The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages II: Locations of Medieval Race



‘The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages’– a two-part article – questions the widely held belief in canonical race theory that ‘race’ is a category without purchase before the modern era. Surveying a variety of cultural documents from the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries – chronicles, hagiography, literature, stories, sculpture, maps, canon law, statuary, illustrations, religious commentary, and architectural features – the study considers racial thinking, racial law, racial formation, and racialized behaviors and phenomena in medieval Europe before the emergence of a recognizable vocabulary of race. One focus is how a political hermeneutics of religion – so much in play again today – enabled the positing of fundamental human differences in biopolitical and culturalist ways to create strategic essentialisms demarcating human kinds and populations. Another focus is how race figures in the emergence of homo europaeus and the identity of Western Europe (beginning as Latin Christendom) in this time. Part I –‘Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages’– surveys the current state of race theory, and puts in conversation race studies and medieval studies, fields that exist on either side of a vast divide. Part II –‘Locations of Medieval Race’– identifies and analyzes specific concretions of medieval race, while continuing to develop the theoretical arguments of Part I.