Lines in the Sand: Ecotones and Polity in Medieval Literature, session at 27th International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, July 6–9, 2020
From kingdoms staking claims on opposing riverbanks to landowners arguing over a thorny hedge, transitional environments have long formed the foundations for political and social boundaries, Such material anchors in turn may be claimed to demonstrate the natural legitimacy of these borders and the institutions they define. Yet medieval literatures, are and popular cultures overflow with depictions of such ecotones—water to land, mountain to plain, forest to field—that test both the permanence and permeability of the categories and divisions humans impose on their surroundings (and themselves). Interestingly, such works also tend to build their portrayals of economic endeavor and political spectacle on the ever-shifting sands of coastlines, fens, and wastelands.
This panel thus seeks to examine the diverse ecological boundaries highlighted in medieval narratives, and especially to track the presentation of such habitats in works that defy modern categories of genre, nationality, religion, and/or audience. Papers that place such analysis into conversation with contemporary conceptions of the "value(s)" or nature of modern ecotones are particularly welcome.
We welcome paper proposals from all disciplines that investigate the complex presentations of environmental boundaries in medieval texts. Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Use of transitional environments to define political or cultural communities
- The setting of mercantile activities along ecological boundaries
- Ecological contests of invasion and colonization
- Border spaces in texts that reaffirm or dismantle traditional social hierarchies (e.g. class, race, gender)
- Definition(s) of human identity in the environments of political, religious, or linguistic frontiers
- Experiences of non-human life on coastlines and riverbanks, in hedges and fens, and/or along political boundaries
- Descriptions of ecotones in the texts that defy or subvert generic boundaries, or in prosimetric or multilingual texts
- Textual transmission/translation across ecological and/or political borders
Aylin Malcom, University of Pennsylvania
Andrew Richmond, Southern Connecticut State University