Research Stream


Tania Colwell (2014)
Australian National University

Beyond Wonder: Emotions of Encounter in Jean le Long’s Fleurs des histoires de l’Orient

This project explores emotions experienced by and attributed to encountering and encountered subjects in the 'Fleurs des histoires de l'Orient', an important anthology of ethnographic texts compiled by the Benedictine Jean le Long in 1351. It aims to shed new light on the ways in which emotions fundamentally shaped historical, remembered, and imagined experiences of intercultural encounter and, as a result, how they influenced constructions of European and non-European identities in the later medieval and early modern period.

Beyond Wonder: Emotions of Encounter in Jean le Long's 'Fleurs des histoires de l'Orient'

Image: ‘Riccoldo da Montecroce and the Turkmen people’ Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS 2810, fol. 275r  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This research explores emotions arising from tales of intercultural encounter in the Fleurs des histoires de l’Orient, a collection of six early fourteenth-century texts that were translated from Latin into French and compiled by Jean le Long in 1351, and which were reproduced in manuscript and print into the early 1500s. With its stories of lands and peoples from North Africa and the Holy Land, to Persia, the Indies, and Mongol China, the Fleurs collectively offered late medieval audiences a near encyclopaedic introduction to the then known world beyond the Mediterranean.

Texts such as those included in the Fleurs, which blend generic features traditionally associated with travel narrative, ethnography, and ethno-historiography, were often compiled into manuscripts labelled ‘Books of Marvels’, a term that ostensibly locates the historical emotional responses of travellers, encountered peoples, and audiences within the trope of wonder. However, close reading of the Fleurs reveals that a diverse range of emotions coloured intercultural exchanges of the period, from rage and horror, to love, respect, and humility. Tania Colwell’s project investigates the particular contexts in which emotions of encounter are verbally and visually depicted in surviving manuscripts and printed editions of the Fleurs to uncover the nature and range of emotions beyond wonder that were stimulated by historical, remembered, and imagined moments of cross-cultural interaction.

Tania is interested in the relationship between emotions and subjectivity, and in the ways in which the manuscript/early book functioned as an intercultural contact zone and site of exchange: it simultaneously (re)presented interactions between travellers and encountered peoples while mediating the engagement of historical audiences with the encounters narrated in the Fleurs’ texts and iconography. Following Rosenwein’s view that emotions are used as ways of categorising peoples and experiences, Tania’s interdisciplinary research asks how, by whom, and for whom were a range of emotions of encounter recorded and (re)produced in these materials? By probing the range of meanings encoded within emotions of encounter, her work seeks to trace how those emotions both shaped late medieval Europeans’ views of themselves and influenced their understandings of peoples beyond the Mediterranean.

Related Publications
Tania M. Colwell, ‘The Middle English Melusine: Evidence for an Early Edition of the Prose Romance in the Bodleian Library’, Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, vol. 17 (2014), pp. 254–82

Tania M. Colwell, ‘Fragments of the Roman de Mélusine in the Upton House Bearsted Collection’, The Library: Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 7th ser., 13.3 (2012), pp. 279–315

Tania M. Colwell, ‘Gesture, Emotion, and Humanity: Depictions of Mélusine in the Upton House Bearsted Fragments’, in The Inner Life of Women in Medieval Romance Literature: Grief, Guilt, and Hypocrisy, ed. by Jeff Rider and Jamie Friedman, New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 101–27

Tania M. Colwell, ‘Patronage of the Poetic Mélusine Romance: Guillaume l’Archevêque’s Confrontation with Dynastic Crisis’, Journal of Medieval History, 37 (2011), 215–29

Tania M. Colwell, ’Mélusine: Ideal Mother or Inimitable Monster?’, in Love, Marriage, and Family Ties in the Later Middle Ages, ed. by Isabel Davis, Miriam Muller, and Sarah Rees–Jones, International Medieval Research, 11 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003), pp. 181–203