Western Orientals? The Theme of the “Tartar” in Elizabethan Discourses on Ireland

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


This presentation explores allusions to the ‘Tartar’ in the descriptive and survey literatures on Ireland that were written during what has been described as the late 16th-century Elizabethan reconquest of the country. The paper analyses the web of meanings onto which the term opened, paying close attention to the implications of the charge of nomadic pastoralism that was leveled at the natives. This led on to a highly gendered discourse, in which the Irish ¬– who seemed to wander like beasts on the surface and have no stable ‘place’ – emerged as bad husbandmen that did not penetrate into the depths of the body of the land, thus neglecting her desire and fertility. Where the wealth of arable societies was fixed upon the ground, this implying an enclosed or at least a spatially organized landscape, the goods of the Irish seemed dangerously mobile to the Elizabethans, able to – as was often noted – ‘melt away’ and thereby evade regulation. Edmund Spenser, for one, argued that an important effect of the arable cultivation of Ireland would be to produce for the first time an ordered landscape, meaning one that was enclosed, spatially restricted and thus controllable. Moreover, the very material conditions of tartar-like pastoralism carried implications of paganism, given that only a society that cultivated grain had the symbolic means to participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist. In its conclusion, the paper observes how a very different political context in the 19th century produced an inversion in certain of these themes.
Period10 May 2013
Event titleEntangled Landscapes: Re-thinking the Landscape Exchange between China and Europe in the 16th-18th Centuries
Event typeConference
LocationZurich, SwitzerlandShow on map