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French 8010

French 8010 – Medieval French Lit (Nous et les autres)


Lynn Ramey




Office Hours


  • Pliny’s Natural History, book 7 (provided)
  • La chanson de Roland (purchase)
  • Chrétien de Troyes, Cligés (purchase)
  • Soundjata (purchase)
  • La navigation de Saint Brendan (provided)
  • Marco Polo, La description du monde (purchase)
  • Jacques Cartier, Voyage au Canada (purchase)
  • Jean de Léry, Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre de Brésil (selections)
  • Montaigne, Les essais (selected and provided)
  • Rabelais, Le quart livre (selections)


  • The Song of Roland (France, 1978)
  • Kingdom of Heaven (USA, 2005)
  • Robe noire/Black Robe (Canada, 1991)
  • How Tasty was my Little Frenchman (Brazil, 1971)


Like the modern world, the medieval world saw the exchange and circulation of people, objects, stories, and ideas on a much more global scale than is sometimes evident in modern conceptions of the period. Postmodern concepts of the relationship between self and other, colonizer and colonized, have had a significant impact on medieval studies, as recent books and essay collections attest (see Ganim, Ingham and Warren, Kabir and Williams, Cohen, among others).  While many of these studies attract the reader with the promise that past situations are relevant to current problems, their authors often draw short of delivering on their promises, citing postmodern concerns with presentism.  Medieval studies, perhaps more than any other field, has spent the past twenty years in an uneasy relationship between historicization and alienation, between a desire to understand the past through archival and archaeological research, and a sense of insurmountable estrangement.  While Renaissance scholars birthed New Historicism with its focus on the contingent, they tellingly reconceived of their own period as “Early Modern,” and the Middle Ages was forced into an unusual alliance with the postmodern as the “other” to the Modern period.  Perhaps, then, it is particularly important that any consideration of post-postmodernism should account for that enduring other, the Middle Ages.

This course will look at encounters of the self and other from Antiquity to the Early Modern period.  We will also question and explore the phenomenon of making the Middle Ages itself “other” to the modern “self.”


  1. To evaluate the impact of the pre-modern era on modern conceptions of self and other
  2. To push against the divisions between modern and pre-modern and understand the stakes of doing that
  3. To read a representative selection of medieval and early modern works


  • Active participation in class and on any online forums
  • A presentation
  • Nominal control of one of the days we meet (you direct the class discussion)
  • For each class period, a 150-250-word reaction to the readings of the day written in English or French and shared with the class AT LEAST 24 HOURS BEFORE CLASS
  • A final paper in French or English of 15-20 pages, or a pre-approved project that represents an equivalent amount of work


Index of Christian Art (access from VU computer):

Early English Books Online

Mandragore (illuminated manuscripts at BNF)

Gallica (online out of copyright French books)

Anglo-Norman Dictionary


30% participation including reaction papers

20% presentation

10% class management for day you organize

10% bibliography and research for final paper

30% final paper

Course Schedule:



Required Reading

January 11 Travel in the classical period
  1. Pliny
  2. Augustine
  3. Isidore of Seville
  4. Friedman – provided
January 18 Crusade
  1. Song of Roland 
  2. Arab historians of Crusade – provided,
  3. Kinoshita
January 25 Religious travel and encounter
  1. La navigation de Saint Brendan
February 1 Emissaries
  1. Marco Polo –La description du monde
  2. Wolfe
February 8 Alexander
  1. Le roman d’Alexandre
  2. Warren
February 15 Imagining the Other
  1. maps
  2. Odoric of Pordenone
  3. William of Rubruck
  4. John of Mandeville
February 22 Songs of the other [discussion of paper topics]
  1. poetry packet
March 1 Romance and epic
  1. Aucassin et Nicolette
  2. Floire et Blanchefleur
March 15 epic
  1. Soundjata
March 22 Early explorations
  1. Jacques Cartier- Voyage au Canada
March 29 The New World [annotated bibliography or progress report due] Black robe – required film
  1. Jean de Léry-Histoire d’un voyage
  2. André Thevet
April 5 Ironic travel
  1. Rabelais-Le quart livre
  2. Conley
April 12 Armchair travel
  1. Montaigne
April 19 Medievalisms and conclusions
  1. Emery
  2. Viollet-le-Duc
  3. Menocal
  4. Lowney
  5. Ganim

Supplemental Readings:

Allen, John C. “Lands of Myth, Waters of Wonder: The Place of Imagination in the History of Geographical Exploration.” In Geographies of the Mind: Essays in Historical Geosophy, edited by David Cowenthal and Martyn J. Bowden. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Bartlett, Robert. The making of Europe: conquest, colonization, and cultural change, 950-1350. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Bernasconi, Robert, and Sybol Cook. Race and racism in continental philosophy, Studies in Continental thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Boas, George. “The Noble Savage.” In Essays on Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages. New York: Octagon Books, 1978.

Boulle, Pierre H. “François Bernier and the Origins of the Modern Concept of Race.” In The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France, edited by Sue Peabody and Tyler Stovall. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.

Bradley, Michael Anderson. Dawn voyage: the Black African discovery of America. Toronto: Summerhill Press, 1987.

Calkin, Siobhain Bly. “The Anxieties of Encounter and Exchange: Saracens and Christian Heroism in Sir Beves of Hamtoun.” Florilegium 21 (2004): 135-58.

Campbell, Mary B. The witness and the other world: exotic European travel writing, 400-1600. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “On Saracen Enjoyment: Some Fantasies of Race in Late Medieval France.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31, no. Winter (2001): 113-46.

———. The postcolonial Middle Ages. 1st ed, The new middle ages. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Cohen, William B. The French encounter with Africans: white response to Blacks, 1530-1880. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

de Weever, Jacqueline. “Nicolette’s Blackness: Lost in Translation.” Romance Notes 34, no. 3 (1994): 317-25.

Emery, Elizabeth, and Laura Morowitz. Consuming the past: the medieval revival in fin-de-siècle France. Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.

Fabian, Johannes. Time and the other: how anthropology makes its object. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Fanon, Frantz. Peau noire, masques blancs: Editions du Seuil, 1965.

Freccero, Carla. “Cannibalism, Homophobia, Women: Montaigne’s ‘Des cannibales’ and ‘De l’amitie’.” In Women, “race,” and writing in the early modern period, edited by Margo Hendricks and Patricia A. Parker, 73-83. London; New York: Routledge, 1994.

Fredrickson, George M. Racism: a short history. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Friedman, John Block. The monstrous races in medieval art and thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Fysh, Peter, and Jim Wolfreys. The politics of racism in France. 2nd ed. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Ganim, John M. Medievalism and Orientalism: three essays on literature, architecture and cultural identity. 1st ed, The new Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Gates, Henry Louis. “Race,” writing, and difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Gould, Stephen Jay. The mismeasure of man. Rev. and expand ed. New York: Norton, 1996.

Heng, Geraldine. Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Literacy, New York, NY: Columbia UP, 2003. xii, 521 pp.. New York, NY: Columbia UP, 2003.

———. “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages I: Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages.” Literature Compass 8, no. 5 (2011): 258-74.

———. “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages II: Locations of Medieval Race.” Literature Compass 8, no. 5 (2011): 275-93.

———. “Jews, Saracens, ‘Black Men,’ Tartars: England in a World of Racial Difference.” In Brown, Peter (ed. and introd.), A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture c. 1350-c. 1500.Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2007: pp. 247-69.

Ingham, Patricia Clare, and Michelle R. Warren. Postcolonial moves: medieval through modern. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

———. Postcolonial moves : medieval through modern. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Kabir, Ananya Jahanara, and Deanne Williams. Postcolonial approaches to the European Middle Ages : translating cultures, Cambridge studies in medieval literature ;. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Kinoshita, Sharon. “‘Pagans Are Wrong and Christians Are Right’: Alterity, Gender, and Nation in the Chanson de Roland.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31, no. 1 (2001): 79-111.

Lampert, Lisa. “Race, Periodicity, and the (Neo-) Middle Ages.” Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal of Literary History 65, no. 3 (2004): 391-421.

Leadbeater, Tim. “The Arabian Knights: Race at the Round Table.” Use of English 58, no. 1 (2006): 21-30.

Lomperis, Linda. “Medieval Travel Writing and the Question of Race.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies31, no. 1 (2001): 147-64.

Peabody, Sue, and Tyler Edward Stovall. The color of liberty: histories of race in France. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 2003.

Ramey, Lynn. Black Legacies: Race and the European Middle Ages. Gainesville: University Presses of FL, 2014.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. 1st ed. NY: Pantheon Books, 1978.

Sartre, Jean Paul. “Orphée noir.” In Situations, III : lendemains de guerre. Paris: Gallimard, 1976.

Senac, Philippe. L’image de l’autre : l’Occident medieval face a l’islam. Paris: Flammarion, 1983.

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. Frantz Fanon: conflicts and feminisms. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.

Todorov, Tzvetan. Nous et les autres : la réflexion française sur la diversité humaine, La Couleur des idées. Paris: Seuil, 1989.

Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène-Emmanuel. Histoire de l’habitation humaine : depuis les temps préhistoriques jusqu’a nos jours : texte et dessins. Paris: Bibliothèque d’éducation et de récréation, 1875.

Warren, F. M. “On the Early History of the French National Epic.” Modern Philology 14, no. 3 (1916): 129-44.