Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Cross-Cultural Encounters: The Pleasures and Perils of Research on Teaching

Karina Attar & Lynn Shutters:

Many academic projects are born out of naïveté, a not knowing just how much work an article or book will involve. This was certainly true of us when we conceived the idea for our recently published collection of essays: Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Cross-Cultural Encounters (Palgrave Macmillan, December 2014). We’re both literature professors, of medieval English and early modern Italian, who share an interest in European literary representations of Christian-Islamic relationships. One evening at Kalamazoo 2011, we were commiserating on the difficulty of actually teaching our research. Because cross-cultural encounters involve multiple languages, cultures, geographical regions, and academic fields, they are challenging to both study and teach. Wouldn’t it be great, we thought, to put together a volume of essays on these challenges, a volume that would present the experiences of instructors from a wide range of disciplines? How hard could it be?

In some ways, it was easy. We received submissions from a great group of contributors who are passionately invested in teaching, and whose innovativeness in the classroom, as expressed in their essays, continually surprised and inspired us. Questions raised by contributors included: How did nineteenth-century translations of Beowulf for children shape British imperialism in India? What cultural work motivates the adaptation of early modern Italian epics featuring Christians and Muslims in nineteenth- and twentieth-century folk theatre? How might Shakespeare’s Othello help us theorize questions regarding President Obama’s religion and nationality that surfaced in the 2008 campaign? Most broadly, how is our twenty-first-century study of the medieval and early modern pasts itself a cross-cultural encounter, and how can we make that encounter relevant to our students?