You are here

ENGL 322 A: Medieval and Early Modern Literatures of Encounter

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
SMI 407
Kate Norako photo
Leila Kate Norako

Syllabus Description:

English 322: Medieval and Early Modern Literature of Encounter

Mondays and Wednesdays, 12:30-2:20pm, SMI 407

Dr. Leila K. Norako


Student/Office Hours: Wednesdays, 2:30-3:30 (Padelford A-309) and by appointment. 



Course Description:

This course invites undergraduate students to explore and investigate a variety of literatures written in the so-called Middle Ages and Early Modern eras, but with an emphasis on encounters between various cultures. Too often, the Middle Ages and “Renaissance” are presented as exclusively White, Christian, and European spaces, when in fact these time periods witnessed significant and robust periods of contact, conflict, and exchange—from the encounters between Indigenous peoples and medieval Icelanders as attested in the Vinland Sagas (and in material/archeological record) to the interconnection between Ethiopian and European iconography, to the encounters between the Mongols and Latin Christendom along the Silk roads. Course unites invite students to decenter Latin Christendom and focus on the ways in which various cultures and kingdoms of these periods encountered and represented one another. While student interest will lead the way in our discussions, we will pay particular attention to the construction of gender, race, and religious difference in the works that we read, and the way in which these works seem either to affirm or complicate the norms and power differentials of their day. Students will be evaluated on their active participation and weekly small group work, a series of informal response papers, and on a substantial research project due at the end of term.


Course Objectives:

  • To familiarize students with key works of literature from 500-1700 in order to provide background for other studies and a historical understanding of literary development across cultures and through cultural contact, conflict, and exchange.
  • To encounter and investigate literature from the distant past in order to inform our understanding of cultural difference, historical development, and alternative ethical and artistic possibilities.
  • To enhance student’s skills in close/analytical reading, cultural analysis, and collaborative discussions.
  • To improve and augment student’s expository writing skills. 
  • To improve and augment student’s scholarly research skills. 


Course Structure: This course will meet twice per week in person in our designated classroom. With that being said, please be prepared to pivot to Zoom if the need should arise (either due to the quantity of students sick with Covid and/or inclement weather making it unsafe for many of us to travel to campus). 

On Keeping Our Class Community Safe and Healthy In These Times: 

  • Given the ongoing pandemic and the steep rise of covid cases, the number of other serious respiratory illnesses circulating at them moment, and the less-than-ideal air circulation in our classroom this quarter, I strongly urge everyone to wear masks, especially when huddled together for small group work.
  • I myself will be wearing a mask whenever I'm unable to maintain the requisite distance from others in our (cramped!) classroom, and I will almost always have a few extras on hand if you forget a mask and wish to wear one, so please always feel free to ask me for one! I have an immune-compromised spouse and two young children, and if any one of us gets sick it will directly impact my ability to run class as we'd all like it to be run. So! In the spirit of keeping your fearless leader here physically present in the classroom, please do everything you can to keep me from catching something. To that end, and I cannot stress this enough:
  • If you are symptomatic (for anything -- from a cold to the flu to Covid) please do NOT come to class. I will never hold an illness against anyone and always appreciate students being conscientious in this regard (and I am certain your peers will as well!). I will always be happy to meet with students if they still have questions after seeking out a peer for notes on what they missed. 

Readings: All readings will be provided by Dr. Norako on canvas. No texts need to be purchased for this course. The easiest way to find course readings is to head to Assignments > Course Readings > the given week. 


Grade Breakdown:

Participation: 10%

Commonplace journal: 45%

Final Project: 45%



The success of this class hinges on the active engagement and intellectual curiosity of all in attendance. While I will lecture from time to time, the majority of our class meetings will be driven by student-led inquiry and interest. Your ideas, interests, questions, etc. will be what propels us forward. As a result, you are expected to come to class having read and synthesized the readings for that day, and with the required readings in hand. Come ready to talk and engage with one another! 

  • Attendance: Given that our class will center student-led discussion, it’s essential that you come to every class meeting on time and prepared to discuss the day’s readings. Failure to attend class regularly will result in a lowered participation grade, so please don’t miss class.
  • On Absences: 
    • absences due to illness are always excused, and I will never ask for a doctor's note. Please, please do not come to class if you have cold/flu/covid symptoms. If you come to class sick you will be asked to leave. 
    • Do everything you can not to schedule work/extracurriculars/etc during class time. I understand that sometimes these kinds of events are out of your control, but being absent from numerous classes will inevitably impact your grade because of how much you will miss. 
    • If you know you will be absent, let me know via email as soon as you can.
    • The answer to the question "Did I miss anything important?" will always be "Yes." 
    • It is always the student's responsibility to get themselves caught up on what we cover if they are absent, for whatever reason. Reach out to a peer to ask for notes and then, if you still have questions, please swing by student hours or ask to set up a meeting. 
    • Note: I do not automatically lower grades based on attendance. However, I have taught for almost twenty years now, and can safely say that the students who fare best are the ones who attend class regularly and come to class prepared. 

Grading Participation: 4.0 level participation grade will result from:

    • clear evidence that the reading has been done, and that the student has amply prepared for in-class discussion. They will come to class with independent ideas about the readings, and having made efforts to critically engage with the material (i.e. synthesis, close-reading, comparative analysis, attention to course themes/central questions). They will come prepared to address any specific questions/issues/prompts from the instructor.
    • Active engagement in class. This entails not only generating ideas and taking risks (by asking questions and/or offering up ideas-in-progress), but also listening to the ideas of others and engaging accordingly. The A-level participant will be able to advance our discussions in class not only by offering up their own ideas but also by responding directly and thoughtfully to the ideas of others.


How To Succeed In This Class:

  1. Do the readings in advance! And read deeply and carefully. If necessary, read once to sort out the plot, and read a second time to analyze. (Helpful hint: read a reliable plot summary before reading the text itself to help you along!)
  2. Stay up to date on your written assignments and follow all instructions. The Commonplace Book is designed to a) help you hone your close reading skills and b) help you participate as fully as possible in our class meetings. Always make sure your pre-class entries are done *before* class, and that your end-of-week reflections are submitted by 5pm on Fridays. 
  3. Communicate with your professor. If you have questions or concerns (about meeting deadlines, managing the reading and writing load, how to research a given topic, what to say about a particular text, etc), get in touch! Office hours are perfect for longer conversations, but I am happy to talk briefly before/after class or (if the questions can be swiftly answered) via email. 
  4. Complete all major assignments on time; pace yourself. Avoid writing your major assignments at the 11th hour and/or trying to write all of your journal entries in the final weeks of term. 
  5. Come to class prepared and with all required materials (notebook/laptop, readings due that day). Be ready to discuss and think hard about the readings. And remember: there are many ways to earn full marks on participation.
  6. Stay focused and engaged in class. Participate actively in class discussions; there are many ways to participate, and that I value all of them. Avoid getting distracted by electronics in class. And if you must use a laptop for taking notes, avoid using it for anything unrelated to class. 
  7. Stay Organized. In the very first week of class, write down all of your deadlines for all of your classes in a calendar. If you notice that, say, you have three major assignments due the same week, figure out what’s feasible, and ask your professors for what you need well in advance. You’re much more likely to have extension requests granted that way and/or are much more likely to do well on each of those assignments/exams.   
  8. Write about what you care about and what genuinely piques your curiosity, because the more invested you are, the more enjoyable and worthwhile the writing and thinking will be, and (nearly always) the better the final written work.


(note: these are brief overviews. Detailed prompts for each of these assignments can be found on our Canvas page)

Commonplace Book: This journal will be comprised of a series of short entries and end-of-week reflections that will invite you to deepen your engagement with our reading material. They will also help you get into the practice of near-daily writing, which will be integral to your success on your formal written assignments. To get full marks for this journal, you need to write an entry in advance of each of our class meetings that reflects careful engagement, analysis, and connection-making between texts. You will also be asked to write reflective entries at the end of each week. Please see the prompt in Canvas for complete and detailed instructions.

Final Research Project: This assignment invites you to hone your close reading, writing, and research skills, deepen your exploration of the interconnected premodern world, and deepen essential collaborative skills (necessary for any line of work, as virtually all occupations require collaboration and group work of some kind). In lieu of a standard research paper, students will work in groups of 3-4 to produce a museum exhibit that would educate its intended viewers on the vast networks of trade and cultural exchange across the premodern world. The central goal would be the same as the goal of the class: to correct the currently Eurocentric record on the premodern world by decentering Latin Christendom and/or placing it in a broader and more capacious context that, in the end, showcases the equally vibrant cultures across the premodern world. Work on this final project will begin around mid-quarter, and ample scaffolding and benchmarks will be built into the second half of the course to ensure all groups are fully supported in their work. I will be inviting a couple of guests to visit our class during this time (a museum curator from the Burke and one of our amazing librarian) to further assist you all in your work. The final project itself can take a number of forms (from visuals and captions of a proposed visual/museum exhibit to a strictly digital exhibit on a platform like Omeka), but each student will write their own self-reflection in order to give a detailed account of their own work and experiences in this collaborative endeavor. In lieu of a final exam, we will use the exam time during finals week to showcase these final projects -- each group will have a set amount of time to present their work to the class (and I'll bring treats!). 

Other Policies and Notes of Import:

On Technology in the Classroom: I do not ban the use of electronic devices in class. However, all students must be respectful of their peers and refrain from using electronic devices for anything aside from our work in the classroom (i.e. no Facebook, game playing, etc – that kind of engagement is profoundly distracting to those around you). It is very obvious when students are surfing the web/watching movies/playing games/checking Facebook, and students who do so will get a zero for participation for that class meeting.  

On Canvas: Our class portal will be the predominate way in which you’ll keep up to date on course announcements, and is also where you will gain access to supplementary course materials. All secondary readings will be found there, as well as additional resources. All assignment prompts will be posted there as well, and unless otherwise stated, all formal written assignments will be submitted to Canvas, and all feedback from me will be found there as well.

Email and Office hours: If you have a question that can be answered in 1-2 sentences, please feel free to send an email, and I will respond as soon as possible (if you email me over the weekend, expect a response no earlier than noon on Monday). If your questions require a lengthy response, please bring them to me during office hours. If my office hours conflict with your class schedule, contact me and we will find an alternate time/way to meet. Please note that I am committed to checking email at least once a day on weekdays, and ask that all of you make the same commitment.

A note on AI: Using AI to complete your written assignments in this class is, technically speaking, engaging in a form of plagiarism, and it also robs you of the opportunity to think for yourself and to hone your critical thinking ,writing, and revision skills through the assignments I craft for you. Added to which, using AI will (as I have seen in previous classes) result in a poor grade because ChatGPT cannot produce new ideas and nuanced close readings. It can, at best, regurgitate the ideas that it has already been fed. Since the assignments in this class require you to arrive at your own independent and unique thoughts and analyses, any text that you produce via AI-generated content will typically end up with a D or low C at most. To avoid that low grade, you would have to spend far more time revising/expanding upon/correcting the text generated by ChatGPT than you would if you had simply written the work yourself. It is far and away in your best interests, then, to produce your own work. If you do use AI to aid you in your written work for this class, you must disclose that information and provide a detailed account of how and why you used it. 

On Plagiarism: The Student Conduct Code defines plagiarism as follows:

“Plagiarism, . . .  is the submission or presentation of someone else’s words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

  1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
  2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.”

If plagiarism is suspected, a student will be asked to meet with me, and the following general rules/procedures will apply:

      • For minor infractions (1-2 missing citations, failure to use quotation marks in 1-2 instances, clear evidence that plagiarism was accidental, etc): 
        • Option either to revise and earn up to 75% for the assignment in question; or to abandon the assignment. Final grade will be an average of the rest of the assignments in the course.
        • Possible reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct
      • For major infractions (i.e. numerous plagiarized passages, clear evidence that the essay was written by someone else and/or stolen or purchased wholesale)
        • Automatic zero for the assignment.
        • No option for revision.
        • Automatic reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct.

The bottom line: Do not plagiarize! It is never, ever worth it, and it is shockingly easy to detect. I take plagiarism very seriously because I believe strongly in the value of the work I’ve assigned you. I want you to learn and grow through the work that I’m asking you to do in this class, and that learning and growth will not happen if you take the work of another person and pass it off as your own. 

Access and Accommodations: It is very important to me that all students are able to thrive in this classroom environment. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or  (Links to an external site.)DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you are reading this, congratulations! You have found the "egge" -- please send Prof. Norako a picture of a favorite outdoor place (real or imaginary!). 


On DACA: The University of Washington strives to provide a safe, secure, and welcoming environment that protects the privacy and human rights of everyone in our community. UW’s longstanding policies do not permit immigration officials to enter UW classrooms or residence halls without a court order, and I will not share any information about a student’s immigration status. For guidance regarding immigration status, please consult the following resource through Leadership Across Borders ( and the following through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity ( You can also email with questions and concerns. \


On Religious Accommodations: “Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (”


On Children in the Classroom (heavily drawn from Dr. Melissa Cheyney’s Syllabus) :

The University does not have a formal policy on this topic, so this list reflects my own commitments to student parents:

  1. I ask that we all, as a community, work together to create an environment respectful of all forms of diversity, including diversity in parenting status. 
  2. All breastfeeding babies are welcome in class as often as is necessary.
  3. For older children and babies, I understand that unforeseen disruptions in childcare often put parents in situations where they might have to miss class. While this can’t be a long-term solution, please know that occasionally bringing a child to class in order to cover gaps in care is perfectly ok.
  4. If/when babies or small children come to class, I ask that the parents and children sit close to the door so that if the little one(s) need special attention and/or are disrupting learning for other students, parents can easily step outside until their needs have been met. Speaking from experience, this set up will also make the parent’s learning experience more conducive, since they won’t be worrying about how to make a discrete exit if the little one’s needs require it!  
  5. Finally, I recognize that the exhaustion many parents feel once children have finally (hopefully?!) gone to sleep can often make the task of completing homework feel more than herculean. While I maintain the same high expectations for all of my students regardless of parenting status, I am happy to problem-solve with you in a way that fully supports you as you strive for balance as a parent and student. 


On Our Classroom Environment: Our classroom will be radically inclusive, open to ideas, questions, and debates born out of genuine curiosity and rooted in a desire for knowledge and intellectual growth. It will be a space for rigorous and deep discourse, and it will be a space that actively resists any and all racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, religious intolerance, and misogyny. 


Provisional Course Schedule:

Note: While this schedule is reasonably complete at this time, I may choose to pair down our readings as the needs and interests of our particular class require. I solemnly swear, however, never to add significant amounts of reading beyond what is provided here. 

Also of note: The reading for this course is likely more than what you might have assigned in other classes. This is why I do not have a mid-quarter essay and why the final project is a collaborative one rather than an individual project. The goals of this course require a bit more reading to ensure we do justice to the material, and in respect for the additional time that this reading requires, I've endeavored to adjust the quantity and scope of the required/formal assignments. 


UNIT ONE:  Medieval Africa (Weeks 1-3)

  • In this unit, students will focus on the literature of “medieval” Africa and the cultural contacts between medieval African kingdoms and those in Latin Christendom. Again, we will also look at the ways in which authors from these kingdoms write about and to their communities and how those same communities are written about by foreigners.

Week 1:

January 3rd: Introduction to the course, no reading assigned 

January 5th: Have your commonplace book set up in google docs by 5pm and write-up your first entry. This entry should discuss your goals and aims for this class, and needn't be long. 


Week 2: What is Global Premodern Studies?;  Medieval Africa, Part I

  • Jan 8th: Introductory readings; introduction to “Medieval” Africa
    • Read: Sierra Lomuto “Becoming Postmedieval”; Heng, “Global Middle Ages” pdf; Toward a Global Middle Ages, Introduction; Wai Chi Dimock, Through Other Continents, Introduction (pay particular attention to her conceptualization of "deep time"); The Golden Rhinoceros, Introduction and excerpts.
  • Jan 10th: Encounters in Premodern Saharan Africa 
  • Jan 12th: Week 2 reflection due by 5pm in your CP book. 


Week 3: Medieval and Early Modern Ethiopia

  • Jan 15th:  MLK Day, NO CLASS.
  • Jan 17th: 
    • Kebra Nagast, introduction and excerpts
    • Akbari “Where is Medieval Ethiopia?”
    • Recommended: Verena Krebs, Medieval Ethiopian Kingship 
    • Recommended: Roland Betancourt, “Imperial Brutality”
  • Jan 19th: Week 3 reflection due. 


UNIT TWO: Conquest, Conflict and its Effects across the Premodern Mediterranean 

  • In this unit, students will examine a variety of protracted martial conflicts (including the so-called Crusades, the Umayyad conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the pogroms against medieval Jewish communities, the Mongol invasions of the Middle-East and Eastern Europe, and the rise and expansion of the Ottoman Empire). We will examine and investigate not only the hows and whys of the conflicts, but their impact that these conquests had on the cultures in question. 

Week 4: Medieval Africa/Medieval Mediterranean

Jan 22nd: Wendy Belcher, Jesuit accounts article; Life of Mother Walatta Petros, intro and concise version. 

January 24th: 

January 26th: Week 4 reflection Due


Week 5: The Global Alexander Legend

Jan 29th: The Alexandreis, excerpts; History of Alexander the Great in World Culture, Introduction

Jan 31st: The Shanameh, excerpts

Feb 2nd: Week 5 Reflection Due 


Week 6: Mediterranean Frame Tales and Poetics 

Feb 5th: 1001 Nights and The Decameron, excerpts Part I

Feb 7th: 1001 Nights and the Decameron, excerpts Part II ; Women's Poetry (handout coming soon) 

Feb 9th: Week 6 Reflection Due


Unit 3: Silk Road Encounters (Weeks 7-8)

  • This unit will invite students to examine the cultural impact of trade, travel, and missionary efforts along the so-called Silk Road. We will focus in particular on the ways in stories (like that of Alexander the Great) traverse and take new shapes and structures as they do so, but will also look in particular at the ways in which various religious and cultural groups write about one another. 


Week 7: Premodern Jewish Worlds ; Silk Roads I 


Week 8: Silk Road Encounters 


UNIT 4 Encountering the Far North (Weeks 9 and 10)

  • This unit will invite students to investigate not only the Norse and their various encounters across the globe, from their participation in the Crusades to their various raids, to their posts in the Varangian Guard in Byzantium, but will also examine literatures written about the so-called Vikings by Arab Chroniclers. It will also look at the encounters between Indigenous peoples (specifically the Thule people and the tribes in Newfoundland) and the Icelanders who travelled there, as attested in various Icelandic sagas. 


Week 9: End of Silk roads, beginning of Far North Unit 

Feb 26th: Silk Roads, cont'd

Feb 28th: The Far North


Week 10:

March 4th: Sagas and Inuit Tales of Encounter

March 6th: The Far North, Course Concluding discussion. 

March 8th: CP Book with Final Course Reflection due by 5pm. 


Exam Period: 

Final Projects due no later than Wednesday, 5pm. 

Catalog Description: 
Cultural encounters across medieval and early modern worlds, with particular attention to how these works depict cultural difference, race/racism, and geopolitical power.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
September 12, 2023 - 6:54am