ASLE + AESS CFPs: Medieval and Early Modern Commons

Oecologies is pleased to propose two sponsored sessions at the 2023 ASLE/AESS conference in Portland, Oregon (July 9–13). We warmly welcome all submissions; we particularly encourage proposals by Black and Indigenous scholars of colour, international scholars, and scholars at all stages of their careers. Submission instructions can be found at the bottom of this post.

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Enclosing the Commons: Resistance and Rebellion in Late Medieval and Early Modern England

Between 1066 and the nineteenth century, the practice of enclosure transformed the economy and ecology of England, as lands traditionally held in common were, through a variety of processes both formal and informal, transformed into private property. Implicated in the development of capitalism and the Agricultural Revolution, the enclosure movement has had a profound influence on how land use is conceptualized and practiced in the modern world.

Spurred in part by the wool trade, the process of enclosure intensified between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, engendering significant resistance as it transformed the cultural and material landscape. The literature of this period was shaped by the practice of enclosure, from Thomas More’s famous account of human-devouring sheep in Utopia (1516) to Shakespeare’s depiction of Jack Cade’s rebellion in Henry VI, Part 2 (ca. 1591) to the relentlessly ironic pastoral poetry of Andrew Marvell, with its oblique commentary on the Levellers and Diggers. Enclosure’s contested status during this period is also recorded in a substantial body of political and agrarian writing including such works as Arthur Standish’s The Commons Complaint (1611), John Norden’s The Surveyor’s Dialogue (1618), and Gerrard Winstanley’s The True Levellers Standard Advanced (1649). As the textual record makes clear, late medieval and early modern enclosure prompted tension, ambivalence, resistance, and rebellion even as it came, in subsequent centuries, to enjoy hegemonic status as a paradigm for modern land use.

For this ASLE/AESS panel, the Oecologies Research Cluster invites papers that explore the ecopolitical dimensions of resistance to the enclosure movement between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Panelists might consider:

  • how past forms of resistance to enclosure can inform present attempts to reclaim the commons;
  • the role of nonhuman actors (plants, animals, soil, rivers, rocks, microbes, etc.) in bolstering and resisting the enclosure movement (e.g., what was the botanical and lithic makeup of hedges?);
  • the roles of gender, sexuality, class, race, and religion in the enclosure movement;
  • the relationship between enclosure and biodiversity;
  • enclosure as metaphor as well as material practice;
  • alternative futures and ecopolitical paradigms (anarchy, agrarian communism, etc.) imagined by resistance movements such as the Levellers and the Diggers;
  • how enclosure was experienced from a nonhuman perspective;
  • the relationship between enclosure and literary form (pastoral romance, the seventeenth-century country house poem, the history play, the georgic, etc.);
  • how the English enclosure movement illuminates other analogous cultural and historical events.


An Uncommon Exclusion: Human/More-than-Human Alliance in the Medieval and Early Modern Imaginations

Past and present criticisms of enclosure risk affirming its setting of more-than-human life against human society and space. In scorning post-Conquest forest law, for example, one eleventh-century chronicler castigates William the Conqueror for having “loved the forest animals as if he were their father.” Through the unjustly queer filial bond of “deorfrith” (deer forest; game protection), the irate writer suggests, the king bestows on his quarries a privilege of exclusive death.

In upholding the animal and arboreal boundaries they criticize, the chronicler exemplifies a tendency for medieval, early modern, and modern critiques of enclosure to circumscribe common land and common relation by deferring—however resentfully—to monarchic, anthropocentric logics of territory. The idea of the commons itself, then and now, often projects backward in a golden-age, conservative move that forecloses possible futures to enshrine an ossified past.

For this ASLE/AESS panel, the Oecologies Research Cluster invites papers that look forward, claiming rather than rejecting uncommon, queer alliances against imperial governance. We invite presentations on imaginaries of illegal, anarchic, and other more-than-human alliance in the medieval and early modern periods. Analyzing textual and material artefacts for their promise of political commonality, panelists might consider:

  • TRESPASSERS: More-than-human cooperation in shaping and navigating space, including animal, lithic, and arboreal forms of outlawry or escape;
  • SPATIALITY: Environmental refusal or failure—via weather, disaster, or divine/supernatural agency—to uphold executive imaginaries of “territory”;
  • CONSPIRACY: Human–nonhuman alliance in creating extralegal or a-legal commons;
  • OTHER COMMONS: Medieval imaginaries that speak to postcolonial and anticolonial critiques of, and calls to imagine beyond, “the commons” as codified in (for example) the high Middle Ages;
  • HISTORICISM: Sources that avoid golden-age imperial nostalgia in favour of speculative, more-than-human futurity;
  • PRESENTISM: Sources as entries toward a queer, antiracist, anticolonial, (or) disabled canon of uncommon remembrance across and in disregard of conventional geopolitics or periodization;
  • And more.

Translation from the Rime of King William by Stefan Jurasinski, 2004.


To submit a proposal for one or either panel, please send abstracts of 250 words and a short bio by December 9, 2022 by email to both:

We regret that ASLE/AESS in-person panels will not have the option for virtual or hybrid contributions.

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