History and literature in the Middle Ages

At the core of our third seam is a theoretical reflection on literary history, in particular on the question of genre and of our understanding of the literary. Much of the textual material transmitted in French outside France (such as the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César) can only loosely be considered ‘literary’ according to modern understandings of the term, yet this material resembles more ‘literary’ material closely—both stylistically and linguistically—and has much to tell us about European cultural identity, concerned as it is with the foundation and history of Europe as both a cultural and a political entity. While modern understandings of the ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ are often anachronistic, how is literary history affected once we consider the vast body of material in French that has not been deemed ‘great literature’ in the modern period? More particularly: how useful are the generic categories of modern scholarship for understanding this material, and, if they turn out not to be useful, what other categories can we deploy in their place?

Theseus and the Giant royal ms 20 d i f026r

Miniature of Theseus and the Giant, from London, British Library, Royal 20 D I, f. 26r. Reproduced with the permission of the British Library Board.