Romancing History: Interrogating the Crossroads of Medieval Genres (9/15/09; Int'l Medieval Congress, K'zoo; May 2010)

full name / name of organization: 
Elizabeth Williamsen
contact email: 

Romancing History: Interrogating the Crossroads of Medieval Genres
45th International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan
13-16 May 2010

In a recent companion article to Arthurian romance, W.R.J Barron spends nearly two-thirds of his essay discussing medieval texts that identify themselves as histories. This approach is not surprising, given the fluidity of medieval romance's generic identity. Scholars have long noted the overlap between medieval romance and history, observing, as Judith Weiss does, that wealthy patrons frequently took a simultaneous interest in the two modes; further, chronicles and romances often coincided in their contents and styles, such that romances reinterpreted historical events while histories romanticized them. To some extent, critics argue, any distinction between romance and history is an anachronistic one imposed retroactively by the divisions modern scholars see between their own fields of study.

The proposed session will seek to explore various instances of the intertwined relationship between history and romance by investigating the ways these modes overlap and interact in medieval texts. Participants may choose to extend the discussion by examining the socio-cultural reasons underlying the appropriation of historical events and figures by romance. What late-medieval cultural work is accomplished by a Middle English romance that recounts the story of an Anglo-Saxon king or one who ruled only a century before? Conversely, papers may focus on the use of romance content, form, and style in ostensibly factual chronicle accounts. What purpose might a chronicler like Benoit de Sainte-Maure accomplish by incorporating aspects of romance into episodes of a history? Ideally this session will generate useful work on the medieval uses of these flexible generic categories.

Please submit 250-word proposals to Elizabeth Williamsen at by September 15, 2009. Please include the Congress participant information sheet (available at ) with your abstract.