Literatures Without Borders. A Historical-Comparative Study of Premodern Literary Transnationalism

01 January 2021 → 31 December 2025
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Literary translation
    • Literatures in Arabic
    • Literatures in Greek
    • Literatures in Latin
    • Medieval literature
    • Literary studies not elsewhere classified
transnationalism literature Middle Ages Latin Byzantine Greek Arabic Hebrew-Jiddisch-Ladino
Project description

This Scientific Research Network (WOG) aims to gain new insights into the transnational dimensions of premodern literatures through a historical-comparative approach. The term ‘transnationalism’ has been used in scholarship to refer to the capacity of some literary systems to operate across local, regional and/or national communities. Although it has generally been recognized that transnationalism is hardly an exclusively modern phenomenon, research on its manifestations in pre-nineteenth century literatures is still limited.

This project brings together 16 research units from 13 Flemish and international universities to develop an integrated, systematic and coordinated approach to premodern literary transnationalism. We will be tackling four premodern literary traditions that were developed alongside one another, at several times also in close mutual interactions, namely Latin, Byzantine-Greek, Arabic and Hebrew-Yiddish-Ladino.

This Network wants to respond to these urgent knowledge gaps by combining its members’ respective expertise to explore the following themes and questions:

(1) Transnational awareness: To what extent do the four traditions exhibit an awareness of their own transnational functioning?

(2) Transnational actors: Which cultural actors determined the transnational functioning of the four literary traditions?

            (3) Transnational aesthetics: In what ways is the transnational functioning of the four literatures reflected within and shaped by aesthetic and narrative tendencies?

(4) Conceptual framework: What are the central pillars for an explanatory model of premodern literary transnationalism?

The project’s ambition is to develop an overarching model that leaves room for the particularities of the four traditions and also critically rethinks the already extant yet deficient models based on modern literatures (with related concepts such as cosmopolitanism, world literature, global literature, etc.). We will reflect upon how the scholarly explorations may provide a model to revisit the workings of contemporary transnational literary systems, which have hitherto mainly been sought in material and economic factors, thus overlooking literary-historical factors.

The hypothesis is that the study of the four groups of main questions and themes will contribute to the understanding of 1) textual clues pointing at an awareness of shared literary values across time and borders, 2) mobility of actors through physical manuscript transmission and school networks, and 3) supra-local and cross-linguistic aesthetic features that are shared between literary traditions across geographical and cultural boundaries.