On Monday, April 22, 2019, Prof. Raúl Ariza-Barile delivered the paper “Chaucer y España: historia de una reescritura” at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. Raúl’s paper is part of a growing, valuable, and relatively recent scholarly trend investigating the Spanish influence and contexts in Chaucer’s work. Critics studying Spanish Chaucer have focused on the author’s well-known mission to Navarre and the subsequent literary response in the Monk’s Tale via the brief segment on King Pedro I. Raúl’s paper mentioned this important reference, but argues, in particular, that Chaucer’s (untold) Spanish history might have begun earlier, with the translation and dissemination of scientific texts in Toledo in the twelfth century.
After providing the audience with an historicized overview of the extant scholarship on Chaucer and/in Spain, Raúl suggested that astronomy should be a driving, central aspect when scholars try to reconstruct Chaucer’s Spanish puzzle. A number of Chaucer’s references to astronomy in The Canterbury Tales, for instance, reveal knowledge of texts translated or rewritten in Spain, such as the two versions of the Toledo tables which Chaucer calls “tables Tolletanes” (The Franklin’s Tale, V.1273). Of perhaps greatest
importance, however, is the textual history contained within A Treatise on the Astrolabe, which Chaucer could not have composed without the existence of treatises originating in Spain. Despite these possible links, Raúl’s talk reminded scholars to proceed cautiously: after all, unearthing the Spanish influence in Chaucer amounts, in many ways, to a work of literary archaeology, simply because Chaucer barely credits Spanish authors or translators in his work. (An exception is his mention of the Toledan astronomer Arzakel, “Arsechieles,” in his Astrolabe 2.45.2)
Raúl concluded his talk by saying that Spain must feature more prominently in Chaucer’s European puzzle, and although we do have excellent (and recent) scholarship that documents Chaucer’s stay in Spain (such as Marion Turner’s Chaucer: A European Life), the time has come for Spanish astronomy to emerge more prominently in this discussion.
The 2nd edition of Peter Brown’s A New Companion to Chauceris now available. Featuring 36 alphabetically arranged chapter topics–Afterlives, Auctorite, Biography, Bodies, Bohemia, Chivalry, Comedy, Emotion, Ethnicity, Flemings, France, Genre, Ideology, Italy, Language, London, Love, Narrative, Other Thought-Worlds, Pagan Survivals, Patronage, Personal Identity, Pilgrimage and Travel, Religion, Richard II, Science, The Senses, Sexuality, Sin, Social Structures, Style, Texts, Things, Translation, Visualizing, and Women–the volume is noticeably heftier than the 2002 edition.
Currently the companion’s first chapter is freely available for download. In a nice piece of irony that tickles our hearts, that chapter is the one Jonathan and I contributed. Though our chapter “Afterlives” deals those things that come last chronologically, its title comes first alphabetically, making real the injunction that “the last will be first.”
Our deepest appreciate to Carolyn Collette for suggesting we take up the topic in her stead, and our thanks to Peter Brown for incorporating us into his excellent lineup of scholars.
Durham University is hosting the New Chaucer Society’s 2020 Congress, and there’s still time to submit paper proposals. The deadline is 20 May 2019.
Global Chaucers is organizing a lightening talk session on the Histories of Chaucer’s non-Anglophone Receptions (session 2). Jonathan and I invite your proposals exploring the histories of Chaucer’s reception beyond the Anglophone reception. Possible topics include the non-Anglophone, multilingual, or cross-cultural histories of textual transmission; translations and editions; Chaucer in the curriculum; and contributions to scholarship.
While you’re at the NCS website, take a look at Jonathan Fruoco’s session on Chaucer in the Non-Anglophone World: Translations and Cultural Appropriations (session 70).
In addition to these two sessions, many of the other sessions invite papers of global interest.
Please note the two-step process for submitting your proposal: first you register online, then you send your abstract to the session organizer(s).
Many thanks to the program organizers–Elliot Kendall, Robyn Malo, Mary Flannery, Wan-Chuan Kao, Philip Knox, Myra Seaman, Ruth Evans and Tom Goodmann –for the exciting program. The 2020 Congress in Durham promises to match the international breadth of the 2018 Congress in Toronto! Please join us!
The April 2019 issue of Speculum includes my review of David Wallace’s Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction (Oxford UP, 2017), a lucid, witty presentation of Chaucer’s life, works, and influence.
Part of an ongoing promotion of Chaucer’s “promiscuous topographies,” A New Introduction continues Wallace’s twofold scholarly enterprise: to show not only that Chaucer’s verse embraces all the world known to educated fourteenth-century Europeans, but also that Chaucer’s subsequent influence has extended beyond the poets of Britain to make an impact on every hemisphere.
Wallace advertises this paradigm shift with his first sentence: “Geoffrey Chaucer is a medieval poet enjoying a global renaissance” (1). And it punctuates my review’s final sentence: the New Introduction‘s major contribution “has been to normalize Chaucer’s status as a global poet” (600).
For those already in the Global Chaucers vortex, David Wallace’s introduction confirms why we find this field of research so rich and exciting. For those who are Global Chaucers curious, Wallace provides the roadmap for following Chaucer’s off-island journeys.
I began the second day of the Congress by joining a group of Global Chaucerians for breakfast at a nearby coffee shop. Jonathan and I have found informal gatherings like this are helpful for colleagues attending the NCS Congress for the first time.
For Session 3, I attended my first lightening panel: “Chaucer and Transgender Studies” moderated by Ruth Evans. The six short papers were fascinating and provocative.
Leanne MacDonald (University of Notre Dame) “Challenging Normative Notions of Transidentity in Medieval Studies”
Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington & Lee University) “Trans*domesticity”
Michelle Sauer (University of North Dakota) “Reading the ‘Glitch’: Trans-, Technology, and Gender in Medieval Texts”
Miranda Hajduk (Seton Hall University) “’My Sturdy Hardynesse’: The Wife of Bath’s Antifeminist Satire as Trans Narrative”
Cai Henderson (Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto) “Christine de Pizan’s ‘droite condicion’: Authorial Construction and Resonant Reading in Transgender Text”
Because the presenters were limited to 5-7 minutes, the heart of the panel was the ensuing conversations among themselves and with the audience, as we explored transgender topics, including the ways Chaucer’s characters inhabited multiple, simultaneous identities; the transphobic elements of The Miller’s Tale; transmission glitches revealing resistance to hegemonic norms; and the nature of transgender ethics. The lightening format, a new format for NCS, proved an excellent structure for presenting ideas and generating conversation.
Next up, the program featured a plenary panel on Race and Inclusion: Facing Chaucer Studies, Past and Future. The five speakers were Anthony Bale (Birkbeck, University of London), Candace Barrington (Central Connecticut State University), Carolyn Dinshaw (New York University), Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington and Lee University), and Richard Sévère (Valparaiso University). The invitations to participate on the panel were issued nearly year ago, and the subsequent months proved the program committee’s wisdom in forming the plenary round-table addressing questions of race, whiteness, and inclusion in the field of Chaucer studies.
The program committee requested that our short presentations consider “more broadly the historical past of our field as well as our ethics of engagement in the present, and to look forward to what needs to happen next.” We were also asked to consider the international dimension of our society and “to offer a past-future presentation on whatever facet of Chaucer” we would like to address.
Scholarship in the field of race and Chaucer specifically, which can include Orientalism and antisemitism, etc.
Scholarship about Chaucer and medievalism as it relates to race
Strategies for pedagogy when it comes to racially inclusive classrooms, etc.
Race and mentorship in Chaucer studies
The role of NCS as public face for Chaucer studies in these contexts
Methods for decolonizing Chaucer Studies
While the five of us each approached the task differently, we all ended by focusing on our individual and institutional responsibilities to ensure that, despite our mistakes as scholars and teachers, we make the study of the literary past open to everyone. The panel generated useful conversations that should extend well beyond the limits of the Congress.
At lunchtime, many contributors to the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Talesgathered for a picnic lunch on the lawn outside Victoria College. For the first time since Brantley Bryant broached the idea to a group of scholars in 2015, the large group assembled, with some of us meeting each other for the first time.
Because I am very interested in the sorts of texts we provide students and scholars throughout the world, I attended the two afternoon sessions organized by Elizabeth Scala: Is There a Text for This Class? Editing Chaucer Now I & II. There are many proposed solutions to our current predicament, and I’m eager to see if any address the needs of undergraduate students (like mine) who are eager to engage with early literatures but have no plans for graduate study.
After those two sessions, I met Ruen-Chuan Ma, an early-career medievalist at Utah Valley University. We were introduced through the NCS mentorship program organized by Tom Hahn (Rochester University), Shazia Jagot (University of Surrey), and Sierra Lomuto (Macalester College). As we talked, we walked leisurely to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a reception co-hosted by Medievalist of Color and featuring a display of art objects—Ethiopian religious paintings and European boxwood beads—accompanied by a beautiful, contextualizing pamphlet (written by Meseret Oldjira [Princeton University] and Seeta Chaganti [University of California, Davis]). Attendees were provided “thought questions,” and I’m going to close Day 2’s posting with them.
If you are a senior scholar, what can you do to help grad students and less-established scholars of color feel welcome in a field that has historically alienated people of color? (Note that NCS has a wonderful mentorship program that will serve this end really well.)
If you are a journal or book editor, what do you think about the diversity of the authors your publication or list represents? What can you do to improve that diversity?
For everyone: how can we create networks together that will be truly inclusive?
To say the past two years have been tough for medievalists and medieval studies is to risk unsympathetic oversimplification. Within the home turf of our colleges and universities, we have found our courses more and more marginalized. Beyond the walls of higher education, we have seen our field and our texts misappropriated in horrifying ways. The siege from both sides has been exhausting.
The New Chaucer Society’s 2018 Congress provided a much-needed antidote to past injustices and an invigorating inoculation against forthcoming wrongs. By embodying the Society’s principles on public discourse and civility, the congress organizers and participants created a restorative and regenerative space that allowed everyone to be seen and valued.
The more inclusive, more global turn in Chaucer Studies was evident from the moment Toronto was announced as the New Chaucer Society’s 2018 Congress venue. The program committee (co-chairs Bobby Meyer-Lee and Claire Waters, plus Louise D’Arcens, Jonathan Hsy, Elliot Kendall, and Sebastian Sobecki) worked to develop innovative formats, design innovative sessions, and incorporate perspectives from scholars both new and established. At the same time, congress organizer, Alex Gillespie of the University of Toronto, and congress host, Will Robins of Victoria University, sought ways to bring Toronto’s legendary medieval resources and burgeoning global community together for new purposes.
The Congress’s first morning set the tone by beginning with a traditional smudging ceremony conducted by Elders Grafton Antone and Eilene Antone (both from the Oneida of the Thames First Nation and on the University of Toronto faculty). Conducted in the indigenous language, the ceremony cleansed the gathering of the difficulties encountered getting to the congress and prepared everyone to have a good mind. The ceremony was followed by Carter Revard (a Native American and Chaucer scholar) reading his own poetry, which incorporates aspects of indigenous, modern American, and Middle English culture and languages. Ardis Butterfield’s Presidential Address, “The Dream of Language,” asked her audience to consider the continuum of linguistic registers that color our understanding of how Latin and medieval vernaculars co-existed and changed. Once we recognize the inadequacy of identifying any semantic or syntactic unit as belonging to one language or the other, we see utterances as ‘translingual.’ Bringing words and formations across languages becomes so natural that it occurs without any awareness the change has happened.
When the first sessions started that afternoon, they included six topic threads: Chaucer Abroad, Forming Knowledge, History Now, Language Contacts, Making the Text, and Middle English Literature at Scale. Designated by the program committee, the threads highlighted the more inclusive, global nature of medieval studies. Because I primarily followed the Chaucer Abroad thread, I encountered several Global Chaucers, new and old, highlighted below.
The first session, Who Owns Chaucer Now? (organized by Jonathan Hsy and Louise D’Arcens, and moderated by Louise), featured two fascinating papers.
Elizabeth Watkins (Loyola Univeresity, New Orleans) introduced us to a forthcoming translation in Bikol, a language with 4 million speakers in the central Philippines. Part of Ateneo da Naga University’s ongoing process to demonstrate Bikol’s legitimacy as a literary language, the verse translation illustrates the continuity of religious culture that is more apparent in the Philippines than in Europe.
Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo (University of Iceland) previewed the forthcoming productions of her Nigerian Pidgin play The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O! In addition to describing the parallels between the cultures of late-medieval England and contemporary Nigeria, her talk included a short, excerpted performance that illustrated how she was able to focus on the human factor and to show how human behavior doesn’t change across time or space.
In the second session, I joined Ingrid Nelson and Shazia Jagot on the Chaucer “And”: Methods of Interdisciplinarity panel organized by Michelle Karnes and moderated by Julie Orlemanski, a part of the Forming Knowledge thread.
Ingrid Nelson (Amherst College) used her paper “Thinking (with) Media” to place pressure on the presentist tendencies of media studies, which mistakenly equates media with a limited number of technologies.
Shazia Jagot (University of Surrey) persuasively argued in her paper, “Chaucer and Arabic,” that we can move beyond the usual source studies to discover Arabic as a deeply embedded cultural force in Chaucer’s work.
My paper, “To Interdisciplinarity and Beyond,” considers what Global Chaucers can tell us about the limits of critique; it can be found here.
The first day ended with three special events, each affirming NCS’s commitment to being an open and inclusive scholarly organization.
Research Expo. The 2014 Congress’s experimental poster session has now become a very successful aspect of the congress. During the initial viewing at the Hart House Great Hall reception, the presenters were available to discuss their work and answer questions. After the reception, the exhibit moved to the main gathering area in Victoria College.
LGBTQIA+ Get Together. This informal gathering at the Glad Day Bookshop, the oldest North American bookstore specializing in queer literature, provided an opportunity for all LGBTQIA+ and allies to mingle and relax.
By the end of the first day, the Smudging Ceremony seems to have achieved its goal.
Global Chaucers and Medievalists of Color not only share many members but also uphold the same values. Along with MoC, we acknowledge that “enduring patterns of harassment and racism make academic freedom a mere myth for some” and affirm that “positions of misogyny, ethnonationalism, xenophobia, homo- and transphobia, and other biases are not legitimate positions in any conversation because they make freedom for all within the conversation impossible.” Together, we will work toward making “our old field be the ideal home for those recognitions, one that rejuvenates their force.”