NOTE: Remote students will be accommodated due to COVID-19.
From Dungeons & Dragons to Assassin’s Creed, the secondary worlds of RPGs and adventure video games have been particularly inspired by specifically medieval European myths and histories. Such games and worlds have enormous fan bases among tech professionals, who seem to perceive some intuitive analogy between fighting monsters, casting spells, and collecting treasure on the one hand and blocking “trolls,” writing code, and collecting users on the other. “Imagined Worlds” will examine the three-way intersection between 1) the study of medieval literature, history, and popular “medievalism”; 2) the study of transmedial fantasy worlds and their fan communities; 3) the practices of the artists and designers who build fantasy worlds for games, film, and other media. What is it about specifically medieval histories and legends that have made them so adaptable to virtual realities? How have models of community-based authority, with their constructions of “canon” and “lore,” shaped and been shaped by the technical affordances of digital networks and social media? What lessons about life in the digital age are revealed by this striking afterlife of medieval cultural forms, and how can we apply them in our artistic, scholarly, and political practices? Activities will include lectures, research-creation workshops, film screenings, a visit to the manuscript collection at McGill University, and an optional game jam.
Visitors (Confirmed; others may be added)
Maxime Durand, Historian, Ubisoft
Liz Reich, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh
Kavita Finn, Lecturer, MIT
Alex Epstein and Lisa Hunter, Compulsion Games
The class will be organized around a collaborative capstone project, which will combine Gerald of Wales’ compendium of myth and monsters History and Topology of Ireland with historical records and literature from his time to construct a prototype of an imagined world provisionally titled “Hibernia Geraldi” (Gerald’s Ireland). This project will proceed from Matthew X. Vernon’s reading of Gerald as a “colonized intellectual” to seek inspiration from the heterotopias of Afrofuturist world-building, with their models of how “secondary,” “virtual” worlds might resist and critique colonizer histories in the “primary” world. Hence our goal is not only to research and understand the phenomenon of medievalism in digital culture, but also to construct in response to that phenomenon a praxis of world-building that might expose and resist the ways in which popular memories of the medieval past still contribute to colonial ideologies in the present.
The class will proceed in three phases. First, students will collaborate online to develop a shared framework for collaboration and connection, around their readings of the assigned texts, their own proposed research / research-creation projects, and their contributions to the plans for the capstone project; second, students will come to Montreal for eight days of intensive workshops, lectures, exercises, and public outreach activities; finally, students will incorporate the feedback of the instructor, fellow students, and other collaborators to complete and submit their own final projects.
Encounter and develop a basic familiarity with medieval travel literature, scientific texts, historical documents, and romance dated roughly 1000-1300, focalized around Gerald of Wales and his History and Topography of Ireland.
Survey “medievalism” in popular fantasy fiction and video games, situated in relation to the (explicit and implicit) critiques of Eurocentrism found in Afrofuturist SF and Fantasy worlds and their alternate histories.
Develop and apply models for figuring the decentralized, community-based modes of authority discernible in medieval manuscript culture, Oral Traditions, and in fan communities.
Consult with professionals from the game industry about the practical dimensions of implementing secondary worlds in narratives and games.
Bernard Silvestris, Cosmographia (Columbia UP) Early English Bestiary The Mabinogion, Branches 1-4 (Oxford Classics) The Quest of the Holy Grail (Broadview) The Romance of the Rose (Oxford Classics)
Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances (Penguin)
John Mandeville, The Travels (Penguin)
Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio (Columbia UP)
Marie de France, Lais (Broadview)
Snorri Sturlusson, The Prose Edda (Penguin)
SF / Afrofuturism
JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Houghton Mifflin)
Marlon James, Black Leopard Red Wolf (Riverhead)
NK Jemisin, Broken Earth Trilogy (Orbit)
George RR Martin, The World of Ice and Fire (Random House)
Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death (DAW)
John F. Szwed, Space is The Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (Da Capo)
Phil K. Dick, The Exegesis (Gollancz)
Kavita Finn, “Queen of Sad Mischance: Medievalism, ‘Realism,’ and the Case of Cersei Lannister,” in Zita Rohr and Lisa Benz eds., Queenship and the Women of Westeros: Female Agency and Advice in Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire (Palgrave, 2020), pp. 29-52.
Daniel T. Kline, “All Your History Are Belong To Us: Digital Gaming Re-Imagines the Middle Ages,” in Digital Gaming Reimagines The Middle Ages (Routledge, 2013), 15-26.
Michael Saler, “Living in the Imagination,” in As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford UP, 2012), 25-56.
Matthew X Vernon, “History, Genealogy, and Gerald of Wales: Medieval Theories of Ethnicity and Their Afterlives,” in The Black Middle Ages, pp. 159-201.
Cord Whitaker, “Black Metaphors Inside and Out in their Narrative and Spiritual Contexts,” in Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking (U Penn Press, 2019), pp. 89-122.
Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003), 257-337.
Helen Young, “Forming Habits: Derivation, Implementation, and Adaptation,” in Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness (Routledge, 2016).
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Robin Hood (1973)
The Song of the Sea (2018)
We Happy Few (Compulsion, 2018)
Assassin’s Creed series (Ubisoft)
Skyrim (Bethesda, 2011)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt, 2015)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017)
Maurice Druon, The Accursed Kings series (novels)
Sharon Kay Penman, Plantagenet series (novels)
TS Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral (play)
Umberto Eco, Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, Baudolino (novels)
Geraldine Heng, The Invention of Race in the Middle Ages (Cambridge UP, 2018)
Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers (Routledge, 1992)
Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (Duke UP, 2019)
Jon Peterson, Playing at the World (Unreason Press)
Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
Mark JP Wolf, Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (Routledge, 2012)
15%: IN PERSON PARTICIPATION Timeliness, attendance in sessions, contributions to discussion, preparedness, respect to fellow students.
15%: ONLINE DISCUSSION FORUM This online discussion forum is where we will set our agenda for our in-person meetings and collaborations. Each student will have three primary responsibilities, worth 5% each: 1) summarizing for the class their assigned individual reading, incorporating secondary scholarly sources (at least 5 articles, book chapters, or books from different authors), while also answering questions; 2) propose a topic for their individual Hibernia Geraldi presentation (see below); 3) responding to the posts of your classmates, seeking out in particular ways in which their work might help you to develop and continue your proposed final project.
5%: HIBERNIA GERALDI PRESENTATION
Following on contributions to the discussion forum, each student will make a brief PowerPoint presentation on day 1 concerning one aspect of the “Gerald’s Ireland” secondary world, which may include e.g.: Maps; Architecture; Props (indoors, etc); Events; Historic and atypical characters; Daily Life; Weapons; Technologies; Music; and/or any idea or concept suggested by your individual reading. These presentations will be part of a narrative creation workshop run by Maxime Durand, historian for the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
10%: HIBERNIA GERALDI WORLD ELEMENT
On the afternoon of day 5, students will synthesize their world elements into a single Hibernia Geraldi imagined world, which the instructor will use to write a brief RPG adventure to take place on the afternoon of the final day (using the Savage World RPG system). This contribution may take the form of artwork, narrative, systems of physics, or any other contribution to the world’s lore, with the limitation that it cannot take the instructor longer than 20 minutes to evaluate it. The instructor will lead the group on an adventure in the world in the Savage Worlds RPG system, and it will be archived and used for the next capstone project by the next group of students to take the class.
5%: FINAL PROJECT PRESENTATIONS
On the final morning, each student will give a ten minute presentation on their final project, aimed in particular at summarizing the progress made over the previous week and plans for completing the project, which should include a handout with two bibliographies: 1) works consulted, 2) works to consult.
10%: SUMMARY REFLECTIONS One week after class ends, students will each submit their summary reflections on the live sessions, which will be compiled by the instructor; edited if necessary; and circulated among the class. These reflections must include: 1) suggestions for possible directions that classmates’ Final Projects could take (at least 1 paragraph per other project); 2) suggestions for how the Hibernia Geraldi world could evolve. These documents will be circulated among the group, who will have the opportunity of responding to them before they are given a grade and feedback from the instructor.
40%: FINAL PROJECT
One month after the end of the in-person sessions, each student will submit their final project, which will be accompanied by a one-page statement of how and why they would have proceeded differently if they were to start it again from scratch.
A limited number of fellowships covering tuition and fees will be awarded to participants based on their applications.