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Writing the Mediterranean: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on the Early Modern World

T 2:00-4:30pm, Prof. Ellen Welch (

Recommended prerequisites: graduate status or (for undergrads) at least two 300-level literature and culture classes

Long before France’s colonial occupations in the region, French culture was deeply entangled with North African and Levantine cultures because of the “shared space” of the Mediterranean Sea. A site of migration and exile, commerce and piracy, captivity and enslavement, religious conversions (both voluntary and forced, sincere and faked), and linguistic invention, the early modern Mediterranean presents itself as a unique object for the study of inter-cultural relations beyond simple formulations of “East-meets-West.” In this course, we will explore the Mediterranean as a space of cultural encounter in literature of the 16th to 18th centuries. Topics of discussion will include the negotiation of European identities in relation to North Africa and the Levant (and vice versa); literary treatments of the instability of cultural signifiers and the fluidity of cultural and religious identity; the relationships between literature and history, fiction and imperialistic discourses; the politics of aesthetic delight in depictions of the “other”; the role of genre in creating, reinforcing, or subverting commonplaces and stereotypes; the place of gender in representations of cultural difference; questions of religious identity and discourses on conversion; and the role of language and translation in negotiating and forging new identities. Works to be studied include travel narratives by both European and North African writers as well as plays and fiction by Virgil, Cervantes, Corneille, Molière, Lafayette, Racine, Voltaire, and others.

Open to graduate students and very advanced undergraduate students. Early modernists in Italian Studies, Hispanic Studies, Comp Lit, and History are very welcome.

*Taught in French with accommodations for students from other programs.

Book list: 

Corneille, Le Cid (Larousse 978-2035839169)

D’Aranda, Les Captifs d’Alger, ed. Latifa Z’rari (J-P Richer 978-2911361067) RECOMMENDED

Lafayette, Zayde, histoire espagnole. Ed. Camille Esmein-Sarrasin (Flammarion 978-2080712462)

Matar, Europe through Arab Eyes, 1578-1727 (Columbia 978-0231141949) RECOMMENDED

Molière, Le Sicilien (Pocket 978-2-225-19229-3)

Racine, Bérénice (Larousse 978-2035832139)

Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. Fagles (Penguin 978-0143106296)

Voltaire, Zaire (Flammarion 978-2080711847)

Previously Offered:

Spring 2017, Fall 2021