The Archipelago: Comparative Methodologies for the Medieval Atlantic

Scholars from a variety of disciplines have discussed the importance and value of comparative approaches to medieval literatures; however, the comparative approaches taken have been inconsistent, and some major areas for comparison have been overlooked. Using the archipelago to conceptualize the literatures of multicultural maritime regions has been a fruitful avenue of inquiry in other literary subfields, and most recently attention has expanded beyond its usual arenas of modern-day Caribbean, Polynesian, and South Asian literatures. Given its extensive littoral, numerous archipelagoes, history of seafaring, ethnic diversity, and prominence of island cultures, Medieval Europe is a promising new lens that has not been explored to its fullest potential.

This seminar pursues comparativity along two axes: time and space. How is the connectivity of medieval maritime cultures expressed in their literatures? How does the archipelagic quality of “unity in diversity,” as Simone Pinet describes it, reveal itself in the literatures and practices of communities that are in turn isolated and connected by the sea? At the same time, what does the study of modern archipelagic cultures have to contribute to the analysis of their medieval counterparts? What qualities of the archipelago have remained constant over time, what differs, and how can the advances made in archipelagic research into the modern maritime world help us better understand the seafaring Middle Ages, and how can a better understanding of the Middle Ages aid approaches in other geographic and chronological areas of study?

As an opportunity for a prolonged and lively discussion about comparative methodologies in early medieval Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, and around the world, we hope to have seminar participants from a variety of disciplines and areas of interest.

Some theoretical approaches to this topic might include, but are certainly not limited to:

·      Multidisciplinary approaches

·      Comparative archipelagic theory

·      Ecocriticism (including ecofeminism)

·      Queer theory

·      Gender theory (feminist theory, masculinity studies, etc.)

·      Comparison across time periods (i.e. studies of Old/Middle English, dating controversies, modern island literatures, etc.)

·      Manuscript Study/History of the Book

Session 1: Thinking About the Middle Ages Archipelagically

Thursday, November 3rd

“The Medieval North Atlantic and Modern Area Studies”
Jeremy DeAngelo, Carleton College

“The Other Faces of Arthur: Mediterraneanizing the Medieval North Atlantic”
Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, University of Pennsylvania

“Phenomenological Otherworlds: Defamiliarizing and Dehumanizing Archipelagic Landscapes”
Eric Alan Lewis, University of Notre Dame

“Narrating Travel: Allegory and Travel-Culture on Land and at Sea”
Helen Lawson, University of Edinburgh


Session 2: Comparative Archipelagos in Medieval Europe

Friday, November 4th

“Sounding Sailors: nautical noise in Old English and Anglo-Latin texts.”
Rebecca Pomeroy Shores, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Bodies and Borders: Sentinel Burial in the North Atlantic”
Kristen Mills, Haverford College

“Orality, literacy, and customary law in England’s medieval colonies.”
Joanna A. Huckins MacGugan, University of Connecticut


Session 3: Medieval Europe and the Wider, Modern World

Saturday, November 5th

“Emotion, A ect, and Comparative Anachronism in the Medieval North Seas”
Marjorie Housley, University of Notre Dame

“Old English and Aztec (Classical Náhuatl) Poetry: an Experiment in Comparative Method”
Andrew Scheil, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities