This seminar will explore what could be called "the archipelago of England." The texts examined reveal how a united, anglophone kingdom emerged in the Middle Ages and dominated the entirety of the isle of which it was but a single part. This seemingly homogenous nation was haunted by the multicultural and polyglot Britain it supposedly superseded. Primary sources are medieval, and are especially chosen to defeat contemporary expectations about the biology of race and the ontology of nations. They will also provide useful historical grounding for students working on more contemporary projects. Special emphasis will be paid to the hard work of producing "England" (and the many points at which failure loomed); the colonization of the Celtic Fringe in its racializing effects; the paradoxes of anti-Semitism; and the complex role of religion and other transnational identifications in solidifying recalcitrant nationalisms.
My students are bright and the readings -- though tough for many of them -- have sparked some bracing discussions.
So far my favorite new (to me) reading has been Orkeyinga Saga. This thirteenth-century text, composed in Iceland, attempts to imagine a world without race. There is a great scene towards the beginning when Hrolfr, the "Rollo" who founded the Normans, is conveniently absented from a discussion of Orkney's future because, it seems, that future cannot have some definitive collective identity attached to it. The first earl of Orkney is therefore the slave-born, truculent Einar. The people of Orkney and their earls are all about provisional, shifting, and transnational identifications. There isn't much of what William Chester Jordan called the "intense localism" of many medieval texts, perhaps because these islands are so caught up in the shifting politics of the Hebrides, Denmark, Norway, England, Ireland, Wales.
I'm attempting in this class to pair our medieval discussions with some postcolonial theorizing of island identities; most of this theory is, naturally enough, drawn from the study of the Caribbean. That insular impulse meant that Orkeyinga Saga was read alongside José F. Buscaglia-Salgado's Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean, a book of which I'm very fond. Buscaglia-Salgado's work is all about the spaces between racial identities. His attempt to think "in less racially bipolar terms" resonated well with a medieval saga that ignores the grandiose claims of any communal designation that proclaims itself historically stable, trading such fantasies for ad hoc and mutable alliances.
Or, to return to those lines from King Lear we were arguing over some time ago, "Now gods stand up for bastards!"
My syllabus is below, for anyone who is interested. Missing from it are my own ad hoc introductions -- e.g. we also looked closely at texts like the AAA Statement on Race and some medical work on race's (non)existence.
Schedule of Readings
Sept. 5 English Literature, British History
R. R. Davies, The British Isles 1100-1500: "In Praise of British History"
Antonio Benitez-Rojo, The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective: "From Columbus's machine to the sugar-making machine"
Sept. 12 The Making of Race
*Gayle Wald, Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture: "Introduction: Race, Passing, and Cultural Representation"
Thomas Hahn, "The Difference the Middle Ages Makes"; Robert Bartlett, "Medieval and Modern Concepts of Race and Ethnicity"; William Chester Jordan, "Why 'Race'?" (all these essays are found in Journal of Medieval and early Modern Studies 31.1 , available via Project MUSE)
Sept. 19 Insular Spaces
Adomnan of Iona, Life of Saint Columba
*Kofi Omoniyi Sylvanus Campbell, Literature and Culture in the Black Atlantic: "Introduction: The Postcolonial Middle Ages?"; Chapter One (all); Chapter Four: "Closing the Black Atlantic Circle"; "Conclusion"
*Kathy Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World: "Introduction: Modern Motherland and Ancient Otherworld"
Sept. 26 Birth of a Nation [optional 3 page paper due]
Age of Bede: "Life of Cuthbert," "Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow," "Voyage of St Brendan"
Nicholas Howe, "Rome: Capital of Anglo-Saxon England" (Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34 , available via PROJECT MUSE)
Eileen Joy, "Anglo-Saxons Were Apartheid Racists!"
Oct. 3 Alfred and the Idea of Nation
Alfred the Great: Asser, The Life of King Alfred; "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle"; "From the translation of Gregory's Pastoral Care"; "Extracts from the Laws of King Alfred"; The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum"
*Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations: "New Barbarians and New Romans"
*Kathleen Davis, "National Writing in the Ninth Century" (Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 28  611-37)
Oct. 10 Archipelago and Island
*José F. Buscaglia-Salgado, Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean: "Introduction" "Bartolomé de Las Casas at the End of Time"
Oct. 17 We Have Never Been Precolonial
Julius Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul
Gildas, The Ruin of Britain [any version or Medieval Sourcebook download: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gildas-full.html]
*Peter S. Wells, The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered peoples Shaped Roman Europe: "Natives and Romans" "Conclusion"
Oct. 24 Insular Itineraries
Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales and Description of Wales
*Monika Otter, Inventiones: "Underground Treasures: The 'Other Worlds' of William of Malmesbury, William of Newburgh and Walter Map" and "Quicksands: Gerald of Wales on Reading"
Oct. 31 Seven page "problem" paper and annotated bibliography due
Nov. 7 Translation and Transformation
Marie de France, Lais
*from Roger Sherman Loomis, Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance
Nov. 14 Anglicization
Middle English Breton Lais: "Sir Orfeo" "Sir Degaré" "Sir Launfal" "Sir Gowther"
*R. R. Davies, The First English Empire: Power and Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343: "'Sweet Civility' and 'Barbarous Rudeness'" "The Anglicization of the British Isles"
Nov. 21 Arthur, King of
Wace and Laymon, Arthurian Chronicles
*Laurie Finke and Martin Shichtman, King Arthur and the Myth of History: "The Romance of Empire: Vernacular History and the Structuration of Power" and "Discontinuous Time: History in the Eyes of Its Losers"
Nov. 28 Nation, Cosmos and Polis
John Mandeville, Travels
Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: "Eye on the World: Mandeville's Pleasure Zones; or, Cartography, Anthropology, and Medieval Travel Romance"
Dec. 5 Project Presentations