Wan-Chuan Kao Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program

Wan-Chuan Kao

Payne Hall 214

Wan-Chuan Kao works on the late Middle Ages and its resonances in the contemporary world across Western and non-Western milieus. His research and teaching are grounded in his commitment to rigorous theorization and historicization: the unflinching pursuit of aesthetic responses, critical intuitions, close investigations, and transformative perspectives.

His first book, White before Whiteness in the Late Middle Ages (Manchester University Press, January 2024), examines premodern figurations of whiteness both bodily and non-somatic. His research has been supported by fellowships from the Folger Institute, the North American Conference on British Studies, and the Lenfest Grants.

Wan-Chuan serves on the advisory board of the journal Exemplaria: Medieval, Early Modern, Theory; the Executive Committee for the MLA Chaucer Forum; the Executive Council of the International Piers Plowman Society; and the Review Board of the journal Speculum (esp. medieval English literature). He has also served on various committees of the Medieval Academy of America, the New Chaucer Society, and the Medievalists of Color. In the classroom and the profession at large, Wan-Chuan strives for equity of access to sustainable support, inclusion of historically underrepresented voices, and diversity beyond institutional norms.



Ph.D., The Graduate Center, CUNY
M. Phil., The Graduate Center, CUNY
M.A., Hunter College, CUNY
B.A., Hunter College, CUNY



Medieval literature, especially Chaucer; whiteness studies; critical theory; race and ethnicity; gender and sexuality; queer studies; hotel theory; affect; and aesthetics.



ENGL 493 Honors Thesis
ENGL 413 Senior Research and Writing
ENGL 382 Hotel Orient
ENGL 375 Literary Theory
ENGL 315 Arthurian Bodies, Desires, and Affects
ENGL 313 Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
ENGL 312 Gender, Love, and Marriage in the Middle Ages
ENGL 311 History of the English Language
ENGL 299 Seminar for Prospective Majors
ENGL 264 [WGSS] The Body Electric: Queer Theory, Film, and Text
ENGL 260 Literary Approaches to Poverty
ENGL 250 British Literature: Medieval and Early Modern
ENGL 241 Cinema Arthuriana
ENGL 240 Arthurian Legend
MRST 110 Medieval and Renaissance Culture
WRIT 100 Writing Seminar for First-Years


Seminar and Capstone Topics

Color, Race, Gender, and Faith
The Good Wife
The (M.) Butterfly Effect
Masculinity and Monstrosity
Medieval Poverty and Labor
Premodern REM: Dreaming in the Middle Ages
Queering the Text
Trans*ing the Text
Spatializing the Text

Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Ryokan Higashimaya, created by students in ENGL 382 Hotel Orient (Spring 2014)

* Digital Storytelling videos: "Music" & "Adversity," created by students in ENGL 311 HEL (Spring 2015)


Selected Publications


White before Whiteness in the Late Middle Ages
(Manchester University Press, January 2024)

My monograph argues firstly that while whiteness participates crucially in the history of racialization in late medieval West, it does not denote or connote skin tone alone; secondly, that the “before” of whiteness is less a retro-futuristic temporization than a discursive figuration of how white becomes whiteness; and thirdly, that premodern whiteness is fragile, precarious, and racialistic.




“Globalising Whiteness: Transmission, Idolatry, and Fetishism.” Medieval Travel Writing: A Global History. Ed. Sebastian Sobecki. Cambridge University Press, 2025. Under contract and forthcoming.

“Barred Fragility.” Reconsidering the Subject. Special colloquium. Ed. Holly Crocker. Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 46 (2024): Forthcoming.

“Queer Theory and Late Medieval England.” High and Late Medieval English. Ed. Rory Critten. Literary Encyclopedia, 2023.

“Shamanizing Matters.” Premodern New Materialism forum. Ed. Tekla Bude and Adin Lears. Exemplaria: Medieval, Early Modern, Theory, 35.2 (2023): 116-23.

“Race.” The Routledge Companion to Medieval English Literature. Ed. Raluca Radulescu and Sif Ríkharðsdóttir. Routledge, 2023. 394-403.

“The World Is an Inn.” Teaching the Global Middle Ages. Ed. Geraldine Heng. The PMLA Options for Teaching series. Modern Language Association, 2022. 289-301.

“In the Lap of Whiteness.” Race and Periodization. Special issue of New Literary History, 52.3/4 (2021): 535-61.

“The Fragile Giant.” Arthuriana, 31.2 (2021): 9-39.

“Identitarian Politics, Precarious Sovereignty.” Race, Revulsion, and Revolution. Special issue of postmedieval, 11.4 (2020): 371-83.

“Precarious Figures, Rigorous Styles.” Special issue: The Way We Do Theory Now. Exemplaria: Medieval, Early Modern, Theory, 33.2 (2019): 105-16.

“The Body in Wonder: Affective Suspension and Medieval Queer Futurity.” Affect Theory and Literary Critical Practice: A Feel for the Text. Ed. Stephen Ahern. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 25-43.

"Cute Chaucer." Exemplaria: Medieval, Early Modern, Theory, 32.2 (2018): 147-71.

“Post by a Thousand Cuts.” Going Postcard: The Letter(s) of Jacques Derrida. Ed. Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei. New York: Punctum Books, 2017. 69-81.

“Memorialization in White: Chaucerian Topology and the Defaute of Subjectivity.” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, 4.3 (2013): 352–363.

“Conduct Shameful and Unshameful in the Franklin’s Tale.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 34 (2012): 99-139.

“Hotel Tartary: Marco Polo, Yams, and the Biopolitics of Population.” Mediaevalia, 32 (2011): 43-68.

“The Tomboyism of Faith: Spiritual Tomboyism in the Cult of Sainte Foy.” Journal of Lesbian Studies, 15.4 (2011): 412-49.



Edited Collection of Essays

The Retro-Futurism of Cuteness (Punctum Books, 2017)
Co-editor: Jen Boyle (Coastal Carolina University)



Web-Based Publications

"Facial Misrecognition." The Collation (blog), The Folger Institute, May 11, 2021.

“White Attunement.” The New Chaucer Society (blog), Nov 9, 2018. Peer-reviewed.

#palefacesmatter?” In the Middle (blog), July 26, 2016.




Tison Pugh. Chaucer’s (Anti-)Eroticisms and the Queer Middle Ages. Studies in the Age of Chaucer 37 (2015): 307-11.

Carolyn Dinshaw. How Soon Is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time. Medium Ævum 83.2 (2014): 319-20.

William Burgwinkle and Cary Howie. Sanctity and Pornography in Medieval Culture: On the Verge. Medium Ævum 80.2 (2011): 347-48.

Holly A. Crocker. Chaucer’s Visions of Manhood. The Medieval Review. 7 May 2011. Web.

Heather Love. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Women’s Studies Quarterly 36.3&4 (2008): 327-29.