01 January, 2018

Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages: 2017 essays in The Public Medievalist

2017 was a year of many changes in the engagement with medieval culture, and the series of essays on Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages in the The Public Medievalist was among the most notable engagements:

Introduction: Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages: Tearing Down the “Whites Only” Medieval World by Paul B. Sturtevant: Introducing a new Public Medievalist series: taking on the white-supremacist ideas of the medieval past, and exploring the stories of people of color in the Middle Ages.

Thread 1: Key Questions

Is “Race” Real? by Paul B. Sturtevant
Spoiler Alert: no. Everything you’ve been taught about “race” is completely made up. Here’s how we know…

Where were the Middle Ages? by Marianne O’Doherty
A whites-only view of the Middle Ages needs a Europe-only Middle Ages to exist. Let’s pull that apart, shall we?

We have explored the vile effects of the “whites-only” Middle Ages, but how did the Middle Ages get linked with racism?

Thread 2: Were Medieval People Racist?

Were Medieval People Racist? by Paul B. Sturtevant
Were medieval people racist? You might think the answer is a simple “yes!”, but it’s far more complicated than that…

Monsters with no heads, grey aliens, and morphing babies can tell us a lot about medieval racism.

Medieval Europe’s greatest travellers wrote avidly about hundreds of cultures across the world. What did they say about race?

Medieval European travel writers like Marco Polo were not what we could call textbook racists. But they were endlessly fascinated by the other religions they found around the world.

There are quite a few medieval European depictions of the Virgin Mary with dark skin: the “Black Madonnas.” Did some medieval Christians think of the mother of Christ as a woman of color?

Thread 3: Southern Italy: A case study in medieval multiculturalism

The greatest map possibly ever created was made by an Arab Muslim refugee working for a French-Norse king of Sicily on a giant silver disc in the twelfth century. It is one of the multicultural wonders of the world.

When Christians and Muslims often lived side-by-side, their cultures and religions sometimes blended into one another, even in their houses of worship.

Ibn Hamdis was one of the great poets of the Mediterranean: a Arab-Sicilian whose haunting, enchanting verses show the interconnectedness of the human experience.

Thread 4: Sub-Saharan Africans during the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, Africa wasn’t in a “dark age”; it was linked to an emerging global world. Special interview with African Anthropologist Chapurukha Kusimba, part I.

Who Built Africa? by Paul B. Sturtevant
Racist colonialists needed African civilizations not to have been built by Africans to justify their plunder of the continent. Continuing our special interview with Professor Chapurukha Kusimba.

How can we learn more about the long, long history of Africa? And what might it have to teach us? The final part of our interview with Professor Chapurukha Kusimba.

No Africans in medieval Europe? Tell that to the King of Nubia, who at the beginning of the 13th century took the most epic pilgrimage possible.

How common was it for Africans to live in medieval Europe? Apparently, very!

Thread 5: Jews, Anti-Semitism and the Middle Ages 

Introducing a topical thread in our series on all aspects of medieval anti-Jewish prejudice and violence.

Anti-Jewish hate didn’t begin with the Nazis, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or even the Middle Ages. Its roots are nearly 2000 years old.

Anti-Semitism was disturbingly common in the Middle Ages. But there were some places in the Middle Ages where Jews not only survived, but thrived.

Jewish life in the medieval world was not always dire. In fact, it featured long periods of multicultural cooperation that helped both Jews and non-Jews flourish.

Medieval Scandinavia was riddled with anti-Semitic imagery. Odd thing though: no Jews ever lived there.

It’s always easier to hate someone you’ve never met. That’s as true for medieval antisemitism as it is for contemporary British and US politics.

Did you know that the word “anti-Semitism” didn’t exist before 1879? If that’s true, how can we talk about anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages at all?

Simon of Trent: a medieval object lesson in how rumors and propaganda can spread hate like wildfire.

Resisting the Anti-Semitic Crusade by Paul B. Sturtevant
The First Crusade saw a wave of vicious anti-Semitic attacks engulf Europe. But there were some who stood up and said no.

Perfect Victims: 1096 and 2017 by Jeremy DeAngelo
The victims of oppression do not need to be “perfect” in order to deserve empathy, rights, and justice. As true in 1096 as it is today.

One sleepy German town has a dark secret that links medieval Jews, the Nazis, and Pope Benedict: a deeply anti-Semitic Catholic ritual only abandoned in 1993.
Thread 6: Race, Medievalism and Right-Wing Nationalism

We’ve been discussing Race, Racism and the Middle Ages for 9 months. It’s time to address the elephant in the room: the “Knights” of the Ku Klux Klan.

Hitler had a crack archaeology unit. Racist nationalists have used medieval archaeology to prop up their worldview—but modern scholars are knocking out their supports.

Right wing nationalists since Hitler have had a love affair with the Middle Ages. Why is their twisted version of the past on the rise again?

White supremacists promote a bizarre theory: that the Enlightenment was the real “Dark Ages”.

The “Pizzagate” conspiracy wasn’t a flash in the pan. It is part of a tradition of “nocturnal ritual fantasies” that seek to create a fundamentally persecuting society, a tradition that had origins in the medieval persecutions of heretics, Jews and Templars.

How “civilizational conservatives” want Trump and Putin to start a new Crusade.

A call to action in the wake of Charlottesville to re-enactors, LARPers, and all who enjoy the Middle Ages casually.

Schrödinger’s Medievalisms by Paul B. Sturtevant
Is that Thor’s hammer a symbol of hate or not? What about that Celtic tattoo? Or that flag? In a world gone mad, how do you keep your cool?

Thread 7: Race, Racism, and Everyday Medievalisms

Feeling ‘British’ by Eric Weiskott
What does “British” mean? Who gets to call themselves “British”? This conflict has roots leading back to King Arthur, Merlin, and some of the earliest inhabitants of this sceptered isle.

In Atlanta, you can get married in a beautiful, fairytale castle: Rhodes Hall. But the backdrop of all those wedding photos holds a complex, racist history.

Outdated ideas about race are built into the very fabric of the fantasy genre, which have been recycled from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons and beyond. But a new crop of creators are trying to change the way we dream about the past.

Game of Thrones doesn’t just have a “diversity problem,” it has a racism problem.

George R.R. Martin wants to have his cake and eat it too: he claims his breakout hit fantasy series is based on real history, but hand-waves away criticism of his approach to issues of race.

21 December, 2017

Inclusive Leaders Academy

Got an early gift today by being accepted to the executive and senior leadership track of Georgia Tech's 2018 Inclusive Leaders Academy. Thrilled to work with experienced colleagues who can help me reflect about my own leadership and learn specific inclusive practices.

09 December, 2017

Manifesto reviewed in Lingua Americana & in Archiv

J.A. van Nahl writes: “Drawing particular awareness to the autobiographical element in any scholarship, the US-based medievalist fruitfully utilises his German background for the conflation of case studies from different cultural areas. Moving on from the reflection upon his own academic background, he compiles a variety of examples, both from the field of scholarship and popular culture, in order to demonstrate how intensified cooperation between these allegedly distinct spheres might eventually instigate deeper engagement with ‘the Middle Ages’ on any possible level.” Read the full review HERE.

Georg Festerling, in Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, the oldest continually published academic journal for the study of languages and literatures, writes:

"Spitzt sich eine Krise zu, verspricht ein Manifest Orientierung. So versteht auch Utz sein Medievalism. A Manifesto. Er sieht die streng akademischen Medieval Studies seit Jahren auf dem Rückzug, während gleichzeitig die Zahl der Mittelalterinteressierten wächst und sich neben Filmen und Comics die Sphäre der Fernsehserien und Computerspiele erschlossen hat. Medievalism, der auch interessierten Nicht-Mediävisten und Laien offen steht, wird von den akademischen Forschern mit Geringschätzung betrachtet und mit Nichtachtung gestraft, wenngleich jene Außenseiter erhebliche Erkenntniszuwächse zu liefern vermögen. Neben anderen nennt Utz als herausragendstes Beispiel die Arbeit an der Burg Guédelon, einem Vorhaben in praktisch-experimenteller Mittelalterforschung, die wichtige Aufschlüsse bezüglich der damaligen Bautätigkeit liefert." The review is available HERE.

29 November, 2017

Brown's Tricia Rose speaks at Georgia Tech

We had a thought-provoking afternoon with Brown University's Tricia Rose, author of Black Noise, who spoke on structural and systemic racism in society and the academy. My colleague, Joycelyn Wilson, introduced Dr. Rose.

20 November, 2017

10 November, 2017

Ryan Gravel shares his thoughts about: Where We Want to Live

Ryan Gravel, talking about his work on the Atlanta Beltline project and a brand new project he is developing on Atlanta City Design. Ryan's work on urban planning, the environment, and issues of mobility, social justice, and culture in design and development ties in with many of the topics we are discussing in class and links them wth issues related to development and urban culture in Atlanta. And all in the pilot class for our new MS degree in Global Media and Cultures. Narin Hassan and Anna Stenport for bringing Ryan to our students!

08 November, 2017

Manifesto reviewed in

Really glad see Medievalism: A Manifesto reviewed in, a publication that has done more than most to lower the drawbridge between the academic study of the Middle Ages and the broader extra-academic interest in medieval culture.

30 October, 2017

Winter has been coming, for the Humanities, for quite a long time

When preparing a presentation on the popularity on Game of Thrones, I chanced upon this MLA slide on the diminishing enrollments, since 1968, for the humanities. Winter's been a-coming for a while now.

28 October, 2017


Game of Thrones from a co-disciplinary perspective

Join us for a co-disciplinary event as part of LMC's "Digital Media Talks" on Monday, on GAME of THRONES, with Janet Murray, author of Hamlet on the Holodeck, and Richard Utz, author of Medievalism: A Manifesto.

When: Monday, October 30, 2017, 1:55pm to 2:45pm

Where: GVU Café (TSRB 2nd Floor) Georgia Tech

JM - Game of Thrones is an extended transmedia fiction based in an encyclopedically detailed storyworld that pushes the envelope on how much plot and how many characters reader/viewers can keep track of.  It is therefore a productive focus for thinking about the new multisequential story structures that digital media can make possible. I will show some examples from my Project Studio group and talk about related story abstraction work beginning in the Digital Integrative Liberal Arts Center.  

RU - Medievalists often consider GoT as an opportunity to attract additional students and identify the narrative's alleged sources and analogues. They disregard the neomedievalist aesthetics of the series, which has more to do with contemporary game worlds than medieval influence. In fact, had the author of the Morte d'Arthur (c. 1485) written his book in 2017, his compendious prose compilation of Arthurian stories may have found as enthusiastic a reception among contemporary TV audiences as the smart TV adaptation of the prosaic The Song of Ice and Fire

05 October, 2017

Communicating across the Disciplines

Great time presenting on “Communication across the Disciplines: Humanistic Perspectives in a Technological World,” at the UVP Reinvention Collaborative, Annual Conference, at Georgia Tech, Oct., 2017. The Reinvention Collaborative is a national consortium of research universities dedicated to strengthening undergraduate education.

27 September, 2017

Tracing Residual Medievalisms now online

Happy to say that the audio of my 2016 paper on "Tracing Residual Medievalisms" is now available at the site for Sonderforschungsbereich 980, Episteme in Motion, German Research Foundation / FU Berlin. So are the papers by Kathleen Biddick, Carolyn Walker Bynum, and other great colleagues. Thanks to Andrew James Johnston and his colleagues in Berlin for a great experience.  

22 September, 2017

Manifesto reviewed in Arthuriana

I am so grateful for Andrew Elliot's review of Medievalism: A Manifesto for Arthuriana. I have wondered when the first review in a "print" journal would come in, and I am humbled by the engagement and encouragement I am receiving. That's the way to start a weekend. 

17 September, 2017

Resources for Teaching about Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages

A heartfelt kudos to Carol Robinson for compiling a great resource page on Race, Racism and the Middle Ages at the TEAMS pages. Please contact her if you have additional suggestions for inclusion.

15 September, 2017

See something, say something

Dr. Dorothy Kim (DK) of Vassar, a true public medievalist, doesn’t need a white knight like me to defend against innuendo and attacks. However, over the last year especially, she has shouldered a heavy burden on behalf of many of us: to help renew and expand the field of medieval studies, to make it inclusive or even accessible, to expose the many traditions, inside and outside the academy, that link the cultural phenomenon of medievalism (including academic medieval studies) with misguided masculinity, white supremacy, renascent nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and racism. Such engaged public activity and activism will not go unpunished, to be sure, and DK has had numerous altercations with those who disagree with her views, especially those gate-keeping individuals who feel comfortable with a narrow and exclusivist definition of our scholarly field. Most recently, a tenured historian at the University of Chicago, Dr. Rachel Fulton Brown (RFB), has lashed out at DK in a September 14, 2017, blog post entitled “Howto Signal You Are Not a White Supremacist.”

The post reminded me eerily of Ernst Robert Curtius’ 299-page review of a German colleague’s Habilitation in the 1930s. Curtius’ stated intent then was “to cleanse” his discipline, and RFB’s attack sounds as if she wants to do the same. Next to her blog post, RFB includes a picture of DK, to confirm her ad personam goals; she underlines DK’s rank of assistant professor, an implicit threat unworthy of any professionally minded tenured colleague; she clarifies that some of her best friends are famous medievalists, and there’s even an “esteemed” POC she likes (William Chester Jordan; he gets a picture, too); she quotes in Latin (translations, in case we don’t read Latin); she mentions, horribile dictu, that she has never seen DK at a meeting of the Medieval Academy (insinuating she isn’t part of the medievalist Valhalla), and that DK dabbles, horribile dictu 2.0, with the Digital; she then proceeds to claim that medieval Christians must be immune to racism because they like the (Jewish) Virgin Mary and often depict her as “black” (stained glass image evidence); she even manages to plug her own forthcoming book as part of her attack.  It’s hard not to feel cowed by so much auctoritas and apparatus. I thought I should speak up, because, let’s see: I am white; I am male; I am a tenured professor; I was educated in Europe; I have a degree in hardcore Philology; I hail from a region dedicated to the Virgin Mary; I was baptized in a church that features a “Black Madonna”; I am a Roman Catholic (albeit one who likes the spirit that informed the Second Vatican Council); and my father was a member of the Ordo Equestris Sancti Sepulcri Hierosolymitani.

Insufficient credentials? Ok, so how about this: I have among my medievalist colleagues a brilliant Korean American who, a mere assistant professor, has already found the support of the Fulbright Commission, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Mellon Foundation.  She collaborates with me on the editorial board of a new ARC Humanities book series, Medieval Media Cultures, and I have been profiting from her Facebook posts as well as her scholarly work, and both have helped me learn how much more inclusive medieval studies could (and will) be. Her name is Dorothy Kim. And it is her inviting and embracing version of the field that will create the future of the study of the medieval past.

I appeal to my senior and tenured colleagues to step up and say something when they see something like the troubling attack just launched on Dorothy Kim. And RFB's ally, Milo Y., just summarized and repeated her attack on his website. It's time to act, medievalists. Here are some tips on how to support a harassed scholar.

Update: Please see here the response from our Canadian medievalist colleagues.