Heather Blurton F'13

Heather  Blurton
Associate Professor
English
University of California, Santa Barbara

ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowships 2013
Associate Professor
English
University of California, Santa Barbara
Ethics, Criticism, Anti-Semitism: Chaucer’s Prioress and the Jews
(with Hannah Johnson, University of Pittsburgh)

Do scholars have special obligations when discussing historical bigotry? Are medievalists exempt from such questions because they study a period remote in time? This project reassesses the critical history of Chaucer’s anti-Semitic poem, the Prioress’s Tale, in the context of conflicts between the claims of ethics and those of historicism in discussions of medieval anti-Semitism. Contemporary critics feel compelled to acknowledge that the Tale carries a significant ethical challenge for post-Holocaust readers, but the nature of the dilemma is often elided, leaving the stakes for historical understanding unexamined. Our intervention combines archival work and historical analysis with a critical history of earlier scholarship. This project will result in a co-authored book that intends to contribute to conversations about the aims of studies addressing hostile representations of outgroups, within and beyond medieval studies. Most importantly, however, this project models a critical approach relevant to the study of texts and works of art that have traditionally been considered masterpieces, while at the same time containing significant anti-Semitic overtones, such as Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Dicken’s Oliver Twist, Bach’s St John’s Passion, or Wagner’s Ring cycle. This is Blurton’s and Johnson’s first long-format collaboration; they have previously co-authored a review article, “Virtual Jews and Figural Criticism,” for Philological Quarterly. Award period: July 1, 2013 - June 30, 2014