IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 827: Memories of Nation, Medieval and Modern, IV: Medieval Nationalisms

Tuesday 3 July 2018, 16.30-18.00

Sponsor:Richard Bland College of William & Mary, Virginia
Organiser:Daniel Franke, Department of History, Richard Bland College of William & Mary, Virginia
Moderator/Chair:Craig M. Nakashian, Department of History, Texas A&M University, Texarkana
Paper 827-aAelred of Rievaulx, the Battle of the Standard, and the English
(Language: English)
Richard Vert, Department of History, Durham University
Index terms: Historiography - Medieval, Local History
Paper 827-bThe Danish Usurper: National Discourse in a 13th-Century Saga?
(Language: English)
Barbora Davídková, Department of Humanities, University of Iceland
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Scandinavian, Political Thought
Paper 827-cDismembering Bodies, Producing England: The Siege of Jerusalem
(Language: English)
Carolyn B. Anderson, Department of English, University of Wyoming
Index terms: Historiography - Modern Scholarship, Language and Literature - Middle English, Political Thought, Social History

How people collectively remember their past creates or reshapes the political realities of the present, and nowhere perhaps is this better displayed than in the contentious question of ‘the nation’ and its origins. This thread gathers leading and emerging scholars, from across disciplines and geographic areas, to interrogate, in a focused way, the connections and divergences between medieval nationalisms and national medievalisms. The panels are arranged from the modern to the medieval, to foreground the ways in which current realities influence our study of the past, and particularly how searching for pre-modern nationalisms is particularly susceptible to teleology.

The final session of this thread examines three instances of medieval texts and authors experimenting with ideas of nation in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries.

Paper -a: This paper proposes to discuss how Aelred of Rievaulx-s mid-12th century essay de Bello Standardii presents his view that the English were a special people charged with protecting the church against the ungodly Celts. Aelred was a prominent Cistercian abbot intimately familiar with senior officials in both the invading Scottish army and the northern nobles charged with repelling the attackers. However, Aelred also was descended from a prominent Northumbrian family who traditionally had served the community of St Cuthbert and likely inculcated their belief that the guardians held a special mission to protect the Church. By comparing Aelred’s description of the battle with other contemporary reports, this paper will demonstrate how Aelred positioned the English as the defenders of good against the uncivilized Galwegian hordes.

Paper -b: This paper proposes to address the way past was used in discourses legitimating the power in late 13th-century kings’ sagas dealing with the early rulers of the Norwegian dynasty. I focus on the Separate saga of Saint Óláfr, which recounts the life of the king who unified and Christianised Norway, and became its national saint. Hence, his saga carries an especially strong socio-political subtext, oriented towards the legitimation of the still young Norwegian realm; in this context, I analyse the way the adjectives ‘Danish’ and ‘Norwegian’ are used by the saga’s narrator. The example I focus on is a comparison built throughout the text between the Norwegian king Óláfr and the Danish queen Álfífa, who is presented as a double usurper. In the end, I demonstrate how 13th-century ‘national’ identities and gender norms are projected on the 11th-century past in order to legitimate the contemporary king’s power.

Paper -c: The Siege of Jerusalem is ambivalent about the Christian west’s inheritance from a pagan, sinful Rome, and ‘the articulation of salvation history is interrupted by dismembered bodies’ (Mueller 304).The text functions as part of unstable fantasies of an emerging nation for the 14th century, where Jews are invoked as specters: ambivalent and convoluted figures who intertwine past and present, reality and fantasy. The Jews are the physical sign of the triumph of the Christian West, and are linked to the pseudo-Saracens of the Crusades, so that they are specters of the proximate past functioning as the projected current theological enemy. As Ahmed notes, emotions function as claims that endow the self with meaning and value, and narratives of nationalism create ‘imagined others, who threaten to take something away from the subject’ (Ahmed 43). The master narrative of English, Christian inheritors of translatio imperii writes borders, and relies on the performance of that process in The Siege. The brute facts of this text are that the means of gestures of political sovereignty are flaying, cannibalism, desubjectification, shame, and death. Fantasies of force, and narratives of the past, furnish ideological material for current narratives of physical destruction of Jews and Muslims.