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Built and Natural Environments in Medieval Contexts (Juarez, Keane, & Davis)

What is the relationship between so-called “built” and “natural” environments as they are represented in medieval literature, and what is the value of thinking about this relationship? Amy Juarez (Ph.D. Candidate, UC Riverside), Chelsea Keane (Ph.D. Candidate, UC Riverside) and Rebecca Davis (Associate Professor, UC Irvine) have a discussion about these questions in an attempt to complicate and explore notions about how medieval writing conceives of these spaces. By discussing specific Middle English words such as “kynde” and “erthe,” and using frameworks that emphasize connectivity like “devysing” and “seep,” the trio approach environmentality as connections between entities. They use their conversation about this framework within medieval literature as a springboard for talking about the nuance of poetic form, the ethical quandary of vitalism, and larger topics such as disciplinary distinctions and the purpose of the field of medieval studies within both the humanities and the wider university system.

Amy Juarez is a PhD Candidate in the department of English at the University of California, Riverside. Her research and teaching focus on medieval and early modern literature, visual art, and conceptions of embodiment. Her dissertation, titled “The Poetics of Embodied Architecture in Medieval and Early Modern Europe,” is supported by the Medieval Academy of America’s Schallek Dissertation Fellowship. Her work has also been supported by the Richard III Society, the International Center of Medieval Art, the National Humanities Center, and the Center for Ideas and Society at UC Riverside. She is also Co-Director of the speaker series Race and the Premodern Period (RAPP for short) at UC Riverside.

Chelsea Keane is a Ph.D. Candidate in UC Riverside’s English department. Her dissertation, which focuses on medieval and early modern literature and environmental humanities, is titled “Ideologies of Extraction in Premodern Literary Environments.” Her work appears in Studies in Medievalism and Medieval Ecocriticisms, and is forthcoming in The Year’s Work in Medievalism and The Liverpool Handbook of Environmental Science Fiction."

Rebecca Davis is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. Her first book, Piers Plowman and the Books of Nature (Oxford, 2016), examines the representation of divine and human creativity, nature, and ethics in William Langland’s Middle English poem. Her work on Langland, Chaucer, and medieval drama has appeared in journals including Yearbook of Langland Studies, Chaucer Review, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, postmedieval, and New Medieval Literatures. Her new book project, titled Graceful Narratives, explores how the theological idea of grace influenced literary form, specifically, narrative forms that are non-linear or suspend time, opening up possibilities for change and new narrative directions.

Further reading:

  • Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2009.

  • Betancourt, Roland and Ambereen Dadabhoy. ““Geographies of Race: Constructions of Constantinople/Istanbul in the Western European Imaginary.” Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World, edited by Noémie Ndiaye and Lia Markey, ACMRS Press, 2023.

  • Bryant, Levi. “Black.” Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. University of Minnesota Press, 2013, 290-310.

  • Cheng, Irene, Charles L. Davis II, Mabel O. Wilson. Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020.

  • Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman. University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

  • Davis, Rebecca. “Fugitive Poetics in Chaucer’s House of Fame.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer, vol. 27, 2015, 101-132.

  • Davis, Rebecca. Piers Plowman and the Books of Nature. Oxford University Press, 2016. 

  • Gayk, Shannon. “Apocalyptic Ecologies: Eschatology, the Ethics of Care, and the Fifteen Signs of the Doom in Early England.” Speculum, vol. 96, no. 1, 2021, 1-39.

  • Galloway, Andrew. “The Making of a Social Ethic in Late-Medieval England: From Gratitudo to ‘Kyndenesse’.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 55, no. 3, 1994, 365–383.

  • Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants. Milkweed Editions, 2013.

  • Mentz, Steve. “Seep.” Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert. University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 282-296.

  • Minch-de Leon, Mark. “Atlas for a Destroyed World: Frank Day's Painting as Work of Nonvital Revitalization.” Native American and Indigenous Studies, vol. 8, no. 1, 2021, 56-88.

  • Ndiaye, Noémie and Lia Markey. “Introduction.” Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World, edited by Noémie Ndiaye and Lia Markey, ACMRS Press, 2023.

  • Robertson, Kellie. “Exemplary Rocks.” Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects. Punctum Books, 2012, 93-123.

  • Wallace, Cleaves. "From Monmouth to Madoc to Māori: The Myth of Medieval Colonization and an Indigenous Alternative." English Language Notes, vol. 58, no. 2, 2020, pp. 21-34.

  • Wigley, Mark. “Chronic Whiteness.” Sick Architecture. e-Flux Architecture, 2020, <>

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