Wesleyan portrait of Michael  Armstrong-Roche

Michael Armstrong-Roche

Associate Professor of Spanish

300 High Street, 206

Associate Professor, Medieval Studies


Associate Professor, Latin American Studies


Visit Professional Website

BA Harvard University
MA Harvard University
PHD Harvard University

Michael Armstrong-Roche

My recent scholarship has been about recognizing the power and originality of what are often called Cervantes's "other works," the novels and plays unjustly overlooked in the long shadow cast by Don Quixote.
        In Cervantes' Epic Novel: Empire, Religion, and the Dream Life of Heroes in 'Persiles' (University of Toronto Press, 2009) I explore how Cervantes's final novel and the work he most prized, The Labors of Persiles and Sigismunda: A Northern Story, transforms major literary, social, political, and religious debates of contemporary Europe into narrative art. I look at the inventive ways Cervantes honors and sends up the kind of prose fiction that traffics in the idealized, marvellous, exotic, fantastic, improbable, or otherworldish (what English Departments call romance, in this case especially Heliodorus's Greek novel, the Aethiopica) as well as the verse epic tradition, particularly Homer, Vergil, Tasso, Ercilla, and Camoes. In 'Persiles and Sigismunda' romance, epic, and history test and complete one another. What we might now call a total novel, it belongs to the history of both the novel and the epic because of the dominant early 17th-century reception of the widely-admired Aethiopica as a prose epic that deftly reworks Homeric characters and themes; because of its allusions, encyclopedic scope, and virtuoso patterning; and because of its aspiration to embrace all of the author himself—including the overriding desire to entertain. 'Persiles and Sigismunda' finds its pleasures and its lessons in moral complexity, showing us that irony can make something whole as well as new.
         I have published on Cervantes's plays and am writing a book about them called Cervantes and the Theatrical Revolution. It takes a close look at Cervantes as a playwright and his imaginative, often experimental, engagement with the rise of the commercial stage, women's work, Algerian captivity, the Roma community, Habsburg political mythmaking, and the glories and pitfalls of fame, including his own late-in-life taste of it following Don Quixote's unexpected success. The book has emerged from the international Theater without Borders research collaborative (whose steering committee I serve on), a group committed to exploring the transnational movements of early modern drama and theater practices, especially of England, Spain, Italy, and France (see our website at https://www.theaterwithoutborders.org). Through Theater without Borders I became especially interested in exploring how divergent acting traditions in Spain, England, and elsewhere shaped the ways in which plays were written.
         I have had a parallel life as an art historian: (1) as a collaborator on the 2014 Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ Goya: Order and Disorder show; (2) as a contributing author and curator for the Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment exhibition that took place at the Prado, the Metropolitan in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1988-1989); and (3) as a translator of scholarship in art history from Spanish, French, and German.
         Throughout, I have tried to practice a kind of scholarship that moves from text to context and back again (reading the text with and against the pressures of the moment and then reading that moment through the lens of the text); that draws on close reading in multiple disciplines (history of literature and art; comparative literature and genre; political, social, and economic history; history of ideas and philosophy; theology, religious history, and anthropology; and jurisprudence); and that is informed by textual, historical, and theoretical approaches to literature.
         Finally, I have looked for ways to bring my scholarly interests to a wider audience, serving—for instance—as general editor and primary co-author of three Let's Go travel guides (Let's Go Spain & Portugal 1992, Let's Go France 1986, and Let's Go California & the Pacific Northwest 1986). I have continued to promote the liberating and creative effects of long-term immersion in another language and culture—through travel, study, and work—as a four-time resident director of the Vassar-Wesleyan in Madrid Program (see our website at https://vwmadrid.org). I post regularly in the on-line comments fora of dailies in both Spain (La Vanguardia, Madridiario) and the U.S. (The New York Times), particularly on the arts, urban planning, travel, politics, and gastronomy. It's a way to have an immediate impact on many conversations with large and diverse communities of readers, help reframe narratives, hold journalists to account, head off the easy recourse to impoverishing national stereotypes and clichés, refine and sometimes alter my own views, and practice the killer turn of phrase!
         For more information on my trajectory as a scholar, writer, translator, and teacher (including uploaded pdfs of publications, reviews, and related links), see my academia.edu profile at https://wesleyan.academia.edu/MichaelArmstrongRoche. For full access to academia.edu, you might need to register but you do NOT need to pay.

After an itinerant, international upbringing by a Spanish mother and American father in Portugal, Korea, and, for the better part of my childhood, Spain (I am a dual citizen), with spells also in D.C., Illinois, Georgia, and Saudi Arabia, I earned all three of my degrees at Harvard in two very different departments: first in cross-disciplinary Social Studies (A.B.)—which integrated history, economics, and philosophy—and then, coming home after a multilingual childhood steeped in literature, Romance Languages & Literatures (M.A. and PH.D.).
        Before settling happily on Wesleyan, I worked and published as a developmental psychologist, a curator and art historian, a translator (from Spanish, French, and German), and a travel writer and editor. In the meantime I took workshops in filmmaking and theater directing and made a modest super-8 film short. Earlier I played clarinet and trombone in the school orchestra, sang solo at my high school graduation, studied piano in graduate school, and took competitive ballroom dancing classes before I realized I made a more persuasive audience than musician and preferred to cut a rug free-form. 

Academic Affiliations

Office Hours

In fall 2024 I'll hold student hours on Mondays and Wednesdays 2:15-3:15pm in my office (room 206, in the RL&L home at 300 High Street) and otherwise (happily) by Zoom or in-person by appointment with 24 hours of notice. If you'd like to catch me at the top of the office hour look for me first in Fisk ?, since my Monday-Wednesday early-afternoon course ends there at 2:10pm. The best way to reach me is by email (rather than office phone) at marmstrong@wesleyan.edu


Fall 2024
SPAN 221 - 02
Introduction to Hispanic Lits.

SPAN 236 - 01