The Emergence of the "West": Shifting Hegemonies in the Medieval Mediterranean
I especially admire these two ambitions of the research group:
• complicating the position “medieval Europe” has been called upon to play in the history of “Western Civilization.” This means understanding medieval phenomena—the “precocious” commercial development of centers like Venice or Genoa, the western “recovery” of Greek learning and Aristotelian method through the translation of Arabic texts—first of all in synchronic terms (the vitality of Latin Europe’s economic and cultural links to the Islamic world) rather than teleological ones (the rise of capitalism or “western” scientific method);
• challenging the “clash of civilizations” model featured so prominently in public discourse since 9/11/2001. Besides moving from an essentialist to a process-oriented understanding of “civilization,” this entails emphasizing the wide variety of Christian-Muslim interactions in the medieval Mediterranean, with Crusades as one pole of a spectrum including co-existence, accommodation, and outright cooperation.
This group makes me wish I were at King's College London:
Reading Group on Postcolonial Medievalism
Here is the focus:
This group, which unites members from a diverse selection of departments within King’s—including English, French, History and Spanish—discusses the possibility of a postcolonial approach to the study of the Middle Ages. Would such an approach necessarily run the risk of anachronism, of seeking only that which is proto-modern, thus treating concepts such as ‘empire’ as though they were transhistorical master signifiers? Or might postcolonial criticism be better equipped to account for the geographical and historical specificity of medieval literary texts, allowing for an analysis attuned to a world of ‘cultural traffic’, of contact across linguistic and political borders? Would this benefit, in turn, come at the cost of failing to see texts as part of a broader literary tradition, or lead to a disproportionate focus on what texts would have meant to contemporary audiences, rather than how we, as moderns, might understand them?
Some of these queries seem to be pretty well answered already ... but it is enticing to imagine what it is like to belong to a reading group dedicated to ruminating upon them.