Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages

Professor and Chair Jeffrey Cohen has published a new collection of essays on the uneasy co-existence of multiple cultures in medieval Britain. Details are here and below. The book is in harmony with the English Department’s desire to explore how most literature emerges from within multilingual and culturally mixed contexts. The book is also related to the themes of the new GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, which has its own blog.



Through close readings of both familiar and obscure medieval texts, the contributors to this volume attempt to read England as a singularly powerful entity within a vast geopolitical network. This capacious world can be glimpsed in the cultural flows connecting the Normans of Sicily with the rulers of England, or Chaucer with legends arriving from Bohemia. It can also be seen in surprising places in literature, as when green children are discovered in twelfth-century Yorkshire or when Welsh animals begin to speak of the long history of their land’s colonization. The contributors to this volume seek moments of cultural admixture and heterogeneity within texts that have often been assumed to belong to a single, national canon, discovering moments when familiar and bounded space erupt into unexpected diversity and infinite realms.


“This intriguing collection of essays sets out to trouble the myth of the English nation, calling into question the wholeness, autonomy, insularity, and inevitability of the political entity we now call the British Isles. Cohen’s ‘infinite realms project’ recasts the island (the symbol of totality and autonomy) as an archipelago (a symbol of fragmentation and interdependence) whose current political configuration can in no way simply be read back into the past. The essays, on texts both familiar and arcane, not only invite us to rethink the textual canons of Great Britain’s four main ethnic groups, but more radically to interrogate the fictiveness of political identity itself. This is not just another collection touting ‘cultural diversity’ among hypostasized identities; these essays invite us to reimagine political collectivities, rethinking the ways in which they encounter one another, clash, assimilate, and reform around new identities.”–Laurie A. Finke, Kenyon College and co-author of King Arthur and the Myth of History

About the Author

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is Professor and Chair of English, George Washington University. He is the author of Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain; Medieval Identity Machines; Of Giants; and the editor of The Postcolonial Middle Ages; Thinking the Limits of the Body; Becoming Male in the Middle Ages; and Monster Theory.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Infinite Realms–Jeffrey Jerome Cohen * Between Diaspora and Conquest: Norman Assimilation in Marie de France’s Esope and Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis–Suzanne Conklin Akbari * Reliquia: Writing Relics in Anglo-Norman Durham–Heather Blurton * Cultural Difference and the Meaning of Latinity in Asser’s Life of King Alfred–David Townsend * Green Children from Another World, or The Archipelago in England–Jeffrey Jerome Cohen * Beyond British Boundaries in the Historia regum Britanniae–Michael Wenthe * Arthur’s Two Bodies and the Bare Life of the Archives–Kathleen Biddick * The Instructive Other Within: Secularized Jews in The Siege of Jerusalem–Randy P. Schiff * Subversive Histories: Strategies of Identity in Scottish Historiography–Katherine Terrell * Sleeping with an Elephant: Wales and England in the Mabinogion–Jon Kenneth Williams* Chaucer and the War of the Maidens–John Ganim * The Signs and Location of a Flight (or Return?) of Time: The Old English Wonders of the East and the Gujarat Massacre–Eileen Joy

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