This project explores new approaches to British insularity in the late Middle Ages. Our undertaking challenges existing traditions of British insular culture (and the collective identities it hosts) as self-contained, explicitly engaging with recent island and archipelago theory. This project address the cultural and physical maritime and other networks that articulate the British Isles in complex and changing ways.
Our two starting points are Epeli Hau'ofa's "sea of islands" and Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell's paradigm of connectivity. Hau'ofa's work on Pacific insularity emphasizes the cultural exchange among islands, and Horden and Purcell view the sea (in their case, the Mediterranean) as a force connecting and facilitating interactions among the cultures living on its shores. This conceptual model is informed by a shift in emphasis away from insularity as an isolating condition to archipelagism where the sea acts as a force connecting islands with other islands and with continents. Our project takes up Hau'ofa and others' descriptions of islands as reticulate in positive and negative ways as opposed to representations of them as immured and isolated. Our contributors engage with Hau'ofa, Horden and Purcell, John Terrell, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, and others to examine late-medieval British insularity in geography, history, and literature. Rather than considering England in terms of nationalism, the contributions to this project address coasts, ports, archipelagos, proximity, inland islands, routes, and distinctions and interactions between large islands and continents versus small islands.
The main outcome of this joint project is a special volume of the journal postmedieval (7:4, 2016). The issue is prefaced by a substantial theoretical article, jointly authored by the project leads, on recent conceptual developments in insularity and archipelagic theory; each contribution explores an aspect of British insularity; and a book review essay examines the literature on concepts of insularity and the British Isles in the late Middle Ages.
'Our Sea of Islands: New Approaches to British Insularity in the late Middle Ages' is a collaboration to research and write the introduction to, and to co-edit the submissions in, a special issue of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, published by Palgrave-Macmillan. The aim of the special journal issue is to rethink insularity in terms of recent developments in ideas about the sea, archipelagoes, and islands. Where formerly islands and Britain have been thought of as isolated, now the challenge has become to think through the ways in which the sea can be more connective than separating, and to consider the range of relations between islands and other continental or insular landmasses. The late Middle Ages is a period that is key in the formation of current thinking about islands, especially in ecological, national, and cultural senses.