ACLA 2018: Medieval and Early Modern Encounters: Travel, Geography and Ethnography

deadline for submissions: 
September 21, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Christine Chism, UCLA; Shirin Khanmohamadi, SFSU
contact email:

ACLA 2018 Seminar:

Medieval and Early Modern Encounters: Travel, Geography and Ethnography

Co-Organizers: Shirin A. Khanmohamadi (SFSU) and Christine Chism (UCLA)

 Recent institutional shifts in the academy away from national foci and towards the study of the regional and global networks in medieval texts align premodern literary study ever more with the disciplines of Comparative and World Literature.  Pre- and early modern “travel writing” spans many genres, from first-person eye-witnessed journeys, to travel letters, pilgrimages, missions, crusade accounts, geographical descriptions, cartography, New World writing, and early ethnographic writing.  This range illuminates the variety of premodern transcultural experience and encounter at a time when global networks were deeply at stake, in the complex landscapes before European hegemony.  These texts prompt questions such as:

  • How are “home” and the “foreign,” “self” and “other” constructed in texts across various linguistic, geographic and religious traditions? 
  • What do existing, emerging, and shifting cartographic and cosmological traditions reveal about conceptions of the world and its inhabitants? 
  • How do early non-standardized cartographies (ex. eastward and southward oriented maps) “world” their readers into competing or commensurate geographies and conduce to more extensive global networks?
  • How are “Europe,” “Asia,” “Africa” and “the Americas” constituted through encounter? 
  • How do various traditions engage in “world-making,” ie of constructions of “China” or “the New World” as distinctive worlds? 
  • What do premodern travel narratives reveal about the histories of racial, ethnographic, and religious discourses of “othering,” Orientalism, and the ethnographic gaze? What discourses or gazes of power are deployed in these texts and to what ends?
  • How is a rhetoric of scientific or ethnographic authority forged in these accounts?
  • How do these texts construct differences of race, religion, gender, and social structure across diverse written traditions and societies with their own robust counter-histories?
  • How do various classical and medieval accounts get recounted and re-deployed within and across traditions?  
  • How do New World accounts deploy, challenge, or extend medieval knowledge? What ideas about Jews, Muslims, pagans and others, and what old world tropes, get mapped onto the new world and to what effect?
  • To what extent and what effect do different confessional traditions draw upon a shared Hellenistic storehouse of ethnographic depiction? 
  • How do textually transmitted discourses of ethnographic authority interact with and become reshaped by empirical encounter?  What new knowledge and limits emerge?

 This seminar seeks to investigate and compare these and other strategies of representation of ethnic / cultural / racial selves and others in medieval travel narratives from the broadest possible range of linguistic and confessional traditions and geographical foci.  We invite submissions that treat these questions across the languages and spaces of the Mediterranean, Asia, the Medieval world, and the Americas.