Monday, April 17, 2006

The archipelago of England


The title of this blog entry is the working title for my next research project: an examination of how medieval England was haunted by the multicultural, polyglot archipelago from which it emerged -- a British Isles that England supposedly superceded and assimilated. I'm interested in how "England" began to pass itself off as a synonym for "Britain," and what this substitution-which-is-not-an-equivalence ineptly obscured.

I'm teaching a graduate seminar on the topic next autumn. The list of primary works looks something like this:

Bede, Life of St Cuthbert
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
The Life of Saint Columba
Marie de France, Lais
Orkneyinga Saga
Asser's Life of King Alfred
Julius Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul
Gerald of Wales, Journey Through Wales
Middle English Breton Lays
Nennius
Morte Arthure
Wace and Layamon
The Mabinogion
Chaucer, "Wife of Bath's Tale" "Franklin's Tale"

That's quite a bit, and probably needs to be pared, considering I hope we'll do a fair amount of reading in secondary sources (especially postcolonial-inflected medieval studies, but also in history and theory more generally). I place it here, though, because I'm interested in hearing other people's thoughts on what such a course might include -- primary texts and criticism both.

10 comments:

JKW said...

Well, RR Davies, obviously, but I'm sure you know that. I'm also thinkig of some stuff on Cornish--I think I sent you an article about Cornish lit a few months back. The Libel of English Policy also springs to mind.

J J Cohen said...

I think the course could be described as the literary analogue to the amazing historiographical work published by R. R. Davies, John Gillingham and Robert Bartlett in the past few decades.

Karl Steel said...

I might cut the Marie in favor of something that's more obviously about the geographic/national imaginary. I don't remember it as well as I should, but perhaps you'd want Richard Maidstone's Concordia instead.

I also might want some more stuff on the 100 years' war as a time of cementing this Britain = England thing? But not sure what to suggest. Philip de Mezieres? John Clanvowe? Who knows?

And in terms of narratives of origins, there are versions of Des Grantz Geanz (the Albina story) in English you could provide (I think Arthuriana did an English trans of a prose Latin version that's only a few pages long). Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and Thelma Fenster did a translation for in-class purposes of the version G. Brereton edited which perhaps you could ask to borrow for a coursepack?

Karl Steel said...

Is this the R. R. Davies you alluded to JJC?:

Davies, Rees. “The Peoples of Britain and Ireland, 1100-1400, I: Identities.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th ser., 4 (1994): 1-20; 5 (1995): 1-20; 6 (1996): 1-23; 7 (1997): 1-24.

LeVostreGC said...

Myn tale of the manne of lawe wolde seme to be appropriate for thyn investigacioun. Ich am verye fonde of the vnvusal moment in whiche a non-christiane culture doth usen a bible for to sweren in a judiciale proces, the bible hauyng ben ylefte by earliere christian folke.

Le Vostre

GC

J J Cohen said...

Thanks, Karl and GC, for your helpful suggestions. I was thinking that I really ought to do a version of this seminar on "British Chaucer" that looks only at Chaucerian works. When I was in Kilkenny last month I was thinking how the Statutes of Kilkenny (with their English-only, anti-hybridity obsessions) were promulgated in connection with the parliament that Chaucer's master, Prince Lionel, presided over during his visit there.

Karl, that is definitely the Davies I have in mind. That particular article (lecture, really) has many parts. Here is the bibliography I've compiled of useful works by Davies in thinking about a nonanglocentric Britain. Some will jump off the page as more immediately relevant than others:

Davies, Rees R. "The Law of the March." Welsh History Review 5 (1970-71) 1-30.
----------. "Race Relations in Post-Conquest Wales: Confrontation and Compromise." Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1974-75) 32-56.
----------. "Kings, Lords and Liberties in the March of Wales, 1066-1272." TRHS 5th series 29 (1979) 41-61.
----------. Conquest, Coexistence and Change: Wales 1063-1415 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
----------. Lordship and Society in the March of Wales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
----------. "In Praise of British History." The British Isles 1100-1500: Comparisons, Contrasts and Connections, ed. R. R. Davies (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1988) 9-26.
----------. "Frontier Arrangements in Fragmented Societies: Ireland and Wales." Medieval Frontier Societies, ed. Robert Bartlett and Angus MacKay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989) 77-100.
----------. Domination and Conquest: The Experience of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, 1100-1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
----------. The Age of Conquest: Wales, 1065-1415 (Oxford: Oxford university Press, 1991).
----------. "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland, 1100-1400: I. Identities," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series IV (1994) 1-20.
----------. "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland, 1100-1400: II. Names, Boundaries and Regnal Solidarities," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series V (1995) 1-20.
----------. The Matter of Britain and the Matter of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
----------. "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland, 1100-1400: III. Laws and Customs," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series VI (1996) 1-23.
----------. "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland, 1100-1400: IV. Language and Historical Mythology," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series VII (1997) 1-24.
----------. The First English Empire: Power and Identity in the British Isles, 1093-1343 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
----------. "Kinsmen, Neighbours and Communities in Wales and the Western British Isles, c.1100-1400. Law, Laity and Solidarities: Essays in Honour of Susan Reynolds, ed. Pauline Stafford, Janet L. Nelson and Jane Martindale (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001) 172-87.

sl said...

I would think that the geography in Higden's Polychronicon would offer some interesting sidelights in geographic thought on the British Isles--not least the overquoted center-and-margin passage on Ireland--as well as a view into the contemporary assimilation of some of your other sources.

Great page, btw--and good luck with that lasso game!

J J Cohen said...

Great idea, SL, especially because I'll be putting Kathy Lavezzo's new book on the reading list, and it has a v. good chapter on the Polychronicon.

(Thanks too for the kind words about the blog -- and as for the alsso game, so far parents at my son's school have come out pfthe woodwork with offers of inflatable horses, apes, Scooby Doos, and dolphins. The kids won't lack for non-erotic rope-worthy imitation animals!)

Karl Steel said...

If you're still taking suggestions, here's a short reading for this course from The Green Knight:

List! wen Arthur he was King,
He had all att his leadinge
The broad Ile of Brittaine.
England and Scottland one was,
And Wales stood in the same case,
The truth itt is not to layne.

He drive allyance out of this Ile. (ll. 1-7)

It's a little late for your purposes (this is from a mid-17th c. manuscript), but what I like about this passage is:
* The dream of Insular unity
* Which is achieved in part by driving aliens out
* But whose impossibility is suggested by the fact that it can list the internal alien sections that need to be brought into line to make the Island the whole it already should be. However, so long as Scotland and Wales remain separate places, as they are even in this memory of unity, the Island remains intractably multiple in its identity.

At any rate, this stanza might make a good epigraph for your syllabus.

J J Cohen said...

Great -- and perfect for a syllabic epigraph. Thanks!