation
with respect to global trends. 33

The Mauceri brothers’ innovative presentation of Angelica contin-

ues in their staging of her encounter with Medoro, a darker-toned pup-
pet they portray in traditional Arab garb. Considering that Ariosto’s
character was a native of Ptolemais, as noted above an ancient port in
present-day Libya taken by the Arabs in the mid-seventh century, this
portrayal is perhaps more historically plausible than either Ariosto’s
blond figure or Sanicola’s black puppet. The Mauceri brothers’ Medoro
appears on stage wearing a white robe and turban and identifies
himself as “a poor pagan soldier” (“un povero soldato pagano”) (see
Figure 9.2). When asked about his inspiration for the Medoro puppet,
Alfredo Mauceri expressly acknowledged that “the choice to create an
Arab Medoro was determined by the desire to promote diversity and
multiculturalism” (“la scelta di realizzare Medoro arabo è stata det-
tata dall’esigenza di promuovere la diversità e l’intercultura”). 34 This
choice, moreover, is part of an articulated ideological program for his
puppet theater: “We have always gone against the current and fought
for diversity. My texts are not meant to be merely functional to the
play but to propose ideas and to conduct the spectator to confront a

Figure 9.2 Medoro and Angelica puppets, photographed by Daniele Carrubba

(Teatro dei pupi di Siracusa). By permission of the Associazione La Compagnia
dei Pupari Vaccaro-Mauceri.
172 J O A N N C AVA L L O

changing world” (“Abbiamo sempre fatto scelte controcorrente e lot-

tato per la diversità. I miei testi non vogliono essere solo funzionali allo
spettacolo ma proporre idee e condurre lo spettatore a raffrontarsi con
il mondo che cambia”). 35
By comparing their own interpretation with the puppeteers’ state-
ments about their choices, students were able to experience directly the
transformative aspect of recent puppet theater. Regarding the Sanicola and
Mauceri plays, Alexa Elmakki wrote: “I didn’t find their content scandalous
but rather updated, since we looked at many other variations on interracial
and sexual representations in both written and oral epic traditions ...Thus
we were able to examine these productions within a larger interdisciplin-
ary scope: a social, historical, political and cultural one.” Summarizing her
experience in the course having read the Orlando Furioso in high school,
Irene Bulla wrote: “I think this comparative reading helped the material
from Boiardo and Ariosto come alive. I could appreciate how it was open to
molding, reshaping, overturning over the centuries, and how it still is ...very
much current and relevant. The last time I had read Ariosto was during my
years in liceo classico, and I feel the Italian school system tends to underplay
the oral aspect of this tradition.” Luana Gearing, who “entered this course
without any knowledge of the studied epics or of the Sicilian puppet and
Maggio traditions,” wrote that she “quickly gained an appreciation for both
traditions, but preferred the puppet theater mostly because of the visual
staging.” She found, moreover, that the Receptionist theory “allowed me
to gain the awareness that audience members bring their own meaning to
performance, and to apply this concept to readings in other courses with a
diverse student body.”
Although folk traditions regularly escape notice even within the field
of “cultural studies,” Sicilian puppet theater offers students not only of
Italian literature but across disciplines—from art history to performance
studies to anthropology—a chance to explore cross-cultural encounters
ranging from the intractably xenophobic to the unabashedly cosmopoli-
tan. Students with little or no knowledge of Italian can still conduct
research in multiple directions, including visual aspects of performance
(movements and gesture, scenography, costumes, posters, and props), and
aural aspects (music, voice, and other sound effects). They can also under-
take contextual comparisons with other forms of popular theater that
currently perform scenes from epic narratives (most notably, the Indian
epics Ramayana and Mahabharata that are still staged as both drama and
puppet theater in India and Southeast Asia).
One central insight from our study of chivalric narrative in per-
formance was that the representation of Saracens is ever changing and
dependent upon both global events and factors specific to each pup-
pet company. While Sicilian puppet theater is perhaps most famous for

staging spectacular battles between Christians and Saracens, we discov-

ered recent plays that avoid confrontations based on ethnicity or religion,
challenge conventional societal attitudes, and seek to promote under-
standing and tolerance across borders. In this way, puppeteers (as well as
maggerini and cuntisti, as we discovered through an alternate route) voice
their views on pressing issues of our time and offer a viable vehicle for
social discourse that merits closer examination.

Appendix: Principal episodes from the Orlando Innamorato and

Orlando Furioso studied in relation to Sicilian puppet theater
1. The Arrival of Angelica and the Fountain of Love
Boiardo, Orlando Innamorato, 1.1.1–35, 1.3.31–50.
Lo Dico, Storia dei Paladini di Francia, vol. VII, 74–77, 104–06.
Puppet theater clips: La morte di Truffaldino (Teatroarte Cuticchio); Storia dei
Paladini di Francia (Compagnia Gaspare Canino di Salvatore Olivieri);
Il gran duello di Orlando e Agricane per amore di Angelica (Marionettistica
dei Fratelli Napoli).
2. Dragontina’s Palace and Castle Cruel
Boiardo, Orlando Innamorato, 1.6.43–53, 1.9.49–1.10.7, 1.14.38–49
(Dragontina); 1.8.15–1.9.35 (Castle Cruel).
Lo Dico, Storia dei Paladini di Francia, vol. VII, 146–7, 173–78, 222–4
(Dragontina); vol. VII, 163–73 (Castle Cruel).
Puppet theater clips: La morte di Truffaldino (Teatroarte Cuticchio).
3. Orlando against Rinaldo for Angelica
Boiardo, Orlando Innamorato, 1.25.50–1.26.19, 1.26.25–35, 1.26.53–1.28.35.
Lo Dico, Storia dei Paladini di Francia, vol. VIII, 28–29, 32–39.
Puppet theater clips: Orlando contro Rinaldo per la bella Angelica
(Compagnia Carlo Magno di Enzo Mancuso; Teatro Ippogrifo,
diretto da Nino Cuticchio; Associazione Culturale Agramante di
Vincenzo Argento e Figli); Angelica, la Fuga (Compagnia dei Pupari
4. Agricane di Tartaria
Boiardo, Orlando Innamorato, 1.18.29–1.19.16.
Lo Dico, Storia dei Paladini di Francia, vol. VII, 258–62.
Puppet theater clips: Il gran duello di Orlando e Agricane per amore di Angelica
(Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli).
5. Angelica and Medoro / The Madness of Orlando
Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, 23.100–136.
Lo Dico, Storia dei paladini di Francia, vol. IX, 143–47.
174 J O A N N C AVA L L O

Puppet theater clips: La pazzia di Orlando (Teatro Drammatico di O.

Sanicola); Amore e follia di Orlando (Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli).
6. Astolfo on the Moon
Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, 34.48–87.
Lo Dico, Storia dei Paladini, vol. IX, 208–11.
Puppet theater clips: Viaggio di Astolfo sulla luna (Giovane Compagnia
Figli D’Arte Cuticchio, diretto da Giacomo Cuticchio); Il gran duello di
Orlando e Agricane per amore di Angelica (Fratelli Napoli).
7. The Battle of Lampedusa
Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, 41.12–17, 41.68–102, 42.1–23.
Lo Dico, Storia dei paladini di Francia, vol. X, 18–33.
Puppet theater clips: L’Oro dei Napoli (Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli).

1. I retain the medieval and early modern European term for Muslims,
“Saracen,” when referring to literary characters because, as John V. Tolan
points out, the words “Islam” and “Muslim” were virtually unknown in
western European languages prior to the sixteenth century (Saracens: Islam
in the Medieval European Imagination [New York: Columbia University
Press, 2002], xv).
2. References to class discussion and written student responses pertain to
the Spring 2011 semester. I thank my former students for permission to
cite their responses in this essay.
3. The Maggio epico, a folk opera traditionally performed at the edge of a for-
est in summer months, is not discussed in this essay for reasons of space.
For an overview of this art form, see
maggio/index.php?id_sezione=3. For its relation to puppet theater, see
my “Where Have All the Brave Knights Gone? Sicilian Puppet Theater
and the Tuscan-Emilian Epic Maggio,” Italian Culture 19, no. 2 (2001):
4. Giusto Lo Dico, Storia dei paladini di Francia, 13 vols. (Catania: Clio—
Brancati, 1993 and 2000). No English translation is available.
5. Giuseppe Pitrè also identified the presence of Lodovico Dolce’s Prime
imprese di Orlando, Teofilo Folengo’s Orlandino, selections of Bernardo
Tasso’s Amadigi, and Francesco Tromba’s Madama Rovenza (“La letteratura
cavalleresca popolare in Sicilia,” Romania 13 [1884]: 315–98; reprinted in
Usi e costumi, credenze e pregiudizi del popolo siciliano, vol. 1 [Catania: Clio,
n.d.], 119–336).
6. The Italian American Museum of New York, which now holds the man-
uscripts, is working to make this material available online.
7. This was the situation when I conducted research there between 2000
and 2004. However, the Museum regularly hosts puppet plays by a local

company, organizes the international Festival di Morgana each November,

and consistently films the festival’s performances, thus providing a grow-
ing precious resource for future study.
8. Our treatment of the Maggio encompassed many of the same episodes,
in addition to scripts based on Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. I have now
begun to upload materials, including scripts and my videotapes of scenes
from both Sicilian puppet theater and the Maggio epico, onto the following
MLA Commons group:
9. Students were surprised at how much material was available by browsing
“pupi siciliani” on the Internet. Regarding published scripts, we read a
Sicilian puppeteer’s rewriting of the duel between Orlando and Rinaldo
over Angelica, originally recounted in Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato,
transcribed in Ettore Li Gotti’s Il teatro dei pupi (Florence: Sansoni, 1957),
and an account of the battle between Orlando and the Mongol khan
Agricane, also from the Innamorato, included in Carmelo Alberti’s Il teatro
dei pupi e lo spettacolo popolare siciliano (Milan: Mursia, 1977). We also lis-
tened to an excerpt from a battle between Orlando and Rinaldo by a
Sicilian contastorie (storyteller) that Alan Lomax recorded in 1954–1955
(available on the CD Italian Treasury: Sicily, Rounder Records, 2000).
10. Puppet theater companies and museums with informative Web sites
include those in Palermo (; www.; w w icch io-Franco-
Puparo/236214673200496;, Catania
Napoli-e-Cineteatro-Francesco-Alliata/206124576181667), Siracusa
(;, Partinico (www., Sortino (
php), and Randazzo ( A
few rare puppet collections are found in the United States, primarily the
Manteo family’s collection currently at the Italian American Museum in
New York City and a collection of 60 Sicilian marionettes from around
1860 at the University of Texas at Austin. A description and photographs
of the latter collection appear in Maria Xenia Zevelechi Wells, “Paladins
of Sicily: The Pupi of Stanley Marcus’ Collection,” FMR 15, no. 77
(1995): 61–80.
11. Li Gotti, Il teatro dei pupi, 11.
12. Centro Elaborazione Informatica di Testi e Immagini nella Tradizione
Letteraria, Scuola Normale di Pisa, See
also Lina Bulzoni, Serena Pezzini, and Giovanni Rizzarelli, “Tra mille
carte vive ancora”: Ricezione del Furioso tra immagini e parole (Lucca: Maria
Pacini Fazzi, 2010).
13. A drawing of puppets in action at Federico II’s court is reproduced in Bil
Baird, The Art of the Puppet (New York: Macmillan, 1965).
14. Pitré’s “La letteratura cavalleresca” includes the partial transcription of a
Sicilian contastorie’s tale taken from the early cantos of Boiardo’s Orlando
176 J O A N N C AVA L L O

Innamorato (which he mistakenly attributes to Ariosto), 363–4. Students

with knowledge of Italian could also consult the essays by Pio Rajna and
Benedetto Croce on Neapolitan contastorie: Rajna, “I ‘Rinaldi’ o i cantas-
torie di Napoli,” Nuova Antologia (December, 1878): 557–79, and Croce,
“I ‘Rinaldo’ o i cantastorie di Napoli,” La critica 34 (1936): 70–4.
15. The required reading in English on Sicilian puppet theater was as follows:
selections from John McCormick, The Italian Puppet Theater: A History
( Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011); Alessandro Napoli, “The Fratelli
Napoli Puppet Company: The Catanian Opira from 1921 Until Today”
(in McCormick, 232–48); Antonio Pasqualino, “Transformations of
Chivalrous Literature in the Subject Matter of the Sicilian Marionette
Theater,” in Varia Folklorica, ed. Alan Dundes (Paris: Mouton, 1978),
183–200, and “Humor and Puppets: an Italian Perspective,” in Humor
and Comedy in Puppetry: Celebration in Popular Culture, eds. Dina Sherzer
and Joel Sherzer (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University
Popular Press, 1987), 8–29; and Cavallo, “L’Oro dei Napoli: Sicilian Puppet
Theater Today,” in Arba Sicula 24, no. 1–2 (2003): 92–107, and “Where
Have All the Brave Knights Gone?”
16. Clifford Geertz, “Ethos, World View, and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols”
and “Ideology as a Cultural System,” in The Interpretation of Cultures (New
York: Basic, 2000), 126–41 and 193–233; Richard Bauman, Verbal Art
as Performance (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1984), 7–48; John
Foley, “Ways of Speaking, Ways of Meaning,” in The Singer of Tales in
Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 29–59;
Walter J. Ong, “Further Characteristics of Orally Based Thought and
Expression,” in Orality and Literacy (New York: Methuen, 1982), 36–49;
Paul Zumthor, “The Epic,” Oral Poetry: An Introduction, trans. Kathryn
Murphy-Judy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 79–96;
Victor Turner, “Are There Universals of Performance in Myth, Ritual,
and Drama?” in By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and
Ritual, eds. Richard Schechner and Willa Appel (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1990), 8–18; Benedict Anderson, “Patriotism and
Racism,” in Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1991), 141–54. These works are hence-
forth cited parenthetically.
17. Diana Crane, “Culture and Globalization: Theoretical Models and
Emerging Trends,” in Global Culture: Media, Arts, Policy, and Globalization,
eds. Diana Crane, Nobuko Kawashima, and Ken’ichi Kawasaki (New
York: Routledge, 2002), 1–25; henceforth cited parenthetically. Margaret
Beissinger, Jane Tylus, and Susanne Wofford, editors’ Introduction, Epic
Traditions in the Contemporary World: The Poetics of Community (Berkeley
and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 1–17.
18. During my onsite study of Sicilian puppet theater companies in the
summers of 2000 through 2004, the Compagnia Carlo Magno di
Enzo Mancuso, the Giovane Compagnia Figli D’Arte Cuticchio, the
Compagnia Gaspare Canino di Salvatore Oliveri, the Associazione

Culturale Agramante di Vincenzo Argento e Figli, and Nino Cuticchio’s

Teatro Ippogrifo all performed plays featuring the vicissitudes of Orlando,
Rinaldo, and Angelica, the latter two companies on a daily basis in their
theaters in Palermo.
19. Pina Patti Cuticchio: Una vita con l’Opera dei Pupi, ed. Mimmo Cuticchio
(Palermo: Associazione “Figli d’Arte Cuticchio,” 2000), 50.
20. For the Orlando Innamorato, I recommend the Italian editions by Riccardo
Bruscagli (Turin: Einaudi, 1995) and Andrea Canova (Milan: BUR,
2011) as well as Charles S. Ross’s translation (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor
Press, 2004).
21. Ron Jenkins, “Refighting Old Religious Wars in a Miniature Arena,”
New York Times, December 8, 2001.
22. According to Cuticchio, the latter play is envisioned as a “neces-
sary utopia” (“utopia necessaria”), part of a larger project “of universal
co-habitation and tolerance” (“di convivenza universale e di tolleranza”)
(Associazione Figli D’Arte Cuticchio at
23. See Cavallo, “L’Oro dei Napoli.”
24. The two scenes discussed in this section can be viewed at the MLA
Commons group
ing-the-italian-romance-epic/. For the Orlando Furioso, I recommend
Lanfranco Caretti’s edition (Turin: Einaudi, 2005) and Guido Waldman’s
translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), also cited in this
25. The visual tradition follows Ariosto’s lead in depicting Medoro with
distinctly European features. In addition to the illustrations accessible
online (see Bolzoni et al., “Tra mille carte vive ancora”), there is a substantial
pictorial tradition in European art of the couple’s enamorment. See in
particular Giovanni Prampolini, Le “Storie di Orlando”: Rappresentazioni
pittoriche e sceniche dell’Innamorato e del Furioso (Casalgrande [RE], Italy:
Litostampa La Rapida, 2000).
26. On Ariosto’s ideologically charged doubling of Medoro, see Cavallo, The
World beyond Europe in the Romance Epics of Boiardo and Ariosto (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2013), 32–5. On the depiction of Medoro in
later works, see Guido Sacchi, Fra Ariosto e Tasso: Vicende del poema narra-
tivo (Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 2006), 167, and Riccardo Bruscagli,
Studi cavallereschi (Florence: Società Editrice Fiorentina, 2003), 86–101.
27. E-mail correspondence, March 2, 2011.
28. March 2, 2011. All English translations of e-mail correspondence and
interviews with puppeteers are my own.
29. As Sharon Kinoshita has noted with regard to the French tradition, “In
the conventional language of epic . . . the Saracen queen is indistinguish-
able from any beautiful woman of high station” (Medieval Boundaries:
Rethinking Difference in Old French Literature [Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2006], 184). For a comparative treatment of Angelica
in Boiardo and Ariosto, see Cavallo, The World beyond Europe, 24–32.
178 J O A N N C AVA L L O

30. The late puparo Enzo Rossi (1932–2007) of Monreale, an appassionato of

puppet theater since his youth, recalled that Angelica was invariably the
best dressed puppet because puppeteers’ wives put great effort into fash-
ioning her outfit (interview, July 2002).
31. Interview, July 2002.
32. E-mail correspondence, March 3, 2011.
33. In fact, the Mauceri brothers currently use an Angelica puppet in Middle
Eastern dress that, as Alfredo concedes, “is certainly not an outfit typi-
cal of Cathay, but which allows us to distinguish her from the European
clothes worn by the other female characters” (“non è certo un abito tipico
del Catai, ma ciò consente di distinguerla dagli abiti europei indossati
dalle altre dame”).
34. E-mail correspondence, March 3, 2011.
35. E-mail correspondence, March 3, 2011.


Janice Hawes

I n one study of novels set in the Middle Ages and aimed at a young
Edwardian audience, Velma Bourgeois Richmond argues that they
share the following characteristics: “racial definition, heroic behav-
ior, [and] chivalric idealism.”1 Although not a historical novel, H. E.
Marshall’s 1908 Stories of Beowulf: Told to the Children ref lects these char-
acteristics.2 Her Edwardian version of the early medieval epic was meant
in part to support the imperialistic cause of Great Britain by emphasiz-
ing the chivalric code as rendered through a British imperial lens. Her
text anachronistically transforms the Old English hero into a knight of
the High Middle Ages struggling against the enemies of chivalric val-
ues.3 The struggle on the human scale between the values of Edwardian
chivalry (as represented by Beowulf and his knights) and those who
would defy it (monstrous beings, including humans who oppose order)
becomes a cosmic battle between good and evil. The same dichotomy
is employed in Marshall’s Our Empire Story, also written for a young
audience and published the same year as her translation of Beowulf.4 In
Marshall’s version of history, those trusted with the role of securing
British India follow the ancient chivalric code associated with heroes
such as Beowulf, while those who challenge the order that the British
wish to establish in this part of “Greater Britain” are both human hea-
thens opposing knightly virtues and demons attempting to bring chaos
to the land.
Although Marshall’s discourse appears to rely on the dichotomies of
knightly versus monstrous, monstrosity becomes for Marshall increasingly
difficult to define with precision. As historian Catherine Hall reminds us
in her study of British imperialist discourse about Jamaica, “the mapping
180 J A N I C E H AW E S

of difference” should be seen as “the constant discursive work of creating,

bringing into being, or reworking these hieratic categories.”5 Marshall’s
depiction of “almost British” colonized subjects who fight alongside
their imperial leaders ref lects what often happens in colonial discourse:
attempting to establish boundaries between the “legitimate” imperial self
and the Other becomes too complex to rely on mere binaries, problema-
tizing Edwardian British self-imagining as civilized and chivalric guard-
ians of order in contrast to the colonized.
This essay discusses how undergraduate students and I have explored
identity creation in colonial discourse by considering Marshall’s use of
Beowulf and its relation to her history about the British Empire.6 The
students in my second-semester British survey course have already stud-
ied Beowulf with me in the first-semester course, where we also examine
issues of identity. Our discussion of the original poem focuses on diachronic
cross-cultural encounters, as the Christian poet contemplates the cultural
legacy of his pagan ancestors. Our discussion of Marshall’s work focuses
on both diachronic cross-cultural encounters and synchronic cross-cultural
encounters, as Marshall engages with the medieval poem to depict British
colonialism. Studying both types of cross-cultural encounters allows stu-
dents to see (1) how cross-cultural encounters can be synchronic and
diachronic; (2) how synchronic and diachronic cross-cultural encoun-
ters intersect; and (3) how cross-cultural encounters from the past are
reshaped to meet the needs of later societies. In our study of Beowulf in the
first semester, we examine how acts of violence are performed not only
by the literal monsters but also by humans who behave in a monstrous
fashion, creating a liminal space that disrupts clear definitions of mon-
strous/human and brutal/civilized. In the second semester, my students
and I revisit these concepts via what is usually their first introduction to
postcolonial theory and its application to literature. The use of a medieval
text that students and I have already explored, albeit a consciously altered
version, provides familiar territory for this exploration and aids student
understanding about how the past is employed by later generations for

The Anglo-Saxon Hero

The textual history of the Old English poem Beowulf ref lects how nar-
ratives are employed for identity creation, even across time. Only one
copy of the oldest long heroic poem in English survives in a manuscript
that dates to c. 1000 CE. Current scholarship places the composition
of the poem by a single Christian poet sometime between the eighth
and tenth centuries. Lost to generations after the Norman Conquest,

the rediscovered poem inspired interest with the rise of nationalism

in late eighteenth-century Europe, as the quest for national epic led
Scandinavian, German, and British scholars to make cultural claims on
the text.7 That many countries would claim the text is not surprising, for
the poem depicts the continental ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons during
a time after the Anglo-Saxon migration began in the early fifth cen-
tury but before it was completed. The first part of the epic describes the
journey of the Geat warrior Beowulf to Denmark and his battles with
Grendel and his mother, monsters who bring chaos to King Hrothgar’s
mead hall. Years later Beowulf, now the king of the Geats, faces a dragon
that has brought devastation to his own people.
The Beowulf poet is a Christian engaging in a cross-cultural encounter
with the past by writing about his ancestors. Beowulf is a heroic monster
fighter, but the pagan culture in which he lives problematizes the poet’s
glorification of and identification with the past. In a sense, my students
are in a similar position, for in studying the poem they are experiencing
a diachronic cross-cultural encounter with an ancient text that is alien to
them. We begin our exploration by seeking bridges to that earlier cul-
ture through the original language of the first eleven lines of the poem.
Students’ recognition of cognates, along with their ability to translate the
line “Þæt wæs god cyning” (“That was a good king”) (l. 11), helps them
see the relationship between Old English and modern English, making
the text somewhat less Other.8 The passage also provides the opening
for our discussion of leadership. The poet’s definition of good kingship
is an understanding of kingship in a pagan Germanic society as filtered
through the imagination of an early medieval Christian poet (much as
Marshall’s children’s version of Beowulf is filtered through the imagina-
tion of an Edwardian writer who embraced empire). I ask students to
explore the definition of kingship further. Why is the Danish ancestor
described as a “good” king? To what extent has our understanding of
good leadership changed? This last question, in which ideal leadership is
approached as culturally specific rather than as a universal value, encour-
ages students to consider diachronic cultural variance. It also gives stu-
dents permission to be occasionally unsure about how to engage with the
society depicted in the text, an acknowledgment of the complexities of
cross-cultural encounters.9
We also use this time to introduce concepts that will provide students
tools to articulate their ideas about identity formation. We define limi-
nality as the state of being “betwixt and between,” a point where one’s
identity is f luid. Class discussion of this term starts with familiar liminal
figures, such as the werewolf, a being whose physical liminality is obvi-
ous. However, it is what his physical liminality implies about his nature
182 J A N I C E H AW E S

that we are most interested in exploring. To what extent is a werewolf

human or monstrous?
After the f luidity of the categories “monstrous” and “human” has
been introduced, we begin our discussion of heroism, with the final goal
of considering heroes as liminal figures. What makes a hero? Do human
beings across cultures and historical periods define heroism differently?
Many students argue at first that Beowulf is not heroic, for he seems
almost “uncivilized” to them. Inf luenced by modern notions of humil-
ity, students often find Beowulf ’s boasts unheroic. Our discussion of lines
499–606, in which King Hrothgar’s man Unferth accuses the hero of
lacking the prowess to fight Grendel, helps students place the boasting in
context.10 Beowulf lives in an oral culture where boasting has important
cultural value in that deeds are transformed into words and circulated
orally to establish the hero’s reputation both during his life and after his
death. This particular scene is a flyting, or

an exchange of verbal provocations between hostile speakers in a predict-

able setting, [in which] the boasts and insults are traditional, and their
arrangement and rhetorical form is highly stylized.11

In typical f lyting structure, Unferth opens with a claim about Beowulf ’s

alleged weakness in a swimming match against the heroic Breca, and
Beowulf responds with a defense of his prowess and a counterclaim against
It is on the hero’s defense and counterclaim that we spend the most time,
and I ask students to consider the implications of Beowulf ’s response. He
begins his defense against Unferth’s claim by stating that he will tell the
truth about himself: that he, Beowulf, is superior to anybody in ability,
courage, and stamina. In his counterclaim Beowulf accuses Unferth of
lacking such vigor, comparing Unferth unfavorably to himself, who not
only faced a contest of strength with a human opponent but also battled
sea monsters:

“I don’t boast when I say

that neither you nor Breca were ever much
celebrated for swordsmanship
or for facing danger on the field of battle.
You killed your own kith and kin,
so for all your cleverness and quick tongue,
you will suffer damnation in the depths of hell.” (ll. 583–89)

In this version of events, neither Breca nor Unferth ever performed such
an impressive feat, and Beowulf enhances his achievement by noting that

this is no random boast. If Beowulf defeated the sea monsters and sur-
vived the match with Breca, then he is likely to defeat Grendel. Next he
discredits his accuser with the common f lyting charges of “heroic failure”
and “kin slaying.”13 With his masterful use of rhetoric, he is the clear vic-
tor, whether or not truth is actually on his side. As some of my students
(and many scholars) point out, Beowulf ’s words are his version of the
tale, not necessarily fact.14 Beowulf ’s boasts create his identity before the
Danes, just as the Beowulf poet shapes Anglo-Saxon identity by glorifying
the ancestral past. By considering the complex function of the boasts, stu-
dents learn how consciously created narratives establish public identity,
an idea we return to in our second-semester postcolonialism unit.
Although Beowulf makes himself a model of heroism in the f lyting,
the dichotomy of human versus nonhuman is often unstable. In his inf lu-
ential lecture The Monsters and the Critics, J. R. R. Tolkien argues that
the monsters “begin to symbolize (and ultimately to become identified
with) the power of evil, even while they remain . . . mortal denizens of the
material world, in it and of it.”15 For Tolkien, the struggle between the
monsters and humans exists on a cosmic, universal plane, one in which
cultural distinctions do not matter. However, on the level of the “mate-
rial world,” the vacillations between the monsters and the humans sug-
gest a diachronic cross-cultural encounter in which the Christian poet’s
ambivalence about his pagan ancestors is evident. Much of the diction
connects Grendel to the human world, and we consider the implications
for the monsters and humans in the poem. The word “aglæca” (terrible
assailant), for instance, refers to Grendel in line 159, to the legendary
hero Sigemund in line 893, and to Beowulf and the dragon in line 2592.
Moreover, the word “hilderinc” (warrior) refers to Grendel in line 986,
but to Hrothgar in line 1307, to Beowulf in lines 1495 and 1576, and
to King Beowulf ’s men in line 3124.16 The description of the origins of
Grendel and other monsters as progeny of Cain in lines 102–14 empha-
sizes Grendel’s status as a figure of chaos. But, as many of my students
note, the image is also a very human one. Cain, after all, is not a demonic
figure but a human who has sinned against the “polity.”17 In fact, the ref-
erence to Cain invokes what Norma Kroll argues are “political and civic
ramifications.”18 The origin of the monsters connects them to the dark
side of human society, complicating the glorification of the Anglo-Saxon
ancestors: by now students are noting that if monsters can be described in
human terms, the reverse can be true.
This in turn leads us to a consideration of the human threats to society
and what this might imply about the poet’s ambivalence toward the past.
Hrothgar’s description of King Heremod’s misdeeds in lines 1709–24,
for example, depicts a monstrous human. Violating the kingly duties
184 J A N I C E H AW E S

outlined in the opening lines of the poem, Heremod does not honor
his men with treasure. To this greed he adds bloodthirstiness, killing his
own people in his hall (ll. 1713–14). Heremod’s avarice and violence are
complementary traits, as Kroll notes, “because they are equally Cain-
like, the former directly and the latter indirectly, by virtue of political
consequences.”19 My students and I wonder why this story is embedded
in a lecture to Beowulf about the duties of a leader. Does this mean that
even a hero such as Beowulf needs to watch out for monstrous impulses?
Can heroes, who are supposed to bring order, bring chaos instead?
I next ask students to consider Hrothgar’s first words to Beowulf
in lines 456–72 where he recalls his aid to Beowulf ’s father Ecgtheow,
whose actions started a feud. Students grasp that Beowulf may be repay-
ing a debt, and they see this as ennobling. Many, however, also wonder
what Ecgtheow’s actions and their consequences imply about Beowulf as
a figure of civilization. Just as Grendel is connected to Cain, Beowulf is
arguably connected to a figure of chaos through his ancestry, a realization
that brings the students back to how the language of the poem connects
Beowulf to monstrosity. The word “bolgenmod” (enraged) describes
Beowulf in line 709 as he awaits Grendel’s arrival at Heorot, just as it
describes Heremod in his lust to kill his own comrades in lines 1713–14;
“gebolgen” (enraged) describes the dragon in line 2304 as the creature
discovers the theft of his treasure, and it describes Beowulf in line 2550
as he prepares to fight the dragon.20 Perhaps this rage can also be seen in
lines 2506–08 where a dying Beowulf recounts how he killed a Frankish

“No sword blade sent him to his death:

my bare hands stilled his heartbeats
and wrecked his bonehouse.”

Even students who admire Beowulf find this passage disturbing, as

Beowulf is Grendel-like in his crushing of his foe. Some students right-
fully assert that the passage can be read as revealing Beowulf ’s restraint:
he only crushes enemies of his lord. Yet much of the diction and imagery
in the poem already has connected Beowulf to the monsters and implies
what Manish Sharma notes is a “moral ambiguity” to the hero.21 At the
very least, Beowulf is a liminal figure, and students find the potential
threat he represents monstrous.
Nowhere does this seem clearer to many students than in the dragon
fight. As our exploration of language revealed, Beowulf and the dragon
are doubles in that the same diction is used to describe them and in that
they fight for the same treasure. While Beowulf may not be guilty of the

dragon’s greed, many students argue that Beowulf is greedy for glory,
reiterating the work of many scholars.22 In fact, these students argue, this
overweening pride undercuts the restraint he exhibited earlier. Whether
or not arrogance and greed for glory are at the heart of this last heroic
action, it certainly benefits nobody, as students critical of Beowulf point
out. The gold for which Beowulf fought will be just as useless as when
the dragon had it, and the hero becomes a figure of chaos at his demise,
for his people will now be destroyed without their protector. Unlike
Beowulf ’s successful rhetorical self-fashioning in the f lyting scene, his
dying words in lines 2794–808 as he takes pride in winning the dragon’s
treasure are filled with dramatic irony: the gold will be buried with him,
and his attempts to fashion himself as the bringer of gold to the Geats is
a delusion.
Although I begin our discussion of this section of the poem noting
that it is filled with regret for lost glory, students by now pick up on the
tension: the poet’s celebration of the ancestral traditions is combined with
a discomfort with that heroic ethos. The problematizing of Beowulf ’s
heroic self-fashioning mirrors on a smaller scale the problematic nature
of the poet’s glorification of his culture through celebration of the past.
Many students choose to write a paper challenging Beowulf ’s status as an
ideal ancestral hero because of this mirroring of the monster and human

The Imperial Hero

Having already discussed liminality and what this suggests about self-
fashioning, students are asked in English Literature II to consider the con-
cept of postcolonialism for the first time. While the focus of the Beowulf
discussion in English Literature I had been on diachronic cross-cultural
encounters, our focus in English Literature II is on both diachronic and
synchronic cross-cultural encounters as they unfold in British imperi-
alist reinterpretations of the medieval past. We begin by considering a
brutal event in British colonialism, the government reaction to the 1865
Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica, in which 439 people were executed
and more than 1000 homes were burned.23 The division of key members
of the Victorian intelligentsia into two camps (one supporting a policy
of “strong rule” over rebellious non-white subjects and one advocating
a more gentle, paternal approach stemming from a liberal, progressive
belief that nonwhites would eventually be “like” Europeans through “a
process of civilization”) illustrates, as Catherine Hall notes, what was at
stake in this colonial crisis: British identity.24 For students it illustrates not
only the brutality of colonialism, but also the complexities of the rhetoric
186 J A N I C E H AW E S

employed to justify it, which either demonizes or infantilizes the colonial

Hinging on the binary of “savage” versus “civilized,” this debate over
policy was one that the British struggled with in India. Students and
I discuss how liberal imperialists employed a constructed vision of the
European Middle Ages as an analogy for contemporary colonized cul-
tures in order to negotiate such binaries and how this lens inf luenced
policy. By the late eighteenth century, many British were redefining
themselves by rethinking their medieval history. This past was used by
political radicals who longed for a time “in which a beneficent mon-
arch had protected the rights of Parliament and people” and by conser-
vatives who saw a firmness in medieval feudalism that provided proper
class structure and order.25 Class discussion moves beyond the traditional
analysis of the medievalisms of Tennyson to less canonical texts. The
connection between the medieval past and nineteenth-century ideals was
popularized, for instance, by Kenelm Henry Digby’s The Broad Stone of
Honour, from which we read a few passages. Digby’s work provided a
manual of chivalry for men of all classes, and his medievalism was not an
isolated occurrence.26 The cult of Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great,
for instance, f lourished by the late nineteenth century, as is evident in
poet laureate Alfred Austin’s 1896 poem “England’s Darling” honoring
the king. In fact, during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee the following
year, praise of Alfred as a “type” of Victoria abounded, connecting the
medieval past with Victorian ideas of rulership.27
Imperialists used the medieval period to understand not only them-
selves, but also the colonized in India, often arguing for a connection
between the two cultures. During the development of the taxation sys-
tem in the eighteenth century, the East India Company conceptually
simplified the Indian agrarian system into a version of European feudal-
ism.28 In his 1899 annals, James Tod argues for the “common origins”
of the people of Rajasthan and of Europe.29 Detailing his observations
on areas of India in which he traveled, Tod compares supplying cavalry
to a landlord with “knight’s fees” in medieval Europe.30 Imperial his-
torian James Wheeler (also in 1899) compares the consequences of the
Ghurka invasion of the Kathmandu valley to land distribution “amongst
the Norman barons under William the Conqueror.”31
While students find the analogies amusing, we consider the darker
implications. The analogies bonded Europeans and colonized peoples
but also justified a rigid hierarchy. Anna Czarnowus reminds us that for
liberal imperialists it was a duty to help the peoples of India progress,
via a “‘good conquest.’”32 Just as Alfred the Great civilized post-Roman
England, so too would the British lead the colonized out of their “dark

ages.”33 James Wheeler, for example, argues that European nations began
in similar semi-civilized states but experienced “political training” for
centuries that turned “subject populations into nationalities” and “rude
warrior barons into landed nobilities” (History 447). In contrast, Indian
kingdoms were “things of yesterday, without national life or organiza-
tion” (History 447). Britain was in a position to guide Indians, who were
to be “educated by British administrators to knowledge of civilization”
(History 229); in other words, theirs was a good conquest. This idea is
prevalent in children’s books of the long nineteenth century. Boy Scout
founder Robert Baden-Powell’s 1908 scouting manual, for instance, is
meant to be a part of the British imperial effort: “Many of you scouts,
as you grow up, will probably become scouts of the nations, and will
find your way to some of the Colonies to help to push them up into
big, prosperous countries.”34 In the seventh chapter, “Chivalry of the
Knights,” Baden-Powell notes that future scouts must live up to the
“Knight’s Code” to be true heroes of empire.35 This chivalric ideal is one
he returns to in his 1917 Young Knights of the Empire, where he reminds his
readers that “the Knights of King Arthur, Richard Coeur de Lion, and
the Crusaders, carried chivalry into distant parts of the earth” and that
scouts are “their descendants.”36
Students are usually shocked to find such views embedded in chil-
dren’s literature, and I use these reactions to encourage an approach
that combines traditional analysis with “resistant reading” that does not
simply take a text at face value. Why, for instance, were they shocked
to see such ideology in publications aimed at young people? Why were
they amused during our earlier discussion of how medievalisms inf lu-
enced imperial policies? Many students argue that their shock over
imperialist propaganda in children’s literature is due to the assumption
that children’s literature is apolitical, and some students see a connec-
tion between this complacency and complacency that allows us to view
British imperialist medievalisms as quaint. Our class now realizes that
seemingly innocent children’s stories and seemingly amusing assump-
tions about other cultures may be more sinister than a surface reading
first suggests. In addition, students are awakened into questioning their
own assumptions about the recent past and its inf luence on us. While
our exploration of British imperial rhetoric had initially been framed as
another diachronic cross-cultural encounter (between modern students
and the recent past), students tend to view the long nineteenth century
as less Other than the medieval past. If that is the case, can we so eas-
ily dismiss attitudes expressed in recent history? To what extent are we
unaware of our own cultural assumptions and how they are inf luenced
by the past?
188 J A N I C E H AW E S

It is easy for students to recognize blatant prejudice in the works

we are studying. In Marshall’s view, for instance, India, out of all the
Empire, has the greatest potential for progress, and she reminds readers
that the “Eastern kings” that the Elizabethans encountered, “while hea-
then, were not wild savages like the people of Africa” (Empire 445). The
racism here is obvious, so it is the less overt biases that our discussion is
meant to highlight. The world that Marshall creates in Stories of Beowulf
is an amalgam of Edwardian views of Old English shame/honor society
and of the High Middle Ages. Hrothgar mourns because he continues to
lose more “gallant knights” to Grendel, and this image is soon answered
with the image of “the knights of Beowulf ” aiding their leader (13). We
learn that, rather than singing songs about legendary Germanic warriors,
the scop, or oral poet, is a “minstrel,” who sings of “deeds of [both]
love and battle” (14; emphasis added). Marshall’s medievalism ref lects the
rhetoric common in the long nineteenth century, associating chivalry
with British culture and British imperialism. The corollary is that the
colonized have not developed a civilization based on chivalric ideals. By
now our class has considered the relationship between medievalisms and
imperial rhetoric, and we are not able to dismiss Marshall’s anachronisms
as simply amusingly quaint.
Marshall’s Beowulf is the model of the proper chivalric hero, and I
ask students if they find this Edwardian version more familiar than his
Old English counterpart, a question that allows for exploration of how a
constructed view of medieval chivalry still inf luences Western culture. It
also opens up our comparison of Marshall’s version with the original text.
Her translation of the counterclaim in the f lyting scene is telling:

“I have never heard it said that thou, Hunferth [sic], didst make such play
of sword, no nor Breca, nor any of you. Ye have not done such deeds. But
in sooth I would not boast myself.” (16–17)

Marshall’s Beowulf “would not boast,” implying an impropriety to brag-

ging, and there are other instances of this humbler Beowulf. Having just
defeated Grendel, for example, Beowulf is called “proudly humble” (26).
Humility was not a virtue in Beowulf ’s society, where boasting would
have been expected, but it is a must for those who model themselves after
medieval knights, as Baden-Powell notes in Scouting for Boys: “Although
they were generally superior to other people in fighting or campaigning,
they never allowed themselves to swagger about it.”37
Above all, Marshall’s hero is gentle, a trait that creates problems for
him in his society, which initially rejects him as too soft:

Indeed Beowulf was so gentle in peace that in his youth the great warriors
of the Goths had thought little of him. But now that he had proved that
though in peace his words were smooth, in battle his arm was strong, all
men honoured him. (48)

For students, this passage stands out because the same rejection appears in
the original, but not because Beowulf is too gentle:

He had been poorly regarded

for a long time, was taken by the Geats
for less than he was worth: and their lord too
had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall.
They firmly believed that he lacked force,
that the prince was a weakling. (ll. 2183–2188)

While the original text creates an image similar to the Old Norse
“coalbiter” (those heroes who are scorned in their youth because they
do nothing but slothfully sit before the fire), Marshall’s text explains
that Beowulf was scorned in his youth because his gentleness was mis-
understood. In fact, Marshall makes this gentleness central to the the-
matic development of her text. Whether Marshall consciously transforms
Beowulf to align with the propaganda she espouses or whether she actu-
ally believes that the ancient Germanic warrior is truly chivalric, students
admit that this Beowulf seems more modern.
Our exploration of Beowulf as a modern hero continues with a com-
parison to the heroes in Our Empire Story and focuses on Marshall’s
depiction of the controversial first Governor General of Bengal, Warren
Hastings.38 Like the gentle Beowulf, Hastings’s true glory, according to
Marshall, lies not in having conquered territories but in having “brought
peace to these lands” (541). It is an image of a benevolent ruler, fulfilling
his chivalric duty. Having eventually brought order to India, Hastings
comes to the end of his life, a model of benevolence: “To the end he
was a kindly, cheerful, brave old man, taking an interest in all around
him, and ruling his estate with as great care as he had ruled that broad
land of India” (541). As revealed in class discussion, the parallels between
Marshall’s words about Hastings and the “eulogy” for Beowulf are strik-
ing, almost as if Beowulf too could be a benevolent ruler of India. In the
original poem, we are told that

They said that of all the kings upon earth

He was the most gracious and fair-minded,
Kindest to his people and keenest to win fame. (ll. 3180–82)
190 J A N I C E H AW E S

Although the seeds of Marshall’s ruler are in the Old English, Marshall’s
king is more modest and gentle:

His comrades said that he was of all of the kings of the earth the best. Of
men he was the mildest and the kindest, and to his people the gentlest. Of
all rulers he was most worthy of praise. (74)

The word “mildust” appears in the original Old English, but the idea of
a kind and mild hero was arguably inf luenced by Victorian values.39 The
Geat warrior in the original is generous to his people, rather than “kind.”
Less unclear is how Marshall changes the meaning of “lofgeornost” (eager
for fame). Her hero is “worthy of praise” but does not seek it.
In fact, Marshall’s Beowulf has more in common with Baden-Powell’s
chivalric scout, and my students and I consider the implications of this
refashioning. The creation of a chivalric Beowulf may indicate Marshall’s
ambivalence with the original, much as the Beowulf poet may have felt
ambivalence about the ancient society he depicted. Does Marshall pur-
posely “civilize” her hero to align him with her ideals of chivalry or does
she actually understand his actions as chivalric? By now, a few students
have identified another complication: liberal imperialist rhetoric about
the High Middle Ages is often contradictory. How can medieval chivalry
be used as a model for British imperialists to justify their superiority at
the same time that the medieval past is used as an analogy for an India
supposedly still in the “Dark Ages”? Clearly, this rhetoric problematizes
British self-fashioning in contrast to the colonized.
We take another look at Marshall’s history book to explore this
ambivalence. Marshall fashions Hastings into the ideal hero through
consciously constructed narratives about his career. Just as Beowulf was
once misunderstood, Hastings was misunderstood by his enemies who
“blackened his name” when “he tried to do his best for the people of
India and for the Company” (501). Marshall’s defense and counterclaims
are constructed with selective addition and omission. In one of his histo-
ries of the British Raj, James Wheeler accuses Hastings of actions worthy
of an “Oriental despot,”40 a racist image that stereotypes the colonized,
but also one in which the colonizer becomes the colonized. In the chap-
ter “Deeds and Misdeeds of Warren Hastings” from his 1881 Tales from
Indian History, Wheeler recounts a set of events in which Hastings was
accused by Brahman and Indian tax official Nundakumar of accepting
bribes.41 In a seemingly unrelated event, the Brahman was later arrested
for forgery, convicted, and put to death, events which Wheeler argues
in a later work are suspect: “It is questionable whether he would have
been arrested on the charge if he had not brought accusations against

Hastings” (History 359). As further evidence of the hero’s sinister side,

Wheeler declares that afterwards “not a single native dared to whisper a
charge against Hastings” (History 360). Although Marshall describes the
“fear” and “horror” among natives during the execution (508), she does
not mention native reaction to its aftermath, nor does she imply that her
hero was secretly blamed. Instead, she employs the Indian population as
witness to his goodness:

To them he was a deliverer rather than a tyrant. The men admired him,
and the women sang their children to sleep with song of the wealth and
the might of the great Sahib Warren Hostein. (511–12)

The Indians in Marshall’s version of history rely on Hastings, like chil-

dren grateful to a paternal figure.42
I ask students to consider how Marshall further justifies imperial-
ism with images of monstrosity. If Beowulf is the ideal civilized man,
Marshall’s Grendel is more “not human” than his Old English coun-
terpart. In a story that employs medieval romance tropes, Marshall calls
Grendel an “ogre” twenty-five times, a figure of an imaginary world
soon to be defeated. Other word choices, however, depict a sinister being.
He is a “demon foe,” the “Wicked One,” and a “greedy monster” (5). He
is also “the Unknown One” (26). This language echoes the descriptions
in the original Old English, but nowhere in Marshall’s version is there
language tying Grendel to the human world. Even the Cain allusions
connecting him to human chaos are left out. Students home in on this
passage where Grendel is completely dehumanized: “Thick black hair
hung about his face, and his teeth were long and sharp, like the tusks of
an animal” (3). The body hair of Marshall’s monster is animal-like, and
the tusk-like teeth recall the tusks of the sea beasts Beowulf fights in his
swimming match. Grendel is also associated with inhuman noise: during
his final attack, his “wild-demon laughter” echoes, just as earlier, “howl-
ing with wicked joy” he carried off Hrothgar’s men (22, 4). Prepared
by now for the “hidden” messages in children’s texts, students find this
intensification of Grendel’s evil unsurprising and quickly see its effect:
Beowulf shines all the more as a model of goodness if the evil he faces is
pure and uncomplicated.
Students are also quick to find parallels to Grendel in Marshall’s depic-
tion of the colonized. The Burmese who war with the British are “mere
rabble, without order or courage” (Empire 543). Indians longing to over-
throw the British want to “fill the land with lawlessness and bloodshed”
(547). To this love of misrule is added the sin of greed. No doubt unaware
of the irony my students call attention to, Marshall explains that the last
192 J A N I C E H AW E S

independent nawab, or prince, of Bengal Siraj-ud-Daula was “greedy

as well as cruel” because he believed the British were gaining wealth
in India and, dragon-like, “wanted the treasure himself ” (481).43 What
stands out for students is how these traits go beyond mere human evil.
The colonized who resist the British are devils or animals. Describing
the Battle of Laswari, Marshall explains that the enemy Indian soldiers
“fought like demons rather than like heroes,” reducing bravery to devilry
(523). Afghans who rebel in Kabul become for Marshall “cursing howl-
ing beasts” who are “mad with blood,” a description that students note
mirrors her description of the howling and bloodthirsty Grendel (558).
For Marshall, the chaos of human evil becomes monstrous in the hands
of rebellious natives.
Students identify a threat to liberal imperialism in these images. If the
colonized are savages, then India’s progress out of its Dark Ages is unlikely,
and the chivalric imperialist project is pointless. The rhetoric Marshall
employs to counteract this demonization proves problematic, particularly
when chivalric imagery is transferred to the colonized. Marshall ends her
imperial history by asserting the success of benevolent imperialism: “The
native princes have become educated gentlemen, and, in many ways, East
and West have been drawn together” (587). Earlier, however, Marshall
depicts colonized subjects who are figures of both chivalry and disorder. Of
particular interest to students is the story of how Maratha chief Trimbukji
escaped his British captors, apparently borrowed from an account by
Anglican Bishop of Calcutta Reginald Heber. Trimbukji was aided by
a groom whose song included the following lines: “‘Where shall I find
a knight will ride / The jungle paths with me?’”44 The medievalism in
this song is intensified by the allusion (Empire 538). Trimbukji’s story in
Marshall and Heber is a refashioning of the tale about how the trouvère
(the northern French equivalent of a troubadour) Blondel helped Richard I
escape prison on his way back from the Crusades, which Marshall recounts
in her 1905 Our Island Story.45 Throughout most of Marshall’s account of
the last Maratha War (between the British and the warriors of the Maratha
Empire), Trimbukji is a figure of chaos, but his initial association with a
popular chivalric figure undercuts this. Creating a chivalric Trimbukji
may be an attempt to ennoble the colonized, making them worthy of
the imperial project, but it also provides the colonized with sympathy
that potentially elicits questions about the imperial project itself, and, by
extension, the imperialists. Do the colonized need civilizing if some of
their leaders were already chivalric or have become educated gentlemen?
Marshall’s history thus closes with images that problematize her use of
the British past to glorify the imperial project, much as the Beowulf poet’s
glorification of the Anglo-Saxon ancestral past is problematized. The very

rhetoric that British liberal imperialism used to justify itself ironically

destabilizes that justification.
Our consideration of synchronic and diachronic cross-cultural encoun-
ters aids student understanding of how the past still influences us. Rather
than seeing the past as completely alien, students begin to see themselves
as participants in cross-cultural encounters as they consider the original
Old English text of Beowulf and the ways it has been employed and refash-
ioned by later cultures. Their acknowledgment of the familiarity of the
Edwardian version of the hero Beowulf helps them develop an awareness
of how we are still influenced by the past and refashionings of that past.
Finally, the contradictions that these refashioned narratives can create, as
seen, for instance, in a medieval Christian poet’s ambivalence about the
pagan past or in the use of the medieval period as both a marker of primi-
tiveness and civilization, reminds students how tenuous self-fashioned
identities can be.

* This article has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National
Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, find-
ings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not neces-
sarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
1. Velma Bourgeois Richmond, “Historical Novels to Teach Anglo-
Saxonism,” in Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity, eds.
Allen J. Frantzen and John D. Niles (Gainesville: University Press of
Florida, 1997), 173.
2. H. E. Marshall, Stories of Beowulf: Told to the Children (1908; repr. Chapel
Hill, NC: Yesterday’s Classics, 2005). This work will be cited parentheti-
cally henceforth.
3. As this essay will discuss, Beowulf is originally an early medieval epic,
with a different set of heroic norms than those in later medieval chivalric
romances or many nineteenth-century adaptations.
4. H. E. Marshall, Our Empire Story (1908; repr. Chapell Hill, NC: Yesterday’s
Classics, 2006). This work will be cited parenthetically henceforth.
5. Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English
Imagination 1830–1867 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002),
6. References are to print versions of Marshall’s texts. Both texts are avail-
able online through the Baldwin Project (Web site), ed. Lisa Ripperton,
7. For British history, J. M. Kemble’s 1833 transcription (improved in the
1835 edition) and 1837 translation are vitally important. See The Anglo-
Saxon Poems of Beowulf, The Traveller’s Song, and the Battle of Finnes-burh,
2nd ed., ed. J. M. Kemble (London: William Pickering, 1835), Google
194 J A N I C E H AW E S

Beowulf&f=false, and A Translation of the Anglo-Saxon Poem of Beowulf
with a Copious Glossary Preface and Philological Notes, trans. J. M. Kemble
(London: William Pickering, 1837),
8. Transcriptions of the Old English are from Klaeber’s Beowulf and the Fight
at Finnsburg, 4th ed., eds. R. D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008).
9. With the exception of words I translate in parentheses, all translated pas-
sages from Beowulf are from the text used in our course: Seamus Heaney,
trans., Beowulf, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 1, 9th ed.,
ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: Norton, 2012), 41–108.
10. Carol J. Clover, “The Germanic Context of the Unferþ Episode,” in
Beowulf: Basic Readings, ed. Peter S. Baker (New York: Garland, 2000),
127–154. Previously published in Speculum 55, no. 3 (1980): 444–68.
11. Ibid., 128.
12. Ibid., 133.
13. Ibid., 134.
14. See Frederick Biggs, “Beowulf ’s Fight with the Nine Nicors,” The
Review of English Studies 53, no. 211 (2002): 315 and Susan M. Kim, “‘As
I Once Did with Grendel’: Boasting and Nostalgia in Beowulf,” Modern
Philology 103, no. 1 (2005): 24.
15. J. R. R. Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” Proceedings of
the British Academy 22 (1936): 262.
16. On the Beowulf poet’s word choices, see Katherine O’Brien O’Keefe,
“Beowulf, Lines 702b–836; Transformations and the Limits of the
Human,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 23, no. 4 (1981): 484–5.
17. Norma Kroll, “Beowulf: The Hero as Keeper of Human Polity,” Modern
Philology 84, no. 2 (1986): 119.
18. Ibid., 119.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid., 124, 128.
21. Manish Sharma, “Metalepsis and Monstrosity: The Boundaries of
Narrative Structure in ‘Beowulf,’” Studies in Philology 102, no. 3 (Summer
2005): 251.
22. See, for example, Sharma, “Metalepsis and Monstrosity,” 273.
23. Hall, Civilising Subjects, 23–5.
24. Ibid., 25.
25. Mark Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981), 70.
26. Kenelm Henry Digby, The Broad Stone of Honour: or, Rules for the Gentleman
of England (London: C & J Rivington, 1823).
27. Clare A. Simmons, Reversing the Conquest: History and Myth in Nineteenth-Century
British Literature (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 186.

28. Ananya Jahanara Kabir, “Analogy in Translation: Imperial Rome,

Medieval England, and British India,” in Postcolonial Approaches to the
European Middle Ages: Translating Cultures, eds. Ananya Jahanara Kabir
and Deanne Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005),
29. James Tod, The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, vol. 1 (Calcutta:
Bengal Press, 1899), viii, Google Books.
30. Ibid., 151.
31. James Talboys Wheeler, A Short History of India (London: Macmillan,
1899), 464, Google Books,
Norman%20barons%20under&f=false. This work will be cited paren-
thetically henceforth. Johannes Fabian labeled such histories that place
the observed Other in a separate sphere of time “the denial of coeval-
ness.” See Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes
Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 25.
32. Anna Czarnowus, “Artificial Discourse of National Belonging: The Case
of Anglo-Saxonism,” in Medievalisms: The Poetics of Literary Re-Reading,
ed. Liliana Sikorska (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2008), 45.
33. Ibid.
34. Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys (1908; repr. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005), 274.
35. Ibid, 212.
36. Robert Baden-Powell, Young Knights of the Empire 1917 (Fairford,
Glousteshire:Echo Library, 2012), 13, 23.
37. Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys, 225.
38. After his return to England, Warren Hastings was impeached and acquit-
ted in British Parliament on charges of corruption, including violations
of local laws, in a trial that was prosecuted by Edmund Burke and that
lasted from 1788 to 1795.
39. Josephine Bloomfield, “Diminished by Kindness: Frederick Klaeber’s
Rewriting of Wealhtheow,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 94,
no. 9 (1994): 183–203.
40. James Talboys Wheeler, Tales from Indian History (London:
Thacker, 1881), 165, Google Books,
Indian+History&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CvJ8U5–0Df SlsQT1rYHIDw&v
41. Ibid., 160.
42. Although the Nandakumar incident was not mentioned in the pro-
ceedings during Hastings’s impeachment trial in British Parliament, it
196 J A N I C E H AW E S

is representative of the corruption of which Hastings was accused. See,

for instance, Sara Suleri, The Rhetoric of English India (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1992), 55–78.
43. Siraj-ud-Daula’s defeat at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 marked the start of
East India Company rule in India.
44. Reginald Heber, Narrative of a Journey Through the Upper Provinces of India,
Vol. 2 (London: John Murray, 1829), 335, Google Books, http://books.
45. H. E. Marshall, Our Island Story (1905; repr. Radford, VA: Wilder
Publications, 2008), 97–100.




Jenna Soleo-Shanks

A tense silence falls over the audience as Callimachus enters the tomb
and hovers over the body of Drusiana, the object of his desire
even in death. Fortunatus, his accomplice, lingers nervously nearby as
Callimachus proclaims his necrophiliac intentions. Percussive tones fill
the theater, subtly at first, but building. As Callimachus approaches his
victim, the music intensifies, coupled with the sound of marching, and
Fortunatus’s agitation increases. The audience becomes more aware of
the insistent beat as Fortunatus spies something in the distance. He
cries, “Watch out!” just as the dragon, multicolored and more than
ten feet in length, stomps slowly but intently into view. At the same
time the music becomes recognizable; it is Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.”
Callimachus dashes across the stage as Simone sings, “Oh sinnerman,
where you gonna run to?” In the “chase scene” that follows, pur-
suer and prey crisscross the stage, eliciting gasps from the audience as
Callimachus’s acrobatics force the dragon to lurch and twist after him.
Finally both Callimachus and his henchman are enveloped by the danc-
ing dragon, and die.
What I have just described is a scene from a recent university pro-
duction of the play Callimachus by the tenth-century dramatist Hrotsvit
of Gandersheim.1 Although music and spectacle were integral to the
action, such elements are absent from the original text. This particular

scene, in fact, is less than 20 lines in the original text, yet in our pro-
duction it took several minutes to unfold. Despite such differences,
I argue that performance experiments like ours provide an effective
means through which to engage students with medieval drama, not
simply as theater history, but as cross-cultural inquiry. Beyond bring-
ing the medieval play to life, our production sparked classroom discus-
sions ranging from debates over the value of using modern references
in staging a medieval text to explorations of the playwright’s own
engagement with historically distant sources. In this essay I will use
my experience, both in the classroom and on stage, to argue for the
value of performance not only as an essential tool for teaching medi-
eval drama, but as a uniquely effective means of engaging students in
cross-cultural inquiries.

Hrotsvit and the Challenges of Teaching Medieval Drama

The work of the tenth-century Saxon poet known as Hrotsvit of
Gandersheim is a rich case study for cross-cultural engagement. In
exploring the dramatist’s work, students encounter not only the medi-
eval past, but also Hrotsvit’s own foray into a diachronically foreign
culture, specifically that of the classical pagan drama that inf luenced her
writing. The poet acknowledges that her six Latin dramas are modeled
on the Roman comedies of Terence, yet at the same time she critiques
her source material as inappropriate for her contemporary audience.
Hrotsvit’s plays, therefore, are an attempt to rewrite or reframe the past
for contemporary consumption. Her plays are also the earliest extant
examples of dramatic literature after antiquity, making Hrotsvit the first
medieval playwright and the first female dramatist of any era.2 It is strik-
ing, then, that the playwright is afforded little consideration by theater
artists or scholars. Her plays are so rarely produced that when one femi-
nist theater collective offered an award to any professional theater that
staged any of Hrotsvit’s plays, it took four years for anyone to claim the
prize.3 Through errors and omissions, theater textbooks obstruct the
cross-cultural engagement that Hrotsvit’s plays afford. The most popular
theater textbook summarizes her work in a few sentences, and founda-
tional texts on medieval drama similarly neglect her.4 One reason why
Hrotsvit’s work has been undervalued is that it does not fit the long-
accepted narrative of medieval theater history, which claims that per-
formance traditions evolved from simple religious dialogues to complex
secular dramas. A tenth-century woman writing Christian comedies
inspired by a pagan playwright is an anomaly in this view.5 Those who
include Hrotsvit’s work in their overviews or anthologies often seem

unable to reconcile the unique aspects of the playwright and her work
within the larger arc of theater history.
Introductions to Hrotsvit’s work often misrepresent the poet as a
nun who wrote plays as a private or academic exercise, never meant
to be staged. Although Hrotsvit lived in a convent, she was not a nun.
Defining Hrotsvit first in terms of her religious lifestyle is especially
problematic because students who lack knowledge of medieval culture
may assume that the playwright was isolated from society and culture
and thus wrote her plays as a solitary exercise. In fact, during Hrotsvit’s
lifetime the abbey at Gandersheim was a center of wealth and learning
where secular canonesses, like the dramatist, retained both their wealth
and mobility. Moreover, as David Wiles notes, Hrotsvit was distin-
guished among the noble women with whom she lived by her literary
reputation. Her writing was so well regarded that she was commis-
sioned to write the official biography of the emperor.6 As these details
suggest, Gandersheim was not a cloister that prevented Hrotsvit from
experiencing the dynamic culture of her day, but the platform from
which she engaged with it. While the claim that Hrotsvit’s plays were
staged during her lifetime is conjectural, if the plays were staged, their
performances could have been inf luential events. Gandersheim was the
nexus for interactions among nobility from throughout the Ottonian
Empire, and Hrotsvit’s privileged placement there provided her a sub-
stantial platform to reach an elite and powerful audience. By engaging
with such details of Hrotsvit’s world, students come to appreciate a very
different idea of the Middle Ages and medieval performance than they
may have expected.
The problem remains, however, that few dramatic anthologies include
Hrotsvit’s work, and those that do continue to promote the notion that
Hrotsvit wrote her dramatic text as an academic exercise. This charac-
terization f lies in the face of international scholarship that has argued
for the performance potential of Hrotsvit’s plays for more than a cen-
tury, as well as the most recent critical studies of the plays and their
performance context.7 For students, the marginalization of Hrotsvit’s
work effectively undermines their reception of the plays. For years I
required students to read one of Hrotsvit’s plays within an introductory-
level theater class and was surprised by the resistance students displayed
toward them. Reading the play aloud in class seemed to help, but when
I asked students to characterize the play, I learned that the few who
admitted enjoying it still saw it as “strange,” “different,” and “not bad
for a woman from the Dark Ages.” The idea of the play as “strange” to
novice students is appropriate; its very strangeness might make the play
more interesting to students. My students, however, were not intrigued

by the unique qualities of Hrotsvit’s work, but rather dismissed it as

unsophisticated merely because its style was unfamiliar. Coming from a
performance background I explored different ways to bring the text to
life through various levels of in-class performances. I assigned students
roles to read aloud from their seats; I forced them to stand, text in hand,
and act; I brought in props and performed the roles myself; I scoured
the internet for videos of the play. Nothing seemed to make a differ-
ence. The problem I continued to confront was that student apprecia-
tion of the play seemed determined not by what happened in class, but
by what they read or struggled to read prior to our in-class exploration.
Typically, they reported that reading the play was uninteresting: they
had trouble relating to the subject matter (female martyrdom and salva-
tion); the characters seemed one-dimensional; there was little action;
and though it was characterized as comedy, it was not funny. When I
pushed the students on their assessments, one idea seemed to be univer-
sally accepted and blocked further discussion: the scholarly introduc-
tions to Hrotsvit’s drama suggested that the text was not a “real play.” It
did not matter what I said or how far I pushed our in-class engagement
with the play, my students had already passed judgment. How could I
get my students to engage with the medieval past if they dismissed it?
How could I convince them that there was more to Hrotsvit’s drama
than they perceived in their first readings? The answer lay in the very
essence of my discipline: performance. My students needed to engage
with the play not as literature, but as performance material. Focusing on
the performance potential of the drama inverted the traditional process
by which students encountered the medieval text and allowed them to
engage with it in a more complex and nuanced way.

Performance-Based Pedagogy
Performance-based pedagogy requires instructor and students to consider
the text as part of a dynamic and collaborative creative project culmi-
nating in a real or imagined production.8 Working this way encourages
students to look beyond the text and explore the performance potential
of the play in a way that cannot be accomplished through silent or even
staged reading. The students in this project create a bridge connecting
the needs and truths of their world to the details of the play. This is a
complex process because, as Wiles explains, Hrotsvit’s texts are “skeletal”
and not easily understood by listeners or readers.9 Asking students to read
Hrotsvit’s plays first and then discuss their ideas assumes not only that
they are able to decode the stage action implied in the dialogue, but also

that they can appreciate the performance potential of such texts on the
Reading medieval plays is an especially fraught process because the
texts are, by definition, estranged from the student’s typical reading expe-
rience. The less such texts have in common with those the reader has pre-
viously encountered, the more work is required for students to connect
with them. Beyond the issues of language and references, which may be
foreign to students, instructors must keep in mind the essential difference
between narrative and dramatic texts. Whereas nondramatic texts fulfill
their communicative function on the page, dramatic texts are incomplete
until staged. The objective of performance-based pedagogy is to reduce
the strangeness of the text for the student. Through performance, the
text is transformed from the object of study that is complete on its own
into one part of a layered creative process. Indeed, performance-based
pedagogy demands that the text be removed from its primary status as
the object of study.
I begin my classes by informing my students that what they see on the
page is not the play; it is only part of the play. This is more than pedagogi-
cal theory; it has a historical context. Plays in the Middle Ages were not
necessarily written first and performed later. Wiles describes Hrotsvit’s
texts specifically as “the encoding of a dramatic event.” Having no con-
crete evidence of the process by which Hrotsvit’s manuscript was gen-
erated, Wiles argues that the text may have been created as a result of
performance, rather than a creative exercise within Hrotsvit’s imagina-
tion.11 Shifting the authority of the text allows students to engage more
fully with the text; it allows them to experiment with its possibilities
rather than being limited by its genre.
One way to think about performance-based pedagogy, as an educa-
tor, is in terms of its potential to shift classroom dynamics. Challenging
students to bring texts to life through performance forces them out of
comfortably passive roles and turns the classroom into a collaborative
laboratory where the text is merely a starting point for creative experi-
mentation. Thinking about dramatic texts as components of a creative
exercise, instead of as sacred vessels of knowledge, also frees students
from common anxieties. There are no right and wrong answers when
it comes to creative experimentation, only stronger and weaker choices.
Thus in creating performance students gain agency to commune with the
text, rather than trying to decode it.
To begin working in performance-based pedagogy with students, I
give them assignments that require investigation not only of dialogue,
but also of what motivates that dialogue. For instance, my students

might be asked to figure out what happens before or after a specific

line, even if that action occurs offstage, as a way to understand why a
character says or does something. By deepening their understanding of
the action of the play these sorts of exercises help students to understand
the foundational conceit of dramatic action: that performance exists in a
continual present tense. The play therefore becomes less of a historically
distant artifact and instead is seen as the starting point for a contempo-
rary event. Rather than focusing on the differences between the world
of the playwright and their contemporary circumstances, students who
engage with the text as performance are free to be creative, to probe
the universal themes and ideas in the text, and ultimately to discover for
themselves the differences and similarities between medieval and mod-
ern culture.
Focusing exclusively on the reading of Hrotsvit’s plays ultimately
obstructs students’ basic comprehension of the plays. As Wiles notes, the
texts themselves “show how difficult it is to take Hrosvitha’s texts as
literature, as plays for the reader.”12 The following excerpt illustrates my

There’s the body—she looks asleep.
Her face is not that of a corpse,
Nor are her limbs corrupt—
Use her as you will.
Oh, Drusiana, Drusiana, how I worshipped you!
What tight bonds of love entwined me, deep in my inner-most heart!
Yet you always ran from me.
You always opposed my desires—
Now it lies within my power to force you, to bruise you and injure you
as much as I want.
Watch out! A dread snake! It’s coming after us . . .
Damned Fortunatus, why
Did you lead me into this temptation?
Why did you urge me on to this detestable deed?
See, now you die from the wound of the serpent,
And I die with you from holy fear.13

To the twenty-first-century reader, especially one who has experience

with modern dramatic literature, this text may seem to be incomplete.
There are no stage directions. There is no notation that separates sections

of dialogue as discrete scenes, no description of setting or costuming,

and no indication of how the characters interact. The absence of specific
performance notations is not unique to medieval plays; neither classical
drama nor the early modern tradition includes explicit stage directions.
Through reading or class discussion these lines can be explored for
what they imply about action. One can perceive, for example, that
Fortunatus might point to Drusiana’s corpse when he says, “There is the
body.” Similarly, Callimachus’s speech might be understood to suggest
ongoing action, just as Fortunatus’s interjection, “Watch out!” conveys
the sense that the trajectory of one action interrupts the other. Finally a
reader might infer that a series of actions transpires between Fortunatus’s
line, “It’s coming after us,” and Callimachus’s final reply. It is important
to note, however, that actions suggested by Hrotsvit’s dialogue are not
necessarily simple actions, as the term “stage directions” implies. A stage
direction might be an entrance or a kiss, but, as my students discovered
through performance-based analysis, this scene is comprised of multiple
complex actions. Callimachus not only enters Drusiana’s tomb, he attacks
her. He is then discovered, pursued by the serpent, and dies. This is all
in the course of four short lines. Obviously, the dialogue falls short of
conveying all that needs to transpire.
Exploring this scene as a performance team, it took time for my stu-
dents to discover just how complex that drama could be. In our early
readings many students found the dialogue silly, and although some were
accomplished actors, their inability to connect with Hrotsvit’s dialogue
led them to believe that performing the play in front of their peers would
be humiliating. That fear motivated them not only to make sense of their
lines, but also to devise actions that grew logically out of the dialogue
and worked to underscore the emotional intensity of the scene, which
was the only way to make the play compelling for an audience. To use
theater jargon, they figured out the spine of the scene and the beats of
each character’s intention, which helped them to block the action in a
way that clarified the forward action of the plot. It was only once they put
their own bodies on stage, however, that they realized the importance of
making meaning out of Hrotsvit’s words. From there they created move-
ment and explored the possibility of adding visual and aural layers to the
performance. Their choices at this point came from a place of authority
where they had moved beyond merely trying to make sense of Hrotsvit’s
text and were instead creating new content based on the needs of their
imagined twenty-first-century audience. In progressing this way, my
students were engaging with their culturally and diachronically distant
source in much the same way as Hrotsvit dealt with her similarly distant
Roman source.

Cross-Cultural Encounters: Hrotsvit’s Engagement with

Antiquity/Student Engagement with the Middle Ages
Hrotsvit’s writing is informed by her knowledge of classical texts, partic-
ularly the plays of Terence, which are bawdy comedies that often objec-
tify women.14 In her Introduction to her plays Hrotsvit specifically states
that her dramaturgical goal is to offer alternative entertainment to her
Christian contemporaries who, she claims, “delight in the sweetness of
[Terence’s] style and diction, [but] are stained by learning wicked things
in his depiction.”15 Unlike Terence, Hrotsvit draws her subjects from
Christian legend, and her focus is on the triumph of female protago-
nists. The areas Hrotsvit and Terence have in common are language and
style. While Hrotsvit may condemn Terence’s subject matter, she admires
his ability to engage audiences through comedy. Her project is to do
the same. She therefore adopts what might be seen as an Augustinian
approach to the theatrical method of her pagan counterpart. She appro-
priates what was useful to her promotion of the Christian faith, specifi-
cally stock characters and situational reversals, and ignores those aspects
that do not further her objective.
The idea that a medieval playwright with an articulated Christian
mission would use a pagan model for comic structure was an idea my
students found impossible. They assumed that Christian subject matter
needed to be treated with respect, dignity, and moreover, absolute ear-
nestness, but they knew Roman comedy to be defined by irreverence.
Ultimately, by exploring the medieval plays as performance texts, my
students came to realize that the pagan poet and the medieval drama-
tist could share the same goal, a goal in which they themselves were
invested as they explored Hrotsvit’s plays for their performance poten-
tial. They all need to entertain their audiences. Thus in exploring the
medieval plays, my students not only engaged with the medieval, but
also came to see Hrotsvit’s work as a cross-cultural encounter of its
My class’s understanding of Hrotsvit’s work as a cross-cultural and
cross-temporal encounter with the classical past informed their own per-
formance choices. For example, in attempting to find a focus for their
production, the class rejected the idea that Hrotsvit’s articulated Christian
message was the heart of the play. Christian ideology, they said, was not an
action, and they agreed that even though the play was written long before
the advent of Stanislavsky’s “method,” contemporary audiences would
react better to the play if they could follow its action. Like Hrotsvit her-
self, the students took authority over their creative work, using or reject-
ing details from their medieval source insofar as such details furthered

the project at hand. The students came to the consensus that the through
line (or main goal) of the play, moreover, needed to be immediately rec-
ognizable to contemporary, secular audiences. They argued that the most
powerful action, therefore, was Callimachus’s repentance, the drama of
which could be further heightened in contrast to Fortunatus’s refusal to
repent. Thus, the death scene would need to communicate to the audi-
ence that both characters are sinners. This interpretation transformed
Fortunatus from a two-dimensional servant character (borrowed from
Roman tradition) who responds to Callimachus’s whim, into a pimp sell-
ing Drusiana’s corpse for his own gain. From this choice followed an
interpretation of Callimachus’s lines that seemed unf linchingly modern.
In our production, Callimachus expresses his desire, strips, and begins his
physical assault all at once. At the same time, Fortunatus, who is aware
of the illicitness and danger of his deeds, paces downstage anticipating
These choices raised the stakes of the scene because they were not
based simply on character types. Fortunatus is here no longer a witty
slave or callous accomplice. His action is based on real human need. In
this case, the students decided that he needed money and was willing to
do anything to get it, yet was terrified of getting caught. Callimachus,
similarly, is not a villain, but a man sick with anger and lust. My stu-
dents compared both characters to drug addicts, a quick and immediately
agreed-upon comparison that let me know that the tenth-century char-
acters had become relatable to my twenty-first-century students. The
nuance and skill with which the students analyzed this scene also revealed
that the performance-based process, as well as study of Hrotsvit’s own
cross-cultural engagements, had provided them with deeper levels on
which to engage the drama text.
Another example of how my students focused on heightening the
action of their production to satisfy the needs of a contemporary audi-
ence can be found in Callimachus and Fortunatus’s death scene, which
takes place on stage and involves a snake. Students quickly realized that
attempting to replicate a realistic snake on stage would fail on several
levels. It would be difficult to convince the audience that a toy or pup-
pet was a real snake, and the realization of a “fake” on stage would cause
the audience to drop their suspension of disbelief. Students then debated
whether it was necessary to convince audiences to suspend disbelief at
all. Why not simply use an actor, shadow puppet, or some other rep-
resentation of a snake? Finally, they agreed that in a scene involving
a snake killing two villains, it was crucial to establish a sense of fear
and suspense. The killing need not be realistic, but the intensity of the
scene had to be extremely high. One of the students said her goal was to

have audiences “on the edge of their seats.” I agreed with these ideas on
several levels. One reason is that much of what we know about medi-
eval theater suggests that performances were more presentational than
representational. In addition, it seems clear that one of the aspects of
Terentian dramaturgy that Hrotsvit emulated was his ability to maintain
Inspired by the ideas discussed in class, the production that my stu-
dents staged invested in spectacle both visually and aurally. As mentioned
in the opening of this essay, the production used a ten-foot long dragon,
based on Chinese tradition, in place of the snake denoted in the text. The
scene was also underscored by Nina Simone’s well-known version of the
traditional spiritual, “Sinnerman.” At first, these choices may seem odd,
but that was part of our goal. Although little is known about early medi-
eval staging practices, it is clear that Hrotsvit’s dramas are not informed
by realism. Hrotsvit’s plays are the enactment of holy legends—virgins
are tortured without pain, snakes kill sinners, and God appears to true
believers. To stage such actions realistically undermines their theatrical
potential. Moreover, as Bertolt Brecht demonstrates in theory and more
recent playwrights, like Tony Kushner, demonstrate in their dramas, the-
atrical strangeness is an effective tool for audience engagement.16 When
two worlds collide on stage, audiences, who may otherwise be merely
lulled into simple acceptance by their enjoyment of the enactments, are
compelled to ask why.
In the case of our dragon and music, choices were made, first, based
on the needs of the scene. Hrotsvit’s snake needed to be realized as a real
threat to the sinners, something large and potentially scary. However,
because we also decided that the scene would only be successful if it
built suspense, we wanted something that would capture the audience’s
attention and entertain them for several minutes. The Chinese dragon
succeeded in commanding the attention of the audience in its size and
aesthetic, which were in contrast to the other, less dominant, stage ele-
ments, as well as through its movement from the audience’s sphere onto
the stage. In addition, although unexpected in the staging of a medi-
eval play, the dragon was familiar. Most of our audience immediately
recognized it from Chinese tradition and were delighted by it. The
choreography of its dance culminated in a stylized interpretation of the
sinners’ deaths, which avoided gore while creating a climactic moment
on stage. Like the dragon, Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” was familiar
to audiences; even those who had never heard it recognized it as a
spiritual. The melody and lyrics underscored the action, and the call-
and-response style chorus set the tone of righteous religiosity in the
face of sin. An added bonus to the ten-minute piece was that it allowed

us to extend the length of the scene far beyond the dialogue, thereby
increasing suspense as the action increased in intensity and continued
to a natural end.
There are many paradoxes inherent in theater. Plays are rehearsed, yet
need to seem spontaneous to the audience. They are often repeated, yet
each performance is unique. In the case of our production and the choices
made, there is another relevant paradox. Our spectacular choices were
meant to provide a means through which modern audiences could connect
with the medieval drama, but at the same time these elements had a neces-
sary distancing effect. The plays needed to have recognizable elements so
that audiences would feel comfortable and safe. Our use of music and pup-
pets, among other spectacular elements, communicated universal human
issues like love, faith, and fear. At the same time, because much of the play
is unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable, we needed to establish some
distance between the audience and what they were witnessing on stage.
Aesthetically pleasing and unexpected elements made them want to see
more, but our self-consciously presentational performance style continually
reminded audiences they were watching a play.
The paradox of intimacy and distance between the spectator and
the stage is especially important for medieval plays, like Hrotsvit’s, that
present religious ideology with earnestness. This brings us back to one
of the foundational problems with student reception of Hrotsvit’s plays.
They are didactic, written to be instructive for Christian audiences.
That does not always sit well with modern audiences. As Sue-Ellen
Case explains,

Contemporary staging of a Christian play is complicated to understand.

Shakespeare productions have prepared an audience for the Elizabethan
world of superstition and Greek plays have prepared them for the world of
pagan mythology, but the relative absence of medieval productions leaves
the world of medieval Christianity to be understood by personal opinion
rather than the sense of it as a historical worldview.17

Case concludes that it is impossible for audiences to appreciate Hrotsvit’s

plays precisely because medieval Christendom is foreign to us today, as
we view religion as a personal choice, not a societal norm. Students,
like contemporary audiences, need help entering into this worldview.
Performance-based pedagogy provides that help to both students explor-
ing the texts and the audiences that ultimately witness their interpreta-
tion of the medieval drama.
The one issue I take with Case’s argument is the notion that audi-
ences need to be prepped to appreciate the medieval plays. Audiences

do not need to be experts on a subject to appreciate it. The idea that

audiences need to be deeply educated about a historical era before they
can engage with a performance that comes out of a distant era under-
estimates both the performance tradition and modern audiences. The
point of theatrical production is to provide a connection between the
audience’s world and the world on stage. This is true of modern as well
as historically distant dramas. As my discussion of my students’ projects
demonstrates, Hrotsvit’s work can be the subject of a performance-
based inquiry for students who have no prior experience with medieval
culture or performance history. There is no doubt that Hrotsvit’s texts
are unconventional, but they can also be quite entertaining, even to
the uninitiated. Performance-based exploration of these texts in the
classroom can be just the sort of introduction necessary. When it comes
to presenting such texts, the key is to focus on universal themes behind
the situations and invest in the drama’s inherent theatricality. These
common human struggles allow for students to see the experience of
the medieval characters as more similar to themselves than they previ-
ously appreciated. The process of bringing these characters to life on
stage provides a bridge for students between the medieval world and
their own.
Hrotsvit’s work may be religious and didactic, but it is also com-
edy that was inspired by a tradition that existed more than a thousand
years before her birth. Can we not reach back across the expanse of the
last millennium to try to understand Hrotsvit’s work despite our dif-
ferences? Performing medieval drama is by definition a cross-cultural
encounter. In staging medieval plays, we do more than merely compre-
hend a play; through the embodiment of characters and enactment of
plot, performance brings the play to life. One cannot go so far as to say
that performance makes the past present. Yet, through performance all
participants—from actors to audiences—are forced to confront an idea of
the past within the confines of the present.

In this essay I have tried to articulate a method for teaching medieval
drama that engages students and challenges them to connect with his-
torically distant sources emotionally and kinesthetically as well as intel-
lectually. Too often medieval plays are approached in the classroom
either as literature that can and should be understood on the page or as
history that fulfills its function only through the study of long-extinct
theatrical practices. A particularly effective way to engage with medi-
eval drama, however, is to invest in performance-based inquiries that

bridge temporal and cultural divides. In the case of Hrotsvit’s work, a

more nuanced understanding of her plays requires not only consider-
ation of her classical inspiration and her contemporary context, but also
performance-based inquiries into her universal themes. Such projects
may not promote Hrotsvit in medieval theater history or on professional
stages, but it will surely help students to more fully appreciate the style,
content, and context of her work and of medieval drama in general. The
ultimate goal of performance-based pedagogy is not to make students
accomplished theater practitioners or experts in medieval culture, but
rather to help them approach texts as creative tools. By making medieval
dramatic texts more accessible to students in this way, we can promote
cross-cultural inquiries about medieval culture and about performance
history. Such performance experiments may do more to teach us about
the spirit and function of medieval performance practices than hours of

1. Detestable Madness: The Plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim featured the two
plays, Callimachus and Sapientia, by the medieval poet and was produced
by Briar Cliff University Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa in November
2. The manuscript containing Hrotsvit’s collected plays, among other
examples of the poet’s work, was uncovered in the sixteenth century and
translated into modern Romance languages in the nineteenth century,
with English translations becoming available less than a hundred years
3. Guerrilla Girls Theatre Collective, e-mail message to author, April 12,
4. For a discussion of this, see Sue-Ellen Case, “Re-Viewing Hrotsvit,”
Theatre Journal 35, no. 4 (1983): 533–42. More recently, Elizabeth Ann
Witt explored the purposeful exclusion of Hrotsvit’s work from the canon
of dramatic literature in “Canonizing the Canoness: Anthologizing
Hrotsvit,” College Literature 28, no. 2 (2001): 85–91. By 2001, Hrotsvit’s
play Dulcitius had appeared in the fourth edition of The Bedford Introduction
to Drama edited by Lee A. Jacobus (Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 2001).
Jacobus continues to undermine the inclusion of Hrotsvit’s play in one
of the most popular anthologies of drama by characterizing her work as
“closet drama.” See the most recent edition of Lee A. Jacobus, ed., The
Bedford Introduction to Drama, 7th ed. (Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 2012).
5. Beginning in the 1960s with O. B. Hardison’s Christian Rite and Christian
Drama in the Middle Ages (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), schol-
ars have overwhelmingly rejected the evolutionary narrative of medieval
drama. Yet even specialists continue to dismiss the performance potential

of Hrotsvit’s work. See Eckehard Simon, ed., The Theatre of Medieval

Europe: New Research in Early Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1991). For further discussion of the scholarly arguments that mar-
ginalize Hrotsvit’s work, see Witt, “Canonizing the Canoness.”
6. See David Wiles, “Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim: The Performance of Her
Plays in the Tenth Century,” Theatre History Studies 19 (1999): 133–50.
7. For an overview of the debate, see Edwin H. Zeydel, “Were Hrotsvitha’s
Dramas Performed during Her Lifetime?” Speculum 20, no. 4 (1945):
443–56. More recently arguments for the performance potential of the
plays include Case, “Re-Viewing Hrotsvit,” and Wiles, “Hrotsvitha of
8. Although what I describe here assumes access to a stage, costumes, and
props, there are digital ways to use performance in class that may be
more useful for large or hybrid classroom. One example is an app called
“Puppet Pals.”
9. Wiles, “Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim,” 136.
10. Scholars have recently explored the cognitive process of reading and
concluded that the act of reading itself should be understood as a perfor-
mance. Readers do not perceive the text directly, but must engage with it,
deciphering its signs to reveal connections between actions, images, and
ideas. Without entering into this creative process, the reader cannot enter
into the world of the text, and thus cannot fully understand it. Thus,
performance-based pedagogy does not ask students to do more than they
would normally do by reading a text. It simply deconstructs the internal
cognitive process, transforming those same mental steps into an external
process, aided by collaboration and supported by the creative tools of
theatrical production. See Howard Mancing, “See the Play, Read the
Book,” in Performance and Cognition: Theatre Studies and the Cognitive Turn,
eds. Bruce McConachie and F. Elizabeth Hart (London: Routledge,
2006), 196.
11. Wiles, “Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim,” 136.
12. Ibid., 137.
13. Hrotsvit, The Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim, trans. Larissa Bonfante
(1979; repr., Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1986),
63–63. [“FORTUNATUS. Ecce corpus: nec facies cadaverosa, / nec
membra sunt tabida. / Abutere, ut libet. CALLIMACHUS. O Drusiana,
/ Drusiana / quo affectu cordis te colui / qua sinceritate dilectionis te
visceratenus amplexatus fui, / et tu semper abiesisti, /meis votis con-
tradixisti! / Nunc in mea situm est potestate, / quantislibet iniuriis te
velim lacessere. FORTUNATUS. Atat! Horribilis serpens invadit nos.
CALLIMACHUS. Ei mihi, Fortunate, / cur me decipisti? / cur detesta-
bile / scelus persuasisti? / En, tu morieris serpentis vulnere, / et ego
commorior prae timore.”]
14. For more discussion of Hrotsvit’s work as a feminist response to Terence,
see Case, “Re-Viewing Hrotsvit.”

15. Hrotsvit, The Plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, trans. Katharina M. Wilson

(New York: Garland, 1989), 3.
16. See Fredric Jameson, Brecht and Method (London: Verso, 1998) and James
Fisher, The Theatre of Tony Kushner (London: Routledge, 2002).
17. Case, “Re-Viewing Hrotsvit,” 541.



Tison Pugh

T eaching the cross-cultural encounters of the Middle Ages opens

various avenues for exploration and discovery: the conf licts of yes-
teryear spark contemporary insights, creating possibilities of understand-
ing as students grapple with the ways in which societies have interacted
violently or peacefully, with weapons or through dialogue. As the previ-
ous essays of this volume indicate, cross-cultural encounters ask students
to interpret issues from multiple perspectives, to analyze texts for contra-
dictions and inconsistencies, and to theorize the meaning of cultural self-
constructions vis-à-vis other communities. At the same time, as instructors
of the medieval and early modern past, we must also confront the ways in
which medievalism is itself a cross-cultural encounter through time, one
that merits ref lection for the ways in which it inf luences our teaching,
and thus for the ways in which our teaching inf luences students’ learning.
Too often attempts to discuss cross-cultural encounters in the historical
record devolve into a collective sense of relief that the horrors of the past
have been surpassed in our ostensibly enlightened present. Yes, students
nod sincerely, the many wars of the past founded upon ethnic and reli-
gious intolerance were deplorable, and let us condemn the Crusades from
the comfortable position of being chronologically removed from them.

Such a perspective also, if tacitly, sees contemporary Western culture as

inherently superior to the past during which such hostilities were fos-
tered, with students potentially remaining oblivious to the similarities
of yesterday and today. Time, history, and memory: these are both bar-
riers to and modes of cross-cultural encounter, for they simultaneously
obscure and illuminate the literatures of the past.
From this perspective, it is evident that, although we may envisage
cross-cultural encounters as occurring primarily among various groups
of people during a given era, they also unfold temporally through the
media of these time periods that allow us to communicate with the past.
Modern media can assist instructors in bridging an alien medieval past to
the twenty-first-century present, and it is a particularly relevant means
for collapsing this gulf: we must take our students as we find them,
and many of our students have immersed themselves in the pleasures of
their cell phones, electronic pads, and computers. In Convergence Culture,
Henry Jenkins argues that new media formulations are shifting the ways
that we perceive artistic productions. Consumers of popular culture are
enabled—and potentially empowered—to generate their own sense of
textual meaning, and Jenkins sees the power of this “cultural shift as
consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make con-
nections among dispersed media content.” He also points out that con-
vergence culture involves both “the work—and play—spectators perform
in the new media system.”1 The subtitle of Jenkins’s monograph—Where
Old and New Media Collide—aptly, if unintentionally, captures the chal-
lenges of the medieval classroom, where very old media collide with very
modern students.
Although we are accustomed to think of cross-cultural encounters
as essentially synchronic, in which separate groups of people interact in
their shared historical moment, diachronic relationships with the past
also open opportunities for cross-cultural transversals. Identifying with
a particular culture does not coincide with understanding it: even if one
descended directly from medieval royalty in an unbroken chain of gen-
erations, one would have very little real comprehension of the past and its
people without attempts to overcome the ways in which history obscures
such shared familial foundations. Through new media, however, oppor-
tunities abound to experience, if not to re-create, the past, and thus for
today’s students to ponder their relationship to a past alien to them. As
Fredric Jameson argues of the necessity for dialogic encounters with the

If . . . we decide that Chaucer, say, or a steatopygous Venus . . . are more or

less directly or intuitively accessible to us with our own cultural moyens

du bord—then . . . our apparent “comprehension” of these alien texts must

be haunted by the nagging suspicion that we have all the while remained
locked in our own present . . . Yet if . . . we decide to reverse this initial
stance, and to affirm . . . the radical Difference of the alien object from
ourselves, then . . . we find ourselves separated by the whole density of our
own culture from objects or cultures thus initially defined as Other from

New media and their re-creations of the medieval past offer an oppor-
tunity to bridge this potential divide between today and yesteryear, for
we can assert neither the simple comprehensibility nor the bewildering
incomprehensibility of history but rather accept the inherent challenge of
studying history, which can never be freed from the lens of our contem-
porary cultural moment.
This is not to argue that cross-cultural encounters based on new media
create a utopian space for engaging with cultural difference—one freed
from the specters of colonialism and oppression—but that they engage
with the very question of how the past is produced in the present. As Lisa
Gitelman proposes, “Media are also historical because they are function-
ally integral to a sense of pastness. Not only do people regularly learn
about the past by means of media representations—books, films, and
so on—using media also involves implicit encounters with the past that
produced the representation in question.”3 In this light, modern media
illuminate an understanding of the past, for the very historicity of medi-
eval media—and the presumed ahistoricity of modern media—call into
question the way in which the present views the past.
In the following pages I outline some pedagogical strategies for con-
necting the past to the present through new media, primarily through
a series of mini lessons culminating in a student assignment in which
students must adapt medieval literature into new media by reciting and
staging an excerpt from Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women. The exam-
ples discussed apply to my upper-level undergraduate Chaucer course,
yet I believe that instructors of other authors and eras will find these
strategies—if not the particular texts—adaptable to their courses. The
medieval media of ink and vellum, with the belated invention of the
printing press heralding the Renaissance and early modernity, mark
the Middle Ages as a time before technology for our students, and one of
the more fruitful tasks of the medievalist is first to disabuse them of this
notion. Truly, the list of technological innovations of the Middle Ages is
impressive: mechanical clocks, spectacles, artesian wells, and longbows,
to name merely a few.4 As innovative as medieval technology was, it must
be admitted that it lacks the electronic brio of televisions, computers,

and cell phones. As numerous time-travel movies depict of cross-cultural

encounters with the past, medieval people would find modern technolo-
gies incomprehensible, and conversely, most moderns would find medi-
eval life uncivilized due to its lack of technological conveniences and
Using new media to teach Chaucer’s literature is not without its ped-
agogical risks. Tom Liam Lynch cautions against inadvertently foster-
ing “hook resentment” when using popular culture to teach Chaucer’s
Canterbury Tales, which he defines as a pedagogical tactic in which
instructors “hook students into a unit with lessons about pop culture,
only to abandon the popular for the canonical thereafter.”5 While popu-
lar culture stands as a worthy field of study in its own right, my academic
purview is Chaucer and Middle English literature, and given the con-
straints of a semester, I have only so much time to devote to Chaucer’s
literature, which merits the lion’s share of the class’s attention. Lynch also
suggests that “incorporating pop-cultural media can reveal the best of
students’ intellectual and creative potential, especially when we use the
canonical to explore the popular, rather than using the popular to hook
students.”6 Such a dialogic spirit enlivens the effective use of new media
in medieval classrooms, in which popular culture should be more than a
hook, if still not their primary focus. As Gerald Graff perceptively argues
of the location of these lessons, “The university is itself popular culture,” 7
and convergence culture assists students in bridging the gaps among their
pleasure in popular culture, their studies in the university, and—one
hopes—their nascent interest in medieval literature.
In my predominantly traditional classroom, we spend the majority of
the class on Chaucer and his literature following time-tested pedagogi-
cal strategies: we begin the course studying Middle English so students
can read the Canterbury Tales and other texts as Chaucer wrote them. We
proceed to the General Prologue and then through many of the Canterbury
Tales, discussing their meanings and complexity by putting them in
context with their genres and sources. I vary the syllabus from time to
time, and other texts frequently addressed in the course include Troilus
and Criseyde, Parliament of Fowls, Legend of Good Women, and Chaucer’s
miscellaneous verse. I encourage classroom discussion, and class sessions
often feature extended analysis of key moments in the texts. At the same
time, I am not shy to lecture on Chaucer and related topics, on the prem-
ise that students will benefit from clear explications of alien topics. Essays
are assigned throughout the semester in the belief that, regardless of their
future endeavors, good critical thinking and writing skills will be ben-
eficial to my students’ prospects. In many ways, the activities of my class-
room could be those of twenty, fifty, or one hundred years ago, which

I say without hesitation: good teaching strategies, when used effectively

(as I hope I do), are beyond the dictates of style and fashion, and Chaucer
has proved himself remarkably resilient in attracting new generations of
To complement this overarching pedagogical framework, I incorpo-
rate a series of mini lessons on multimedia Chaucer, focusing respectively
on films, blogs, and rap music, with these lessons culminating as students
create their own convergence-culture adaptations of Chauceriana. In this
manner, multimedia depictions of Chaucer and his literature allow me
to connect the fourteenth-century author to the interests and passions of
artists of more recent vintage. Furthermore, by analyzing Chauceriana in
disparate media, students discern the different possibilities of adaptation
and innovation among them, further attuning them to the challenges of
transforming literary art from its foundations as text into modern media.
In this manner, convergence culture creates methods of crossing tempo-
ral borders between cultures of the past and present.
My mini lessons in multimedia Chaucer begin with cinema, with our
class discussions focusing on the difficulties of filming Chaucer’s cor-
pus, which has not proved amenable to cinematic adaptation. In com-
parison to the many films of the literature of William Shakespeare, Jane
Austen, Charles Dickens, and Henry James, it is surprising that Chaucer
receives such scant attention in this regard. Chaucer’s Middle English
explains this dearth at least partially, as does the episodic nature of the
Canterbury Tales, such that filming one narrative would result in a very
short film while tackling the entire collection would result in a very long
one. Chaucer’s major dream visions—Book of the Duchess, House of Fame,
Parliament of Fowls, and Legend of Good Women—are each a masterpiece
of the form, but the challenges of filming the Man in Black’s melancholy
musings, or of a fantastic journey exploring the poetic tradition, or of
an avian mating ritual that ends inconclusively, or of a series of vignettes
atoning for misogyny appear, to date, to be insurmountable. As a result
of these challenges, Chaucer’s cinematic corpus is small. Michael Powell
and Emeric Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale (1944), a very loose adapta-
tion, relies more on the narrative structure of a pilgrimage than on a
particular Chaucerian tale for its inspiration. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s I rac-
conti di Canterbury (1972) is an uneven cinematic anthology with both
highs (for example, its Hieronymous Bosch-inspired rendering of the
Summoner’s Prologue) and lows (for example, its surprisingly humorless
depictions of the Miller’s Tale and Reeve’s Tale despite their sexual farce).
This is not the full extent of Chauceriana on screen, which includes as
well Jonathan Myerson’s Canterbury Tales (1998), an animated adaptation;
Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale (2001), which depicts Chaucer himself

onscreen, naked and scrappy, as played by Paul Bettany; and a BBC tele-
vision production in 2003 of several tales, including the Miller’s Tale, the
Wife of Bath, and the Sea Captain’s Tale.
Discussing brief scenes of various adaptations allows students to grasp
the complexities of filming Chaucer’s literature and the ways in which
narratives of various media resist adaptation. Typically I show three brief
clips—Myerson’s animated Knight’s Tale, Pasolini’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue
and, for the brave of heart, his Summoner’s Tale and Prologue—to pique dis-
cussion of the narratives themselves and to generate analysis of Chaucer’s
translation into modern media. These three narratives are covered during
the first third of the semester while the class is still predominantly con-
cerned with improving Middle English reading skills and comprehension,
and so they allow our classroom discussion to address narrative adaptation
while complementing our analysis of language and the tales’ layers of
meaning. Students quickly perceive the challenges of filming Chaucer:
the vast scope of the Knight’s Tale can be shortened into a roughly ten-
minute piece of animation, but at a great loss to it themes and complex-
ity. Pasolini’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue turns a monologue into a narrative,
capturing Alison’s hustle-and-bustle and sexual shenanigans but without
a sense of her intellectual depth, for the film does not address her knowl-
edge of the biblical and exegetical traditions that define a woman’s place
in medieval society. Pasolini’s Summoner’s Tale and Prologue succeed in
bringing Chaucer’s fabliau humor to screen, but students readily agree
that the filthy success of his aesthetic vision would likely face commercial
difficulties in profit-driven Hollywood. From viewing these brief clips,
none of which is more than approximately ten minutes long, students
grapple with the vagaries of cinematic adaptation and, in theorizing the
particular challenges in filming Chaucer’s tales, see with increased depth
the sophistication of his literature. Whether through filtering Chaucer’s
narratives into a visual medium that deprives them of their textual com-
plexity or through the inf luence of market forces that inevitably cur-
tail certain types of productions, cinema Chauceriana affords numerous
opportunities to consider the difficulty of translating old media into new
forms, as well as the ways in which these re-creations allow one to con-
sider old narratives anew.
Our next foray into Chaucer and new media focuses on Brantley
Bryant’s Web site Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog (houseoffame.blogspot.
com), a parodic site for which Bryant blogs in the voice of a Chaucer both
medieval and modern, in which the time between yesteryear and today
collapses. As Bryant explains, “The blog was meant to offer a Chaucer
without canonical fame, to blend specialist medieval scholarship with
pop culture, and to throw the medieval and the contemporary together

in a way that would inextricably mesh them.”8 My instructions to stu-

dents for the Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog mini assignment are brief: they
are to read the site for an hour, following hyperlinks as they like while
taking brief notes on their discoveries. They are also asked to document
at least three jokes that they do not understand and to research them.
Given these open instructions, the responses vary according to the stu-
dents’ interests, yet many of them succeed in reaching perceptive conclu-
sions about the blog and its humor. With its litany of amatory wheedlings
phrased in pseudo-Middle English interspersed with modern words and
VPPE” typically spurs a good deal of interest, and students draw stimu-
lating connections between the jokes and Chaucer’s texts. One student
suggests that a particular blandishment—“Ys thy father a makere of
walles? For how else dide he gyve thee svch a tall and fayre forheed?”—
inversely ref lects the satiric depiction of the Prioress’s forehead in the
General Prologue: “But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed; / It was almoost a
spanne brood, I trowe; / For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.”9 Another
student learned of the twelfth-century troubadour Marcabru from the
f lirtatious come-on, “Yf thy beautee were an poeme, yt wolde make
Dante looke lyk Marcabru,” and then found examples of his poems so
that she could compare them to Dante’s. These brief examples capture
the pleasure and purpose of the assignment, for students find themselves
tracking down allusions in the blog to Chaucer’s and other medieval
Even when students fail to recognize all of the registers of an allusion,
they often succeed in pinpointing some. Indeed, Bryant’s polysemous
humor crackles with references to Chaucer’s writings, such as in the fol-
lowing lines from the posting titled “A Long Tyme Agoon in a Shire Far
Away,” which announces a parodic cross-pollination of Chaucer with
Star Wars: “Litel Lowys doth mock me dailye with a fiers mockinge,
sayinge ‘watching yow trye to tweet, Dad, ys lyk watchinge Archbishop
Arundel trye to keepe hys cool a[t] a Lollard support groupe. Helle of
awkward!’ The tweet so short, the crafte so longe to lerne!”10 Because
the “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog” assignment occurs approximately
midway through the semester, this passage is crowded with references
still likely to be obscure to my students: we have not discussed A Treatise
on the Astrolabe, and so they may miss the reference to Chaucer’s son Little
Louis. We have discussed the English heretical movement of Lollardy
because the subject arises in the epilogue of the Man of Law’s Tale, but
we have done so only brief ly, and we have not discussed Archbishop
Arundel’s role in this controversy. The Parliament of Fowls is scheduled
toward the semester’s close, and so they are not likely to perceive the

allusion to its opening line, “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.”11
Nonetheless, if a student researches Lollardy as a result of reading this
passage while not fully comprehending the references to Little Louis and
the Parliament of Fowls, she is nevertheless enriching her understanding
both of Bryant’s and of Chaucer’s humor.
Bryant’s “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog” is not all fun and games,
however, as it contains several links essential for the study of the Middle
Ages, including a section entitled “Howe to Reade My Writinges.” Any
instructor of medieval English literature would find these webpages a
helpful teaching resource, for they include such materials as a basic glos-
sary of Middle English, practical suggestions for learning to read Middle
English, and pronunciation guides. The “Linkes of Sentence and Solaas”
connect readers to such resources as the Early English Text Society, the
TEAMS Middle English Text Series, and the Piers Plowman Electronic
Archive. One could not ask for a better display of the serious work of fun:
the humor of Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog is irrepressible and contagious,
yet by including pedagogical and scholarly links, Bryant makes manifest
the study behind his play. Within the world of blogging, which runs
the gamut from the inarticulate to the eloquent, from the insipid to the
inspiring, Bryant models the necessity of knowing one’s subject and one’s
voice to blog both entertainingly and informatively. Many of our stu-
dents blog in their everyday lives, but often in the mode of a daily jour-
nal on display to the world. They may not yet have considered fully the
rhetorical structures necessary for their postings to capture their insights.
Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, an exemplary incarnation of this new media
genre, allows them to consider the issue of adaptation but, in contrast to
our analysis of cinema Chauceriana, through this more personal venue,
in which one’s personal voice is essential to success.
Our third venture into multimedia Chaucer concentrates on YouTube
videos of rap artists performing the Canterbury Tales, such as RedYak’s
“Canterbury Tales Rap,” MAS’s “Canterbury Tales Prologue Rap in Middle
English,” Mike Taylor’s “The Canterbury Tales Rap (General Prologue),”
and Baba Brinkman’s The Rap Canterbury Tales.12 Both the Canterbury
Tales and rap are forms of poetic and rhythmic play with language, and
so it is intriguing to consider the ways in which their different artistic
milieus nonetheless create points of intersection. The brief instructions
for this mini lesson are as follows:

“Rap” Canterbury Tales: There are a surprising number of rap versions of

the Canterbury Tales. Why? View two or more YouTube videos of rapping
Chaucer, and consider how the performer creates his or her unique ver-
sion of Chaucer’s texts. Write at least 500 words describing how Chaucer’s

poetry shifts as a result of these rappers’ adaptations. (FYI: Of Chaucerian

rappers, Baba Brinkman appears to be the most acclaimed.)

Generally speaking, students agree that these raps are mildly entertain-
ing, and the artists succeed in their premise that Chaucer’s metered verse
transitions naturally to rap rhythms. The pleasure of the anachronism—
in which fourteenth-century verse is reconceived to a hip-hop beat—
attests to the transhistorical allure of poetry set to music.
While these videos entertain with their mixture of text and music,
most of these Chaucerian rappers paid scant attention to the visual com-
ponent of their performances, and so their videos are visually drab.
RedYak features three performers rapping the first 27 lines of the General
Prologue in Middle English, as they mug for the camera and dance against
the backdrop of a graffiti-painted skatepark. Mike Taylor raps the first 42
lines of the General Prologue to a mellow beat, but the visuals are spare:
a line of white text transcribing the General Prologue above its transla-
tion. MAS’s video includes the text of the General Prologue printed with
static images of vegetation, birds, and Canterbury Cathedral, and it closes
humorously with the phrase “Worde to youre Modor” apparently com-
ing from Chaucer’s mouth. Explaining the purpose of his rap Canterbury
Tales, MAS writes, “I was tired of wistful poetic recitations that torture
students when the Canterbury Tales were written to be entertaining.”13
MAS’s simple acknowledgment of the pleasures of the Canterbury Tales
and his desire to share them with others through rapping testify to the
pleasures of translating Chaucer into new media forms, and, thus, of
crossing the temporal divide to enjoy a cross-cultural encounter with
the past.
Among the rarefied field of Chaucerian rappers, Baba Brinkman
reigns as the unquestioned superstar. He has released an audio recording
of his Rap Canterbury Tales, several YouTube videos, and a book featur-
ing Chaucer’s texts and his facing-page rap translations, which includes as
well an introduction that discusses his reasons for rapping Chaucer and his
view of his artistic accomplishments. Brinkman declares of his Chaucerian
endeavors: “As an interpretation, this book presents ideas and methods that
will be and should be debated, but my intention has always been to follow
the spirit of Chaucer’s poetry, rather than the letter of any single historical
text.”14 In his analysis of Brinkman’s Rap Canterbury Tales, Peter Beidler
documents several ways in which the rapper mistranslates Chaucer’s
narratives before conceding the essential similarity of Brinkman’s and
Chaucer’s poetic missions: “Why should I criticize a writer for retelling a
story his own way? After all, we don’t criticize Chaucer for simplifying his
source for the Knight’s Tale, which he shortened to about a quarter of the

length of Boccaccio’s more leisurely Teseida.”15 Indeed, Brinkman’s raps

capture the tone, the themes, and many other elements of Chaucer’s texts,
updating yet respecting the sexual farce of the Miller’s Tale and the dark
moral of the Pardoner’s Tale, among others.
Similar to those of his rapping peers, the YouTube videos of Baba
Brinkman disappoint. Most of them simply depict him performing before
a crowd. Even worse, the videos for “Rhyme Renaissance” and “Dead
Poets,” which were posted by “lift oner,” are single still shots of the
album cover of his Rap Canterbury Tales—Chaucer wearing sunglasses—
and so they are hardly videos at all.16 The best Brinkman video, posted
by the artist himself, is “Pardoner’s Tale,” in which Erik Brinkman has
illustrated a series of black-and-white vignettes from Chaucer’s story,
over which the camera glides while focusing on various details. With
these rap versions of the Canterbury Tales, both Brinkman’s and others’,
the artists focus on the acoustic aesthetics of rap while overlooking the
visual presentation of their performances. Students readily recognize that
rap is a spoken medium, yet they also expect a certain degree of show-
manship in videos. These rapping Chaucerians prove their musical point
of Chaucer’s adaptability to rap, as they also point to the challenges of
convergence culture, which demands sufficient proficiency with a wide
range of media forms to present one’s performance successfully.
These mini lessons in multimedia Chaucer culminate in a recital
assignment, in which the students must adapt and perform through the
modes of convergence culture an excerpt from Chaucer’s Legend of Good
Women. Foremost, the selection of the Legend of Good Women recognizes
the pedagogical utility of its format and structure: its numerous short nar-
ratives are of an appropriate length for the assignment. Because Chaucer
adapted these texts from classical legends, students can also productively
consider how he edited and reconstructed old narratives as they embark
on a similar artistic and critical endeavor. The directions of the assign-
ment explain:

Learning to read and speak in Middle English is a unique challenge, but

one that greatly enhances the experience of Chaucer’s literature. In groups
of four to six students, you will prepare an approximately 150–200 line
adaptation, recitation, and convergence-culture performance of a selection
from Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women. The members of each group will
help one another to learn the correct pronunciation of Middle English in
consultation with the professor. Recitations will be graded for correctness
of pronunciation, comprehension of the text, and creativity in perfor-
mance. Dramatizations, including digitally filmed skits, puppet shows,
and live theatrical presentations, are encouraged.

From class discussions of cinema Chauceriana, students have examined

and theorized the difficulties of filming Chaucer; from the Geoffrey
Chaucer Hath a Blog assignment, they have analyzed the play and study
necessary to impersonate Chaucer and his fictions; and from the rap
Canterbury Tales discussions, they have considered the inherent musical-
ity of poetry and the disappointment when visual media skimp on their
visual presentation of narrative. Because these mini lessons are scheduled
over the course of the semester, our Chaucer class enjoys ample oppor-
tunities to discuss issues of adaptation before students are challenged to
undertake these endeavors on their own.
This convergence-culture assignment requires students to speak
Middle English f luently, and to help them achieve this objective I also
include the following instructions:

Each member of the group should photocopy the group’s assigned passage
on a magnified setting. In the margins and over words, make notes about
how to pronounce each of the words. Then, meet and practice reading
the passage. If you disagree over how to pronounce a word, consult with
the professor. Also, determine how you will present your Legend. You do
not need to recite the passage from beginning to end; rather, determine
how you could dramatize the Legend to perform it for the class. Also, each
member of the group must speak a proportionate amount of the dialogue,
even if this entails sharing roles.

I require the groups to turn in their scripts approximately a month

before their performances are scheduled, in order to ensure that they
pay adequate attention to their pronunciation of Middle English. In the
past, enthusiasm for staging a scene has taken precedence over reciting
Chaucer’s poetry in Middle English; by requiring the scripts early, this
potential problem is alleviated.
Students’ convergence-culture recitals reveal differing levels of media
and literary f luency, yet they each display an understanding of the chal-
lenges of adapting Chaucer into new media. Some of the weaker per-
formances at times wade too deeply in pop-cultural waters, alluding to
so many contemporary programs and characters that their relevance to
Chaucer is lost. One such performance jumped from the Avengers comics
and movies to Puff the Magic Dragon to Game of Thrones to Star Trek, all
while ostensibly retelling a classical legend. The best performances, such
as a puppet show of Chaucer’s Legend of Lucrece, complete with opening
credits and blooper reel, or a digitally filmed skit of Chaucer’s Legend of
Dido featuring a f lash mob celebrating the lovers before their affair’s igno-
minious end, allow students the freedom of their creativity within the

form of Chaucer’s text, with its inherent malleability inspiring a deeper

understanding both of his text and of modern media. What links these
various performances is the sense that students must take responsibility
for studying Middle English, medieval culture, and Chaucer’s literature if
they are to succeed in their efforts to illuminate his poetry through con-
vergence culture. Not coincidentally, the convergence culture examples
we have examined over the semester include both stronger and weaker
adaptations, and so they must learn from these previous attempts to trans-
late Chaucer into new media if they are to succeed in their efforts.
I have incorporated recital assignments in my Chaucer classes since my
early years as a teacher, and they have improved immeasurably since then.
Part of the fault for the lackluster performances of the early years was mine:
I gave vague instructions, and students gave uninspired performances. Now
that I build discussions of Chaucer and convergence culture throughout the
course, the students are better prepared to comprehend and to overcome
the challenges of performing Chaucer, of reaching back into an alien his-
tory to create a modern artwork, while they are also better aware of the
pleasures to be found in adaptation as well. And while I am pleased by
the utility of modern media in the Chaucer classroom, at the same time
I wonder if convergence culture really marks a true shift in the realm of
literature, narrative, adaptation, and pleasure: Is Brantley Bryant’s Geoffrey
Chaucer Hath a Blog Web site or Baba Brinkman’s Rap Canterbury Tales so
different from Chaucer’s own decision to rewrite Boccaccio, Petrarch, and
the ballade tradition in his own voice? On the whole, I think not. Like
Chaucer before them, Bryant, Brinkman, and others found inspiration in
the work of another and adapted this artistry to their own sensibilities. It is
certainly true that media have changed over the centuries, yet the process
of inspiration and artistic creation appears remarkably similar.
At the heart of these exercises and assignments on the new media
Middle Ages is a simple idea, yet one that I believe pays innumerable
dividends in enhancing students’ enjoyment of Chaucer’s literature: by
exposing students to filmmakers, bloggers, rappers, and even other stu-
dents who join in the post-medieval perpetuation of Chaucer’s legacy, I
enlist these artists to my mission of demonstrating Chaucer’s continued
appeal and eternal talent. I model my enthusiasm for Chaucer’s literature
in every class through detailed attention to the pleasures of his texts and
their inspiring richness and complexity. Enlisting new media artists to
this endeavor amply proves that Chaucer’s literature has survived more
than six hundred years since his death because many have found the chal-
lenges of this cross-cultural endeavor to be profoundly worth the effort
of learning Middle English.

1. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
(New York: New York University Press, 2006), 3.
2. Fredric Jameson, “Marxism and Historicism,” New Literary History 11
(1979): 41–73, at 43–4. Jameson’s words in “Marxism and Historicism,”
as well as their implications for teaching, have profoundly affected my
thinking about history.
3. Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 5.
4. For studies of medieval technology, see Lynn White, Medieval Technology
and Social Change (London: Oxford University Press, 1962); Kelly DeVries,
Medieval Military Technology (Ontario: Broadview, 1992); Elspeth Whitney,
Medieval Science and Technology (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004); and
Scott Lightsey, Manmade Marvels in Medieval Culture and Literature (New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). An excellent mini lesson on medieval
technology entails first asking students if they can name any inventions
of the Middle Ages and then providing a brief overview of the period’s
innovations. This strategy also provides a compelling introduction to
Chaucer’s A Treatise on the Astrolabe and his interest in contemporary
5. Tom Liam Lynch, “Illuminating Chaucer through Poetry, Manuscript
Illuminations, and a Critical Rap Album,” English Journal 96, no. 6
(2007): 43–9, at 44.
6. Tom Liam Lynch, “Illuminating Chaucer,” 48.
7. Gerald Graff, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the
Mind (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 21.
8. Brantley Bryant, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Medieval Studies and New
Media (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 20.
9. For the blog entry, see “To Kalamazoo with Love,” Geoffrey Chaucer Hath
a Blog, May 2, 2006. The General Prologue passage is taken from Geoffrey
Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston:
Houghton Miff lin, 1987), 26, lines 154–6.
10. Posted April 15, 2012.
11. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, 385, line 1.
12. YouTube videos of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales currently include the fol-
lowing: “Canterbury Tales Rap,” 1:52, posted by “veryredyak,” January 9,
2008,; “Canterbury
Tales Prologue Rap in Middle English,” 1:41, posted by “MAS,” September
14, 2008,; “The
Canterbury Tales Rap (General Prologue),” 3:28, posted by “Mike Taylor,”
December 8, 2010,;
“The Pardoner’s Tale (Animated),” 7:18, posted by “Baba Brinkman,”
August 6, 2007,;
“Baba Brinkman—The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” 12:01, posted by “lift oner,”

March 20, 2012,;

and “Baba Brinkman: The Knight’s Tale,” 19:01, posted by “Tiger,” April
28, 2012,
13. “Canterbury Tales Prologue Rap in Middle English,” posted by
14. Baba Brinkman, The Rap Canterbury Tales (Vancouver, British Columbia:
Talonbooks, 2006), 57.
15. Peter Beidler, “It’s Miller Time! Baba Brinkman’s Rap Adaptation of the
Miller’s Tale,” LATCH 3 (2010): 134–50, at 141.
16. “Baba Brinkman—Rhyme Renaissance,” 7:56,
com/watch?v=mPCEgFVffsM, and “Baba Brinkman—Dead Poets,”
5.22,, both posted
March 20, 2012 by “lift oner.”

F or ten of the 12 essays, contributors felt that it was relevant to pro-

vide further reading in addition to those works cited in individual

Chapter 1: Andalusian Iberias: From Spanish to

Iberian Literature
Primary Texts
Alemán, Mateo. Guzmán de Alfarache. Edited by José María Micó. Madrid:
Cátedra, 2003.
Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. Amar después de la muerte. Madrid: Cátedra, 2008.
Christians and Moors in Spain. Edited by Colin Smith (vols. 1–2) and Charles
Melville and Ahmad Ubaydli (vol. 3). Warminster, Wiltshire: Aris & Phillips,
Constable, Olivia Remie, ed. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and
Jewish Sources. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.
Contreras, Alonso de. Vida de capitán Alonso de Contreras. Edited by Fernando
Reigosa. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1967.
Corral, Pedro de. La crónica del Rey don Rodrigo: Crónica sarracina. Edited by James
Donald Fogelquist. Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 2001.
Cowans, Jon, ed. Early Modern Spain: A Documentary History. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
El Libro de las luces. Leyenda aljamiada sobre la genealogía de Mahoma. Edited by M.
L. Lugo Acevedo. Madrid: SIAL Ediciones, 2008.
Hagerty, Miguel José. Los libros plúmbeos del Sacromonte. Granada: Comares,
Ḥ ar ī z ī, Judah al-. The Book of Ta ḥkemoni: Jewish Tales from Medieval Spain.
Translated by David Simha Segal. London: Littman Library of Jewish
Civilization, 2001.
Homza, Lu Ann, ed. The Spanish Inquisition, 1478–1614: An Anthology of Sources.
Translated by Lu Ann Homza. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2006.
Ibn Hazm de Córdoba. El collar de la paloma. Edited by Emilio García Gómez.
Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2010.
230 F U RT H E R R E A DI NG

Ibn Tufayl. Hayy Ibn Yaqzān: A Philosophical Tale. Translated by Lenn Evan
Goodman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Luna, Miguel de. La verdadera historia del Rey don Rodrigo (Granada, 1592).
Facsimile edition. Valladolid: Ed. Maxtor, 2003.
Makkarí, Ahmed Ibn Mohammed al-. The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in
Spain. 2 vols. Translated and edited by Pascual de Gayangos. London: Printed
for the Oriental translation fund [etc.], 1840–1843.
Poema de Yúçuf. Edited by Ramón Menéndez Pidal. Granada: University of
Granada, 1952.
Sosa, Antonio de. An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam: Antonio de Sosa’s Topography
of Algiers (1612). Edited by María Antonia Garcés. Translated by Diana de
Armas Wilson. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011.
Talavera, Hernando de. Católica impugnación. Introduction by Stefania Pastore.
Cordoba: Editorial Almuzara, 2012.
Turmeda, Anselm and Miguel de Epalza. Fray Anselm Turmeda (’Abdall āh
al-Tar ȳum ān) y su polémica islamo-cristiana: edición, traducción y estudio de la Tuḥ fa.
Madrid: Libros Hiperión, 1994.
Viaje de Turquía (La odisea de Pedro de Urdemalas). Edited by Fernando García
Salinero. Madrid: Cátedra, 2010.

Secondary Sources
Dechter, Jonathan P. Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian
Europe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
Dodds, Jerrilynn D., María Rosa Menocal, and Abigail Krasner Balbale. The Arts
of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture. New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
Gerber, Jane S. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York:
The Free Press, 1992.
Harvey, L. P. Islamic Spain, 1250–1500. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
———. Muslims in Spain, 1500–1614. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature. Edited by David T. Gies. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Chapter 2. Using Feminist Pedagogy to Explore

Connectivity in the Medieval Mediterranean
Primary Texts
La Belle Hélène de Constantinople: Chanson de geste du XIVe siècle. Edited by Claude
Roussel. Geneva: Droz, 1995.
Le Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur: roman pré-courtois du milieu du XIIe siècle. Edited
by Jean Luc Leclanche. Paris: H. Champion, 1986.
F U RT H E R R E A DI NG 231

Floriant et Florete. Edited by Richard Trachsler and Annie Coombs. Paris:

Champion, 2003.
Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. British Rencesvals Publications. Edited by Glyn
Burgess. Edinburgh: Société Rencesvals British Branch, 1998.
Le Roman de Floriant et Florete, Ou le chevalier qui la nef maine. Edited by Claude
M. L. Levy. Ottawa: Editions de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1983.
Le Roman de Thèbes: Édition du Manuscrit S (Londres, Brit. Libr., Add. 34114).
Edited by Francine Mora-Lebrun. Paris: Livre de poche, 1995.
Li Romanz d’Athis et Prophilias. Edited by Alfons Hilka. 2 vols. Dresden: Gedruckt
für die Gesellschaft für romanische Literatur, 1912–1916.

Secondary Sources
Ciggaar, Krijna Nelly. Western Travellers to Constantinople: The West and Byzantium,
962–1204: Cultural and Political Relations. The Medieval Mediterranean 10.
Leiden and New York: Brill, 1996.
Ciggaar, Krijna Nelly and Herman G. B. Teule, eds. East and West in the Crusader States:
Context, Contacts, Confrontations II: Acta of the Congress Held at Hernen Castle in May
1997. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 92. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1999.
Gaunt, Simon. “Can the Middle Ages Be Postcolonial?” Comparative Literature
61, no. 2 (2009): 160–76.
Geary, Patrick. The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2003.
Hahn, Thomas. “The Difference the Middle Ages Makes: Color and Race
before the Modern World.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31,
no. 1 (2001): 1–36.
Harding, Sandra. “Introduction: Standpoint Theory as a Site of Political,
Philosophic, and Scientific Debate.” In The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader,
edited by Sandra Harding, 1–15. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.
Ingham, Patricia Clare and Michelle R. Warren, eds. Postcolonial Moves: Medieval
through Modern. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Kinoshita, Sharon. Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference in Old French
Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
———. “Medieval Mediterranean Literature.” PMLA 124, no. 2 (2009): 600–8.
Laiou, Angeliki E. “Byzantine Trade with Christians and Muslims and the
Crusades.” In The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim
World, edited by Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy P. Mottahedeh, 157–96.
Washington, DC.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2001.
Lampert-Weissig, Lisa. Medieval Literature and Postcolonial Studies. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, 2010.
Miller, William. The Latins in the Levant: A History of Frankish Greece (1204–
1566). London: J. Murray, 1908.
Moore, Megan. Exchanges in Exoticism: Cross-Cultural Marriage and the Making
of the Mediterranean in Old French Romance. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 2014.
232 F U RT H E R R E A DI NG

Narayan, Uma. “The Project of Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives from a

Non-Western Feminist.” In The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader, edited by
Sandra Harding, 213–4. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.
Ruddick, Sara. “Maternal Thinking as a Feminist Standpoint.” In The Feminist
Standpoint Theory Reader, edited by Sandra Harding, 161–6. New York and
London: Routledge, 2004.
Wolff, Robert Lee, ed. Studies in the Latin Empire of Constantinople. London:
Variorum, 1976.

Chapter 3: A Journey through the Silk Road in a

Cosmopolitan Classroom
Primary Texts
Ibn Batuta. Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325–1354. Translated by H. A. R. Gibb.
London: G. Routledge & Sons, 1929.
———. The Travels of Ibn Battuta in the Near East, Asia and Africa. Translated by
Samuel Lee. New York: Cosimo, 2009.
———. Voyages D’Ibn Batoutah: Text Arabe, accompagné d’une traduction. Translated
by Charles Defremery and Beniamino Raffaello Sanguinetti. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Marco Polo. The Travels of Marco Polo: The Complete Yule-Cordier Edition: Including
the Unabridged Third Edition (1903) of Henry Yule’s Annotated Translation, As
Revised by Henri Cordier, Together with Cordier’s Later Volume of Notes and
Addenda (1920). New York: Dover Publications, 1993.
———. The Travels of Marco Polo. With 25 Illus. in Full Color from a Fourteenth-
Century MS. in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. New York: Orion Press; dis-
tributed by Crown Publishers, 1958.
———. The Travels of Marco Polo: The Illustrated Editon. Translated by Henry Yule
and revised by Henri Cordier. General editor Morris Rossabi. New York:
Sterling Signature, 2012.
Swartz, Wendy, Robert Ford Campany, Yang Lu, and Jessey Jiun-Chyi Choo.
Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook. New York: Columbia University Press,
Xuan Zang. The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions. Translated by
Bian Ji and Rongxi Li. BDK English Tripitaka Translation Series 79. Berkeley:
Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996.
———. Mémoires sur les contrées occidentales. Translated by Stanislas Julien. Voyages
des pèlerins bouddhistes, vols. 2–3. Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1857.

Secondary Sources
Akbari, Suzanne Conklin, Amilcare A. Iannucci, and John Tulk. Marco Polo and
the Encounter of East and West. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Bailey, Gauvin A. Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, 1542–1773.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
F U RT H E R R E A DI NG 233

Disney, Anthony and Emily Booth, eds. Vasco da Gama and the Linking of Europe
and Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Dunn, Ross E. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century.
1986. Revised edition with a new preface and updated bibliography. Berkeley
and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012.
Elverskog, Johan. Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road. Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.
Jaffer, Amin, and Anna Jackson, eds. Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe
1500–1800. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2004.
Komroff, Manuel, ed. The Travels of Marco Polo. Edited and revised from William
Marsden’s translation. New York: Modern Library, 2001.
Kuz ʹmina, E. E., and Victor H. Mair. The Prehistory of the Silk Road. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
Larner, John. Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1999.
O’Doherty, Marianne. The Indies and the Medieval West. Thought, Report,
Imagination. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013.
Rossabi, Morris. Voyager from Xanadu: Rabban Sauma and the First Journey from
China to the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
Silk Road Project, Inc. and Asia Society. Silk Road Encounters: A Global Education
Initiative of the Silk Road Project. Providence, RI: Silk Road Project, 2001.
Zhang, Longxi. Marco Polo, Chinese Cultural Identity, and an Alternative Model
of East-West Encounter. Hong Kong: David C. Lam Institute for East-West
Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2004.

Chapter 4: Teaching English Travel Writing from

1500 to the Present
Primary Texts
Bohls, Elizabeth A. and Ian Duncan, editor. Travel Writing, 1700–1830: An
Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Secondary Sources
Fuller, Mary C. Voyages in Print: English Travel to America, 1576–1624. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Hadfield, Andrew. Literature, Travel, and Colonial Writing in the English Renaissance,
1545–1625. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Hulme, Peter. Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492–1797.
New York: Routledge, 1992.
Hulme, Peter and Tim Youngs, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing.
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Kamps, Ivo and Jyotsna G. Singh, eds. Travel Knowledge: European “Discoveries” in
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Kermode, Lloyd Edward. Aliens and Englishness in Elizabethan Drama. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2009.
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The Tempest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
Matar, Nabil. Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery. New York:
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Pettegree, Jane. Foreign and Native on the English Stage, 1588–1611: Metaphor and
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Saenger, Michael. Shakespeare and the French Borders of English. New York: Palgrave
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Thompson, Carl. Travel Writing. The New Critical Idiom. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Youngs, Tim. The Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2013.
Yungblut, Laura Hunt. Strangers Settled Here Amongst Us: Policies, Perceptions and
the Presence of Aliens in Elizabethan England. London: Routledge, 1996.

Chapter 5: Stranger than Fiction: Early Modern Travel

Narratives and the Antiracist Classroom
Secondary Sources
Betteridge, Thomas. Borders and Travellers in Early Modern Europe. Burlington,
VT: Ashgate, 2007.
Brentjes, Sonja. Travellers from Europe in the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, 16th–
17th Centuries: Seeking, Transforming, Discarding Knowledge. Burlington, VT:
Ashgate/Variorum, 2010.
Campbell, Mary. The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing,
400–1600. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.
Carey, Daniel and Claire Jowitt. “Early Modern Travel Writing: Varieties,
Transitions, Horizons.” Studies in Travel Writing 13, no. 2 (2009): 95–192.
Carey, Daniel and Claire Jowitt, eds. Richard Hakluyt and Travel Writing in Early Modern
Europe. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate & The Hakluyt Society, 2012.
Charry, Brinda, and Gitanjali Shahani, eds. Emissaries in Early Modern Literature
and Culture: Mediation, Transmission, Traffic, 1550–1700. Burlington, VT:
Ashgate, 2008.
Di Biase, Carmine, ed. Travel and Translation in the Early Modern Period. Approaches
to Translation Studies 26. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006.
Earle, T. F. and K. J. P. Lowe, eds. Black Africans in Renaissance Europe. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Feerick, Jean. Strangers in Blood: Relocating Race in the Renaissance. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2010.
Fisher, Michael Herbert, ed. Visions of Mughal India: An Anthology of European
Travel Writing. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007.
Fleming, James Dougal, ed. The Invention of Discovery, 1500–1700. Burlington,
VT: Ashgate, 2011.
F U RT H E R R E A DI NG 235

Frisch, Andrea. The Invention of the Eyewitness: Witnessing and Testimony in Early
Modern France. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Department of
Romance Languages, 2004.
Fuller, Mary. Voyages in Print: English Travel to America, 1576–1624. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Games, Alison. The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion,
1560–1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Grafton, Anthony. New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of
Discovery. Cambridge, MA: Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.
Hayden, Judy and Nabil Matar, eds. Through the Eyes of the Beholder: The Holy
Land 1517–1714. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2012.
Johnson, Carina L. Cultural Hierarchy in Sixteenth-Century Europe: The Ottomans
and Mexicans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
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Kuehn, Julia and Paul Smethurst, eds. Travel Writing, Form, and Empire: The Poetics
and Politics of Mobility. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
Mancall, Peter, ed. Bringing the World to Early Modern Europe: Travel Accounts and
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Matar, Nabil. Europe through Arab Eyes, 1578–1727. New York: Columbia
University Press, 2009.
Ord, Melanie. Travel and Experience in Early Modern English Literature. New York:
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Schleck, Julia. “Forming Knowledge: Natural Philosophy and English Travel
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1750, edited by Judy A. Hayden, 53–69. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012.
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Selwood, Jacob. Diversity and Difference in Early Modern London. Farnham,
England: Ashgate, 2010.
Singh, Jyotsna, ed. A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and
Culture in the Era of Expansion. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Chapter 6: Different Shakespeares: Thinking Globally in an

Early Modern Literature Course
Secondary Sources
Charry, Brinda and Gitanjali Shahani, eds. Emissaries in Early Modern Literature
and Culture: Mediation, Transmission, Traffic, 1550–1700. Aldershot: Ashgate,
Howard, Jean, ed. Forum on “English Cosmopolitanism in the Early Modern
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Ogborn, Miles. Global Lives: Britain and the World, 1550–1800. Cambridge:
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Smith, Alan K. Creating a World Economy: Merchant Capital, Colonialism, and World
Trade, 1400–1825. Boulder: Westview Press, 1991.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System. New York: Academic Press,
Wolf, Eric R. Europe and the People without History. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1982.

Chapter 9: Encountering Saracens in Italian Chivalric

Epic and Folk Performance Traditions
Secondary Sources
Allaire, Gloria. “Portrayal of Muslims in Andrea da Barberino’s Guerrino il
Meschino.” In Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam: A Book of Essays, edited by
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Buonanno, Michael. “The Palermitano Epic: Dialogism and the Inscription of
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Cavallo, Jo Ann. Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato: An Ethics of Desire. Rutherford, NJ:
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———. The Romance Epics of Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso: From Public Duty to Private
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Vitullo, Juliann M. The Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy. Gainesville: University

Press of Florida, 2000.

Chapter 10: Beowulf as Hero of Empire

Primary Texts
Carlyle, Thomas. Past and Present. 1843. Edited by Chris R. Vanden Bossche and
Joel J. Brattin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
Earle, John. Anglo-Saxon Literature. London: Society for Promoting Christian
Knowledge, 1884.
Fitchett, W. H. Deeds That Won the Empire: Historic Battle Scenes. 1897. Reprint,
London: John Murray, 1921.
Thomson, C. L. The Adventures of Beowulf. London: Horace Marshall and Son, 1899.

Secondary Sources
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
Brantlinger, Patrick. Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism (1830–
1914). Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.
Bratton, J. S. “Heroines of Empire: British Imperialism and the Reproduction of
Femininity in Girls’ Fiction, 1900–1930.” In A Necessary Fantasy?: The Heroic
Figure in Children’s Popular Culture, edited by Dudley Jones and Tony Watkins,
207–29. New York: Garland, 2000.
Bush, Julia. Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power. London: Leicester University
Press, 2000.
Chakravarty, Gautam. The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Chandler, Alice. A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in 19th-Century English
Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.
Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
Girouard, Mark. The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman. New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
Harlow, Barbara and Mia Carter, eds. Archives of Empire. 2 vols. Durham: Duke
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Jusová, Iveta. The New Woman and the Empire. Columbus: The Ohio State
University Press, 2005.
Kitzan, Laurence. Victorian Writers and the Image of Empire: The Rose-Colored
Vision. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Kutzer, M. Daphne. Empire’s Children: Empire and Imperialism in Classic British
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Levine, Philippa. The British Empire: Sunrise to Sunset. Harlow, England: Pearson, 2007.
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238 F U RT H E R R E A DI NG

Magennis, Hugh. Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions in English Verse. Cambridge:

D. S. Brewer, 2011.
Midgley, Clare, ed. Gender and Imperialism. Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1998.
Nayar, Pramod K. English Writing and India, 1600–1920: Colonizing Aesthetics.
London: Routledge, 2008.
Norcia, Megan A. X Marks the Spot: Women Writers Map the Empire for British
Children, 1790–1895. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010.
Perkin, Joan. Victorian Women. New York: New York University Press, 1995.
First published in 1993 by J. Murray.
Porter, Bernard. The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society, and Culture in
Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Randall, Don. Kipling’s Imperial Boy: Adolescence and Cultural Hybridity. New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.
Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1993.
Saunders, Clare Broome. Women Writers and Nineteenth-Century Medievalism.
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Shippey, T. A. and Andreas Haarder, eds. Beowulf: The Critical Heritage. 1998.
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Singh, Rashna B. Goodly Is Our Heritage: Children’s Literature, Empire, and the
Certitude of Character. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.
Steinbach, Susie. Women in England (1760–1914): A Social History. New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Tinker, Chauncey B. The Translations of Beowulf: A Critical Bibliography. New
York: Henry Holt, 1903.
Wawn, Andrew. The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in
Nineteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000.

Chapter 11: Resurrecting Callimachus: Pop Music,

Puppets, and the Necessity of Performance in
Teaching Medieval Drama
Primary Texts
Hrotsvit. The Dramas of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. Edited by Katharina M. Wilson.
Saskatoon: Peregrina, 1985.
———. Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: A Florilegium of Her Works. Edited by Katharina
M. Wilson. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 1998.
Petroff, Elizabeth, ed. Medieval Women’s Visionary Literature. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1986.

Secondary Sources
Augoustakis, Antony. “Hrotsvit of Gandersheim Christianizes Terence.” In A
Companion to Terence, edited by Antony Augoustakis and Ariana Traill, 397–
409. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
F U RT H E R R E A DI NG 239

Brown, Phyllis R., Katharina M. Wilson, and Linda A. McMillin, eds. Hrotsvit
of Gandersheim: Contexts, Identities, Affinities, and Performances. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2004.
Brown, Phyllis R., and Stephen L. Wailes, eds. A Companion to Hrotsvit of
Gandersheim ( fl. 960): Contextual and Interpretive Approaches. Brill’s Companions
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Carlson, Marla. “Impassive Bodies: Hrotsvit Stages Martyrdom.” Theatre Journal
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Classen, Albrecht. “Sex on the Stage (and in the Library) of an Early Medieval
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———. “Performance, Orality, and Communication in Medieval Women
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Belgium: Brepols, 2011.
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Davis, Janet B. “Hrotsvit, Strong Voice of Gandersheim.” Advances in the History
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Much, Rita, ed. Women on the Canadian Stage: The Legacy of Hrotsvit. Winnepeg:
Blizzard, 1992.
Nelson, Charles. “Hrotsvit von Gandersheim. Madwoman in the Abbey.” In
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Wailes, Stephen L. Spirituality and Politics in the Works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim.
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———. “Beyond Virginity: Flesh and Spirit in the Plays of Hrotsvit of
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———. Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: The Ethics of Authorial Stance. Leiden: E. J. Brill,
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240 F U RT H E R R E A DI NG

Chapter 12: Teaching Chaucer through Convergence

Culture: The New Media Middle Ages as
Cross-Cultural Encounter
Secondary Sources
Ashton, Gail, and Louise Sylvester, eds. Teaching Chaucer. New York: Palgrave
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Blandeau, Agnès. Pasolini, Chaucer, and Boccaccio: Two Medieval Texts and Their
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Burt, Richard. Medieval and Early Modern Film and Media. Basingstoke: Palgrave
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Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong, and Thomas Keenan, eds. New Media, Old Media: A
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Ellis, Steven. Chaucer at Large: The Poet in the Modern Imagination. Minneapolis:
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Everett, Anna, and John T. Caldwell, eds. New Media: Theories of Practices and
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on Film. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
Flew, Terry. New Media: An Introduction. South Melbourne: Oxford University
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NC: McFarland, 2013.
Foys, Martin K. Virtually Anglo-Saxon: Old Media, New Media, and Early Medieval
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Levinson, Paul. New New Media. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2009.
Pate, Alexis. In the Heart of the Beat: The Poetry of Rap. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow,
Trigg, Stephanie. Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

9/11 and post-9/11 contexts Sub-Saharan, 127, 167

and contemporary politics of West, 127
religion, 22 See also stereotypes
and portrayals of Muslims, 149 Africanus, Leo, 74, 75, 128
and Sicilian puppet theatre, 165–6 Aladdin (Disney), 150, 154
and Silk Road, 54, 62–6 Alfonsi, Petrus, 23–4
and teaching film, 142 Alfonso X, 32
and War on Terror, 56, 67, 132 Alfred the Great, 186
See also United States aljamiado, 26
Almohads, 27
abandoning mastery, 5, 10, 11, 43, 47–8 Almoravids, 27
and medieval drama, 203 Amazons, 75, 110–11
and medieval Mediterranean, 10, Americas, 3, 6, 11, 72
37–8, 42, 43, 45, 47–8 indigenous peoples of the, 81, 91–2
and Silk Road, 10, 54–5, 66–7 An Lushan Rebellion, 56
and travel narratives, 11 anachronisms, 13, 23, 28, 188, 223
See also student responses Anderson, Benedict, 163
Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, 128 Anglo-Saxons, 180–1, 183, 186, 192–3
El Abencerraje, 24, 28 antiracism, 11, 87–101
Act of Supremacy (1534), 73 See also race; racism
aesthetic standards in art, 10, 54, Appiah, Kwame, 55, 58, 63–4, 66
57–61 Aptheker, Herbert, 94
non-Western, 57–62 Aquinas, Thomas, 23–4, 29–30
and religious beliefs, 58, 61–2 The Arabian Nights (text), 12, 23, 29,
Western, 58, 60–1, 65 41, 46, 47, 141–50, 153–4,
See also student responses 165–6
Afghanistan, 56, 65, 66, 67 and race, 141–3, 147–9
War in (2001–present), 56 and religious conversion, 149
Africa, 131, 134, 148, 165, 168, 188 origins and transmission of, 141,
Egypt (Egyptian), 75, 107, 113, 143 143, 144–5
Eritrea, 150–2 textual traditions, 143, 144–5
Ethiopia, 144, 150–1 translations, 141, 143, 145, 147–8
Kenya, 131 See also Pasolini
North, 6, 26, 9, 127, 141, 143, 150, Arabic, 2, 4, 9, 21, 23, 26–31, 63, 143,
159, 160, 166 145, 150
242 IN DEX

Arab(s), 53, 61, 62, 128, 144, 145, and performance-based

148–9, 151, 164, 167, 171 pedagogy, 199–200, 202–9,
Aramaic, 25 210–11
archives. See museums and archives on Obama, 131
Ariosto, Ludovico, 12, 159, 161, on Othello, 128
167–8, 171–2, 173, 174 on Pasolini, 154
See also Orlando Furioso and pedagogy of connectivity, 41
Aristotle, 29 on race, 142
Armada Portrait, 108 on Shakespeare, 104, 105–6, 107,
art and artworks, 40, 88 112–14
book illumination, 62 on stereotypes in O (film), 126, 128
ceramics, 57, 61 See also student responses
and Francis Drake, 105 Aucassin et Nicolette, 41
glass, 54, 58, 61 Austin, Alfred, 186
glazed earthenware, 57 Averroës, 23–4, 29–30, 33
ivory, 58
liturgical/devotional, 25, 57, 58, Bacon, Francis, 73
61–2, 64–6 Baden-Powell, Baden (Boy Scouts
porcelain, 60–1, 63 founder), 187, 188, 190
sculpture, 58, 65 Bamiyan Buddhas, 64–6
and silk, 54, 60 barbarism, 75, 76, 81–2, 115, 168
and Silk Road, 10, 53–67 See also binary oppositions
textiles, 57, 61 (see also jacket Barberino, Andrea da, 161, 236
(Tibetan)) Bauman, Richard, 163, 164
woodcuts, 32, 83 Behn, Aphra, 130
See also Bamiyan Buddhas; Bichitr; Beidler, Peter, 223
San Vitale Church Beowulf, 6–7, 13, 179–85, 190–1, 192,
Arundel, Thomas (Archbishop of 193
Canterbury), 221 Beowulf, 13, 179, 181–5, 189
Ascham, Roger, 73, 81 and British imperialism, 179–80,
Asia, 28, 61, 127–8, 131–2, 143, 159, 185–93
160, 172 dragon, 181, 183, 184–5
on Andalusian Iberias, 25, 32, 26, Ecgtheow, 184
31–2 Edwardian adaptation and
Central Asia, 10, 53–67 translation, 13, 179–80, 181,
post-9/11, 62–6 185–93
and United States, 66, 67 f lyting, 182–3, 185, 188
See also Silk Road assignments Grendel, 181, 182, 183, 184, 191
on Chaucer and heroism, 179–85, 189
and new media, 14, 217, King Hrothgar, 181, 183–4
221–6 and self-fashioning, 13, 180, 185,
conceptual maps, 40 190
on early modern travel narratives, Unferth, 182–3
72, 82, 92–3 See also student responses
and creative writing, 11, 83 Berbers, 9–10, 21
on medieval drama, 203–4 Bettany, Paul, 220
IN DEX 243

Bhardwaj, Vishal, 112 Brotton, Jerry, 106–7, 108, 114

Bichitr, 93 Brusantino, Francesco, 161
binary oppositions, 7, 105, 106, 111, Bryant, Brantley, 220–2, 226, 227
112, 113, 115, 125, 179–83, Buddhism, 53
185, 186, 191–2, 193 See also Bamiyan Buddhas
See also barbarism; monstrosity Burmese War, 191
Black Legend, 91–2 Burton, Jonathan, 94–5, 109
Blackfriars hall, 104, 110–11 Burton, Richard, 143, 145, 147–8,
black(s) and blackness, 87–8, 95–6 149–50, 154
and The Arabian Nights, 147–50, 154 Byzantine culture
and enlightened exceptionalism, See Digenis Akritas
134 Byzantine Empire, 42
and Il fiore delle mille e una notte, and Silk Road, 53, 54, 55, 57, 61
150–2, 154
and O (film), 125–6 Cairo Genizah, 41, 42
and Obama, 123–4, 130–4 Calderón de la Barca, Pedro, 24
and Islam, 124, 132 El príncipe constante, 24, 28
and Othello, 125, 128–30, 134 Calila y Dimna, 29
religious and protest rhetoric of, Callimachus, 13–14, 199–200, 204–7
133 and modern theatre adaptations,
and Sicilian puppet theatre, 164, 199–200, 206–9
166–8, 171 cannibals, 111, 114
students of color, 88, 98 Canterbury Tales, 218
See also binary oppositions; somatic adaptation of
difference; stereotypes; in blogs, 220–2, 225, 226
white(s) and whiteness in film and TV, 219–20, 225
Boccaccio, Giovanni, 226 in rap, 222–4, 225, 226
Decameron, 144, 145–6 General Prologue, 218, 221, 223
Teseida, 223–4 Knight’s Tale, 220, 223–4
Boiardo, Matteo Maria, 160, 161, 165, Man of Law’s Tale, 221
169, 170, 172, 173 Miller’s Tale, 219–20, 224
See also Orlando Innamorato Pardoner’s Tale, 224
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, 89, 95 and Pasolini, 144, 145–6
Borg, Carmel, 40 Reeve’s Tale, 219
Bosch, Hieronymus, 219 Summoner’s Prologue and Tale,
Boswell, James, 83 219–20
Braudel, Fernand, 46–7 Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, 220
Brazil, 55, 76, 81, 82 captivity, 32, 93, 110, 111
Brecht, Bertolt, 208 Case, Sue-Ellen, 209
Brinkman, Baba, 223–4, 226 Castro, Américo, 22
British imperialism, 6–7, 13, 185–93 Catalan, 21, 31, 42
and medievalism, 13, 179, 185–8 Catholicism
See also Our Empire Story; Stories of and early modern travel narratives,
Beowulf 73, 81
Brooklyn College (CUNY), 53, and missionaries, 58
54–5, 57, 66, 67 and Pasolini, 144
244 IN DEX

Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), 65 and aesthetic standards in art, 62

Cervantes, Miguel de, 164 and The Arabian Nights, 141, 149
Césaire, Aimé, 103, 112, 113 and Beowulf, 13, 180–3, 193
challenges (pedagogical) and binary oppositions, 105, 113
of creative writing, 83 and conversion, 24, 25–6, 42, 91,
of discussing race, 12 149
of early modern English, 84 and Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, 14,
of humanities, 5 200, 206, 209
of Italian epics, 160–1 and Il fiore delle mille e una notte, 150
of medieval drama, 200–2 and Italian epic, 159, 160–1
of Middle English, 224 and Obama, 123–4, 132
of multilingual course materials, 30 and Othello, 124, 128–30
of new media, 219, 224–5 and relations with Islam/Muslims,
of Othello, 124 8, 9–10, 12, 26, 27–8, 30–1,
of performing Chaucer, 226 94, 108
in Silk Road course, 10, 54, 57–8, and relations with Judaism/Jews,
62, 66–7 26, 27–8
of studying cross-cultural and Sicilian puppet theatre, 164,
encounters, 2, 9 165–6, 172–3
institutional, 5, 10, 66–7 Cieco da Ferrara, 161
in survey courses on travel Cimarrons, 94
narratives, 71, 72–3, 77, 78 civility. See binary oppositions
Chanson de Roland, 39, 160 class (social), 6, 48, 60, 74, 94, 96,
Charlemagne, 160, 165, 170 105, 108, 153, 154, 186
Chaucer, Geoffrey Coca-Cola, 1
Book of the Duchess, 219 codicology, 25, 39, 45
House of Fame, 219 colonialism, 72, 82, 92, 110, 217
Legend of Good Women, 217, 218, and Italy, 150
219, 224–6 in Virginia, 94
Parliament of Fowls, 218, 219, 221–2 See also British imperialism;
Treatise on the Astrolabe, 221 Shakespeare
Troilus and Criseyde, 218 Columbia University, 159, 162
See also Canterbury Tales; student Columbus, Christopher, 91, 171
responses comedias, 24
Chaucer, Louis, 221–2 Complutense Polyglot Bible, 25
China, 10, 53, 57, 61, 62, 66 El Conde Lucanor, 29
Chang’an (now Xi’an), 54, 55, 56 Condon, Frankie, 96
Kucha (now Xinjiang), 55, 56 conf lict
chivalry, 160, 169 conquest
and British imperialism, 13, 179, and British imperialism, 186–7
186–8, 190, 192 and Islam, 61, 64
Chrétien de Troyes and Ottoman Empire, 127
Cligès, 39, 41, 44, 45, 48 cross-cultural, 6, 8
Erec et Enide, 44 in early modern travel narratives,
Christendom, 75, 160, 165, 209 76, 82
Christianity/Christians in Italian epic, 160, 165–6
IN DEX 245

in medieval and/or early modern East India Company, 107, 128, 186
Mediterranean, 23, 31, 127, Elizabeth I, 73, 93, 128
135 England (early modern), 73–4, 75–6,
in Sicilian puppet theatre, 165–6 80–1, 87–8, 105, 106, 108,
Constantinople, 3, 46, 78, 79 109, 126
Contini, Gianfranco, 145 Enlightenment, 22–3, 58
convergence culture, 14, 216, 218, ethnography, 11, 62, 88–9, 90, 91,
219, 224–6 92–3, 94
See also methodologies; new media Europe/European, 2–3, 5, 6, 60, 62,
conversos, 24, 25, 28 76, 80–2, 124, 145, 181, 185
convivencia, 22 art house cinema, 143, 146
Cordoba, 22, 26, 27, 29 and “black-face,” 151
Coryat, Thomas, 76, 83 and colonial ideology, 185–7
cosmopolitanism, 10, 53–4, 55, 58, early modern, 55, 72, 73, 75, 88–9,
63–4, 66–7, 106, 114 91–7, 106, 110–12, 114, 127,
Cottino-Jones, Marga, 155 129, 160, 161
Crane, Diana, 170 medieval, 22, 55, 147, 159
Crusades, 40, 45, 160, 187, 215 exempla, 24, 25, 28–9
First Crusade, 161
See also Richard I Feerik, Jean, 112
Cultural Intelligence Center (CIC), 1–2 feminism, 37, 105
cultural quotient (CQ), 1 See also methodologies
Cuticchio, Mimmo, 164, 165–6 film
Cyprus, 127 See Canterbury Tales; Pasolini;
Czarnowus, Anna, 186 Othello
Fletcher, John, 11, 103, 110, 112, 113
Dallam, Thomas, 93 The Sea Voyage, 103, 107, 110–12,
Dallington, Robert, 75–6, 81 113
Daniel, Arnaut, 28 Floire et Blancheflor, 41
Dante, 6, 221 Flood, Finbarr Barry, 65
de Sousa, Geraldo U., 74–5, 76 Floriant et Florete, 41
demographics Florio, John, 81
of students Foley, John, 163, 164
in Silk Road course, 54–5 Foltz, Richard, 56, 57, 64
at York University, 77 France, 22
in Toronto, 77 early modern, 73, 74, 76, 82
of U.S. professors, 97–8 medieval, 41, 45–6
Denmark, 22, 181 French, 2, 4, 130
Diamond Jubilee, 186 early modern, 75, 76, 82, 92, 109,
Digby, Kenelm Henry, 186 110, 111, 114
Digenis Akritas, 10, 38, 41, 42–6, 48 medieval, 6, 10, 38–9, 41, 43, 44,
and borderlands, 42–4, 46–7, 48 45, 46, 192
See also student responses
Drake, Francis, 104, 105, 108, 114 Galland, Antoine, 141, 145
Drake, St. Clair, 148–9 Gandhara Art, 65, 67
Dunhuang Cave Temples, 57 Geertz, Clifford, 163
246 IN DEX

gender, 6, 11, 77, 90, 220 Herzfeld, Michael, 46

in The Arabian Nights, 147–9 hooks, bell, 40
in early modern contexts, 92, 94, Hopkirk, Peter, 62
96, 104, 105, 108–9, 104, 112, Horden, Peregrine, 46–7
113, 114 Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, 6, 13–14,
and Hrotsvit, 200–1, 206 199–211
and medieval Mediterranean, 41, and abbey at Gandersheim, 201
42–3, 44, 46, 47, 48 adaptation of Terence, 200
and O, 126 misrepresentations of, 201
and Othello, 125 plays
and Pasolini, 152, 153, 154 performance history of, 200
See also binary oppositions; scholarly response to, 200–1
feminism See also Callimachus; student
Ghaznavid Sultanate, 65 responses; texts and resources
Ghurid Sultanate, 65 human. See binary oppositions
Gillies, John, 108–9 humanities
Giroux, Henry, 142 debates about the, 3–4, 32
Gitelman, Lisa, 217 relevance of the, 2–4
globalization (past and/or present), 1–2, American Academy of Arts and
4–5, 6, 8, 11, 40, 53, 64, 67, 72, Sciences report on, 4–5
103, 104–5, 106, 107–9, 112, Harvard University report on,
114, 152, 159–60, 163, 170, 172 4–5, 8
See also trade Hurtado de Mendoza, Diego, 28, 31
Golden, Peter B., 57 Hussein, Saddam, 132
Goldenberg, David, 147–8 Hyecho (704–787 CE), 54
Graff, Gerald, 110, 218
Granada, 22 Iberia, 3, 5–6, 9–10, 21–32
Greenblatt, Stephen, 105–6, 109, 112 See also student responses
Ibero-Romance, 21
Habib, Imtiaz, 88 Ibn al-Râfi’ Ra’suh, 21
Haddawy, Husain, 143, 145 Ibn ar-Rundî, 27
Hadfield, Andrew, 93 Ibn Ezra, Moses, 27–8
Halevi, Judah, 27–8 Ibn Gabirol, Solomon, 27
Hall, Catherine, 179–80, 185–6 Ibn Quzmân, 27
Hall, Kim F., 109 Ibn Zaidûn, 27
Hardy, P. A., 154 iconoclasm, 65, 159, 167
Harris, Jonathan Gil, 112–13, 115 identity
Hastings, Warren (Governor General and The Arabian Nights, 12
of Bengal), 189, 190–1 and feminism, 40, 47
Heber, Reginald (Anglican Bishop of and Italy, 13
Calcutta), 192 medieval, 44–6, 47, 48
Hedin, Sven, 63 notions of, 3
Helgeland, Brian, 219–20 and Obama, 123–4, 130–5
Henry VIII, 73 and Othello, 125, 127–30
heresy, 28 and race, 95
See also Lollardy religious, 30
IN DEX 247

and Shakespeare, 103, 105, 108, Kabul, 192

114, 115–16 Kamps, Ivo, 93
and travel narratives, 11, 72, 75, Kaplan, Lindsay, 109
80–1 Kashmir, 63
See also binary oppositions kharja, 21, 30
India, 141 Kiley, Kevin, 4
and Orlando Innamorato, 169–70 King, Catherine, 62
and puppet theatre, 172 King, Martin Luther, Jr., 90
and Shakespeare, 103 King Arthur, 44, 160, 187
and Silk Road, 10, 53, 58, 63, 65 King’s Men (acting company), 110
See also British imperialism; Knolles, Richard, 127
Marshall Krakauer, Jon, 72
Indonesia, 64, 131–2 Kroll, Norma, 183–4
Inquisition (Spanish), 22 Kushner, Tony, 208
Iran, 66, 144, 166
Iraq, 55, 56, 67, 132 Las Casas, Bartolomé de, 75, 82, 91–2
Islam/Muslims Laswari (Battle of ), 192
medieval, 30, 42, 147–9 Latin, 21, 29, 200
and Obama, 12, 123–4, 131–3 Leggio, Giuseppe, 161
and Othello, 12, 124, 127–9 Levant Company, 107
and Silk Road, 54, 55–6, 62, 64–7 Lewis, Bernard, 148, 154
and travel narratives, 93 liberalism
and Zakat, 64 classical, 89
See also Christianity/Christians; Western, 124, 135
United States Libya, 167, 171
Italy, 12–13, 73, 79, 114, 152, 164 liminality, 45–6, 125, 180, 181–2,
and colonialism, 150 184, 185
See also Pasolini Lithgow, William, 74, 78, 80
Iyer, Pico, 72 Liu, Xinru, 57
Livro del cavallero Cifar, 47
jacket (Tibetan), 58–60 Llull, Ramon, 23–4
Jahangir (Mughal Emperor), 93, 108 Lo Dico, Giusto, 160–1, 162
Jamaica, 87, 179–80 Lollardy, 221–2
Morant Bay Rebellion (1865), London, 87, 88, 104, 110
185–6 London School of Economics, 1
Jameson, Frederic, 216–17 Loomba, Ania, 94–5, 103, 106,
Japan, 53, 57, 61 108–9, 113, 114, 115
Jenkins, Henry, 216 Lynch, Tom Liam, 218
Jim Crow laws, 89
Jonson, Ben, 95–6 Madonna (pop icon), 170
Judaism/Jews, 55, 106, 112, 141, 147 Maggio epico, 159, 172
in Iberia, 9–10, 22, 24, 26–9 Mahabharata, 172
See also Christianity/Christians; Mahdi, Muhsin, 143, 145
stereotypes Maimonides, Moses, 23–4, 25, 29–30
Judeo-Arabic, 25, 26 maqâmât, 23, 29
Justinian I, 54, 61 Maratha Empire, 192
248 IN DEX

Marcabru, 28, 221 periodization, 22–3

Marlowe, Christopher, 112 philology, 26–7
marriage postcolonial, 48
cross-cultural, 41, 46, 94, 129 Receptionalist, 164, 172
Marshall, H. E., 179–80, 181, 188–93 resistant reading, 104, 112–13, 114,
Our Empire Story (1908), 13, 179, 115, 187
189–92 See also abandoning mastery
Stories of Beowulf (1908), 13, 179, Middle East/Middle Eastern, 26, 29,
188–9, 193 129, 141, 143, 148, 150, 159,
See also student responses 160
Mary I, 73 Mishnah, 25
Massinger, Philip, 103, 110, 113 misogyny, 37, 90, 114, 148–9, 219
The Sea Voyage, 103, 107, 110–12, monstrosity, 79, 80, 111
113 and Beowulf, 179, 180, 181–5
Matar, Nabil, 149, 150 and Stories of Beowulf, 191–2
material culture, 24–6, 57–62 See also binary oppositions
Matthews, Chris, 134 Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley, 83
Mauceri, Alfredo and Daniel, 169–72 Montaigne, Michel de, 75, 80, 81,
Mayo, Peter, 40 82, 110
McCormick, John, 163 Montrose, Louis, 104, 107, 109, 114,
McCrory, Patrick (R-North 115
Carolina), 4 Moor(s), 30, 75, 109, 112, 115, 167
Mediterranean See also Othello
early modern, 3, 5–6, 10, 22, 94, Morgan, Edward, 94
126–7 Moriscos, 21, 26, 28, 30–1, 32
medieval, 3, 5–6, 10, 22, 37–48 Moryson, Fynes, 76–7, 78–80
and nobility, 38, 44, 45, 46 Mughal Empire, 90, 93, 108
Mehmet III, 93 museums and archives
Menocal, María Rosa, 22 for Andalusian Iberias, 25, 31
Merli, Franco, 151–2 for Sicilian puppet theatre, 161–2,
methodologies 163
art history, 10, 53–67 for Silk Road, 58, 61
connectivity, 37–8, 40–2, 46–7 muwashsha ḥât, 23, 30, 31
convergence culture, 14, 216, 218– Myerson, Jonathan, 219, 220
19, 224–6
cosmopolitanism, 54, 63–4, 67 Napoli, Alessandro, 162–3
feminist, 37–40, 42 Neely, Carol Thomas, 109
folklorist, 12–13, 163–4 Nelson, Tim Blake, 125
formalist, 24, 27–9 new media, 14, 215–26
historicist, 22, 27–8, 55–6, 63 and hook resentment, 218
interdisciplinary, 21–2, 66–7, 160, See also Chaucer; Canterbury Tales;
163, 172 convergence culture
new historicist, 24 New York City, 55, 61, 64, 66, 161,
performance-based, 13–14, 112, 162
164, 172, 199–200, 202–7, Nirenberg, David, 23
209–11 Nundakumar (Brahman), 190–1
IN DEX 249

Obama, Barack, 7, 12, 123–4, 130–5 Il fiore delle mille e una notte (film),
and alleged Islamic faith of, 131–2 12, 141–4, 146–7, 150–4
and “birther” theory, 131–2 and Marxism, 144, 154
“More Perfect Union” speech, Trilogy of Life (films), 144, 146–7, 154
133–4 views of the past, 144, 146–7
presidential campaigns of, 7, 131, views on capitalism, 147, 151,
133 152–3, 154
See also student responses views on cinema, 152–3
Occidentalism, 99 See also assignments; colonialism;
Ong, Walter J., 163 student responses
Opera dei pupi. See puppet theater Pasqualino, Antonio, 161–2, 163
(Sicilian) passing, 43–4
Orientalism, 143, 151, 152 Pastore, Stefania, 23
Orlando Furioso, 12–13, 159, 161, 162, Pedagogy. See assignments;
166–8 challenges; methodologies;
adaptation in puppet theatre, texts and resources; student
166–71 responses
Cathay (China), 160, 165, 169, 170 Pellegrini, Ines, 151–2
See also student responses Pelliot, Paul, 63
Orlando Innamorato, 160, 161, 165, 170 performance-based pedagogy
adaptation in puppet theatre, 165, See methodologies
169 Perry, Rick (R-Texas), 4
Othello, 7, 12, 96, 103, 109, 125–30, Persia/Persians, 53, 54, 61, 108
134 Petrarch, 226
and colonial identity, 129–30 Phillips, Caryl, 72
and film adaptations, 112, 125–6 philosophy, 9, 21, 23–4, 29–30, 114
and Obama, 7, 12, 124, 130–1, piracy, 94, 110–11
134–5 Pitré, Giuseppe, 163
and Ottoman Empire, 12, 126–7, Polo, Marco, 41, 47–8
129 Portuguese, 21, 107, 110–11, 170
See also student responses Powell, Michael, 219
Ottoman Empire, 76–7, 78–9, 100 presentism, 147
and Othello, 12, 109, 126–7, 129 Pressburger, Emeric, 219
Ottonian Empire, 201 El príncipe constante, 24, 28
Oxford English Dictionary, 77, 80, progress
107, 128 in historical narratives, 7, 80, 90,
124, 130, 135
pagan(s), 6, 13, 105, 113, 168, 171, See also stereotypes
180–3, 193, 200, 206, 209 Provençal, 21, 23, 24, 28, 31
See also binary oppositions Przhevalsky, Nikolai Mikhaylovich, 63
Pakistan, 55, 64, 66 Ptolemais (now in Lybia), 167, 171
Palace of Constantine, 78–9 Pulci, Luigi, 160, 161
paleography, 24–5, 29 puppet theater (Sicilian), 12–13,
Paris, 45–6 159–74
Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 12, 141–54 and adaptation of Italian epic,
controversial politics, 144 12–13, 165–72
250 IN DEX

puppet theater (Sicilian)—Continued resistance narratives, 11, 104, 112–13

Compagnia dei Pupari Vaccaro- Richard I, 187, 192
Mauceri (Siracusa, Sicily), 169 Richmond, Velma Bourgeois, 179
and current events, 164–6, 171, 172–3 Roberts, Lewis, 107–8, 114
history and criticism of, 161, 163 Roe, Sir Thomas, 93
Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli Rojas, Fernando de, 24
(Catania, Sicily), 162–3, 166 La Celestina, 24, 28, 31
in New York City, 161, 162 Roman Civilization, 6, 13–14, 26, 58,
See also methodologies; student 61, 115, 200, 206, 207
responses Le Roman d’Alexandre, 41
puppets, 207, 224, 225 Roman Empire, 4, 78, 115
Chinese dragon, 199, 208 romance (genre), 10, 12–13, 24, 41,
and costumes, 162, 163, 166–7, 171 42–5, 159, 161, 162, 191
and Orlando Furioso, 166–7 Romance (languages), 9, 21, 26, 28,
and somatic difference, 164, 166, 30, 41
167–71 Rome, 45, 144
See also puppet theater (Sicilian) Romney, Mitt, 130, 132
Purcell, Nicholas, 46–7 Roncesvalle (Battle of ), 160–1
Rossellini, Roberto, 146
qa ṣâ’id, 23 Ruìz, Juan, 29
Qing Empire, 93 El libro del buen amor, 23, 29, 30,
Queen Victoria, 186 41, 42
Qutb Mosque (Delhi), 65 Russia, 62, 66

Rabadan, Muhammad, 28, 30 Safavid Empire, 93

race, 6, 8, 11, 12, 77, 90, 93–4, 96–7, Said, Edward, 151, 152
104, 109, 123–35 Samarkand, 55, 56
See also antiracism; challenges; San Vitale Church (Ravenna, Italy),
racism 54
racism, 11, 77, 80, 87–98, 124, 130, Saracens, 12–13, 127, 160–8
132, 133–4, 143, 188 Sassanian Empire, 57, 60, 61
abstract liberalism, 89 savagery, 82, 94–5, 105–6, 111, 112,
biological, 95–6, 126 186, 188, 192
cultural, 89, 95 See also binary oppositions
minimization of, 89, 90–1, 94, 97 Scott, Rick (R-Florida), 4
naturalization of, 89–90, 91 Sendebar, 23, 29
reverse, 148 Seville, 22
and white ignorance, 89, 91, 93, Shaikh Husain, 93
97, 98 Shakespeare, William, 11–12, 74–5,
See also antiracism; race 78, 81, 87–8, 95–6, 103–16,
Raleigh, Walter, 107 209
Ramayana, 172 Antony and Cleopatra (adaptation),
Reformation (European), 73, 74, 113
80–1 BBC Radio 4 podcast Shakespeare’s
religion, 8, 12, 22, 44, 46, 77, 114, Restless World, 105, 108, 114
125, 128, 147, 173, 209 Merchant of Venice, 103, 107, 109
IN DEX 251

Merry Wives of Windsor, 11, 103, State University of New York at

108–9 Albany, 4
The Tempest, 11, 103, 109–11, 113 Stein, Aurel, 63
Titus Andronicus, 96, 103, 112, 115 stereotypes, 90, 126, 128
See also Othello; student responses about Africa, 80
Sharma, Manish, 184 about binary oppositions, 11–12
Shawqi, 113 about blackness, 124, 125, 126,
Sherman, William, 108 128, 130
shipwreck, 109–10 about Central Asia, 63
See also The Sea Voyage; The about cultural diversity courses, 11
Tempest disciplinary, 8, 11
Shôsôin Treasury ( Japan), 57 about discussing race, 97
Shrewsbury, Carolyn M., 39 about the early modern era, 72,
Silk Road, 10, 53–67 77, 80
and 9/11, 62–6 about genre, 43, 45
scholarship on, 53–4, 62–3 about India, 13
See also student responses; texts and about Islam/Muslims, 64, 132
resources about Jews, 95
Simone, Nina, 199, 208 about medieval France, 41
Singh, Jyotsna, 93, 103, 108, 114, 115 about medieval literature, 43
Siraj-ud Daula (prince of Bengal), about Mediterranean culture, 37,
191–2 45
slaves/slavery about Middle Ages, 7–8, 22, 38,
in the Americas, 72, 74, 91–2, 94, 40, 41, 43, 45
95 and Montaigne, 81–2
in Callimachus, 207 about non-Western cultures, 151
in early modern England, 87–8 about the Spanish, 95
(Zadie?) about white superiority, 93
of Englishmen, 93 Strachey, William, 109, 111
in Oroonoko, 130 student responses
See also Il fiore delle mille e una notte; to abandoning mastery, 42, 43
The Arabian Nights to Andalusian Iberias course, 21,
Smith, Zadie, 87–8, 98 24, 25, 27, 30, 31–2
Sogdian people, 54, 58–9, 63 to Beowulf, 182–5
somatic difference, 8, 90, 95–6, 114, to Chaucer, 220, 221–2, 223–5
123, 130, 131, 147–8 to Decentering Shakespeare course,
South Korea, 53, 61 103–4, 107–9, 111–12, 115
Soyinka, Wole, 113 to Digenis Akritas, 43–5
Spain, 31, 73–4, 78, 91–2, 127, 159, to early modern texts, 75, 76–8, 79,
160 80–1, 83, 88
See also al-Andalus to Hrotsvit, 201–2, 204–7, 209–10
Spanglish, 30 to Marshall, 186–92
Spanish and Virginia Companies, to medieval French literature, 38,
110–11 44–5
Stanislavsky, Constantin, 206 to negative self-definition, 105–6
Star Wars, 221 to Obama, 131–2, 134
252 IN DEX

student responses—Continued Toledo, 21, 22, 29

to Othello, 125–6, 128–30 Tolkien, J. R. R., 183
to Pasolini, 150 Torquemada, Tomás de, 28
to pedagogy of connectivity, 45–6 Toynbee, Arnold, 148
to puppet theatre (Sicilian), 165–6, trade, 128, 164, 170
168, 172 and commercial treatises, 11, 103,
to Silk Road, 55, 56–7, 63, 65–6 107
and 9/11, 66 and early modern England, 11, 104,
and aesthetic standards in art, 105, 107–11, 114
57–62 in medieval Mediterranean, 37–8,
and cosmopolitanism, 63–4 45, 46
and Islam, 64–6 See also Silk Road; slavery
See also assignments; stereotypes transnationalism, 82, 126
Sufi, 93 travel
Sullivan, Shannon, 91, 93–4 of British imperialists, 186
Syria, 42, 129 early modern narratives of, 10–11,
71–84, 87–98, 106, 107–8,
Tajikistan, 56 111, 113
Tang Dynasty (755–763 CE), 54, 56, in medieval Mediterranean, 28, 32,
57, 60 38, 40, 44, 45
Tartars, 76 and Silk Road, 53, 56, 63, 64–5
Tasso, Torquato, 161 of troubadours, 28
The Tempest, 11, 103, 109–11, 113, of women, 94
130 as writers, 74, 77, 105
See also Césaire troubadour(s), 23, 28, 192, 221
Tennyson, Alfred Lord, 186 Tuana, Nancy, 91, 93–4
Terence, 14, 200, 206 Turkey, 42, 55, 64
terrorism, 132, 165 Turks
texts and resources See Ottoman Empire; Uighur Turk
bilingual editions, 31–2 Turner, Victor, 163, 164
drama, 200–1
Early English Books Online Umayyad Caliphate, 148
(EEBO), 88 Unilever, 1
Early English Text Society, 222 United Nations, 66
Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, 220–2 United States, 54
Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, and Afghanistan, 56, 66, 67
222 Constitution of the, 131
Silk Road, 56–7, 62 Department of Justice, 1
TEAMS Middle English Text and Iraq, 56, 67
Series, 222 and postracism, 11, 123, 134–5
travel narratives, 72, 77 and racism, 11, 89, 135
Tian, Sima, 63 and sharî’ah law, 22
Tibet, 57, 58 and War on Terror, 56, 67, 132 (see
Timur, 55 also 9/11)
Timurid Empire, 55 See also Obama
Tod, James, 186 Uzbekistan, 56
IN DEX 253

Valencia, 26 teachers, 97–8

Venice, 127, 128, 129 See also binary oppositions; somatic
Virginia Colony, 94 difference
Vitkus, Daniel, 93 Whitehall wall map, 108
Whitfield, Susan, 56–7, 63
Walker, Alexis, 39 Wiles, David, 201, 202, 203, 204
Wheeler, James Talboys, 186–7, 190–1 Wise, Tim, 131, 133, 134
Wheeler, Sara, 72 Wood, Frances, 57
white(s) and whiteness, 87–8, 89, 91, Wright, Jeremiah A., 133–4
93, 95, 96–7, 114
and The Arabian Nights, 147–9 xenophobia, 64, 108–9, 114, 128, 132,
and Il fiore delle mille e una notte, 172
141–2, 151 Xuanzang (602–664 CE), 53–4, 63
and O, 125
and Obama, 124, 131, 133–4, 135 YouTube, 162, 222–3, 224
and Othello, 124, 125, 128, 129
students, 88, 97–8 Zumthor, Paul, 145, 163