Medieval Studies Program, Literature Program, Experimental Humanities Program, and Environmental and Urban Studies Program Present
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Climate and Periodization:
Sir Orfeo in the Wolf Solar Minimum
Olin, Room 205
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Alexis Becker, Assistant Professor of English, Ithaca College
Bruce M.S. Campbell has recently suggested that climate history think of the period between the 1260s and 1470s as a distinct transitional period between the Medieval Climate Anomaly (or Medieval Warm Period) and the Little Ice Age. Alongside this re-periodization, I want to think about how climate can help literary scholars think about, and experiment with, our own often fraught periodizations. Near the beginning of what Campbell calls the Great Transition (a period that brought with it, in England, famine, plague, and a newly energized vernacular literature), was the Wolf Solar Minimum, an approximately seventy-year period of decreased solar activity. The Wolf Minimum period saw an uptick in certain kinds of literary productions in England, particularly Middle English versions and translations of romance. While the environment and textual production are intricately intertwined, I am not claiming that climate has a direct or immediately calculable effect on literature, literary production, or reading habits. But what happens when we use climatic periods, in addition to the other ideologically invested forms of chronological partitioning we currently use, to think with? What happens when we think about, for example, this period of decreased solar activity as a discrete period of literary production? Can it help us make sense of our own period of climate crises and cultural productions? As material for this experiment, I will be looking at a Wolf Solar Minimum text, one that was likely written during this period and which survives in a manuscript from this period. Sir Orfeo
, a retelling of the Orpheus myth as an otherworld adventure with a happy ending, is in the Auchinleck Manuscript from around 1331. I will be reading this text—and thinking about its manuscript context—with attention to its climatic period.
For more information, call 845-758-7221, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time: 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Location: Olin, Room 205
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