Past Workshops
Imagines Mundi

Imagines Mundi: The Global Middle Ages


  • Ashley Cook (Art History)
  • Lisa Cooper (English)
  • Elizabeth Lapina (History)
  • Jennifer Pruitt (Art History)
  • Jelena Todorovic (Italian)
  • Marion Vuagnoux (French)
  • André Wink (History)
  • Jordan Zweck (English)

Contact: Lisa Cooper (

The popular conception of the medieval world is often one of insularity and isolation, but nothing could be further from the truth. Pilgrims, princes, crusaders, doctors, merchants, monks, and artists—all these knew that the world they lived in was a vast and far-flung network of persons, places and things. Traces of frequent and ongoing cross-cultural encounter in the Middle Ages abound: in encyclopedias, chronicles, and universal histories; in treatises of science and medicine; in literary texts; in works of art and architecture; and of course in maps and travel narratives of many kinds. Indeed, even as we speak with increasing frequency about our current moment as an era of globalization, the Middle Ages—roughly the thousand years between c. 500–1500—have themselves never seemed more urgently global. England to Egypt, Rome to Russia, Constantinople to China, Iceland to India, Jerusalem to Jakarta, Paris to Persia: scholars of the period have for the last decade and more increasingly turned their attention to the ways international communication, commercial exchange, religious mission, and military conquest created deep connections as well as equally deep fissures throughout the era, in ways that continue to shape political and social structures around the world today. Where literary scholars have brought postcolonial theory to bear on wide range of medieval texts, especially those produced in the wake of the conquest of England in 1066 and during the several centuries of the Crusades, art historians have explored the shared visual culture linking European Christian, Islamic and Byzantine courts, producing a new field of study in what is now regularly referred to as the  “global Mediterranean,” while historians of science have uncovered the complex and extensive reception of Greek and Islamic science and medicine in western Europe (and these are just a few examples among many).

Without losing sight of the particularities of human experience in lands separated by very different systems of language, politics, culture, and religious belief, this workshop seeks to join this ongoing conversation, and explore what it means to think the medieval as/in a global context, and to ask how doing so may (and also may not) add to the current global turn in the humanities and social sciences. To that end, we will spend 2014-15 with a series of visiting speakers whose work engages these questions in a wide variety of ways, concluding the year with a symposium on the medieval global imaginary. All are welcome!

To receive event updates and participate in related conversations, or to get the password for protected readings, please e-mail Lisa Cooper





a symposium presented by the 2014-15 A.W. Mellon Workshop
“Imagines Mundi: The Global Middle Ages”

Friday, May 1, 2015
6191 Helen C. White Hall
free and open to the public

10:30-12:00 PM               SESSION 1

Post-Post-Hastings: Speculative Histories of Anglo-Saxon Survival in Ireland, Iceland and Byzantium
Martin Foys, English, UW-Madison

Medieval Islamic Sectarianism and the Holy Cities
Jennifer Pruitt, Art History, UW-Madison

1:30-3:00 PM               SESSION 2

Medieval India
Andre Wink, History, UW-Madison

From Local to Global: Crusades and the Program of Mural Paintings of the Tour Ferrande
Elizabeth Lapina, History, UW-Madison

4:00 PM               PLENARY LECTURE

Monsters, Knowledge, Power, Pleasure: The Wonders of the East in the Cotton Tiberius B.v Manuscript
Mary Kate Hurley, English, Ohio University

The Old English Wonders of the East is most famous for its monsters—but what happens when we shift our scholarly focus away from chickens that burst into flame and creatures that devour inquisitive travelers? The Wonders of the East, as it appears in the Cotton Tiberius B.v manuscript, forces us to reconsider the purpose of the monsters in the text. When placed among the historical texts, calendars, and regnal lists that fill out the rest of the codex, these monsters become part of an anthology of materials that ponders the place of the human in the world, in time, and in history. As a result, a reconsideration of the Old English Wonders in its Tiberius context demonstrates the power and the pleasure that comes from knowledge acquisition–even as it suggests the dangerous consequences of knowing too much.


Shirin Khanmohamadi, Comparative Literature, San Francisco State University

April 10, 2015 @ 11:15am
7190 Helen C. White


Public talk 
Translating Empire in the Chansons de Geste
April 10, 2015 @ 4:00pm
7191 Helen C. White

The twelfth-century French of Italy text the Chanson d’Aspremont tells the pre-history of the transfer of Durendal, Roland’s sword from Song of Roland fame, from Muslim royal hands to Roland on the bitter mountain passes, “the aspremont,” of Calabria. Against the prevailing synchronic reading of the chansons de geste as the locus of civilizational confrontation between Frank and Saracen, in this talk Khanmohamadi proposes that we view such transfers of war objects in Aspremont and other chansons de geste as evidence of diachronic and historical thinking in these popular works, namely as popular expressions of the translation of Arab imperium to Franks. Placing her reading alongside historiographical explanations for the continuing 'imperium' of contemporary Arabs and Turks in high medieval universal chronicles, she argues that such literary and historical evidence urges our rethinking of how medieval writers understood translatio imperii, the Saracens, and their relationship.


Susie Phillips, English, Northwestern

March 6, 2015 @ 10:30am
7190 Helen C. White



Public talk 
Comedy, Credit, and Conjugation: Merchants and their Language Lessons in Premodern Europe

March 6, 2015 @ 4:00pm
7191 Helen C. White

The phrasebooks and language instruction manuals that flooded the European marketplace from the late fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries instructed their readers in all manner of inappropriate behavior and speech—gossip, insults, pick up lines, and strategies for cheating customers and welching on one’s debts. Far more than an incidental feature of popular vernacular language instruction, this mercantile and conversational mischief became a quite profitable pedagogical strategy, as language learning itself underwent a translation in premodern Europe—out of the classroom, into the marketplace, and further down the social ladder.



Alicia Walker, Art History, Bryn Mawr

December 5, 2014 @ 11:00am
L166 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building



Pseudo-Arabic in a Christian Context: Artistic Transmission and Translation in Medieval Byzantium

Public talk by Alicia Walker, Art History, Bryn Mawr

December 5, 2014 @ 4:00pm
L150 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building

Pseudo-Arabic motifs appearing in the decorative programs of middle Byzantine churches raise intriguing questions about cross-cultural artistic transmission and reception in the medieval Mediterranean world. Questioning conventional interpretation of these motifs as purely ornamental, this paper instead proposes that pseudo-Arabic motifs in tenth- to twelfth-century Byzantine art and architecture conveyed a range of shifting but specific meanings that evolved in tandem with changing relationships between Byzantium and various medieval Arabophone political, cultural, and religious groups.


Animals of the Holy Land: Bestiaries and the  Crusades

Public talk by Jan Vandeburie, History, University of Kent

November 10, 2014 @ 4:00pm
7191 Helen C. White

Bestiaries became increasingly popular in Western Europe in the course of the twelfth century. Around the same time, the crusades and the establishment of the crusader states caused a spike in the European interest for the Middle East and its inhabitants and culture. Encyclopedic treatises describing the Holy Land and its history were widely circulated in the West and many of these books contained bestiaries that not only focused on the local fauna and flora, but also provided useful information for crusaders and pilgrims. This talk explores these texts and discusses the influence of the crusades on the bestiary genre.


The Medieval Battlegrounds of the First World War

Public talk by Carol Symes, History, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

October 31, 2014 @ 4:00pm
7191 Helen C. White

This talk will explore how memories and monuments of the Middle Ages were represented, contested, targeted, destroyed, and sentimentalized before, during, and after the Great War. Although this conflict is usually understood as a quintessentially modern phenomenon, the perceptions of those who waged, observed, and survived it were shaped in crucial ways by competing visions of the medieval past, and its centrality within both popular and élite cultures.



Carol Symes, History, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

October 31, 2014 @ 11:00am
7190 Helen C. White



French Literature Abroad: Towards an Alternative History of Literature in French

Public talk by Simon Gaunt, French, King's College London

October 29, 2014 @ 7:00pm
University Club room 212

Traditional literary histories tend to be centrifugal, tracing trajectories that move outwards from a strong and identifiable center towards peripheral zones. This lecture suggests an alternative history of medieval literature in French, one that is centripetal rather than centrifugal. Focusing initially on three key places and epochs in the development of literature in French outside France (England in the 1130s and 40s; Flanders in the 1200s; Italy in the late thirteenth century), this lecture will ask how the traditional canon looks different when a more diverse geographical arena and a less Franco-centric optic is taken into account.

The Germaine Brée Lecture, sponsored by the Institute for Research in the Humanities and the Department of French and Italian.


In the Footsteps of Marco Polo (2008)

Workshop Meeting & Film Screening

September 26, 2014 @ 4:00pm
7191 Helen C. White

Film screening and discussion

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo captures the remarkable, two-year, 25,000-mile attempt to retrace Marco Polo's legendary trek from Venice, Italy to China. This illuminating epic follows two friends from Queens, New York--one photographer and one visual artist and ex-Marine--as they complete the journey by land and by sea, a feat in which all others have fallen short. Equal parts travelogue, adventure story, history trek and buddy movie, “In the Footsteps of Marco Polo” finds present-day explorers Denis Belliveau and Francis O'Donnell surviving deadly skirmishes and capture in Afghanistan, crossing its forgotten ancient passageway to China (the first Westerners in a generation to do so), encountering the stinging sands of the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts in a Silk Road camel caravan, and living among cultures, including the expert horsemen of Mongolia. Along the way, they interweave their own feats with Marco Polo's account of his own travels and life.