Vol. 8, Issue 4: Open Topic

This collection of Open Topic articles showcases an international array of authors working at a present-minded medieval studies. Tackling the topics of global travel, the legacies of colonization, political resistance, and the role of the non-human in medieval culture, our contributors draw inspiration from theorists like Franz Fanon, Bruno Latour, and Aleka Zupancic. Helen Price looks for the missing bee in an Old English riddle about Mead. Alfie Bown tells us how the ‘ape’ makes the ‘jape’ in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale. Taking up another of the Canterbury Tales, Vincent Rotkiewiscz examines the Wife of Bath’s bibliophobia in relation to that of the 1381 ‘Peasant’s Rebellion’. Matthew Vernon reads Gerald of Wales as Fanon’s ‘colonized intellectual,’ one struggling to revise ideas of genealogy and history. And Elena Mironesko Bielova proves the utility of medieval Russian phrasebooks as sources of information about Orthodox pilgrimage to Tsargard (Constantinople) and other holy sites.

The issue’s Book Review essay, by Stacy Alaimo, surveys recent work in New Materialism by medieval and early modern scholars.


Lara Farina (West Virginia University) and Myra Seaman (College of Charleston)


Vol. 9, Issue 1: What a World!

This collection of essays explores how contemporary notions of worldbuilding and Heidegger’s concept of "worlding" can be harnessed to investigate the creation of fictional worlds in medieval literature. Worldbuilding itself is often associated with contemporary high fantasy and science fiction, but both as a concept and as praxis, it can help us to forge fresh understandings of the fictive worlds created by medieval authors and communities. It can also serve as a means of bringing culturally disparate works into conversation with one another and as a bridge for those who are otherwise unfamiliar with, or even intimidated by, medieval literature.

Worldbuilding is often both a response and a rejection, an act born out of a desire to create something different from—or at least in reaction to—what already exists. In this sense, it is the praxis of desire. Studying the engendered worlds of the past, and how the engendered worlds of the present resonate with them, can thus shed fresh light on the ways in which both authors and audiences respond to and attempt to influence the world in which they live. To that end, this collection attempts to address the following questions, among others: How might the concept of worldbuilding invite fresh considerations and interrogations of medieval literature? What kinds of worlds do medieval authors create, and how do these engendered worlds reflect social and cultural desires? To what extent can the contemporary practice of worldbuilding be used to forge conceptual/interpretive/pedagogical bridges between the medieval and the modern?


Leila K. Norako (Stanford University)

Contributors include:

Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Kristi J. Castleberry, Valerie B. Johnson, Paul Megna, Asa Simon Mittman, and Christopher Taylor.

Open Topic Contributor:

The phrasebook [‘razgovornik’] as a communication tool for medieval Russian travelers
Elena Mironesko Bielova (University of Granada)

Volume 9, Issue 2: Medieval Intersex: Language and Hermaphroditism

According to the Intersex Society of North America, about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 infants are born in the USA today with such noticeably atypical genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation has to be called in (Intersex Society of North America: http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency). But intersex is a complex issue: what counts as intersex? how small does a penis have to be to be not clearly male? Some sex anatomy variations do not show up until later in life, and some are chromosomal and do not result in perceptible sexual ambiguity. These variations, which are all precisely defined in medical terms, also differ for different populations. Also noteworthy is the fact that once medical intervention through surgery became possible, intersex became the subject of a raging debate over the ethics of what Iain Morland has described as "intimate violations" of bodily integrity ("Intimate Violations: Intersex and the Ethics of Bodily Integrity," Feminism and Psychology 18 [2008]: 425–30). Intersex today is highly medicalized, but it is also a lived experience, and for some subjects it is a deeply traumatic one. We have no access to the lived experience of hermaphrodites in the Middle Ages; there is no medieval memoir like that of Hercule/Herculine Barbin. This issue invites scholars to engage with these historicist and critical frameworks in order to keep open the question of the potential continuities between past and present bodies, genders, and sexualities, even though the intersex person today and the medieval hermaphrodite have historically very different boundaries.

In late antiquity and the Middle Ages, for example, the hermaphrodite, as a perverse figure of indeterminate or double sexuality, served as a marker of the unstable borders between categories: human/animal, human/monster, Christian/Jew, Christian/Muslim, European/other. Hermaphroditism was also associated with heresy. Thus one of the vices in Prudentius's Psychomachia proclaims: "I am called Discord, and my other name is Heresy. The God I have is variable, now lesser, now greater, now double, now single." Just as the figure of the hermaphrodite challenges the period’s rigid sexual dimorphism, so heresy, with its God that is both single and double (recalling the double sex of the hermaphrodite), disrupts the unified body of the church, and makes a mockery of God's divine authority. Conversely, heretics could describe the orthodox church as double-sexed. The writers of the late fourteenth-century Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards declared that "men of duble estate," that is, men who served in both temporal and spiritual roles (a king that is also a bishop, for example), should be known as "hermafrodita or ambidexter" (Anne Hudson, Selections from English Wycliffite Writings [Cambridge, 1978], 26).

Why language and hermaphroditism in the title of this issue? Because intersex exists so much in the popular imagination as an affair of the body, we need to insist on its cultural construction within language, especially when thinking about attitudes towards it, both today and in the past. Hermaphroditic personifications in medieval literary texts refer us to the imbrication of the sexual and the linguistic in medieval culture, and not only to the suspicions that confused sexual categories and bodies arouse but also to their potential for calling in question what seems to us natural or normal.


Ruth Evans (Saint Louis University)

Contributors include:

Jonathan Hsy, David Rollo, Leah DeVun, MW Bychowski, and Iain Morland.

Open Topic Contributor:

Gerald in the middle: Hybridity and historical narratives in History and Topography of Ireland and The Conquest of Ireland
Matthew Xavier Vernon (University of California, Davis)

Volume 9, Issue 3: Queer Manuscripts

Over twenty years ago Carolyn Dinshaw argued for a queering of Chaucer's manuscripts: In Chaucer's Sexual Poetics she defines glosses as strategies of aggressive containment with a specifically "masculine valence" of which the Wife of Bath is at once victim and queering agent. More recently, the framing of medieval studies though queer theory has offered valuable avenues of investigation which have pushed forward Dinshaw’s work. Alongside the works of Anna Klosowska, Steven Kruger, Karma Lochrie, and Tison Pugh, to mention but a few, in Chaucer's Queer Nation Glenn Burger undertakes a very convincing reading of the Wife of Bath's fluid subject position through the lens of Judith Halberstam's concept of "female masculinity." Dinshaw's initial engagement with the materiality of Chaucer's manuscripts and, in particular, with their queer margins has, however, been largely neglected.

This Special Issue will re-assess the field of medieval manuscript studies in the light of recent theoretical concerns which, as these essays demonstrate, open up new and engaging ways of reading medieval textuality. The current critical focus on queer subjectivities (e.g. The Lesbian Premodern, edited by N. Giffney, M. M. Sauer and D. Watt), the affective turn in literary studies alongside Dinshaw’s and, more recently, Karen Barad’s reflection on the queer touch invite us to consider the codex as the material site on which encounters with the queer (i.e. female masculinity; transitional gender, sex and species identities; same-sex desire; etc.) are made possible, but also closely policed.

As it returns our queer touch, the medieval manuscript reaches back to us in powerfully affective ways and, in so doing, it dissolves traditional paradigms of Cartesian temporality and causality. In particular, medieval manuscript culture operates in a queer time and space characterized by non-teleological processes of perpetual revision and negotiation. Theories of temporality developed by Dinshaw (How Soon is Now?), Judith Halberstam (In a Queer Time and Place), Elizabeth Freeman (Time Binds) and Lee Edelman (No Future) resonate with the asynchrony and non-directionality of manuscript production often predicated upon homosocial scribal identities in formation.

The essays in this Special Issue interrogate the ubiquitous presence of queer identities in medieval texts and their articulations on the material space of the codex. Additionally, as Barad's work on the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics demonstrates (Meeting the Universe Half Way), they examine the epistemological and hermeneutic indeterminacy of the manuscript page, a porous surface, or a site of negotiation between multiple agents of production of texts and meaning (authors, scribes, compilers, readers, and editors of print and digital editions). By bringing together studies of late medieval manuscripts produced in England and France, and featuring works of devotional as well as secular subject matter, this Special Issue aims at bringing into focus the multiple ways in which medieval codices encounter and manifest the queer.

The Special Issue will be partly based on papers presented at two sessions at the Leeds International Medieval Congress in 2015.


Roberta Magnani (Swansea University) and Diane Watt (University of Surrey)

Open Topic Contributor:

Apes and japes: Laughter and animality in the Miller’s Tale
Alfie Bown (Hang Seng Management College)

Volume 9, Issue 4: Premodern Plants

This issue of postmedieval engages the methods of critical plant studies, an ecotheoretical paradigm that is still in formation. The closest it has to a spokesperson is the philosopher Michael Marder. Readers of postmedieval unfamiliar with critical plant studies might imagine it (or dismiss it) as a successor to critical animal studies, which has had great influence on medieval and early modern studies, thanks to the scholarship of Karl Steel and Laurie Shannon, among others. But critical plant studies does not rehearse the exact questions of critical animal studies. For Marder, critical plant studies begins with the reversal of Aristotelian taxonomy, taking seriously those plant characteristics of sessility and mute growth that Western philosophy all too quickly dismisses as “vegetative soul” or (in Agamben’s terms) “bare life.” Marder’s philosophy is tendentious and can be utopian in its politics; it is also intellectually liberating insofar as it defies plant blindness with new questions about vegetal life, which has for too long been considered a scholarly weed – plant matter out of place – in zoocentric accounts of humanness dominated by locomotive animals (both real and imagined). We consider it a provocation to explore how the contemplation of the plant, from recent scientific controversies about its intelligence and genetic modification to its literary status as a symbol for growth and continuance, can alter our received histories of both the human and the ecological in medieval and early modern studies.

We see our task in this issue as introducing readers of postmedieval to critical plant studies and as facilitating our contributors’ applications of this ecotheory and challenges to it. We aim not simply to adopt this theoretical model, but to re-shape its procedures through the lens of medieval and early modern studies. We expect that our contributors will address a range of matters in medieval and early modern literature and culture, from devotional meditations on Jesus’s crucifixion, to practical manuals for gardening and horticulture, to applications of Aristotelian taxonomy, to romance landscapes strewn with enchanting and dangerous vegetation, to the effects of botanical imports on art and on systems of classification and circuits of trade.


Rob Barrett (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia)

Open Topic Contributor:

"Good Grief: Notes on (re)animating Thomas Hoccleve


Vol. 10, Issue 1: Prophetic Futures

Premodern individuals credited the power of prophecy to predict, and even shape, the future. The art or science of prophecy—as it was variously termed and critiqued—subtended larger political and social discourses. Vatic performances informed notions of temporality, nationalism, theology, and gender. Rhetorically, prophetic language ranged from the most equivocal play of syntax to artfully performed literary and figural devices: prolepsis, anachronism, anaphora, doggerel, synecdoche, and metaphor. Prophecy similarly moves beyond categories of historical periodization and regional studies due to its global expanse and transmission across languages, cultures, and timescapes: early modern authors across Europe adapted medieval prophecies, themselves reworkings of oracles from classical and biblical traditions tempered with oral and vernacular cultures. Prophecy sutures both past, present, and futures, but also links geographical expanses in its imagining of alternative and otherwise realities.

This issue of postmedieval aims toward a deep and global history of prophecy with particular attention to modes of temporality and periodization embedded within the texts as well as in critical approaches. The issue thus seeks to reevaluate approaches to prophecy and time, illustrating how different vatic discourses read the future, rewrite the past, and rethink the present moment. As a discursive practice, prophecy eludes, incites, repeats, transforms, and confounds — not only its audiences but also the critical assumptions scholars bring to these unstable texts. As such, we invite essays with fluid critical methodologies, from queer theory to new materialism, and essays from a range of (inter)disciplines, from art history to comparative literature. Potential topics include (but are not limited to):

- The circulation of prophetic texts across Europe in manuscript and print in the Middle Ages and the early modern period.

- The production and circulation of prophecy in the Near and Far East and cross-cultural exchanges with Western traditions.

- Reception of biblical, ancient, medieval and early modern prophecies across historical periods.

- Theoretical reflections on the methodological approach to prophecy and its traditions.

- Conceptualization of time and temporality in prophetic texts.

- The transmission and transformation of ideas concerning gender and sexuality through prophecy.

- Theories of materiality and ontology articulated in prophetic utterances.

- The expression or subversion of religious, national, or imperial identities and communities in prophecy.

- Intersections of prophecy and scientific, philosophical, or political discourses.

- The visual culture(s) of prophetic traditions and the relation between the visual and the textual.


Joseph Bowling (The Graduate Center, CUNY) and Katherine Walker (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Open Topic Contributor:

Reimagining Revolt: 1381, Feminine Authority, and the Wife of Bath