I have written in the past about the mistake I made of publishing a book that costs $100, and swore not to do it again. For a long while I have been pondering how to make work more accessible. Every publishing mode has its inbuilt constraints. A blog for example can't really function as a substitute. And yet.
I have long been thinking that I would like to release into the world the original version of my project that was eventually published as Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: Of Difficult Middles. That book is now out of print but available as an $89 (!!!!) e-book. Yet what is published there is very different from the book as originally conceived and composed. Some day I will talk about why the changes were made ... but for the time being, I will simply admit that in retrospect I wish I had kept the book somewhat closer to the form in which it was first written rather than transforming it into a recognizably scholarly project. Over the next week or so I will be publishing a very different version here under the project's original title, Stories of Blood.
You'll see by blood what I really mean is the materiality of race. That's a subject that had not been treated at any great length in 2004 (when I finished the first version). I have not attempted to update the bibliography -- that would take far too long, and I say that in admiration of the great work that has been undertaken in the last 13 years by medievalists who have traced out what race means for the period. The bibliography behind what appears below and what will follow in the days ahead may be downloaded here. Remember, though, it is from 2004 and should be consulted with caution.
So, let me know what you think. Here's is Stories of Blood part one, the introduction: "Real and Recent Blood."
|BL Add MS 37049 f2v: The Divided World|
Real and Recent Blood
How to begin?
William stared at the crisp blankness of the sheet, a topography of creases aching to become a world. In tiny furrows he found mountains, serpentine rivers, cities new and fallen to ruin, fens and piney woods to harbor monsters, an island yearning for the stability of borders. He wondered what Latin to trace across the page's folds, what rubrics he could make shimmer like so much blood on the skin.
That the vellum had once been a grazing, mewling beast thrilled William. It seemed a quotidian miracle, a proof the past endured. The dermis become a page presented him with a pockmarked map of possibility, a means to make his own voice echo long after his body had dried to dust. On this hide he would compose a lasting chronicle of kings and wars and national destiny, of heroes and sinners and strange portents. The contours of his words would restore to order a history broken by conquest and civil war.
Drops of red trickled from his pen, splattered the vellum. "Stercus," he muttered. It was the only Latin word he could think of filthy enough to express what a pain it was going to be to scrape the page clean and overwrite those crimson stains.
The Cry of Blood from the Earth
Like most twelfth-century historians writing about England, William of Newburgh found no event more difficult to reduce into narrative than the Norman conquest. The military campaign undertaken by the Duke of Normandy in the previous century had initiated a long period during which the throne was held by a foreigner. The country's indigenous political and ecclesiastical elite were eradicated, their confiscated lands and offices bestowed upon men of alien birth. In the decades after Hastings, to be English meant to belong to a subject race, a dispossessed people whose lowly present status was rendered all the more humiliating by their celebrated past. True, by the time William of Newburgh was composing his Historia rerum Anglicarum [History of English Affairs, begun c.1196], the conquering Normans had vanished, assimilated into the Englishness of those whom they had conquered. Yet in contemplating the events of 1066 the Augustinian canon was forced to acknowledge that the united kingdom forged by kings like Alfred and Athelstan had been defeated, its native aristocracy extinguished, its church colonized, its land annexed to a transmarinal empire that differed in language , custom, culture. The Norman conquest had left England profoundly and permanently transformed.
William's two most influential predecessors in history writing, William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon, had been of mixed English and Norman blood. Ambiguity and hesitation characterize their description of 1066 and its aftermath, at least early in their writing. William of Newburgh, on the other hand, was never self-conflicted. He identified, simply and straightforwardly, with the subjugated English, a people who were in his words simply gentis nostrae, id est Anglorum, "our race, that is, the English" (1.Prologue.1). Stigand, the last "Anglo-Saxon" archbishop of Canterbury and a somewhat unscrupulous figure in previous accounts, becomes rather heroic in William's History of English Affairs. Here Stigand refuses to consecrate a triumphant William of Normandy king of the realm, judging the duke ille viro cruento, "that blood-thirsty [or 'blood- stained'] man" (1.1.1). The blood that taints the Norman duke likewise sullies his victory at Hastings, depriving the battle of lasting glory. William of Newburgh writes that the Norman conquest came at the price of blood that continues to call out from the ground, as if it were the lifeforce of slaughtered Abel:
William, though a Christian, assailed innocent Christians as an enemy, and gained his kingdom at the price of much Christian blood [tanto sibi sanguine Christiano regnum paravit], and for this reason doubtless incurred in God's eyes as much guilt as he acquired glory before men. I have heard this proof from trustworthy witnesses; for in the place where the conquered English lay was built a splendid monastery named St Martin of Battle. Doubtless in men's eyes it would be a lasting proclamation of the Norman victory [ad homines aeternus foret Normannicae victoriae titulus], and in God's eyes an atonement for shedding so much Christian blood [pro effusione tanti sanguinis Christiani]. Finally, in that same monastery, the spot at which occurred the greatest slaughter of the English fighting for the fatherland [pro patria] sweats real and seemingly fresh blood [verum sanguinem et quasi recentem exsudat] whenever there is a slight shower of rain, as if it were openly proclaimed on the very evidence of this event that the voice of all that Christian blood is still crying out [tanti sanguinis Christiani clamet]to God from the earth, which opened its mouth and received that blood at the hands of brother-Christians. (1.1.8)
For William of Newburgh, the Norman conquest is a catastrophic interruption of the progress of English history, an event so traumatic that native blood shed at Hastings endures one hundred and thirty years later. Having soaked the battleground, this blood will not coagulate, dry, recede. The Normans quickly erect a monument upon the field of war, the majestic monastery of St Martin of Battle. William of Newburgh clearly sees the raising of this structure as more an act of obliteration than of remembrance: its towering architecture signals triumph, not the loss upon which the Norman victory depended. The Normans intended for the monastery to be eternal (aeternus), but William stresses that it is the subterranean gore it is built upon that remains as real (verum) and as fresh (quasi recentem) as it was on the day it was shed, requiring only the smallest amount of precipitation to make it flow again.
England itself, a kingdom become a wounded body, remembers a history that has quite literally permeated its soil. That the ground at Hastings should, so many years later, continue to exude recens sanguis implies that even if the Normans were no longer to be found among the English, even if these two people had commingled to form a single kingdom, the blood -- the violence, the difference -- upon which this emergent community was built cannot be forgotten, no matter how distracting an edifice is built upon its ground. The vision of Hastings as a fratricidal battle also implies that the Normans should long ago have recognized the very thing that they achieved a century later: commonality with the slaughtered English, union as a singular group of Christians.
Blood that flows with uncanny life reappears later in the same book of the History of English Affairs as William narrates the death of Geoffrey de Mandeville. A personification of the chaos that William discerned in the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154), Geoffrey is described as a "reckless, strong and crafty man" (1.11.1). His most spectacular crime is the storming of Ramsey Abbey, where he evicts the monks and transforms the ecclesiastical buildings into a private fortress and "den of thieves." Suddenly the walls of captured church and cloister run with real blood (verum sanguinem sudarunt), a divine rebuke to Geoffrey's crimes.[i] Stephen's turbulent years on the throne were, as we will see later in this book, a time during which many of the wounds inflicted by the Norman conquest reopened. No surprise, then, that as William narrates Stephen's reign we witness for a second time an efflux of verum sanguinem. This blood likewise runs as if it had just been shed, linking the turmoil of Stephen's tenure to the events that enabled the ascension of French-speaking kings to the English throne.
William of Newburgh knew that history is written in verum sanguinem et quasi recentem, "real and seemingly fresh blood." What William did not and perhaps could not acknowledge, however, is that not all of this real and recent blood underflowing the nation’s history is English. Ever since the monk Bede composed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in the eighth century, the kingdom's official history had been an edifice erected upon the blood of race, the blood of monsters. No less real and no less restless than the crimson saturating the soil of Hastings, this was the blood of the excluded, the persecuted, the ostracized – the blood of peoples who suddenly found themselves deprived of their own humanity, often so that the very collectives denying them membership circumscribe their own boundaries and bring about community. A stain that endures beneath violated earth or within captured walls, this is blood that has been spilled in order to found new structures of belonging, new unities, new histories. To use William of Newburgh's biblical verb, such blood never ceases to cry out [clamare, "to call, shout, scream"]. That its sound has sometimes not been heard by medievalists studying the England of the eleventh and twelfth centuries suggests how easily the swelling notes of English triumphalism in medieval historiography can drown out other noises.
Yet even the most monolithic of histories contain moments of potential dissonance. William of Newburgh's History of English Affairs, for example, contains a strange tale of two green children, a brother and sister of mysterious origin found one day in a ditch in East Anglia. The hue of their skin, their sounds that do not carry English meaning, and their blank incomprehension at indigenous dining customs mark them as members of an alien race. The villagers who discover the children decide to baptize them. They instruct their adopted wards in their tongue and teach them native ways. The little girl proves a rapid learner, so that in time she differs "not even in the slightest way from the women of our own race" (nec in modico a nostri generis feminis discrepante, 1.27).[ii] Although she carries with her the memory of a life once enjoyed in a dim and distant land, the terra sancti Martini ["land of St Martin"], after her transformation into quiet domesticity she never expresses sorrow at her loss. As an adult she eventually marries, settling in the decidedly non-magical city of Lynn.
Though she does not even receive a name in William's account, the sister who grows to womanhood and moves to Lynn does not fully disappear. She endures long after she sloughs her aboriginal distinctiveness, and becomes a living reminder of an alterity she once held in her flesh. Her young brother, on the other hand, perishes shortly after his baptism. His green skin fading due to the influence of English food, his tongue just learning to wrap itself around English words, he nonetheless carries an otherness within him that seems incapable of transformation. A foreigner who retains his strangeness, the little boy dies "prematurely" (brevi vivens tempore immatura morte decessit), giving his life to remain unchanged, to prevent his own fading into ubiquity. And yet the deceased boy persists: as memory, as a story that is still being told, as a narrative incorporated into but not quite assimilated by an English history. His corpse may be interred at the heart of quotidian England, yet his recalcitrant difference is not so easily put to rest.
Suspended between the alien and the familiar, partially Anglicized but not yet of England, this Green Child who dies too soon to be rendered similis nobis ["just like us"] is a not-merely-English example of "real and recent blood." With his promise of an adjacent world that cannot be annexed, of a contiguous otherness that will perish in order to endure, the Green Boy offers the possibility of viewing English history through a monster's eyes. The panorama that he opens trades an all-encompassing and seemingly undifferentiated Englishness for unmapped expanses of hybridity, multiplicity, and heterogeneity.
Archipelago, Island, England
This book examines how writing history, creating ethnography, and composing saints' lives might foster new communities and engender new monsters. Taking as its object of analysis Latin texts produced in Britain mainly during the twelfth century, Stories of Blood explores how the post-conquest English nation overcame its internal differences and historical division, solidified its borders, and extended its power across Britain and into Ireland. England’s internal integration and harmonization were also fundamentally processes of exclusion. By the time the century drew to a close, the vigorous national collectivity disrupted by the Norman conquest had reformed, in part by monsterizing people who differed in religion, language, custom, descent, history – differed, that is, in race. The pages of this book follow the struggles that occurred in Wales, in Ireland, and within England itself as their residents struggled against carceral and demeaning representations. The Welsh, the Irish and the Scots found themselves transformed into barbarians and semi-human beasts. They were joined in this demonization by the Jews, likewise imagined to imperil the lives of proper English Christians. The narratives told about these monsters who had once been human were stories of blood. These stories flowed with the blood of innocents, vivid proof of the menace the non-English posed; with the shared blood that was supposed to maintain the separateness of the insular peoples; with the blood of those who died because they refused conversion or assimilation; with the blood undergirding contemporary myths of origin, stories that keenly demarcated racial difference by implanting it in the flesh; with blood that monstrously commingled everything it was supposed to keep discrete.
The twelfth-century obsession with writing history was integral to England's recovered ability to imagine itself a unified and exclusive entity. Though the military subjection of the kingdom had been accomplished long before the death of William the Conqueror (or the Bastard, depending upon whose side your sympathies lay), the cultural transformations initiated by his triumph at Hastings continued throughout the reigns of his sons, William Rufus and Henry. An occupied, racially bifurcated realm with semi-fluid borders became over time a self-confident and well-bounded nation. Nor did the conquest of the island end at its southeast corner, but extended almost immediately into the north and west, thence across the Irish Sea -- ambitious projects of mixed success and long duration. As the mid twelfth-century descendants of the native and immigrant populations of England were moving towards a deepening solidarity, moreover, civil war erupted. During Stephen's years on the throne, disquieting questions of history and community that had seemed to be losing their urgency suddenly resurfaced, a tumultuous prelude to what would be a final accommodation of the Normans and the English into a national community.
The twelfth century began in seething cultural conflict, with collective identities in flux and anxiety over historical continuity widespread. As the keen distinctions between privileged francophone and subordinated English-speaking populations faded, the only place where salient racial differences remained were in those uncivilized regions that limned England's borders, as well as within the Jewish communities resident in some of the larger cities. By the end of the twelfth century, the archipelago formed by Britain, Ireland, and the constellation of small isles surrounding them was well on its way to an enduring division into four countries, each populated by a distinct race. This unequal apportioning was the island as viewed from its southeast corner, with England presuming itself superior in the civility of its laws, the sonority of its language, the morality of its people, the rightness of its religious practice. Naturally enough, this dominating country proudly possessed a history that seemed as resplendent as it was exclusory. Yet "England," "Scotland," "Wales" and "Ireland" are not natural or even especially obvious partitions of the British archipelago. Quadripartite division is the culmination of centuries of antagonism and alliance that could very well have produced a different configuration.[iii] The hard work of forging fate out of the vagaries of fortune, of creating circumscribed nations and delineated races from the sheer messiness of history, proceeded retroactively, with historians positing in the past those unchanging solidities for which they longed in the present.[iv]
Whether within the parameters of nation, city, race, or some other collective identity, a desire for unity could be engendered through the power of narrative, through the transformation of the messy past into a culminating chain of history. Such narratives typically assume that when events take one of many possible turns, that outcome must have been predestined, even providential. As medieval authors like Geoffrey of Monmouth knew well, however, such an assumption disempowers those who find themselves excluded from this emergent community. Corporate identities like Welsh and English ossified in tandem with the countries into which they were distributed. Yet none of these island races had necessarily to recognize themselves as constituting a distinct community, as a people set keenly apart from all others. The fact that they did so should not obscure the ample potential that existed for history to have unfolded otherwise.
Because it is a category humans deploy to demarcate the limits of belonging, race carries profound historical and material effects. Race is not, however, some easily definable category that remains changeless over time. In reviewing the historian Marjorie Chibnall's important book The Normans, Leah Shopkow acutely observes the founding fathers of Normandy were not French-speakers but a diverse array of Scandinavians; that Normans never constituted a majority population of any geography they made their own, including Normandy; that Norman invaders tended to adopt quickly local languages and customs; that their invasion forces were ethnically diverse; and that a century and a half after their unprecedented expansion the only Normans who had not vanished into other populations were those who had remained in Normandy (where they were destined to be absorbed into France). We may therefore wonder with Shopkow what exactly made all these people Normans to begin with.[v] Yet, despite the difficulties we contemporaries might have with the collective noun, the Normans themselves were confident that they possessed what G.A. Loud labels a "racial distinctiveness."[vi] Even while their official histories acknowledged their mixed origins, they seldom wavered in their conviction that they were a singular and united people, set apart from all others. When examined long enough, each of other races central to twelfth-century Britain begins, like the Normans, to dissolve into variability. Most medieval writers believed that the history of the isles began with the peoples whom Julius Caesar attempted so ambitiously to absorb into the Roman Empire. In the wake of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, it was widely assumed that these ancient Britons must have been the same race as the contemporary Welsh. Modern scholars, on the other hand, wonder if there ever was a people who would have recognized themselves as forming a group called "the Celts," and argue that it was rather late before the wide self-acceptance of the collective term "Britons" (and even later for the English word “Welsh” to really stick).[vii] The Irish meanwhile had their own complicated and overlapping history, not just in Ireland but as rulers of portions of what became Wales and Scotland. Historically the Scots were fifth and sixth century immigrants from Ireland who intermingled over time with the Picts, Britons, Angles, and Norse. This confederation that became the Scots eventually imagined that it had always been distinct, and was perhaps even descended from the ancient Egyptians.[viii] The Picts, that mysterious race recorded by Gildas, Adomnan and Bede, had vanished long before the twelfth-century. They were sometimes confused with the Scots (into whom they probably assimilated), but more often than not stood as an ominous warning for what might become of a race not favored by God. The English had at their arrival in the fifth century been ethnically diverse invaders who sailed from what is now Germany and Scandinavia. By the seventh century they could confidently proclaim an ancient unity, and by the tenth they constituted a precocious nation. No other race in the British Isles attained so strong a collective identity so quickly.
Danes and other northerners settled in the north and east of England beginning in the ninth century. These erstwhile Vikings quickly assimilated to English living because it was not so very different from what they knew at home. Tellingly, the eleventh century Danish kings of England (Cnut, Harald, Harthacnut) failed to engender the same crisis of continuity that the Normans were to precipitate a few decades later. These Normans were themselves the descendants of Scandinavian raiders who had promiscuously intertwined with a host of other peoples, especially the Franks. Despite their enduring proclivity to assimilate anything they found of value from the peoples they conquered, the Normans --as we have seen -- maintained a strong sense of their own distinctiveness. Following Duke William and his conquering Normans to England were the Jews. Although constituting a tiny minority of the English population, these non-believers dwelling in a Christian realm eventually became central to the kingdom's self-definition. Finally, although it was fantasized that African armies had once invaded both Britain and Ireland, the Saracens were not a physical presence on the twelfth-century islands. Yet monstrous Saracens were everywhere in insular thoughtworlds, especially in the wake of the crusades. I use the medieval term "Saracen" rather than the perhaps more accurate "Muslim" to stress that this race inhabited the islands without being physically present. Saracens, more than any other race present on the islands, were compounded mainly of fantasy. That fact rendered them no less integral to the collective identities of the insular peoples. Of the races that populated twelfth-century Britain, then, some were solidarities who recognized themselves as possessing a long history in the land (the English, Irish, Welsh); some had vanished through acculturation long ago (Picts and Danes); one was a minority whose cultural importance far overshadowed its meager physical presence (the Jews); one was paradoxically both separate and rapidly vanishing (the Normans); and one was not a group who had ever inhabited Britain, but who were present all the same through historiography, crusade polemic, and the visual arts (Saracens).
Contemporary medievalists typically employ terms like "ethnic group," "solidarity," "collectivity" or "people" to indicate the groups that I have been calling Britain’s races. That I use this word requires, I suspect, some defense. Race is a noun inevitably tainted by the xenophobia and injustice that, historically speaking, it was invented to support. Medievalists have, in fact, contributed to this racism in the past, most notably in the nationalist philologies of the nineteenth century, the intellectual foundations of Nazism. In what follows I will provide a brief apologia for my choice of this problematic term to denote medieval divisions among people. I do not think that anyone who possesses the last name Cohen or who lives in an enduringly segregated city like Washington D.C. can be blind to the associations race brings to its every contemporary use. It is not self-evidently a desirable thing, however, for scholarship to seek neutral or deceptively tepid terms when exploring an issue as complicated and violence-haunted as collective human identities.
Race, Body, and Identity
"Race is a dangerous word."
Thus the medievalist Rees Davies initiated his Cecil-Williams lecture of 1973. Despite its inherent perils, however, Davies did not back down from employing the term, arguing that race is the only descriptive noun able to capture the profundity of the differences imagined to distinguish the medieval Welsh from the English, differences so foundational that they were held to be "elemental."[ix] Davies's caveat of race's dangers holds even more true three decades later. With Davies I will argue that race is appropriate to a medieval context, and finds special relevance to the analysis of eleventh- and twelfth-century Britain, but not simply because cultural distinctions among the island's peoples were believed congenital. Race is the only contemporary term which foregrounds the inextricability of corporeal and collective identity. It best conveys the uneven structures of power within which social identities are formed and represented. Race is a word often rejected by contemporary scholars precisely because of these associations with bodiliness and injustice. Although it has no natural or inherent connection to either, I employ it since it is always haunted by both, making race the only noun adequate to convey the way in which national and cultural identities were imagined and experienced in twelfth-century Britain.
Race possesses no core essence, no genetic or biological foundation, no inherent ontology.[x] Race belongs to the realm of fantasy, where it demonstrates a powerful ability to give substance and a seeming stability to what is ultimately impalpable and protean.[xi] Despite its seemingly chimerical nature, race is as bluntly corporeal as it is emotionally wounding (or satisfying, depending on one's perspective). Race is an identity system that anchors difference to the flesh, and not only through external signs. We often associate race with charts of bodily difference or (in the Middle Ages) manuscript illustrations that call attention to somatic otherness. Yet race is not some lifeless residuum, discernable only through the observation of physiognomy and dermal pigmentation. Writing about race -- medieval and modern -- tends to be obsessed with race in action, race as performance. Medieval ethnographers "discovered" race most frequently in the vivacious realm of corporeal praxis, where it exerted a constant power to differentiate and reveal. Race is evidenced therefore in such highly visible actions as the choice, preparation and consumption of food; patterns of speech and use of language; the practice of sexuality; customs of comportment, hospitality, war; religious ritual in all its variousness.
Race is paradoxical. Although it may seem at any given moment an impermeable boundary, solid and constraining, over time it tends to be elastic, altering its contours as it is adapted to specific political and cultural uses. Race's dynamism can allow a previously divided or heterogeneous group to cohere, often through the strategic adoption of some powerful or simply useful identity. It can also enable the foisting of such union upon peoples who do not desire such delineation. Should this people find themselves through this procedure subordinated politically, the construction of race that has been bestowed upon them tends to congeal into a carceral category, locking them in alien terms and subaltern status. Embrace of a racial designator by a dominating group, on the other hand, relies upon an initial plasticity of the category, enabling a series of strategic inclusions and exclusions, and then a hardening of race as the process of boundary-drawing culminates. In the twelfth-century the Welsh, Irish, and to a lesser degree the Scots found themselves suffocating within an English circumscription of their racial identity. The Normans, meanwhile, insinuated themselves into the Englishness of the nation they had conquered, eventually disappearing into that identity and strengthening its dominance.
Race is a sorting mechanism with powerful and enduring effects upon lived experience. Race racializes: it is action, movement, violence. Its power to differentiate and impose hierarchy can be glimpsed in some of the earliest writing about cultural clash in Britain, the Commentaries on the Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar. It can also be seen a century or so thereafter, when Britain had become a distant province of the Roman empire. A man named Julius Agricola served as the commander of this hinterland's legion, returning later in life as the island's governor, subduing with vigor the native peoples. Agricola's son-in-law, Cornelius Tacitus, wrote an admiring account of the governor's life, a narrative in which Britain is a land clearly divided between conquering Romans and British tribes who either wisely submit or foolishly rebel. The reality, of course, was rather different. As in all frontier societies, it must have been difficult to maintain strict cultural separation. Many Britons were being slowly Romanized, while those citizens of the empire who had settled into newly built villas must have felt the pull of indigenous ways. Yet the Agricola confidently divides the world, envisioning an island where the distinctions among peoples are clean and self-evident. Tacitus famously praised the solitude of the races when, in his Germania, he composed a sympathetic account of a barbarian people who dwelled at the edges of the Roman empire:
For myself, I accept the view that the peoples of Germany have never contaminated themselves by intermarriage with foreigners but remain of pure blood, distinct and unlike any other nation. One result of this is that their physical characteristics, in so far as one can generalize about such a large population, are always the same: fierce-looking blue eyes, reddish hair, and big frames. (Germania 4)
Even if they preferred to imagine that their forebears were blonds rather than redheads, the racialists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw themselves in Tacitus's description of these primal Germans. No matter that Tacitus was describing a people who could not have bestowed some unalloyed cultural or genetic heritage to any modern nation. Like all ancient and medieval peoples, the Germans Tacitus describes were undoubtedly a mongrel solidarity that would in time promiscuously intermingle with other peoples. What mattered was that Tacitus made the Germans, like the Britons and the Romans, seem a race wholly separate from all others. That he allied racial identity to purity of blood and condemned intermingling as the loss of identity probably says less about the ancient Germans (whoever they were) than about Tacitus's nostalgia for a thing that never existed, a Roman culture as pristine as it was unchanging. As numerous scholars have pointed out, the Germania is not an unbiased ethnographic text but a work composed to reform the lax morals of the contemporary empire. Little did Tacitus know that he was introducing a fantasy of race in which the Nationalist Socialists would one day espy a Blut und Boden to anchor their present to an uncontaminated past, an "eternal stream of blood" that "binds across the ages."[xii]
Tacitus's dream of racial solitude and the mythic continuities embraced by the Nazis underscores the perils race poses. Living in the wake of the Holocaust, living with the effects of chattel slavery still daily visible in the United States, it is difficult to use the term and not fear participating uncritically in some of the most damaging discourses humans have ever elaborated. Not only does the word race seem innately pernicious, moreover, its potential applicability to the analysis of the Middle Ages is suspect. The genocide conceived by the Nazis may have had a parallel in medieval pogroms, but it may also be the case (as David Nirenberg has argued) that yoking such events to each other inhibits our ability to understand the specific historical conditions under which violence arises.[xiii] It could also be argued that a period that did not inherit the legacy of institutionalized slavery based upon skin color could not possibly have conceptualized race in our contemporary sense of the word. The "science" of race elaborated during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, obsessed as it was with facial features, skin color, and evolution, had no exact equivalent in the intellectual traditions of the Middle Ages (though minute description of the body, the recording of skin color, and an evolutionary scale that began in primitive animality and culminated in courtly civilization could all be featured in medieval figurations of race). Shouldn't scholars therefore employ some other, less tainted term to describe medieval collectivities? Perhaps the conceptualization of race that the western Middle Ages inherited from the classical past is closer to what is today meant by the term ethnicity. Robert Bartlett, a historian who has been at the forefront of thinking about the subject, argues that since race is not a biological category during the period, and since "ethnicity and race both refer to the identifications made by individuals about the groups they belong to" ("Concepts of Race and Ethnicity" 41), the words ought to be treated as synonyms. William Chester Jordan, on the other hand, has rejected Bartlett's argument for this equivalence:
Bartlett suggests that we cannot leave the word race to the racists … However, Bartlett's pleas notwithstanding, on the matter of race, the racists have won. Let them keep the word … I actually prefer 'ethnic identity'; it has a softer, less threatening ring in my ears, since identity can be (not always is, but can be) understood as a process. ("Why 'Race'?" 168)
Race is contaminated by the histories that lay behind its use. Employing it in medieval contexts, Jordan argues, will inevitably attract the modern associations that render it repugnant. Ethnicity, he implies, does not carry this taint, and perhaps better conveys the fact that identity formation is an open-ended process, perpetually unfinished.
Ethnicity certainly seems the preferred term at the moment, especially among medievalists who investigate what has conventionally been called the Age of Migrations, the period early in the Middle Ages when the Roman Empire fragmented and many previously unknown peoples appeared. It used to be assumed, as the medieval sources themselves insist, that as Rome dissolved Europe was invaded by new, culturally homogenous groups of people like the Goths. The large scale movements of these barbarians, it was thought, wholly displaced aboriginal populations. Recently, however, scholars such as Walter Pohl have argued that through a process dubbed ethnogenesis collective identities can metamorphosize over time. Ethnogenesis typically works when a minority elite imposes its culture upon a subjugated native population. Invaded peoples are not eradicated but absorbed into a newly dominating identity. Much contemporary work on the movements of the peoples who eventually became known as the Britons, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Danes of the Danelaw stresses that the number of immigrants to the British Islands was likely to have been quite small. Freshly arriving warriors would have intermarried into the indigenous populations, impressing upon them their art, religion, values, culture, making it appear that what was in biological fact a mixed community constituted a fairly unified group of "Britons" or "Anglo-Saxons" or "Danes." In this way a native population can be rapidly transformed at the hands of parvenu conquerors. To underscore the malleability of group identities and their cultural rather than biological origins, the plastic term ethnicity is used by scholars like Pohl, who reject race as an intractably physical and historically dubious term.
Following Jordan and Pohl, it could be argued that dissimilarities between the Welsh and the English, the Irish and the Vikings, the Germans and the Slavs are exclusively ethnic differences, if ethnicity is the proper term to describe the nonbiological variations which distinguish population groups, and if race refers to the distribution (real or imagined) of corporeal markers throughout human populations. Thus in his recent book on Norman and English identities, Hugh M. Thomas writes
The construct of race, which still has great cultural impact despite discrediting of its supposed scientific basis, generally involves differences in physical characteristics, at least in an American setting, and thus it is very odd to an American ear to hear the English and the Normans described as races. Therefore, I will stick to 'peoples' and 'ethnic groups.'[xiv]
Ethnicity, it seems, is identity as expressed in culture. Race, on the other hand, is identity lodged in the body, no matter how speciously. Ethnicity is adoptable, malleable, and ethically neutral. Race is enfleshed, immutable, and haunted by violence and history.[xv]
Yet to differentiate thus engenders immense difficulties. First and foremost, even if ethnicity has replaced race in much scholarly discourse because ethnicity seems disembodied, in actual practice it is just as attached to corporeality as race. When the Greeks and Romans described the Ethiopians, Indians, Germans and Celts, they were in general not only conveying that these peoples varied from them in language, customs, and geographic origin, but asserting their own cultural, intellectual, and physical superiority. They believed, in the words of one recent scholar, that there was "a direct link between physical and nonphysical characteristics (which were explicitly or implicitly considered as inferior or superior)." This link, David M. Goldenberg continues, is "a crucial component – in fact, the lifeblood – of racist thinking."[xvi] Classical authors believed that barbarian races carried their inferiority in their blood, the permanent impress of immoderate climate and inclement astrological influence upon bodily chemistry. This humoral and environmental model of biological determinism was inherited into the intellectual culture of the Middle Ages, taking on a renewed vitality as classical texts were translated from Arabic into Latin in the twelfth century. Even today, ethnicity is still popularly tied to "phenotypic traits," to readable bodily designators, and seldom in practice retains its supposedly judgment-free status.[xvii] We could not have the phenomenon of ethnic cleansing if ethnicity were merely a neutral word for cultural variation. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine any term that hopes to delineate group differences (real or imagined) that can remain disinterested or apolitical.
As Florin Curta points out in his summary of recent anthropological work on ethnicity, group identity may be culturally constructed, but it is not thereby rendered insubstantial: "ethnicity is not innate, but individuals are born with it ... it is not biologically reproduced, but individuals are linked to it through cultural constructions of biology."[xviii] Etienne Balibar, describing what he calls the "neo-racism" practiced against immigrant groups in Europe, writes of the ways in which "culture can function like nature," locking people into "into a genealogy, into a determination that is immutable."[xix] Balibar argues that both race and racism can pervade the body without reference to skin color, genetics or racial science. Differences in culture are, through reference to an "immutability" that inheres in the body of the other, rendered indistinguishable from differences in race. Dissimilarities among medieval peoples were inevitably imagined in corporeal terms, employing language that firmly attached variation in customs, laws, and language -- the essence of medieval racial difference -- to the body. I therefore choose to use the word race rather than ethnicity to emphasize the sheer corporeality of group differentiation. By this I mean to include differences imagined as innate (such as national character), differences in biology (such as humoral imbalance), differences in bodily features (such as light complexion or frizzy hair), differences in descent or origin still evident in contemporary identity; and especially differences that are visible in performance, displayed by bodies in motion: ritual, custom, legal or hospitality codes not in their abstract existence but in their concrete and fleshly expression.
Medievalists have long been examining many of the issues clustered around race, especially as they apply to the formation of group identities in the waning of the Roman empire.[xx] In part, of course, this interest marks a kind of return, necessarily haunted by the specters of histories that once sought untainted Germanic purities in works like the Nibelungenlied and Tacitus's Germania. Recent work in medieval studies rejects such fantasies and explores how race, in the words of Thomas Hahn, as a "category comes into being, and how the difference it signifies varies according to cultural circumstances" ("The Difference the Middle Ages Makes"). Medievalists like Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Robert Bartlett, Thomas Hahn, Geraldine Heng, Sharon Kinoshita, Stephen Kruger, Lisa Lampert, and Claire Sponsler grant race its instability, its contextual determination, its mutability. In joining these critics in using race to describe how collective differences among medieval peoples were represented, it is my hope that the term will not be seen as a throwback to the racist ethnographies of the past. I employ the word in the same cautious way as my colleagues in anthropology. For these scholars race is a shifting, ultimately unreifable category that nonetheless passes itself off as possessing an essence, a historical durability. Race is a construct, but
this is not the same as saying race doesn't exist or has no meaning, which one commonly hears. It has plenty of meaning and existence to the extent that it widely confers identity. What has no existence is a natural subspecies of humans.[xxi]
As Faye V. Harrison has pointed out, even after "race's conceptual validity" has been dismantled, what remains to be accomplished is "a sustained examination and theorizing of the ideological and material processes that engender the social construction of race under ... historically specific circumstances and cultural logic."[xxii] A cultural product that seems in some ways artificial and abstract, race is nonetheless bound to the flesh -- not because the body will (as racialists believe) always betray the congenital signs that allow natural categorizations, but because the body is the battleground where identities are perpetually sought, forced, expressed. Race has no pre-existent truth that awaits recognition. Race is instead the product of a discriminatory system of power that intertwines identity and embodiment.
In the introduction to her study of racial passing in American culture, Gayle Wald usefully summarizes much recent work in what is commonly known as critical race studies: a rejection of biological and physiological models of racial sorting; an insistence upon race's historical mutability (the Irish in America, for example, were initially classified as Negroid but eventually came to be as white as anyone who had sailed aboard the Mayflower); and an interest in the social mechanisms through which race becomes real and takes on a life of its own.[xxiii] The African-American novelist Charles W. Chesnutt wrote trenchantly in 1900 that "We make our customs lightly; once made, like our sins, they grip us in bands of steel; we become the creatures of our creation."[xxiv] As Wald points out, race works in exactly the same way, never existing as some intellectual abstraction but always taking restrictive physical form. A bluntly physical system with grave human consequences, race is as solid as Chesnutt's chain of custom, an effective and enduring means to privilege some groups, denigrate and disempower others.
Even if the contemporary terms race and ethnicity can often be used interchangeably in the study of medieval group identities, it could be reasonably asserted that when imbalances of power exist, and especially when physical, mental, and ethical differences are held to differentiate a powerful group from those over whom a superiority is being actually or imaginatively asserted, race must be the preferred term.[xxv] Race is not rendered useless because it is so highly charged, so inevitably haunted by racism, inequality, violence. Quite the opposite. Because race can never be morally neutral, because history has ensured that it is inextricable from power, because race is always connected to corporeality, and because it is at once mutable and permanent, race captures the differentiation of medieval peoples far better than more innocuous terms. Walter Pohl has written that early medieval ethnicity had two functions, integration and distinction. Ethnicity made a collective of people who differed among themselves and who may not have differed much from those it excluded; it proliferated in a nonsystematic and often confusing way a multitude of criteria for distinguishing self from other; and it seldom waivered in its underlying conviction that lines of demarcation among the world's peoples were clean and self-evident.[xxvi] As a force of both cohesion and exclusion, race in twelfth-century Britain clearly performed the same functions, but its use in what follows will stress the embodiedness of medieval collective identities in a way that ethnicity does not.
Race, in other words, is blood.
Stories of Blood
The focus of this book is largely upon the southeast portion of the island of Britain, an area that consolidated itself into a unified kingdom and baptized itself England. I stress, however, the dependence of that nation's self-definition upon those with whom the English shared geographic and imaginative space. Whether proximate or distant, these peoples were frequently figured as less than human, as monstrous. Indeed, fantasies of the utter alterity of the island's other races nourished the twelfth century sense of what constituted Englishness.[xxvii] Thus the Scots were described as a vile and barbaric race who might, as in 1138, cross into England to perform their native acts of crudelitas on any victim they could find, old or young. The Welsh likewise were thought to be the kind of people who cheerfully "cleared villages by plunder, fire, and sword, burnt houses, slaughtered the men."[xxviii] Occupying a nearby island abounding in resources, the Irish were imagined to lack the civility that would have enabled them to put these riches to their proper use. As monstrous as these feral races at the borders of the kingdom might be, however, an even graver danger was supposedly posed by the Jews, since they lived amongst the English in their biggest cities. Beginning in the middle of the twelfth century, it was believed that these proximate aliens had begun to murder for their secret rites the most defenseless members of the Christian community.
This book is divided into five chapters that tell a cumulative though not quite chronological story about the intertwining of race, blood, and monstrosity in twelfth-century Britain. Some of the common threads binding the analysis are an interest in the dynamics of community formation, especially in the wake of conquest; an emphasis upon exclusion and monsterization as catalysts to self-delimitation; and an inquiry into what function narratives (especially historiography, hagiography, and ethnography) play in precipitating or revitalizing such unions. I am especially interested in the groups who find themselves outsiders to new collective identities; in how beneath textual imaginings of community lies a preoccupation with flesh and blood; and in the instability of racial identities over long periods of time, especially as this fluidity bumps against its opposite, the tendency of race to harden and become immutable. Every chapter centers upon or comes back to the impurity and heterogeneity that impossibly neat categories like "English" and "Christian" conceal. I argue that the mixing together of what is supposed to be held discrete is the work of the medieval monster, a resolutely hybrid figure who is in the end simply the most startling incarnation of race made flesh.
"The Blood of Race," the first chapter, provides a succinct but wide-ranging overview of the elements from which race was constructed in the medieval British Isles, especially by the English. Race, I argue, found the perfect vehicle for its expression in blood. As a metaphor for body and community, as the biological substance that imbues the body with life, this vital fluid often functions as a stabilizing force, allowing communities to delimit their parameters through a belief in common ancestry or history. Yet blood is also a liquid that seldom stays motionless for long, a licentious violator of boundary more than a guardian of the integrity of borders. Thus blood ensures that insular racial identities were never all that stable, no matter how passionately their bearers may have desired them to be. Blood is the somatic element from which identity springs, the substance binding race to body. Many of the elements of which medieval race was composed seem at first glance to be disembodied or abstract. Customs, ritual, law, language, and religion are adoptable; anyone, it seems, can learn them, use them, racially "pass." Yet custom, for example, was understood not as some lifeless body of practice but as the performance and fleshly expression of pre-existent identity. Custom was, in other words, imagined to be congenital, an ancestral inheritance inseparable from race. This belief was reinforced by theories of collective identity that tied character to ancient climatological and environmental influence. Of course, no matter how inextricable racial markers like language and law seemed to embodied racial identities, history proves that these laws can be reconceptualized, new languages can be learned and old ones lost. These performative elements of race anchored identity to body, but could not stop race from its protean vector. Because of its tendency towards admixture and change, race was never in the end separable from the cultural processes that give birth to monsters.
Chapter Two, "Histories of Blood," examines Bede, William of Malmesbury, and Geoffrey of Monmouth. These three historians turned to the past to imagine collective identities essential to the present. When Bede composed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, no England yet existed. The southeast of the island was a battleground of small kingdoms in fierce martial competition. These petty realms were amalgams of peoples whose ancestors had arrived from various parts of northern Europe, warrior elites who had interbred with the native Britons. By imaging that this multicultural and conflictual expanse was in fact the home of a single race, the gens Anglorum, Bede powerfully promulgated the notion that the English were a people of shared blood and shared history. Though Christian, the indigenous Britons were, on the other hand, ineligible for inclusion in this emerging polity. When a country called England did arrive two centuries later, it was happy to embrace Bede's myth of origin. The events of 1066, however, struck a severe blow against this unity. In the wake of the Norman conquest England was ruled by foreign kings and an imported aristocracy. Writing early in the twelfth century, the monk William of Malmesbury attempted to restore continuity to this "interrupted course of history," as he called it. Half Norman and half English in descent, William thought that he was well positioned to accomplish this task. Yet reconciling these two halves of his identity proved no easier than accommodating the Normans into native history. A fascination with the monstrous, with bodies that cannot reconcile their constitutive differences, therefore pervades William's narration of postcolonial England. As anxious as William may have been about English identity, however, he probably never felt the same defensiveness as the Welsh, a people whom he and his contemporaries dismissed as barbarians. The last section of this chapter examines how Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote an alternative history of Britain that could challenge the Anglocentric history originated by Bede and reinvigorated by William. A mischievous and confounding text, Geoffrey's History of the Kings of Britain renarrated the British past, founding the island upon blood that at first glance seems remarkably pure but on closer examination turns out to be far more hybrid than even that which coursed through William of Malmesbury's veins.
Impure blood haunted another famous writer of the twelfth-century. A celibate cleric, Paris-educated intellectual, court chaplain, preacher of crusade, and descendant of a Norman conquistador and Welsh princess, Gerald of Wales could never easily articulate his self-identity. Although he dreamed of being appointed an archbishop of St David's, a metropolitan see that he hoped to hold independently of the authority of Canterbury, Gerald's life was a long lesson in learning how his identity could be severely circumscribed by the definitional power of others. The English elite could dismiss Gerald as too Welsh, for example, while the Welsh could reject him as too French. Gerald was never able to reconcile the multiple histories that he incarnated, the doubled blood that he bore. Early in life he alleviated some of his uncertainty by energetically participating in the conquest of Ireland, a land distant enough for him to imagine in his ethnographic accounts of the island that its population constituted a subhuman race, barely distinguishable from livestock. As Gerald realized that promotion at the English court was closed to him, he began to sympathize with the Welsh, a race that the court now marginalizing him had long insisted were as feral as the Irish. Like William of Malmesbury, his brother in both monastic celibacy and racial impurity, Gerald became obsessed by monstrous bodies. Strangely hybrid forms became his dominant mode not only for representations of race but for an exploration of his own conflicted selfhood.
Like Dante's inferno, this book is roughly funnel-shaped in structure. The introduction and first chapter offer sweeping surveys of recent critical work in race theory, advancing a large set of truths about group identity, national histories, and monstrous difference. The second chapter traces a more individual ambit, concentrating on a single and perhaps eccentric figure – and yet to study Gerald of Wales is to wander across continents and cultures. The analysis moves in the third chapter, "City of Catastrophes," from the vastness of national space to the confines of a provincial city. Norwich has a long history, dating at least into the early Saxon period. The dominant urban center in East Anglia, Norwich became an economic force during the period of the Viking settlement and was, at the eve of the Norman conquest, among the most populous communities of England. Perhaps because of its associations with the family of the last English king, Norwich was profoundly reconfigured by the Normans. The implantation of a massive castle, towering cathedral, and new French borough radically altered the urban topography. Native architectural and social structures were demolished, replaced by imported ones quite different from what Norwich had previously known. "City of Catastrophes" reads these challenges to identity and community not only from surviving texts but from the architecture itself, arguing that in the transformation of Norwich can be glimpsed the material consequences of the conquest, and especially its shattering effect upon indigenous ways of life. To restore harmony to this fractured community was going to take not only time but a miracle.
Or a whole series of miracles. The last chapter, "The Flow of Blood in Norwich," investigates the attempts by the masters of the Norman cathedral to foster the cult of a new saint. In 1144 a twelve-year-old boy named William was found murdered in the woods just outside the city. His corpse revealed signs of his having been tortured. An accusation was made by the boy's family that William was martyred by Norwich's most recent immigrants, the Jews. This community had been resident in the city for no more than a decade, having settled there in order to facilitate the financial transactions of the Norman immigrants. William's family found surprising allies in the monks who staffed the city's cathedral, and William's cult enabled a civic community that had been sundered by history to begin to imagine itself as constituting a unity. This chapter therefore explores how the Life of St William, composed by the monk William of Monmouth, attempts to imagine this new community, but at the same time betrays the many differences that prevent an ultimate harmony. Thomas's text sloughs onto the Jews the alterity that once characterized the Normans arriving in Norwich, and makes the implicit argument that should the city rid itself of these monsters dwelling among them, then the traumatic history still evident in the city's changed topography will finally be surmounted.
My previous books have attempted to work simultaneously in medieval literature and in what often gets called critical theory (a field, I would argue, more accurately and more simply described as philosophy). Stories of Blood marks a departure from this work in that much of the theorizing is conducted quietly, often below the level of direct quotation or even of footnote. This departure should not be read as a rejection. I am as committed to philosophically rigorous work as I ever have been, and would not have been able to formulate my argument without the help of theory, especially postcolonial theory. Yet I also feel that the time is right for medievalists to experiment with how they formulate their arguments, articulate their themes, convince their readers. It is time to essay rhetorical devices and generic shifts that can perhaps achieve something a predictable scholarly prose style will not. Each of my chapters therefore makes use of what I call fabulations. These brief, fictionalized, and experimental asides are meant to function like the strange moments that occur throughout twelfth-century historiography, moments when the sedate and scholarly course of the narrative is startled by an irruption of the marvelous, the monstrous, the new. As Monika Otter has made clear in her book Inventiones, such moments are not digressions from the texts that feature them but explorations in another register of the concerns animating those works. Thus Gerald of Wales "interrupts" his Journey Through Wales to narrate a story about a utopia of tiny men. This subterranean domain bears an uncanny resemblance to the lost world of Gerald's own childhood, and permits its narrator to mourn the Welshness he has rejected in himself in order to become a cleric who writes in Latin and a courtier who speaks in French.[xxix] Although I worry that my own fabulations may strike readers as self-indulgent, overwritten, or simply extraneous, it nonetheless seems to me that, even should I fail badly in the attempt, it is worthwhile to allow the sources I have worked with here to imbue my text with their own imprint.
My evidence is gathered mainly from narratives composed by a changed island's clerical elite. These energetic and literate men, introspective and unfailingly ambitious, turned to the writing of history, hagiography and ethnography in order to make sense of a difficult present. They lived during a time of extraordinary cultural clash and social change. Many were, as a result, of mixed racial heritage. William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon were Norman on their fathers' sides and English on their mothers.' In Gerald of Wales the blood of the Norman Marchers was alloyed with that of Welsh royalty. Geoffrey and Thomas, both of whom styled themselves "of Monmouth," were of unknown descent, but traced their origin from a border town known for its commingling of Welsh, Bretons, Normans and English. Not all of the texts examined in this book are linguistic, moreover, nor is the focus simply upon communal identifications like the nation. My discussion of Gerald of Wales focuses upon a racial identity that is for him agonizingly personal. The book's fourth and fifth chapters are forays into local and urban history, reading upheavals in communal belonging through the drastically altered contours of a single city. An important center for trade since Anglo-Saxon days, Norwich was reconfigured in the wake of the Norman conquest, an architectural colonization that radically altered both its social structure and its lived topography.
Although this book focuses upon England, my approach is oblique: England by way of the archipelago into which it was rapidly expanding, England without anglophilia, England deprived of a manifest destiny. By stressing the heterogeneity of the inhabitants of the British Isles, my aim is to foreground the differences that had to be surmounted in order to imagine that England constituted a homogeneous unity. By stressing the importance of minority populations in general and one in particular, I also intend to counteract somewhat a limitation that Sheila Delany has aptly observed is inherent in "our normative training" as medievalists, a training that tends to be "profoundly eurocentric and, within that, christiancentric."[xxx] This book is therefore populated by the Jews, barbarians, and other human monsters who found themselves ineligible for inclusion in the emergent England of the twelfth century. Throughout my analysis, whether of histories that link present perturbations to a more settled past in the hopes of a stable future, or of hatred unleashed against outsiders in order to bring internal cohesion to collectives, or of the irreconcilable differences that a postcolonial society plants deep in the flesh of its members, I find in every case that narratives of medieval race, narratives that unfailingly connect community to body, are always stories of blood.
It is to an examination of the construction of medieval race that I now turn, with an eye to explaining why this the fundamental category for the distinguishing of medieval peoples should have experienced such a profound crisis in the long wake of the Norman conquest.
[i] William takes the episode from his favorite source, Henry of Huntingdon's Historia Anglorum. The bleeding walls at Ramsey seem to have been a wonder well-known throughout England, and Henry claimed to have seen the flow of blood himself (et ipse ego oculis meis inspexi, 8.22).
[ii] The phrase William employs to describe the process of assimilation for both children is similes nobis effecti, "rendered like us." The process includes learning to eat English foods (beans, bread), nourishment that changes their skin color; starting to speak English words (nostrae usum loquelae); and adopting English Christianity (they were already Christians of a sort in their native land, the mysterious and dimly lit terra sancti Martini – a naming that perhaps hearkens back to the dedication of the monastery at Hastings earlier in the book). As we will see from the first chapter, the Anglicization that William is describing is in fact a complete change of race.
[iii] See R. R. Davies, The First English Empire, 54; cf. 3, where Davies speaks of "the problem that is the British Isles." Davies makes a similar point specifically about the difficulty of defining medieval Wales in Conquest, Coexistence and Change 4. Similar thoughts on the non-inevitability of the emergence of England are offered by Patrick Wormald in "Bede, the Bretwaldas, and the Origins of the Gens Anglorum" 104 and by John Moreland, "Ethnicity, Power and the English" 25. The transformation of historical chance into national destiny is also of course Benedict Anderson's influential theme in Imagined Communities; see especially 12.
[iv] Patricia Ingham captures the workings of this process eloquently when she explains the centrality of fantasy to formation of community: "The nation is always an illusion, a fantasy of wholeness that threatens again and again to fragment from the inside out. Fantasies of national identity teach peoples to desire union; they help inculcate in a populace the apparent 'truth' that unity, regulation, coordination, and wholeness are always better, more satisfying, and more fascinating, than the alternatives. Yet in order to promote desires for national unity, the nation, its core identity, must appear always to have been there, poised to fascinate its people, and ready to be desired" (Sovereign Fantasies 17). Ingham specifically links this process with the mythic Arthur, through whom "an increasingly literate public can learn to desire a unified future by delighting in the imagined glories of a unified past."
[v] Review of Marjorie Chibnall, The Normans 466.
[vi] "'Gens Normannorum' -- Myth or Reality?" 114.
[vii] See Christopher A. Snyder's review of the scholarship in The Britons 2-5, as well as Davies on the region (gwlad) as the core of Welsh communal identification in Conquest, Coexistence, and Change 13-14, "an inauspicious base on which to build the unity of Wales."
[viii] John of Fordun fourteenth century history of the Scots traces the descent of the race through Scota, daughter of an Egyptian pharoah; see Bruce Webster, "John of Fordun" 85.
[ix] "Race Relations in Post-Conquest Wales" 32.
[x] Thus in 1998 the American Anthropological Association declared that inequalities among "so-called racial groups" have nothing to do with biological inheritance, but derive from historical and social forces. A year later the New England Journal of Medicine declared in an editorial that "race is a social construct, not a scientific classification." Lisa Lampert argues the importance of both documents to reconceptualizing race in the Middle Ages in "Race, Periodicity, and the (Neo-) Middle Ages" 411, citing some dissenting scientific voices who stress the applicability of race to the treatment of certain diseases. Critical legal scholars Robert L. Hayman, Jr., and Nancy Levit point out that biological race has been denounced as pseudo-scientific since at least 1904 ("Un-natural Things" 163), though like many phenomena that do not have a basis in fact race remains a profoundly influential set of assumptions with material consequences (159).
[xi] And so Gayle Wald writes that race possesses a "chimerical and arbitrary nature, yet seems real, natural and obvious because of the "multifarious needs, fantasies, and aspirations" it supports and expresses (Crossing the Line 6).
[xii] The quotation is from H. Reinerth, Das Federseemor als Siedlungsland des Vorzeitmenschen (1936), cited by John Moreland in "Ethnicity, Power and the English" 23. Moreland writes soberly of the power of belief in overcoming the inconveniences of fact in connecting the past to the present via filiation. Cf. R. R. Davies: "As to myths of biological descent they may well have acquired particular connotations and spurious scientific validation in the nineteenth century: but they were also of course the veriest commonplaces of the historical mythology of the medieval world" ("The Peoples of Britain and Ireland I. Identities" 3-4). See also Susan Reynolds, "What Do We Mean by 'Anglo-Saxon' and 'Anglo-Saxons'?" where she introduces the concept of a "blood-community" (405).
[xiii] See Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, a book which advances a strong argument for the local determination of the deployment of intergroup violence. Nirenberg's influence will be shown most clearly in my chapters on Norwich at the end of this book.
[xiv] The English and the Normans 9.
[xv] Thus the medievalist Stephen J. Harris, following the model proposed by Michael Banton in Racial Theories, uses word race to describe "a group whose boundaries are relatively difficult to cross," and ethnicity for groups with "relatively porous boundaries" (Race and Ethnicity in Anglo-Saxon Literature, 185). Harris is sophisticated in his analysis throughout his book, but I disagree with his distinction between these terms.
[xvi] David M. Goldenberg, "The Development of the Idea of Race" 562.
[xvii] Andrew Tyrrell makes this point well in "Early Medieval Bodies and Corporeal Identity" 140.
[xviii] Curta, review of Medieval Europeans.
[xix] "Is There a 'Neo-Racism'?" 22. Lisa Lampert brilliantly connects Balibar's work to medieval constructions of race in her essay "Race, Periodicity, and the (Neo-) Middle Ages" 398-99.
[xx] For an indication of the vigor of this analysis as well as the copious bibliography it has generated, see the essays collected by Richard Corradini et al., The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages and by Andrew Gillett, On Barbarian Identity: Critical Approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages. By using the word race, however, it is my intention to call attention to the embodied aspects of medieval community, especially in their relation to blood.
[xxi] Jonathan Marks, "Replaying the Race Card," American Anthropological Association Newsletter 39 (1998) 4; cited by Andrew Tyrrell, "Early Medieval Bodies" 141.
[xxii] "Expanding the Discourse on 'Race'" 611.
[xxiii] Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U. S. Literature and Culture, pp. 6-7. Though such observations seem most frequently applied to constructions of subaltern race, they apply no less truly to those for whom race is empowering; see, e.g., Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. Cf. also Walter Pohl on constructivist analysis of ethnogenesis, "The Construction of Communities" 1-3.
[xxiv] The House Behind the Cedars, 24.
[xxv] The same argument holds for the supposedly neutral term that many historians – including R. R. Davies and Hugh M. Thomas -- use instead of ethnicity, "people." Other words could be adopted (communities, solidarities, collectivities), but neutrality of designation does not seem to me to be the point here.
[xxvi] Walter Pohl, "Introduction: Strategies of Distinction" 4-5.
[xxvii] These multiple exclusions were, needless to say, a rather fragile means of constructing identity Cf., for example, Steven F. Kruger on the instability that arose from medieval Christian identities being predicated on their difference from Jewishness, "The Spectral Jew" 14.
[xxviii] Both these stories appear in the Gesta Stephani, 1.26 and 1.8 respectively.
[xxix] Monika Otter, Inventiones 144-46. Otter writes that the narrative "is a simple story about growing up and losing one's innocence," but is also fundamentally about language and loss. A discussion of the words used in the subterranean world, for example, quickly becomes a consideration of Welsh; the boy who once had access to this fairyworld grows up to become a Latin-trained priest.
[xxx] "'Turn It Again'" 2. Lisa Lampert speaks of "attempting to de-center Christianity from a normative position" in Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare 1.