essential conceptual/theoretical texts in our field?

1 reply, 2 voices Last updated by Jenna Mead 10 years, 8 months ago
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    Ruth Evans

    I’m inspired to write this (and I’ve also posted this on the ME Excluding Chaucer Forum) for two reasons: one is a presentation on teaching the canon given by Fiona Somerset at Kalamazoo in 2012, a presentation that continues to goad my thinking in very productive ways; the second is that I attended the plenary paper given by Peter Brown this morning at the the First Annual Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies, hosted by my institution Saint Louis University — and I was very struck by the introduction given by Tom Madden, Director of the Saint Louis University Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, which is the sponsor of the Symposium. Tom introduced Peter Brown by saying that all of his works should be required reading for “all medieval doctoral lists,” and indeed that “they are all on the CMRS list.” “All medieval doctoral lists,” not “medieval history doctoral lists” (though presumably the latter was intended — or was it?). Historians, it seems, are confident about which historiographical texts are canonical within their field (but do all historians agree about Peter Brown?).  Does medieval English studies share this confidence? Do we have a “canon” of theoretical/conceptual texts that we consider essential for all our students to know? Should we? To what extent does it matter that  graduate students in history (in the US, at any rate) are encouraged to read their archival evidence in tandem with/against/beside a set of canonical texts in historiography (and to question or develop that canon) — and that English students are not generally expected to do so (where the equivalent to “historiography” would be some form of literary historiography or critical theory or cultural history)?


    Jenna Mead

    Agreed, Ruth. My sense of colleagues here in Australia is that there is a critical canon that attaches text by text rather than to the discipline as a whole. Lurking only partially submerged is a question about what kind of disciplinarity we, as practitioners and custodians, seek to maintain and extend? Are disciplinarities in, say, English and History coterminous? On the one hand, there’s History’s drive to narrativity; at the same time, there’s English’s reliance on a theory of language/representation as a disciplinary imperative. Both engage, though differently, with materiality and hermeneutics. And then there are the crossovers and “shared” understandings despite significant methodological differences.

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