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Comparative Literature Courses

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Travelers, Tricksters, and Storytellers: Jewish Travel Narratives and Autobiographies

Comparative Literature 359 - Spring 2020

Jewish literature includes a number of highly fascinating travel accounts and autobiographies that are still awaiting their discovery by a broader readership. In this course, we will explore a broad range of texts originating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. They were written by both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews hailing from countries as diverse as Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire. Among the authors were pilgrims, rabbis, merchants, and one savvy business woman. We will read their works as responses to historical circumstances and as expressions of Jewish identity, in its changing relationship to the Christian or Muslim environment in which the writers lived or traveled. Specifically, we will ask questions such as: How do travel accounts and autobiographies enable their authors and readers to reflect on issues of identity and difference? How do the writers produce representations of an "other," against which and through which they define a particular sense of self? To what extent are these texts reliable accounts of their authors' personal experiences, and where do they serve their own self-fashioning? How do the writers portray Christians, Muslims, and Jews from other cultural backgrounds than their own? How do they construe the role of women in a world dominated by men? How do they reflect on history, geography, and other fields of knowledge that were not covered by the traditional Jewish curriculum; and how do they respond to the challenges and opportunities of early modernity? This course is open to students of varying interests, including Jewish, Islamic, or Religious Studies, medieval and early modern history, European or Near Eastern literatures. All texts will be read in English translation.

Section 01

Travelers, Tricksters, and Storytellers: Jewish Travel Narratives and Autobiographies
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