Distances in Time and Space: Fictional Medieval Constructs of the Indian Other in the Colonial Imaginary

In: Activating the Inanimate: Visual Vocabularies of Performance Practice

The medieval is not a simple or set category of time, space, or ideas. It is constantly involved and implicated in modern discourses. In this chapter I work to break down this temporal binary entirely, especially when considering colonial contexts in which medieval discourses can be seen to shape and even make possible the colonial, ‘civilizing’ mission. Framing the chapter around a fairly uncommon analytical pose, I not only work to apply postcolonial thinking and theory to the American and Native American context, itself a somewhat unusual approach, but I also work to think through the effects medieval discursive assumptions of Otherness and constructed medieval nationalisms could have had on the (post)colonial encounter in the United States. Supporting my analysis are two visual representations of the medieval and medieval Otherness: the medieval Hereford Mappa Mundi from c1290 and Sarah Winnemucca’s costume worn during her highly celebrated lecture series which took place between 1879 and 1884. Winnemucca’s performance, I argue, both resists and collaborates with Euro-American medieval constructions of Otherness, as presented through the Hereford map to build a new discourse, one which truly reveals the dynamic character of the category and construction of the medieval. Western medieval nationalism erased Indians; Winnemucca’s made them seen once again.

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