English 190

Research Seminar: Race and Travel: Relative Alterity in Medieval Times and Places


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Spring 2022 Miller, Jennifer
MW 5-6:30 Wheeler 305

Description

Anyone who has travelled or lived in parts of the world (including their own country) where they were visibly an outsider—by countenance, clothing or conduct—will have experienced the sometimes fearful instability of “otherness”. Contrary to common notions of medieval parochialism, medieval people did a lot of travelling, and they did it for the most part on foot, entering and exiting communities in relation to which their “sameness” or “otherness” was obvious and shifting. In line with common notions of medieval parochialism, these relative differences were telling in a world embroiled in religious conflict, for instance, in which not looking or behaving like those around you could get you killed. How did medieval people, embodied as they were, and marked (by choice or force) with the signs of their cultural origins, engage the ever-changing world through which they moved? How did they negotiate these relative alterities—of themselves and of those they encountered—recording them for posterity (that is, for us)?

Looking closely at medieval maps, manuscript illuminations, legal documents, personal letters and travel narratives of different Christians, Muslims and Jews, as well as the accounts of those they encountered both inside and outside their prescribed communities, we will aim to see how race shaped up and metamorphosed, transforming both self and “other” kaleidoscopically, for medieval people on the move—and for those who travelled with them, vicariously, from the comfort of their reading chairs.

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