Stephanie Mühlenfeld, M.A.

Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Graduiertenkolleg 1876
Hegelstr. 59
55122 Mainz


Project title: Concepts of "exotic" animals in the Middle Ages.

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Sabine Obermaier, Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening

Dissertation project:

In medieval literature, "exotic" animals can be found in fictional narrative texts as, for instance, Alexanderroman, Herzog Ernst, or Wigalois. At the same time, late medieval travelogues of pilgrims or commercial travelers give information about these animals. The relationship between man and nature, which is illustrated in these texts, can be seen as significant part of cultural self-reflection in discourses during the Middle Ages. This means, the differences of "exotic" animals and their emphasized proprietates depend on discourses related to the representation. The representation, in turn, can lead to new discourses. This fact becomes obvious as descriptions and images of high and late medieval literature were handed down over a long period and shaped the state of knowledge about the respective animal in Europe. "Exotic" animals come not by chance, but are carriers of meaning that play a specific function within the texts.

The dissertation project will investigate the following questions: Are universal concepts of perception, understanding and interpretation in medieval literature recognizable? Do they become obvious in all descriptions of "exotic" animals? Can they be traced back to a common cultural and chronological tradition? Or do they appear only in a specific medieval discourse? Are specific processes responsible for the construction and semantic assignment of "exotic" animals? Furthermore, it will be investigated if the "exoticism" of an animal can be neutralized within certain discourses. Moreover, it will be considered which function and meaning of a respective animal becomes obvious in the context of its home country’s culture and which is articulated in medieval texts.

This dissertation project will be based on an interdisciplinary comparative analysis that focuses on narrative, fictional texts from the 12th to the 14th centuries, (pseudo-)historical travelogues from the 14th and 15th centuries as well as images of "exotic" animals, such as woodcuts, mappae mundi and also material legacies.

The dissertation project was completed in July 2017.