This project provides an analysis of medieval French, Franco-Italian, and Italian literature that foregrounds the mutation of cultural and trade exchanges across the Mediterranean, showing how the locus of social and political value fundamentally altered as emergent mercantile spaces supplanted violent battlefields and tournaments as shapers of identity in the northern Mediterranean. Through a reading of twelfth- and thirteenth-century literary texts, this dissertation examines the ways in which the domination and mastery of domestic, French mercantile spaces and practices work to leverage protagonists across social strata and facilitate decisive power-shifts. Centering on the figure of the medieval businessman—the mutable, traveling merchant and his spaces of exchange—this study examines how he emerges as a surprisingly transformative and understudied force in the premodern literary imagination. Liquid identities, both in terms of the liquidity of a merchant’s resources/resourcefulness, as well as the perceived mutability or fluidity of the mercantile ‘self,’ emerge as pivotal agents of change and reconciliation, particularly when this identity is assumed by men and women of noble origins. Questions of identity and gender in spaces of exchange across Francophone lands and the greater Mediterranean drive this analysis, exploring the relation between the problematic concepts of hybridity, cross-dressing, and assimilation for Christian communities regularly trading in Arab lands. This project analyzes these issues through the lens of socio-economic, spatial, and gender theory (Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Henri Lefebvre) to address how the instability of identities and gender roles in mercantile spaces allow for the dissemination of powerful self narratives. As many characters seeking to shift social codes are female, this project addresses the question of how traditional scholarly research on medieval mercantile exchange, typically filtered through the figure of “the (male) merchant,” might be enriched if broached and read from the perspective of gender. Thus, this project reconsiders the representation of mercantile spaces in the medieval Mediterranean world as male gendered through a study of the regular occupation (and mastery) of certain spaces of exchange by female and ambiguously gendered characters.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2016. Major: French. Advisor: Susan Noakes. 1 computer file (PDF); 278 pages.
Liquid Spaces, Liquid Selves: The Construction of Mercantile Identity in the Medieval Mediterranean.
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