Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Geraldine Heng

Associate ProfessorPh.D., Cornell University

Department of English
Geraldine Heng



iterary, cultural, and social encounters between worlds, and webs of exchange and negotiation between communities and cultures: gender, race, sexuality, and religion


Geraldine Heng is Perceval Fellow and Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, with a joint appointment in Middle Eastern studies and Women’s studies.  She holds the Perceval endowment, created by anonymous donors to support her career.  She is also Founder and Director of the Global Middle Ages Projects (G-MAP):

Heng’s teaching has included courses on early global literatures, premodern race, and critical race theory, the literatures and cultures of the crusades, medieval European romance, the literatures of medieval England, Chaucer/s, medieval biography, transcultural medieval travel narratives, and feminist theory and international feminisms. 

In spring 2004, Heng designed, coordinated, and taught in “Global Interconnections: Imagining the World 500-1500 CE,” an experimental, transhumanities graduate seminar collaboratively taught by seven faculty to introduce an interconnected, decentered world spanning Europe, Islamic civilizations, Mahgrebi  and SubSaharan Africa, India, China, and the Eurasian continent.  The experiment enabled her to conceptualize the Global Middle Ages as a field, and led to the creation of the Global Middle Ages Projects.

For a description, see the article, “The Global Middle Ages” 

Heng’s research focuses on literary, cultural, and social encounters between worlds, and webs of exchange and negotiation between communities and cultures, particularly when transacted through issues of gender, race, sexuality, class, and religion.  She is especially interested in medieval Europe’s discoveries and rediscoveries of Asia and Africa.  Her first book, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (Columbia University Press, 2003, 2004, 2012; 533 pp.) traces the development of a medieval  literary genre—European romance, and, in particular, the King Arthur legend—in response to the traumas of the crusades and crusading history, and Europe’s myriad encounters with the East. 

Heng’s second book, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge University press, 2018; 504 pp. in a larger, 10 x 7 format) argues that the medieval period was not a pre-political, pre-racial era, and that religion then (and now)—as much as science, in the high-modern era of “scientific racism”—was selectively deployed to identify differences among humans that were essentialized as absolute and fundamental, so as to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups, in practices that we would today call acts of race. 

The book’s 8 chapters treat Jews, Muslims, Africans, Native Americans, Mongols, and the Romani (“Gypsies”) to show that racial phenomena, institutions, thinking, practices, and laws existed in Europe before there was a recognizable vocabulary of race to name them for what they were.  A third, short book, England and the Jews: How Religion and Violence Created the First Racial State in the West (Cambridge, 2018-19) is adapted from Invention of Race, and concentrates on medieval England as a case study in the racialization of Jews.

Heng is currently researching and writing a fourth book, Early Globalities: The Interconnected World, 500-1500 CE, with chapters on ships, stories, and slaves, supported by an ACLS fellowship in 2017-18 and an ISAS (Singapore) fellowship in 2018-19.  She is also editing an MLA Options for Teaching volume on The Global Middle Ages, with 24 essays and 32 contributors, half of whom are medievalists of color and international scholars.

Her articles have appeared in PMLAMLNdifferencesLiterature CompassGenders, the Yale Journal of Criticism, and Exemplaria, among other journals.  She has held 8 fellowships at centers and institutes, and has been awarded some half million dollars in grants for digital projects.

For PDFs of her publications and other information, visit her page at:



E 350E • Imagining World, 500-1500 Ce

35540 • Spring 2020
Meets MW 1:00PM-2:30PM PAR 105

E 350E l [Early Globalities:] Imagining the World 500-1500 C.E.


Instructor:Heng, G

Unique: 35540

Semester:Spring 2020

Cross-lists: n/a


Prerequisite: Nine semester hours of coursework in English or rhetoric and writing.


Description: Early Globalities considers the interconnected worlds, humans, activities, and cultures around the globe in the approximate time frame of a thousand years, through global literature.


The most famous examples of global literature are known to all: The Thousand and One Nights, whose provocative plots cut a swathe from the Near East to China, the Decameron, whose characters tramp all over the European and Islamic Mediterranean, or Mandeville’s Travels, the 14thcentury fictitious travelogue that contemplates pyramids in Egypt, a gigantic “idol” in Ceylon, ancestor worship in Tibet, and long-nailed mandarins in China.  Equally famed are Marco Polo’s and Ibn Battuta’s accounts of world-traversing journeys affording descriptions of Africa, the Near East, India, China, and Southeast Asia.


Less known is Ibn Fadlan’s 10th-century journey from the Abbasid court at Baghdad to Russia, setting down his thoughts on the myriad cultures of the Eurasian continent, and the unsanitary habits of the Rus.  Rabban Sauma, an Ongut or Uighur monk from the steppe makes his way from Beijing to the West, in the 13thcentury, discussing with the Curia in Rome differences between eastern and western Christianities, visiting shrines and relics, and giving communion to the King of England, Edward I, at Bordeaux in France, during a mass of the East Syrian rite performed by Sauma in 1288.


The Vinland Sagastell of risky voyages across the Atlantic in the 11thcentury, tumultuous encounters with Native Americans, and the birth of the first European child in the Americas, Snorri Karlsefnisson.  Archeological excavation at L’anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland discovered an early 11th-century Norse settlement and artifacts in 1960, lending extra-literary support to saga memories.  Not all early global texts thematized far-ranging voyages. Kamaluddin Abdul-Razzaq Samarqandi’s mission to Calicut and Vijayanagar in the 15thcentury produced a literary narrative thematizing a city, Vijayanagar, a glittering global hub of its time in India.


This course will sample a selection of global literatures, famous and obscure, to see what they reveal of early globalisms on our planet.


Possible Texts(Texts listed are suggestive, not final):  Sundiata, an epic of Mali; John of Plano Carpini, Ystoria Mongalorum; William of Rubruck, Itinerarium; The Secret History of the Mongols; The Vinland Sagas; Abdul Razak Samakandi, Mission to Calicut and Vijayanagar; Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land; Marco Polo, The Travels; Mandeville’s Travels; Ibn Fadlan, Journey to the Rus; Proclaiming Harmony, a Song dynasty “historical novel”; “Jacob of Ancona,” City of Light; Rabban Sauma’s journey to the West.


Requirements & Grading: a term paper of at least 12 pages (50%), 1 or 2 in-class presentations (20%), attendance (10%) and active participation (20%).

E 392M • Early Glbl Lit, 1000-1500ce

35790 • Spring 2020
Meets M 3:00PM-6:00PM CAL 419
(also listed as MDV 392M)


Globalization is the name we have today for a 21st century phenomenon in which new technologies, new modes of transnational labor and post-Fordist industrialization, and political interdependencies among nations, have shrunk the world into an intricately intermeshed globe.  But globalism itself is a phenomenon that is centuries old.  World systems theorists have formulated models of an economically interlinked world from the early modern period onward.  But the globalism of an earlier, premodern period of roughly a thousand years, 500-1500 CE is still insufficiently understood and insufficiently theorized.  In world systems theories, moreover, the economic is emphasized, and the cultural and the social tend to recede from view.  

This global literature course is an invitation to investigate and theorize key features that demonstrate the interconnectivity of the early world, c. 500-1500 CE, and to understand their meaning and implications, in order to correct several lacunae.  The purpose of studying early globalisms here is not to claim that globalization per se has always existed, but to map the specific character of the globalisms of different eras, so as not to collapse the particular configurations that globalism has taken into a catch-all, teleological end-point of “globalization” that weakens our understanding of each historical era, including today.  The course aims to correct and augment global studies theorization that emphasizes the economic over the cultural, social, and literary.

Please note: “Global literature” in this seminar is not only defined by the David Damrosch notion of “world literature” as specifying texts where “the world is in there,” but also conjures with the concept of worlding—with literature that is created by the world, with elements that come to it from different places, cultures, and temporalities.  The twin focus, thus, is both on literature that thematizes the world, and on literature that has been crossculturally, and transnationally created and “worlded.”  

MES 342 • Envisn Muslim:mid Age/Today

39935 • Fall 2019
Meets M 5:00PM-8:00PM BEN 1.126

Please check back for updates.

EUS 347 • Mong/Nom/Musl In Euro Mid Ages

36415 • Spring 2017
Meets W 6:00PM-9:00PM PAR 103

Please check back for updates.

MES 342 • Envisn Muslim:mid Age/Today

41790 • Fall 2016
Meets W 6:00PM-9:00PM PAR 206

Please check back for updates.

R S 357 • Race In The Middle Ages

42845 • Spring 2016
Meets W 6:00PM-9:00PM PAR 105

Please see advisor for more information.

ISL 372 • Envisn Muslim:mid Age/Today

40630 • Fall 2015
Meets M 6:00PM-9:00PM PAR 105
GC (also listed as WGS 340)

Please check back for updates.

ISL 372 • Envisn Muslim:mid Age/Today

41775 • Fall 2014
Meets M 6:00PM-9:00PM PAR 105
GC (also listed as MES 342, R S 357)

Please check back for updates.

ISL 373 • Envisn Muslim:mid Age/Today

42092 • Fall 2013
Meets W 6:00PM-9:00PM PAR 105
GC (also listed as MES 342, R S 357)

Please check back for updates.

ISL 372 • Envisioning Muslims

41445 • Fall 2011
Meets W 6:00PM-9:00PM PAR 105

Please check back for updates.

MES 381 • Europe's Asias

42295 • Spring 2010
Meets MW 5:00PM-6:30PM PAR 8C

Please contact the graduate coordinator for more information.

ISL 372 • Envisioning Muslims

41316 • Spring 2009
Meets MW 5:00PM-6:30PM PAR 206

Please check back for updates.

R S 383 • Inventn Of Race In Middle Ages

44321 • Spring 2007
Meets MW 5:00PM-6:30PM PAR 8C

Please see the graduate coordinator for more information.

MES 381 • Global Interconnections

38442 • Spring 2004
Meets TTH 4:00PM-7:00PM UTC 4.114

Please contact the graduate coordinator for more information.


For PDFs of most of the publications listed below, visit:

The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages.  NY: Cambridge University Press, 2018.  504 pp. Invention of Race won the 2019 PROSE Prize for Global History, and was on History Today's Best Books of 2018 list.  New Chaucer Society podcast on this book: 

England and the Jews: How Religion and Violence Created the First Racial State in the West.  NY: Cambridge University Press, Religion and Violence Elements series, 2018-19. 124 pp.

Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy. NY: Columbia University Press, 2003, 2004, 2012.  533 pp. 

 “Whose Middle Ages? Medievalists and the Education of Desire.”  In Whose Middle Ages? A Reader. Editorial collective, Fordham University Press 2019.

“Reinventing Race, Colonization, and Globalisms across Deep Time: Lessons from the Longue Durée.”  PMLA 130.2 (2015): 358-66. 

“An African Saint in Medieval Europe: The Black St Maurice and the Enigma of Racial Sanctity.” In Sainthood and Race: Marked Flesh, Holy Flesh. Ed. Vincent Lloyd and Molly Bassett. NY: Routledge, 2015. 18-44. 

“Early Globalities, and Their Questions, Objectives, and Methods: An Inquiry into the State of Theory and Critique.” Exemplaria 26.2-3 (2014): 232-251.

 “England’s Dead Boys: Telling Tales of Christian-Jewish Relations before and after the First European Expulsion of the Jews.”  MLN 127:5 Supplement (2012), 54-85.

“Sex, Lies, and Paradise: The Assassins, Prester John, and the Fabulation of Civilizational Identities.” differences 23.1 (2012): 1-31. 

“Holy War Redux: The Crusades, Futures of the Past, and Strategic Logic in the ‘Clash’ of Religions.”  PMLA 126.2 (2011): 422-31.     

“The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages 1: Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages.” Literature Compass 8.5 (2011): 315-31.  

“The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages 2: Locations of Medieval Race.” Literature Compass 8.5 (2011): 332-50. 

Public Podcast discussing "Invention of Race" at

pdf"The Global Middle Ages." Special Issue on Experimental Literary Education.  Ed Jeffrey Robinson.  ELN 47:1, 2009.

"An Experiment in Collaborative Humanities: 'Global Interconnections: Imagining the World 500-1500. ADFL Bulletin, 38(3), December 2007.

"Jews, Saracens, 'Black men,' Tartars: England in a World of Racial Difference, 13th-15th Centuries," A Companion to Medieval English Literature, c. 1350-c.1500, ed. Peter Brown, Blackwell 2005.


''Music to My Ears: Pleasure, Resistance, and Feminist Aesthetics in Reading.'' Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory. ed. Ellen Rooney. Cambridge UP, 2006.

"The Romance of England: Richard Coer de Lyon, Saracens, Jews, and the Politics of Race and Nation," The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. Jeffrey Cohen, Garland (2000).


"Cannibalism, the First Crusade, and the Genesis of Medieval Romance," differences 10.1, 1998.


"'A Great Way to Fly': Women, Nationalism, and the Varieties of Feminism in Southeast Asia." Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures (pp.30-45). eds. M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade, Mohanty, Routledge, 1996 (republished, translated).


"A Woman Wants: The Lady, Gawain, and the Forms of Seduction." Yale Journal of Criticism, 5(3), 101-134 (September 1992).


"Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." PMLA: Publication of the Modern Language Association of America, 500-514 (May 1991).


''State Fatherhood: The Politics of Nationalism, Sexuality, and Race in Singapore'', Nationalisms and Sexualities, eds. Andrew Parker, Mary Russo, Doris Sommer, Patricia Yeager, Routledge 1991 (republished eight times; translated into other languages).


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