Mapping English onto the world : vernacular cartography in The wonders of The East

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Date

2013-05

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Barajas, Courtney Catherine

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Abstract

This report takes as its subject the Anglo-Saxon text of The Wonders of the East, a medieval liber monstrum which appears in three English manuscripts from the 11th and 12th centuries. It argues that Wonders is a uniquely English text, and that the use of the vernacular is an attempt to spread and validate English usage across various literary and scientific forms. The first section examines briefly the relationships between the three manuscripts, then turns to one in particular, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius B.v., for the remainder of the study. This first section will also detail the contents of each of the three manuscripts, and the various thematic and linguistic connections between them. The second section turns to the text and illustrations of Wonders, and will consider the use and significance of distinctly “English” vocabulary in describing foreign monsters. It will show that the use of vernacular neologisms to describe foreign spaces and monstrous creatures is an attempt to explore the potential uses of English, and was inspired by a political and cultural environment which encouraged the use of the vernacular in an attempt to grow a national identity. The third section examines a brief passage describing the wondrous creatures known as the donestre, and will show examine the anxieties revealed in the naming and renaming of these creatures. It then explores the relationship between the visual representation and textual description of the donestre, and the implications of the discrepancies therein, to our understanding of the text. The fourth section reads The Wonders of the East as a map. First, it unpacks the myriad potential meanings held within the medieval map; then, it examines the structural and thematic concerns of the text, and the ways in which those concerns work to literally map English onto the Eastern world. My final section considers the implications of my reading of Wonders. It shows that this reading, by acknowledging for the first time, the distinct “Englishness” of the text, opens up Wonders to further study from a number of theoretical and disciplinary viewpoint.

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