Medieval writings and artworks present many opportunities to teach the diversity of pre-modern German-speaking Europe and historicise and look beyond the modern assumptions that underpin our concepts today. Even canonical works that are available in accessible editions offer a chance to teach about gender, race and cultural exchange and to decolonise teaching by challenging modern assumptions about Germanness, knowledge and authority.

The sections below are interconnected and overlap with material from other time periods; they are necessarily imperfect and designed to evolve. They are ordered chronologically with one exception. We have foregrounded race in medieval German-speaking Europe due to the common adoption of symbols and material from medieval German culture by white supremacist groups now and historically, in Germany, in the Anglosphere and elsewhere. We are conscious of the page’s lacunae and welcome suggestions and responses to improve the content and categorisation below. Contact us to add or edit via the button below.

If you have experience of teaching medieval culture and rethinking German Studies as a discipline, we would love to hear from you for our blog. Please contact us via our submissions page.

Special thanks to Aysha Strachan, Bettina Bildhauer, Doriane Zerka, Sarah Bowden for their help with this page.

Key to languages: DE = Modern German Translation; EN = English Translation; MHG = Middle High German; ML = Medieval Latin; MLG = Middle Low German; MNL = Middle Dutch; OF = Old French; OP = Old Provençal.

Race in Medieval German-Speaking Europe 

Medieval European and especially German-speaking culture has a history of being coopted for racist and white supremacist ends in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and North America. Medieval scholars, though, have shown that German-speaking Europe has long been extremely diverse. Although race itself is a modern concept, medieval literature and art show how structures of oppression were justified through cultural or ethnic difference before ‘race’ itself was mobilised as a hierarchical system.

Primary Sources

See primary resources in English and German from Black Central Europe on the period 1000-1500, including on Black and mixed-race figures represented in medieval writing, art and politics.

Scholarship on Race in Medieval German-Speaking Europe

See also the scholarship and resources by members of the RaceB4Race network working across language areas on the medieval world.

Hans Multscher, Adoration of the Magi; The Wings of the Wurzach Altar, from Wikimedia Commons.

Many medieval writers explored the boundaries of the body, its unruly materiality and its erotic potential. Work in Disability Studies also highlights how medieval writing deals prominently with disability and impairment and ideas of disease, illness and health.

Primary Sources

Scholarship on Bodies and Disability in Medieval Central Europe

  • Bildhauer, Bettina, Medieval Blood (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006)
  • Chinca, Mark, ‘The Body in Some Middle High German Mären: Taming and Maiming’, in Framing Medieval Bodies, ed. by Sarah Kay and Miri Rubin (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), pp. 187-210
  • Dillig, Janina, ‘”Some Have It from Birth, Some by Disposition”: Foolishness in Medieval German Literature’, in Intellectual Disability: A Conceptual History, 1200-1900, ed. by Patrick McDonagh, C. F. Goodey and Tim Stainton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018), pp. 64-75
  • Metzler, Irina, ‘Disability in the Middle Ages: Impairment at the Intersection of Historical Inquiry and Disability Studies’, History Compass, 9.1 (2011), 45-60
Disabled child, marginal image from the Luttrell Psalter (c. 1330s), public domain via Feminae at the University of Iowa.

Constructions of Authorship 

Decolonising our teaching is also about challenging how we conceive of knowledge production, focusing on medieval constructions of authorship, collective production, exchange and complex networks of translation and transmission. Medieval texts can teach students to reassess modern ideas of authorship and authority. Fragments, intermedial texts, exegesis of ephemeral visions or events and evolving versions all challenge assumptions about authors and their works.

Primary Sources

Artists and Scribes Sintram and Guta honouring the Virgin Mary, Guta-Sintram-Codex (1154) (c) Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

Medieval cultures, thought and mysticism have often inspired modern writers, artists and filmmakers working in German, and German medieval culture has also been taken up by writers and artists and outside the German-speaking world. Many such modern works explore diversity and difference in dialogue with medieval culture and medievalism. 

Primary Works

Secondary Works

  • Davies, Mererid Puw, The Tale of Bluebeard in German Literature: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Oxford: Clarendon, 2001)
  • Dinshaw, Carolyn, How Soon Is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012)

See also articles on race and medievalism(s), mostly in an Anglophone context, listed in: Hsy, Jonathan, and Julia Orlemanski, ‘Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography’, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, 8 (2017), 500–531.

Ossip Klarwein’s Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz, Berlin (1934). Photograph 1930s by Carl Dransfeld, from Wikimedia Commons.

German in Transcultural Contexts 

From the days of the late Roman Empire to the different manifestations of the Holy Roman Empire, Europe was shaped by exchange and encounter between cultures and languages. This period offers a chance to teach how medieval German-speaking people responded to and were influenced by encounters with other Northern, Eastern, Mediterranean, Asian and African cultures. Stories, texts and myths circulated across linguistic borders and shaped German-speaking cultures in this period.

Primary Sources

See also primary resources in English and German from Black Central Europe from the period 1000-1500 on Black people portrayed in travel narratives of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean.

Scholarship on German in Transnational Contexts in Medieval German-speaking Europe

  • Baldzuhn, Michael and Christine Putzo (eds), Mehrsprachigkeit im Mittelalter: Kulturelle, literarische, sprachliche und didaktische Konstellationen in europäischer Perspektive, mit Fallstudien zu den ‘Disticha Catonis’ (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011)
  • Braun, Lea, Transformationen von Herrschaft und Raum in Heinrichs von Neustadt ‘Apollonius von Tyrland’ (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2018)
  • Oehme, Annegret, “He should have listened to his wife!”: The Construction of Women’s Roles in German and Yiddish Pre-modern Wigalois Adaptations (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020)

Friedrich II with Sultan al-Kamil, from illustrated chronicle by Giovanni Villani, 14th century, from Wikimedia Commons.

Queer and Trans Representations 

Medieval scholarship within and beyond German Studies has pioneered work in queer theory, and recent work explores queer and trans history in the medieval world by looking at the representations of queer and trans people in both canonical and lesser-known medieval texts.

Primary Sources

Secondary Work on Queer and Trans Representations

  • Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, Medieval Identity Machines (Minnesota and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003)
  • Evans, Ruth (ed.), A Cultural History of Sexuality in the Middle Ages (London: Bloomsbury, 2011)
  • Hollywood, Amy, ‘Sexual Desire, Divine Desire; Or, Queering the Beguines’, Toward a Theology of Eros: Transfiguring Passion at the Limits of Discipline, ed. by Virginia Burrus and Catherine Keller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 119-133
  • Kraß, Andreas, ‘Verdrängtes Begehren. Homosexualität in der höfischen Dichtung des deutschen Mittelalters’, Homosexualität am Hof: Praktiken und Diskurse vom Mittelalter bis heute, ed. by Norman Domeier and Christian Mühlung (Frankfurt and New York: Campus, 2020), 231-242
  • Mills, Robert, Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015)
  • Spencer-Hall, Alicia, and Blake Gutt, Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021)

See also resources provided by the Gender and Medieval Studies group.

Unknown artist, from Bible moralisée (Codex Vindobonensis 2554, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna), from Wikimedia Commons.

Medieval Europe was a centre for religious innovation and exchange, influenced especially by many forms of Christian, Jewish and Islamic thought and culture. This diversity also meant conflict and contestation, with different religions bound up asymmetrically with political power.

Primary Sources

Secondary Writing on Religious Diversity

See also primary resources in English and German from Black Central Europe from the period 1000-1500 on Black saints and on religious conflicts.

Joseph von Armssheim, Disputation between Christian and Jewish Scholars (1483) from Wikimedia Commons.

Women, Writing and the Arts 

Women were involved at all stages of the artistic process, especially through their work in religious orders. Major writers and composers include Mechthild of Magdeburg and Hildegard of Bingen, while women also worked as scribes and artists like Guda in the Rhineland in the twelfth century. Writers of all genders used female lyric speakers and explored women’s experience in Medieval Central Europe.

Writing by Women 

Writing featuring Women (Lyric) Speakers

Works about women’s experiences 

Secondary works

  • Classen, Albrecht, The Power of a Woman’s Voice in Medieval and Early Modern Literatures: New Approaches to German and European Women Writers and to Violence against Women in Premodern Times (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007)
  • Dinshaw, Carolyn and David Wallace (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • Hollywood, Amy, The Soul as Virgin Wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995)
  • Oehme, Annegret, “He should have listened to his wife!”: The Construction of Women’s Roles in German and Yiddish Pre-modern Wigalois Adaptations (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020)
  • Rasmussen, Ann Marie, Mothers and Daughters in Medieval German Literature (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997)

See also resources provided by the Gender and Medieval Studies group.

Unknown Artist, Hildegard receives divine inspiration, from the Rupertsberger Codex of the Liber Scivias.