By Dr. Kisha Tracy, Fitchburg State University
I often teach a course entitled “World Literature I.” This course, as anyone knows who teaches one similar, poses several problems. For starters, the breadth of the material is daunting as it covers ancient and classical literature through the sixteenth century. The geographical expectations are also an issue as we are expected to engage with the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman foundations of Western literature and New World writings as well as with Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic texts, among others. The chronological and physical space covered in the semester is, to say the least, vast, and the class time available for each reading is necessarily limited.
My approach to this course entails breaking the material into units corresponding to aspects of human or societal experience, such as “creation, ” “wise men, ” “love, ” “women, ” “death, ” “the other, ” etc. Each unit includes texts from a range of time periods and societies, encouraging comparison and analysis of over-arching concepts. The unit in which I include the Crusades texts is on “war.” It follows the unit on “epics” and flows naturally from discussion about The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Beowulf, and The Song of Roland.
The textbook I choose to use for the course, which I have found to be quite satisfactory, is Volume 1 (Compact Edition) of The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern World, Beginnings-1650. This volume includes a section entitled “The Crusades: War and Faith in the Middle Ages, ” situated as an “In the World” context to the preceding The Song of Roland. In this section, there are, following a background introduction, Robert the Monk’s version of Pope Urban II’s “Call to the First Crusade” from 1095 and excerpts from the early twelfth-century History of the First Crusade and Third Crusade sections of Ibn al-Athir’s twelfth/thirteenth-century The Collection of Histories. In this article, I will outline my approach to teaching these texts.
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