Wednesday, 24 February 2010

On a Global Middle Ages

One of mine and Michael's colleagues here at York, Samantha Lee Gonzalez, has very kindly done a blog post on some interesting and very important work she is doing at the moment....enjoy

Hola frijoles! (yes, I just said ‘hello beans!’). This being my first post on here, I hope it’s not too terrible a read. I suppose I should start with why I wanted to participate in the postmedieval reading group, which is largely due to my current attempts to get “in touch” with the Middle Ages. I’ve always been fascinated by medieval literature, but lately have been wondering what exactly is my place in it all. My family comes from Puerto Rico and the Philippines, two places that have never (as far as I know) been discussed as even having a medieval history. Of course, one can love and study topics outside of one’s culture(s) (and really, whatever my ‘culture’ happens to be is one convoluted mess anyway), but still I have those ‘but Sam, really, why are you so invested in this?’ moments.


As a slight digression, I was recently half-watching a horror film called Borderland, which had a cliché plot involving some college peeps getting killed by a cult in some Mexican border town. The movie sucked, but the title got me thinking about borders, which got me thinking about Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. In it, she discusses how borders are unnatural and (no surprise here) confining, and how they affect people politically, socially, and psychologically. If borders affect individuals in such potentially traumatic ways, how detrimental are they, then, to scholarship? I typically find that it is in the borderlands—these geographical, theoretical, what have you middle, outer, third, in-between, around spaces—that truly remarkable and interesting intersections of ideas take place.


One could say that there are indeed studies being done in, for example, medieval Chinese, Indian, Japanese, etc histories and literature. However, these are often being done in departments separate from traditional ‘medieval studies’ departments. Why? Why not open up (capital O open?) the borders of the Middle Ages, bust it out of Western Christian Europe, utilize, say, the vast amount of theory lumped under the terms ‘postcolonial’ or ‘postmodern’ in the analysis of it? Should we? While my response to the latter question is a resounding ‘well, hells yeah we should,’ I do understand that not everyone would agree with this.


Perhaps then my niche could be in this growing movement to globalize the Middle Ages. I’m hoping to start with my MA thesis, which will be on an Arthurian romance that was translated into Tagalog in 1889, from a c.1513 Spanish text. There was an interesting situation in the Philippines where, up until American occupation in 1902, the reading matter of the natives was largely medieval Spanish literature. How literate were the natives, how much of this literature was read, published, etc, I’m still working out. I’m hoping to look at what the Tagalog version has made of the stuff from Europe, what it’s doing/keeping/excluding, and what the post-colonial reception of a medieval text was/is, among other things. So far I just have some of the text translated and the title:


Dinaanang Buhay ni Tablante de Ricamonte sampo ng Mag-asauang si Jofre at ni Bruniesen sa Caharian nang Camalor na Nasasacupan nang Haring si Artos at Reina Ginebra


which means:


The past life (or story) of Tablante de Ricamonte including the married couple Jofre and Bruniesen, who were living in the kingdom of Camelot under the rule of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.


There are also some connections I’m finding to Cervantes and some other interesting tidbits that I’ll perhaps update everyone on in another blog entry once I get further into my research.


Anyway, despite the progressively dire news about the state of the humanities floating about, I’m finding it fairly exciting to be in the field right now. I’ve recently found some of the scholarship that Geraldine Heng has done, as well as the Global Middle Ages Project or G-MAP( which includes G-MAP, Mappamundi, and the Scholarly Community for the Globalization of the Middle Ages (SCGMA), all aiming to coordinate scholarly efforts to expand on the borders of the Middle Ages. There is also apparently a book titled Medieval Culture and the Mexican American Borderlands, which has unfortunately received 2 stars on, but if anyone has read this, let me know if it’s any good. And of course, if anyone has anything else that could possibly help in my research, I’d definitely appreciate it.


Hmm, I never know how to end these things, so…er…until next time?




  1. Excellent post, sam (or should that be postSam/post-Sam).

    I know you and I have discussed the possibilities for widening the focus of the reading group out of the merely European and into the globalised Middle Ages - it would be excellent if you'd run a session on it next term!

    You already know I am dead jealous of your dissertation topic/scope etc. - you will actually be 'adding something to the episteme of our time' (to (mis)quote Ben), whereas I'll just be using the 'splattergun' (:p) approach on Codex Ashmole 61.

    Anyway, it's great to have you posting on here, and come on, the rest of you postmedievals (since Ben's called you that already, the name's going to stick) - let's get some more contributions, to ease the pressure from me and Ben!

    Much love,


  2. postSam?! I quite like that...quite like postmedievals as well…

    Anyway, I wouldn’t mind running a session next term. :) I just hope that I have enough research done by then (I suppose if I didn’t...well, let’s just not think about that). As for the splatter gun, you know, it does have its advantages—you can use it at a close range, it’s immediately effective, and it allows you to clear the path for others behind you. At least, this is what I gather its properties are from the 1/4 summer I wasted addicted to Jak 3.

  3. postSam, it has taken me a while to catch up on my blog reading and I wanted to say: I enjoyed your post and wish you well with your topic. I've been trying very hard to push at a global or transnational Middle Ages in my own work: I used Gloria Anzaldua to rethink the Welsh borderlands in "The Postcolonial Middle Ages"; see also its companion volume, "Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages." There have been two useful surveys on Postcolonial medieval work recently: Simon Gaunt and Nadia Altschul. Let me know if you'd like references.


  4. Hi Jeffrey, thanks for the comment and the recommendations! My project is moving along pretty well…though I’m running into some translating issues concerning words with no direct equivalent in English. And then there’s the debate I’m having with myself about whether I should leave the names of people and places as they are in the text, or use their English names.

    I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Gaunt or Altschul’s work, and I would definitely appreciate references. I’ll admit that I’ve been focusing mostly on translating this text and only have a bit of secondary literature so far. Right now I’m reading Vicente L. Rafael’s “Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society Under Early Spanish Rule” which I am really enjoying. I've also recently gotten Dipesh Chakrabarty’s article “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History,” and Gyan Prakash’s “Writing Post-Orientalist Histories in the Third World." Planning next to look at some Spivak and Derrida perhaps…