Why does some characters’ skin change color in medieval romances? What did Ghenghis Khan’s family think about Europeans? And why do US white supremacist groups wear symbols from the twelfth-century crusade era? These are all different kinds of questions, but we address them in:
English 153, “Ethnicity, Race, and Religion in the Middle Ages.”
Professor Ruth Nisse MW 1:20-2:40PM
This course concerns the invention of premodern ideas of ethnicity and race. Our focus will be on a selection of medieval texts dealing with the encounters–real and imaginary–of Western European Christians with other cultures, from the Celtic borderlands to the Mongol Empire. The readings will begin historically with the Crusades and the (often grisly) chronicles written by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish authors. Other genres will include religious polemics, autobiographical narratives of religious conversion, and travel accounts by missionaries, spies, and colonial propagandists. We will also read some later “romances” that re-imagine the crusades in terms of exoticized sexuality, racial transformation, cannibalism, and nationalist fantasy.