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Study information

East is East? Cross-Cultural Encounters in Medieval French Literature

Module titleEast is East? Cross-Cultural Encounters in Medieval French Literature
Module codeMLF2069
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Thomas Hinton (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

Much of what we think of as ‘Western culture’ has been marked by colonialism and its emphasis on racial and cultural differences. But how should we understand the varieties of conflict and cooperation that took place across cultural borders before the advent of colonialism, and how do they relate to our contemporary world? In this module you will study representations of the ‘East’ in a selection of medieval French texts: how these texts work to project an image of the ‘foreign’, and the uses to which such constructions are put.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • This module aims to introduce you to a varied selection of medieval texts. You will learn to read these critically by developing close reading skills and a knowledge of the medieval cultural context.
  • You will also learn about influential theoretical approaches to issues of race, identity, culture and gender; we will analyse their value for the analysis of premodern societies through consideration of recent work on cultural contact and difference undertaken in medieval studies.
  • The module will challenge you to consider the legacy and persistence of medieval cultural models in the present day, and thus prepare you for a lifelong critical engagement with the modern world.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a sound understanding of the set texts, including reference to their place in the historical, literary and cultural context of their time
  • 2. Demonstrate competence in reading and analysing medieval French (supported by modern French translations)
  • 3. Demonstrate sensitivity to the cultural and historical particularities of medieval culture and, if appropriate, identify points of comparison between medieval and modern accounts of cultural difference

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. With some guidance from the module tutor, evaluate and apply a range of critical approaches to medieval literature and culture
  • 5. Present a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, mustering a range of textual evidence in its support
  • 6. Use a reading list to identify material relevant to a given aspect of the subject

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Undertake defined learning activities with a measure of autonomy, asking for guidance where necessary
  • 8. Adopt a critical approach to the selection and organisation of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a cogent written or oral argument
  • 9. Using course material provided, research, plan and write an essay on a chosen aspect of the subject, to a specified length and deadline

Syllabus plan

This module looks at representations of the ‘East’ in a selection of medieval French texts, which may include the following: a religious play in which a statue of a saint converts an Islamic king to Christianity; an epic which sees Charlemagne travel to Constantinople to measure himself against the Greek emperor; and a charmingly transgressive love story between a Muslim prince and a Christian slave. We will explore how these texts – full of journeys, marvels and miracles – work to project an image of the ‘foreign’, and the uses to which such constructions are put.

Close study of the primary texts will be supported by lectures that consider broader issues such as medieval accounts of the world’s geography and history; the ideology and realities of crusade; and the significance of domestic items such as silk and spices, markers of luxury which tell a story of trade contacts and the interpenetration of customs and goods. Recent influential approaches to race and culture have demonstrated the role of colonialism in shaping the development of modern civilisations; in doing so, they have tended to ignore the Middle Ages, or at best to treat this period as a kind of pre-history to colonialism. Yet medieval literature reflects a world in which the cultural, national and linguistic boundaries we now take for granted were far more fluid than they are today, and for this very reason it invites us to move beyond received ideas and stereotypes in our dealings with modern life.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching55 x 1-hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching1010 x 1-hour seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching1Tutorial
Guided independent study135Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written task500 words1-9Written and oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002500 words1-9Written and oral feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (2500 words)Essay (2500 words)1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Jean Bodel, Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas, ed. Jean Dufournet (Garnier-Flammarion)
  • Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne, ed. Glyn S. Burgess (British Rencesvals Publications)
  • Robert D’Orbigny, Le Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur, ed. Jean-Luc Leclanche (Champion Classiques)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Selected secondary reading:

  • Burns, E. Jane, Sea Of Silk: A Textile Geography Of Women's Work (Philadelphia: University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)
  • Conklin Akbari, Suzanne, Idols In The East. European Representations of Islam And The Orient, 1100-1450 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009)
  • Kinoshita, Sharon, Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference In Old French Literature (Philadelphia: University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2006)
  • Said, Edward, Orientalism (London: Routledge, 1978 – many reprints)

Key words search

Medieval, Middle Ages, Postcolonial, French, Modern Languages

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

MLF1001 or MLF1052 or equivalent

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date