Fall 2006: "Histories of Etymology and Genealogy"

This course will examine etymological and genealogical continuity but also rupture, investigating the processes in terms of their fictionality and representational strategies. Stretching over both medieval and early modern materials, chiefly in Western Europe, the seminar queries standard notions of chronological division and instead invites a reconsideration of conventional ideas about origin, influence and filiation.

After an overview of theoretical frameworks (Bloch, Butler, Derrida, Foucault), our case studies will be drawn from such subjects as Isidore of Seville’s etymological project, linguistic and archaeological claims for the primacy of Etruscan roots (including Annius of Viterbo’s late fifteenth-century forgeries and those of Curzio Inghirami in the seventeenth century, which also invoke notions of authenticity), the representation of Adam and Eve as the “first parents” after they committed “original sin”, nationalistic myths of Troy (including stories about the origins of the Ottomans), and the productive tension between valorized imitation (visual, political, rhetorical) on the one hand and valued innovation on the other.