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Abstracts 100.2

Albrecht Classen, “Global History in the Premodern Age?: A Medieval and an Early Modern Perspective; The Niederrheinische Orientbericht (ca. 1350) and Adam Olearius’s Vermehrte New Beschreibung der Muscowitischen vnd Persischen Reyse (1647; 1656)”

Despite many efforts by pre-modern scholarship to establish a solid foundation for global perspectives (global Middle Ages), in essence we continue to be limited by a standard list of famous western travelers to the East, such as Marco Polo. Those were, however, mostly exceptions, and we would need to take into consideration a more thorough approach to the question to what extent pre-modern Europe really engaged with the East. The artificial divide between the Middle Ages and the early modern age appears to be the first hurdle we would have to remove to advance the notion of global studies. Second, we would have to take into consideration western reports – those by eastern travelers are much harder to come by – which were not simply those by missionaries or merchants, but those that were informed by an authentic interest in the foreign world and tried their best to come to terms with it in their narratives. Two of those hitherto little studied by themselves and never in tandem were the anonymous Niederrheinische Orientbericht from ca. 1350 and the travelogues by the northern German Adam Olearius (middle of the seventeenth century). In both narratives we discover an unprecedented degree of honest interest in and curiosity about foreign fauna and flora, geography, human culture and languages, and politics. Although Olearius was probably entirely unaware about the much earlier travelogue, he himself composed an astounding report characterized by a similarly  high degree of respect for the Persian world, culture, and language. There are certainly similarities to Marco Polo’s Travels, and yet both authors appear to be much less informed by myth and religious preconceived notions. Especially in the case of Olearius, we recognize an astounding degree of linguistic curiosity and effort to create bridges between the western and eastern culture, which we could identify as the groundwork of pre-modern globalism.


Matthew Binney, “John Milton’s A Brief History of Moscovia (1682): Aristotelian Virtue and Reproach of the Past”

In John Milton’s A Brief History of Moscovia (1682), scholars have identified an influence from Milton’s sources that points to a negative view of the Russian tsar, state, and people. This essay examines how Milton offers a more measured view through examining his use of “absolute,” which is based upon his distinctive use of history and his political philosophy. Milton uses history to present good kings and bad kings to offer a reproach to contemporary leaders, underscoring Milton’s larger ethical aims in promoting Aristotelian virtue and his classical republicanism. The focus upon virtue shows that a tsar may possess extensive power by either mirroring an Aristotelian king or a tyrant: the former governs for the common good and the latter does not. Acting for the common good, which is to say, avoiding corruption, appears in Milton’s depiction of the Russian people too, when he highlights those who act as the regenerate, as they promote liberty of choice and challenge bad kings. Milton’s account reflects criticisms of Russia, but these criticisms relate not only to Russia, but all sovereigns or peoples who choose vice over virtue and corruption over the common good. As such, Milton resists the dominant narrative on Russia in European travel accounts in the seventeenth century, and he offers an Aristotelian basis for positive depictions of Russia, which especially relating to the tsar, anticipates what Anthony Cross describes as the trope of the “good monarch” in 18th-century British travel accounts of the Russian Empire.  


Shaun Regan, “Exhausting His Whole Stock of Inspiration: Christopher Anstey’s The New Bath Guide (1766) and the ‘Thorny Road’ of Satire”

Christopher Anstey’s narrative verse satire, The New Bath Guide, was the literary sensation of 1766. It was a success the author would never repeat. This article explores Anstey’s creative difficulties and misjudgements and the central role that satire played in his career-long decline. The New Bath Guide has frequently been maligned and misunderstood in critical studies that define satire in terms of antagonistic attack or that assume the demise of satiric poetry after Pope. This article reads the poem instead in terms of its contemporary reception and the leisure culture it evokes, and retraces Anstey’s subsequent struggle to match his breakthrough work of 1766.


Rachel Kravetz, “Figure and Ground in Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved

This essay takes the mythological sculptures of Thomas Hardy’s last novel, The Well-Beloved (1897), as a key to a complex aesthetic program. It places the novel within a neglected context, the history of ideas about classical sculpture and, more broadly, a line in aesthetics that conceives fine art as giving access to abstract ideals. In this reading, the novel refuses powerful precedents to suggest that such abstractions are out of art’s reach. Hardy frames the protagonist’s sculptures with images of the island where most of the story takes place. While the stone island has been understood as plain matter that serves as a corrective to the sculptor’s idealism, it too is represented as an artwork. Applying sculptural attributes to every element—the earth’s surface, the figures upon it, and the moon above—Hardy draws extraordinary beauty away from any transcendent realm and grounds it on earth.


Florian Gargaillo, “‘Unknown and Unknowable’: Animal Selves in the Bird Poems of E. E. Cummings”

E.E. Cummings has often been criticized for adopting a sentimental attitude towards the natural world. This essay argues that Cummings’ depiction of the environment, and animals specifically, is far more complex than scholars have granted. Rather than assuming an intimate relationship with nature, Cummings presents animal minds as “unknown and unknowable” and makes that opaqueness the very subject of his poetry. Focusing on his bird poems, my article traces the techniques that Cummings developed to portray these animals in verse while emphasizing their unknowability, from the high artifice of his early work to the gnomic restraint of his later writings.