E 360S l 5-Race in the Middle Ages
Instructor: Heng, G
Unique #: 34680
Semester: Spring 2016
Cross-lists: R S 357
Computer Instruction: No
Prerequisite: Nine semester hours of coursework in English or rhetoric and writing.
Description: In medieval literature, difference from the norm can be marked by skin color: unlike a Christian knight or lady in Western Europe, a Moslem or "Saracen" enemy may be depicted as black, while a "good" Saracen who is helpful to Western European knights may be depicted as piebald—black-and-white, spotted, or striped. In romances, when a Saracen converts to Christianity, his skin can change color at baptism, instantly turning dramatically white.
In medieval history, Jewish communities living in Europe were required by canon law, from the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, to identify themselves, along with Moslems, by a distinction in their dress, including the wearing of a badge to mark them off from Christians. In England, Jews were required by law to wear the "badge of shame" from 1218 forth, till their expulsion from the country. Theological and scientific treatises theorized that Jews gave off a special stench, and their bodies could be marked by the possession of a tail or horns, and Jewish men bled like women, uncontrollaby. Jews were also thought to need the blood of Christians, especially children, and especially boys, to sustain themselves, and liked to torture and crucify children, especially boys, in re-enactments of the deicide of Christ.
Literature and history thus suggest that the Middle Ages—like other periods before and after—were intensely interested in issues that we now today identify as "race-related." It is also clear that the concept of "race" in the medieval period is complicated by religion, as well as economic, political, social, military, and other factors that determine questions of race in Europe.
Those of us familiar with cultural and political work on race also know that no theories of race exist as of yet which adequately treat premodern periods like the Middle Ages. With very few (highly controversial and disputed) exceptions, definitions of race have been devised from studies on cultures and societies that existed only during and after the Renaissance.
This course thus constitutes an invitation to explore, with me, the changing patterns, meanings, and uses of racializing discourses in medieval Europe from the 12th through 15th centuries, by looking at some of medieval culture's most prominent texts, legends, and artifacts. We will look at literary romances and epics, travel literature, historical documents, manuscript illuminations, saints' legends, heraldry, genealogy, maps, and whatever else may be useful to us.
We will consider the relationships circulating among "race", gender, sexuality, and heresy, in the Middle Ages; the role of "race" in the formation of medieval-style nations and empires; "race" in the consolidation of Christendom and Christian doctrine; and "race" as the specter of modernity in the Middle Ages. For purposes of comparison, we will also review selected texts originating from outside Europe, in the same medieval centuries.
Simultaneously, we'll study essays and articles written by scholars working with postmedieval periods, and test definitions of "race" established by these scholars against our medieval texts and documents, to see if, and how, established theories of "race" might be revised, augmented, or replaced.
Texts (tentative): Illustrations from The Image of the Black in Western Art, Vol 2; The Vinland Sagas, The King of Tars (medieval romance); Parzival (medieval romance); Moriaen (medieval romance); Illuminations; The legend of William of Norwich and Hugh of Lincoln (martyrology); Geoffrey Chaucer, The Prioress' Tale; Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland (ethnography); The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Mongols (ethnography); John of Plano Carpini’s History of the Mongols (travel literature); Marco Polo, Travels; Selected letters and documents of Franciscan missionaries in medieval China; The Hereford world map; Othello, The Merchant of Venice, a selection of articles.
Requirements & Grading: Requirements and grading as follows: 10% for attendance, 20% for participation, 20% for a presentation, and 50% for a term paper of at least 12 pages.