Graduate Course Description

350:531 - Race & Alterity in Middle English Culture

Course No:  350:531
Index # - 14882
Distribution Requirement:  A1
Wednesday - 3:50 p.m.
MU 207

Race & Alterity in Middle English Culture

Larry Scanlon

In the past decade, the problem of race has become an increasingly central concern in the field of Medieval Studies. This course examine race both as an epistemological category and an evidentiary one. The Middle Ages as we currently understand it is largely a product of the nineteenth century: its massive editorial recovery and reproduction of medieval texts and archives was framed in part by nationalist aspirations and the racialist assumptions embedded within them. As we deconstruct that conceptual frame, we will also seek to understand the extent to which race itself was a salient feature of medieval culture, and to understand how it related to other categories of alterity much more recognized by medieval scholarship, such as gender, class, and religious identity.

The course will consist of five distinct units:

  1. A brief historical introduction tracing the displacement of slavery by serfdom after the Norman Conquest (slavery was basically abolished in England by William the Conqueror).
  2. The problem of the race as it is presented in the so-called “Charlemagne Tradition”: Middle English romances imitating or otherwise drawing on The Song of Roland.
  3. The orientalist Tale of Constance and its versions by Trevisa, Gower, and Chaucer
  4. The Blood Libel
  5. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, its rediscovery, and the racial politics of modern medievalism.

Requirements: one 10 pp. paper in two drafts; two presentations.


Primary Texts:

Song of Roland
King Horn
Bevis of Hampton
Sultan of Babylon
The Tale of Ralph the Collier

The Geoffrey Chaucer, Man of Law’s Prologue and Tale; Prioress’s Prologue and Tale
Constance story from the Annals of Nicholas Trevet and the Confessio Amantis of John Gower
Croxton Play of the Sacrament

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant 

Secondary texts:
(Mainly excerpts)

Hannah Barker, That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500
Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century
Marc Bloch, Feudal Society
Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line
Geraldine Heng, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages
Rodney Hilton, Bond Men Made Free
Alice Rio, Slavery After Rome (500-1100)
Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition
Matthew X. Vernon, The Black Middle Ages: Race and the Construction of the Middle Ages
Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation--An Argument"