Tuesday, March 27, 2018
I am delighted to share some exciting news with ITM readers.
Ayanna Thompson will be the next Director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU. She will be joining the English Department within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this summer.
Ayanna Thompson is currently a Phi Beta Kappa distinguished visiting scholar and the Vice-President of the Shakespeare Association of America, where (among many other things) she has introduced a successful initiative for providing a network of mentors for scholars of color. She came to GWU five years ago from ASU, so this is her return home. Ayanna Thompson has been at the very heart of GW MEMSI -- as well as a frequent teaching partner and collaborator. I am so happy to have our work together continue: she as director of ACMRS, me as dean of humanities. The future of the past is bright.
Monday, March 19, 2018
a guest post by @LeVostreGC
Goode Friendes and Readers of Yn The Middel and readeres and scolers and teacheres and studentes arounde the globe of the Erthe,
Yt doth fill my litel herte wyth gret happinesse to invyte yow to the fifthe yeare of a moost blisful and plesinge celebracioun.
On the first daye of Aprille, lat us make tyme to take joye yn alle langages that are yclept ‘old,’ or ‘middel,’ or ‘auncient,’ or ‘archaic,’ or, alas, even ‘dead.’
Thys feest ys yclept ‘Whan That Aprille Day.’ For thys yeare yt ys: 'Whan That Aprille Day 18.' Forget nat the "-le" yn Aprille. #WhanThatAprilleDay18
Ich do invyte yow to joyne me and manye othir goode folk yn a celebracioun across the entyre globe of the erthe. Yn thys celebracioun we shal reade of oold bokes yn sondrye oold tonges. We shal singe olde songes. We shal playe olde playes. Eny oold tonge will do, and eny maner of readinge. Al thogh thys holidaye dyd start wyth my writinge on blog and twytter yn Middel Englisshe, yet let that nat limit yn no waye the reache and capaciousnesse of thys growinge holidaye. All are welcome that come wyth love and understandinge to all. All are welcome that looke to the studye of the past nat to proppe up dustye tradiciouns but to builde a bettir and just and peaceful and lovinge future. We shal make merrye yn the magical dreamscape of 'social media,' and eke, yf ye kan do yt, yn the material plane of the 'real worlde' as wel.
Ye maye, paraventure, wisshe to reade from the beginning of my Tales of Caunterburye, but ye maye also wisshe to reade of eny oothir boke or texte or scroll or manuscript that ye love. Ye maye even reade the poetrye of John Gower yf that ys yower thinge.
What are sum wayes to celebrate Whan That Aprille Daye?
Gentil frendes, yf yt wolde plese yow to celebrate Whan That Aprille Daye 2018, ye koude do eny of the followinge. Be sure to use the hasshe-tagge #WhanThatAprilleDay18 on yower poostes of twytter and facebooke and blogge.
• Counte downe to Whan That Aprille Daye wyth postes and readinges.
• Maken a video of yowerself readinge (or singinge! or actinge!) and share yt on the grete webbe of the internette.
• Planne a partye at yower classroome or hous to celebrate oolde langages, and poost pictures to the ynternette.
• Read auncient langages to yower catte, and the catte shal be moost mirthful.
• Make sum maner of cake or pastrye wyth oold wordes upon yt, and feest upon yt wyth good folke and share pictures of yower festivitee. (And yet beware the catte that shal seke to eaten of the icinge yn the hours of derkenesse bifor the celebracioun.)
• Yf ye be bold, ye maye wisshe to share yower readinge yn publique, yn a slam of poesye or a nighte of open mic. (Bringe the catte?)
• Yf ye worke wyth an organisatioun or scole, ye maye wisshe to plan sum maner of event, large or smal, to share writinge yn oold langages. (Policy for cattes at eventes?)
• And for maximum Aprillenesse, marke all tweetes and poostes wyth the hashtagge #WhanThatAprilleDay18 – remember the ‘Whan’ and ‘Aprille.’
What ys the poynte of Whan That Aprille Daye?
Ower mission ys to celebrate al the langages that have come bifor, and alle their joyes and sorrowes and richesse.
Ower mission ys to remynde folk of the beautye and grete lovelinesse of studyinge the wordes of the past. And thys ys for all wordes, of all tonges, and no tonge ys bettir than eny othir and all are belovid of all. And eke ower mission ys to bringe to mynde the importaunce of supportinge the scolership and labour that doth bringe thes wordes to us. To remynde folk to support the techinge of paleographye and of archival werke and eek, ywis, the techinge of thes oold langages. To remynde folk of the gret blisse and joye of research libraryes and the gret wysdam and expertyse of the libraryans that care for them across the centuryes. To call to mynde the fundinge of the humanityes, the which ys lyke the light of the sonne on the plantes of learninge and knowledge. For wythout al of thes thinges, the past wolde have no wordes for us and we wolde be left mirtheless.
Ower mission ys also to have ynogh funne to last until next Whan That Aprille Daye.
Note that thys event doth also coincide wyth Aprille Fooles Daye, the which ys fyne by cause we do love thes langages and alle who love are yn sum maner also fooles.
Thys yeare also (2018), yf ye do celebraten Easter on April the fyrste, thanne ye koude alwayes extend Whan That Aprille Daye to Mondaye and do yower WTAD eventes then. And yt will brighen uppe a Mondaye!
Ich do hope wyth al myn herte that that sum of yow good folke will joyne me on thys April first (or secounde) for readinge and celebratinge and foolinge. Lat us maken melodye on #WhanThatAprilleDay18
Wyth muchel love and admiracioun
Saturday, March 17, 2018
by SHAMMA BOYARIN
[editorial note from Karl Steel: Boyarin responds to Leahy's posts here and here; for an earlier guest post by Boyarin, see his "Decentering Medieval Studies," here, which provided the title for a roundtable moderated yesterday by Jennifer Alberghini, featuring Anna Akasoy, who also spoke last night at the Graduate Center on medieval Arabic falconry treatises, and Hyunhee Park, whose Mapping the Chinese and Islamic Worlds looks essential).
And now Shamma:
Jewish tradition distinguishes (broadly) between t'o types of arguments: arguments that are not “for the sake of heaven”, where one or both sides are debating for the sake of their own reputation or just out of spite, and those that are “for the sake of heaven” where both sides are looking towards a common goal and are arguing in good faith with the aim of getting closer to understanding or achieving this goal. I see this exchange as an example of the second kind of argument. While I fully believe that the intentions of both Chad Leahy’s post of (Feb 25) Dear Fellow Iberianists where are we? ( http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2018/02/dear-fellow-iberianists-where-are-we.html) and the editorial board of ITM in running it were good, and while I obviously support the broader context in which this conversation is happening I would like to explain why myself and other Iberianists might take exception. To quote the Andalusi poet and Philosopher Judah Ha-Levi- ניתך מרציה ועמלך גיר מרצי- which means “your intentions are welcome, but your deeds are not welcome”. Further, while Chad has somewhat responded to some of the pushback against his first post in his second post (see here: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/), I feel it’s important to articulate this pushback in a more thorough fashion than had been expressed till now on various social media, both because Chad’s second post makes it clear that such a response was needed, and, perhaps more importnatly in order to make this to be a more inclusive conversation- to give non-Iberianists more context and resources to look at this issue.
I first want to begin with why having ITM host this particular post felt troubling to me and some of my colleagues. It is a well-established fact that in North America anything related to England dominates medieval studies. The majority of jobs, and majority of panels at big conferences (and small specialized conferences) etc. all revolve around England in some way. This of course has understandable reasons, and on some level, makes sense. But because of this, for those of us working in other areas, our topics, interests, areas of expertise, and struggles are often sidelined, marginalized and invisible. ITM, which is run entirely by scholars whose area of expertise is England, and which is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the important online voices in medieval studies cannot be seen as separated from this reality.
I understand that both the editors of ITM and Chad Leahy are aware of this- and that that is why he wished to publish his post in this influential venue, and that the regular contributors of ITM saw this as an opportunity to use the platform ITM has to create the space that in my previous paragraph I argue that we have been fighting for. I also immediately understood that both parties, the author and editors of ITM, viewed this piece as being in line with the active discussion that took place on ITM earlier this summer about similar topics (and to which I contributed as well). But, there is a big difference: all of those earlier pieces were aimed at medieval studies as a whole, even when someone was writing from their specific subfield, the idea was to think about ways in which we all can be part of a general conversation that improves the field as a whole. In that context using ITM as a platform made sense: its centrality to the field was its strength and made conversation across various boundaries possible. This recent piece calls out a specific group (“Iberianists”) for not contributing to a collective discussion: “Look, medieval studies has been having these important conversations, why are you lagging behind? Why don’t you care enough about RFB? AF?” It reinforces the message that we only matter to the extent that we are doing the things that are important to those working on the “real medieval studies.”
The fact that ITM chose to provide space for this touches a nerve, because we have been trying to have these conversations with you, explain why our work matters to these issues long before this summer. Often we have been ignored, sometimes condescended to (“oh yes yes we know Spain is special place… yes yes we know Jews and Arabs and Muslims and all that- but how is that relevant to the rest of Europe?”), and sometimes even actively attacked because we don’t know enough about “issue X”.
Furthermore, because none of those running ITM know enough about Medieval Iberian studies to properly assess some of the issues with the piece and the many ways it comes off as short-sighted.
The general thrust of the post is a call for Iberianists to be more visible in calling out the use of the medieval by white supremacists and other nationalistic groups, particularly when it relates to Spain. The argument is that Iberianists have been tacitly complicit or not vocal enough in the current fight about medieval studies that has become especially fierce because of the pushback against scholars like RFB, AF, and certain events at last year’s IMC Leeds. But what the post fails to account for is that there is a long complex history of Iberianists fighting this fight, in Spain, Europe, and North America. Indeed, for many of us the very choice to become “Iberianists” was a choice to be part of struggle over the identity of not just the Iberian Peninsula but the medieval world.
As Jesús R Velasco wrote (in a discussion responding to the post that took place on my Facebook wall, I’m quoting him with permission):
Iberianists have been making noise for a long time --including university revolts in the late Francoist era, the fight against right-wing politics of literary criticism during the ‘transition’ and beyond, the renewal of archival research, the study of many languages across the Iberian Peninsula, new studies in Medieval and Early Modern models of conflictive ‘coexistence’ for years, etc.” Some these scholars risked their freedom and were forced into exile for the scholarly work. Yes, there is a history of drawing upon accounts of medieval Spain to support fascism, but there is as well a complicated history of resistance that is embedded into much of our scholarship both in Spain and here.
As David Wack notes in a review of the history of the study of medieval Spain in the US:
For those of us working in the US, it was the legacy of Américo Castro that had the greatest impact on this debate. Castro threw down the multicultural gauntlet. It was a real challenge to the field, a call to arms... … Castro’s students and followers in the US, notably Francisco Márquez Villanueva, Sam Armistead, and James Monroe, during the last quarter of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, all continued to explore the idea that Spain’s literary and vernacular cultures were not simply a reaction to the history of Islam and Judaism in the Peninsula, but were heirs, hybrids, a multicultural product of this history. Consequently, any assessment of medieval Iberian culture that omitted the Peninsula’s Semitic legacy was incomplete at best and patently racist at worst.
Castro’s students, and his students’ students, took up the challenge with great zeal. His multicultural thesis resonated with the brewing US multiculturalism that exploded in the wake of the Vietnam War. James Monroe (Emeritus at UC Berkeley), who took his PhD in Romance Languages at Harvard, went on to almost single-handedly champion Andalusi literary studies outside of Spain, always with the idea that, as he put it, and with only slight exaggeration, “Spanish is a dialect of Arabic.” The late Francisco Márquez-Villanueva (Emeritus at Harvard) wrote extensively on the semitic cultures of the Iberian peninsula and their deep footprint in what would become Castilian and then Spanish literary and intellectual culture. The late Samuel Armistead (Emeritus at UC Davis) dedicated a lifetime to the study of the culture of medieval Iberia and its transformations in the culture of the Sephardic Jews. His student, the late María Rosa Menocal (Yale) famously disrupted the field first with her book The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History in which she championed the so-called thèse arabe of the genesis of troubadour poetry, and also challenged Hispanist approaches to the Andalusi legacy of Peninsular literary culture. More recently Menocal published a popular trade book, titled The Ornament of the World, a multicultural history of medieval Iberia that delighted general readers and sympathetic specialists, and infuriated more orthodox historians who felt that her intervention was an incursion on their territory and a heresy of speculative, even revisionist history in the spirit of her academic grandfather, Américo Castro. The academic grandchildren of Castro, such as Harvard’s Luis Girón-Negrón, Minnesota’s Michelle Hamilton, and Michigan’s Ryan Szpiech, are continuing and nuancing the work begun by Castro and his students, and continue to interrogate linguistic and religious categories of scholarly inquiry.” (For the full post read here: https://davidwacks.uoregon.edu/2014/05/02/lestreilles/)
I will reiterate in case it has not been clear: Spanish scholars like Américo Castro were in exile because of their ideas. Our field has never not been a site of struggle. For many of us our engagement with medieval Spain as Hebraists or Arabists is a result of the work of Castro and others- and we see it as a direct continuation of it. That is there isn’t a specific moment (last summer for example) when we are engaging these questions- we are always doing so- in our writing, speaking and teaching.
In his post Chad asks “why Fernández-Morera’s rabidly polemical The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (2016) not give rise to a more vigorous public response by scholars in the field in 2017?” And points to Sarah Pearce’s review of it as the lone exception (read here: https://wp.nyu.edu/sjpearce/2017/03/17/paradise-lost/).
Sarah Pearce (again on Facebook discussing the ITM post) has suggested that part of the problem with the post is that the author fails to adequately distinguish between “Hispanists” and “Iberianists”. She says: “the former ultimately being the heirs to the national-Catholic foundations of the field in some way or another, who see an integrity to "Spain", and who work in Spanish and Latin only; and the latter being people who work with more languages and see Spain as part of a broader system that requires a broader historiographic and theoretical approach.” This failure to distinguish re-anacts (perhaps inadvertently) the very problem which the post is trying to mobilize scholars to fight against. The scholars named above by Wacks are what I (and others) would consider “Iberianists.”
As Chad himself suggests in his post many of us imbued this struggle as part of training and its defined our scholarship in significant ways. Chad turns this into a negative worrying that perhaps because we already see Iberia as a complex site of multicultural struggle we are silent when these important conversations are taking place all around us- but its simply not the case- scholars of Iberia/al-Andlaus/Sepharad have been making noise for a long time in many different ways about these issues. Are you listening?
Some recommendations for going further in this direction:
In addition to the scholars mentioned in the post above also look at the work of Vincent Barletta (Stanford) and Nuria Martínez de Castilla (EPHE, Paris)
A very brief reading list that might be useful:
Monroe, James The Art of Badi az-Zaman al-Hamadhani as Picarsque Narrative, American University of Beirut, 1984.
Brann, Ross The Compunctious Poet: Cultural Ambiguity and Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain, Johns Hopkins Jewish Studies 1991
Menocal, Maria Rosa The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Back Bay Books, Little Brown, 2002
and Shards of Love: Exile and the origins of the Lyric, Duke UP, 1994
Akbari and Mallette eds. A Sea of Languages: Rethinking the Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History, University of Toronto Press, 2013
Pearce, Sarah The Andalusi Literary and Intellectual Tradition: The Role of Arabic in Judah ibn Tibbon’s Ethical Will, Indiana Univerist Press 2017
Some shorter pieces:
Gumbrecht. (1994) "A Philological Invention of Modernism: Menéndez Pidal, García Lorca, and the Harlem Renaissance," in The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval French Literature in the 1990s, ed. William D. Paden (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1994), 32-49.
Ray, Jonathan. (2005). Beyond Tolerance and Persecution: Reassessing Our Approach to
Medieval Convivencia. Jewish Social Studies, 11(2), 1–18.
Rojinsky, D. (2010). Companion to Empire: A Genealogy of the Written Word in Spain and New Spain, C.550-1550. Rodopi. (in particular Intro and post-script):
“In his contrastive Analysis of the Romance and national philological traditions, Gumbrecht (1986) suggested that, Romance Philology might be better understood at the discipline of the outsider, of the exile, the entranced “with the fragmentation, the loveliness and merits of the scattering of the long-lost empire” (Menocal 1994:109). Bearing this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Gumbrecht should also note that the founder of Romance Philology, Friedrich Diez, actually fit the bill himself: Diez was Prussian, and hence a non-native Romance speaker, and born at a time when Germany did not even yet exist as a nation. Moreover, Diez dwelt on Provencal poetry in Languedoc and therefore on a language not correlated with any National boundaries, and in fact a tongue destined for destruction to allow for the emergence of France as a linguistically unified polity. If later nationalistic philological institutions of individual powerful cultures “bound by a specific and particular language” (Menocal 1994:109) stood in contrast to Diez’ apparent love of diasporic fragmentation and languages ‘without homes’, then Romance Philology, in its preoccupation with an essentially atemporal Romania “written in all languages and at all times”, presupposed that for all its practitioners – not least of all in case of Erich Auerbach – the “the logical home is the earth: it can no longer be the nation” (110).
Cerquiglini, B. (1989). Éloge de la variante: Histoire critique de la philologie. Paris: Seuil.
Szpiech, R. (2014). Américo Castro, Erich Auerbach, y la “ciencia” historiográfica. In Encrucijada de culturas: Alfonso X y su tiempo. Homenaje a Francisco Márquez Villanueva, edited by. Emilio González Ferrín, 101–124.
Menocal, Maria Rosa Writing Without Footnotes: The role of the medievalist in contemporary intellectual life:
Jones, Nicholas Cosmetic Ontologies, Cosmetic Subversions: Articulating Black Beauty and Humanity in Luis de Góngora's "En la fiesta del Santísimo Sacramento"
(I want to thank Sarah Pearce, Jesús R Velasco, David Wacks and Valerie Wilhite for reading drafts of this post and providing great suggestions and information.
Please note that I have a disability that impacts my writing- we have tried to clean things up- but in the interest of making this post available in a timely manner we could not copy edit it as closely as might be necessary. Please don’t let any typos, grammar errors etc influence how you evaluate the post).
Thursday, March 15, 2018
This is the second installment of a three-part series begun on Sunday, February 25, 2018. Part One appears here.
Chad Leahy is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Denver. His research centers on the politics of Jerusalem in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain. He has published on a range of topics including Lope de Vega, Cervantes, and the morisco expulsion, and teaches regularly on al-Andalus.
On ‘Medieval Iberia,’
Why We Should
Make the Tent Bigger,
and What We Have to Say about Race
by Chad Leahy
|Title page from Jacobo Uziel's David: poema heroico (Venice, 1624), courtesy of the Biblioteca Generale della Custodia di Terra Santa (Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Jerusalem). Photo by the author.|
In a previous post, I suggested that those of us working on Medieval Iberia could be doing more right now to publicly position our field against hate. This second post moves in two parts. Part I: Preliminary comments in response to some of the reactions that my initial post has generated, laying out a case for embracing a shared sense of common purpose. Part II: Thoughts on our particular disciplinary response to the very specific question of Iberian Studies and race in the 21st century United States. (If you have time only to skim this admittedly super long post, please take a look at least at points 1 and 2 at the very end, and especially the call for contributions to Race and Medieval Iberian Studies:A Partial Bibliography.
I: Why We Should Make the Tent Bigger
I’d like to start with what I think is an essential clarification. By suggesting in my previous post that we should do more, I absolutely did not intend to imply that some of us aren’t already engaged in public work, nor that the decolonizing of Iberian Studies broadly isn’t something that many of us care about. The #HereAreTheIberianists hashtag, courtesy of S.J. Pearce (one of many clearly engaged scholars who I cited with admiration in my last piece), stands as a handsome way to showcase the important work already being done. I think it would be phenomenal if this hashtag could work as a sort of repository of such work, particularly to show the strength of our valuable contributions to a broader audience. As several folks have pointed out, these efforts appear in a variety of media, in a range of languages, and spread across diverse national and local geographies. It’s next to impossible for any one person to keep tabs on all the work, both ‘scholarly’ and ‘public,’ going on in such a range of forums. But I think it would be genuinely beautiful if this hashtag could help us to collectively front this body of work as, precisely, a body of work, evincing the specific strength of Iberianist contributions (writ large) to the broader fight. I would suggest that by exposing such contributions to a wider group of people with allied interests, maybe we can also encourage more dialogue and scholarly interaction across the wide range of disciplinary positions implicated here, both within and outside Iberian or Hispanic Studies.
This last argument leads me to a related point. Another set of observations prompted by my initial post revolves, precisely, around how we delimit proper disciplinary spaces. Most acutely: what is proper to ‘Anglo’ scholarship versus ‘Iberian’ scholarship, in what spaces does such work make sense, and, ultimately, what institutions or groups are endowed with the authority to make judgements about such matters?
I’ll confess I know really far less than I should about the full range of worlds and experiences implicated in Anglo-centric fields, but regarding Iberia, I would like to make explicit something all of us know very well (and this is not intended to be patronizing to Iberianists, but rather to suggest the complications at play here for those less familiar with our fields): We are not, and never have been, a coherent discipline, but rather a constellation of allied fields that approach Iberia through a range of diverse languages, geographies, identities, and political spaces. (For a quick introduction to some of these issues, check out Jean Dangler’s piece in diacritics). For example, what do the proto-imperial endeavors of Aragón across the Mediterranean in the 14th and 15th Centuries have in common with the Caliphate in 10th and 11th-century Córdoba? What do the Cantigas de Santa María (13th century Marian miracles in gallego-portugués) have in common with Rabbi Shem Tov’s Proverbios morales (14th century sententious moral poetry in Spanish with some manuscripts in Hebrew aljamiado) or with Ausiàs March (15th century, largely secular love poetry in valencià)? What does the Sentencia-Estatuto de Toledo (1449), establishing influential blood purity laws, have to do with the Aristotelian commentaries of Ibn Rushd (aka. Averroes, 12th century)?
And what about the very temporality of our respective fields? Not just what but also when is Medieval Iberia? Do we consider the Oran fatwa of 1504 –produced in the wake of the mass forced conversions of Spain’s Muslims, who were looking then to the Maghreb for spiritual guidance after the violent collapse of the Capitulations of Granada– to be ‘medieval’ or ‘early modern’? What do those periodizing labels even mean in such a context? Can we read the early 16th-century morisco el mancebo de Arévolo’s Qur’anic exegesis (written in Spanish using Arabic aljamiado) or the Lead Books of Granada (late 16th century, in Arabic and Latin), without gazing back across the fracturing divide of 1492 that, as Barbara Fuchs has argued, remains lodged at the heart of Hispanism, cleaving it in deeply problematic ways: “a medieval before and a modern after” (496)? Can we hollow out the ‘medieval’ or the ‘Iberian’ from the experiences embedded in Sephardic exile Jacobo Uziel’s David: poema heroico, published in Italy in 1624, written in the language of a land he could not inhabit? Can we read Las Casas (16th century) without considering his grounding in ‘medieval’ epistemology? And then, what to do about more recent history? Not just the mythologizing of 19th century nationalist philology or Francoist deployments of reconquista and cruzada or Aznar’s comments about 711 but also more contemporary things, like a recent review of Fernández-Morera’s book entitled “Al Andalus: Brown Man’s Lust for White Women” that appeared in the neo-nazi publication the Daily Stormer?
I’d like to suggest that Iberian medievalisms such as these, also rooted as they are in a field that is itself so diverse and complex, demand that we push geographies and temporalities to encompass ever wider limits. Rather than close ranks, maybe we can try to imagine a collective convivencia of shared interests. Can we image a space for all of us who are worried about the common goal of decolonizing Iberian Studies writ large–along with other diverse Medieval Studies (writ… however one would like to write, using whatever characters or alphabets one prefers)–to take part in a collective effort grounded not on reclaiming the proper spaces of our respective fields, but rather in fronting what unites us across these borders? I acknowledge that what such work looks like, precisely, will necessarily be field-dependant. I don’t intend to imply that engaged work for Anglo-Saxonists and Iberianists must assume the same forms or be circulated in the same forums. But I do intend to suggest that by embracing shared values and encouraging exchange, and particularly by inviting interested scholars in neighboring fields to be more aware of each other’s work, we all build a stronger common front.
This last point also leads me to ask, out loud, if we should also be rethinking not just who we imagine us to be but also who we image them to be. Who are we addressing in our work, both ‘scholarly’ and ‘public’? Who are we going after? Fernández-Morera and his white nationalist fanbase? Yes! Those who continue to ground aberrant ideologies in the narrative of reconquista? Certainly! (And on this, see much of García-Sanjuán’s exemplary work). There is so much going on out in the world right now that we have no shortage of appropriations to resist or misuses to contest. But what if our ideal imagined interlocutors here are not neo-nazis or falangistas but the people in the office next door? The colleagues we see at conferences? The reviewers of the articles we write? Old friends from grad school?
In thinking about the traditional rift between theory and philology, presentism and historicist antiquarianism, Castillo and Egginton describe a “’quiet’ consensus” currently pacifying Hispanism that I read as not too dissimilar from the “criminal non-intervention” that Simon Doubleday decries. Without question, many of us are engaged. But many of us also are not, either because we prefer “neutral” critical “objectivity” (which is a fiction) or because we are actively opposed to the very work at hand, reading it as inimical to the field itself, whether for ideological or methodological reasons (and, obviously, ‘methodology’ here runs clean cover for ‘ideology’).
I think that such fractures find a particular resonance when we think specifically about race. I truly doubt I’m alone here: I regularly bump into serious scholars, even scholars whose work is rooted explicitly in Critical Race Theory, who tell me that we can’t really talk about race before the Enlightenment because race as a category didn’t exist yet. I have heard people at conferences say that talking about Sub-Saharan African slavery in Iberia is ridiculous, because ‘there were white slaves, too, you know,’ or that ‘those things’ only really happened in Portugal. I have heard folks in the field say forcefully that so much emphasis on inclusivity in the Academy constitutes "anti-white racism." I have heard people insist that the best way to approach racial and ethnic difference in our field is to understand that what we are really dealing with, here, are literary tropes that follow certain formal conventions, behind which there is no real interesting history or human experience that we should worry about locating.
I enthusiastically acknowledge that many folks are working on this very problem right now from diverse positions within Medieval Studies, but my point is that, at least from the vantage of Iberian Studies, there is clearly much more that can be done. What I am insisting is that in asking “Dear Fellow Iberianists: Where Are We?,” I am also thinking about these very anonymous subjects I’ve just described. Our colleagues, our friends, our mentors, our students. The we I imagine is not the already-engaged scholar on the frontlines, visibly, publicly combating hate and ignorance. It’s all of us in Hispanic Studies departments who deal or think in or around the fringes of the medieval. And let’s be honest, that’s a lot of people. Many of us are hired into pre-1700 positions. Many of us are hired as Generalists who have to teach everything from Atapuerca and Aztlán to Zapatero. When I imagine we, I’m thinking of all of us. I’m thinking also about my former self, who I will confess enjoyed a long period immersed in the imaginary world of an anti-political philology rooted, unquestionably, in white, male, straight, cis-gendered privilege that made it frankly easy to ignore the pressing urgency of our field in the Now. I’m also thinking about the dissertation advisees of the serious, well-respected scholars who signed the dustjacket publicity blurbs for Fernández-Morera’s book.
When I ask where we are, I am talking about the part of we that is all of us. I imagine this to be a huge tent, and I imagine there to be space in that tent for vast hosts. I imagine all of us advocating and educating from whatever positions we might occupy here. And I imagine a spirit of collaboration, inter- and intra-disciplinary communication, openness, and good will to be great assets that can only strengthen our collective efforts.
II: What We Have to Say About Race
In what follows, I would like to think a little more specifically about the question of race that lies at the heart of the matter here.
It would be good to acknowledge, first, some important reasons why our experiences as Iberianists facing the specific question of race in contemporary Medieval Studies, particularly in the United States, might not be equivalent to that of many of our colleagues working in other areas. The essential point of departure here is a simple recognition that the very well-documented fascination of the Alt-Right with the Middle Ages—so central to what is happening in Medieval Studies right now—hangs on a decidedly non-Iberian imaginary. The question for Iberianists from this vantage can easily become: what have we to do with white nationalism in the contemporary U.S.? We know that hate groups especially love the idea of Vikings and runes and Thor’s hammers, Celtic crosses and Celtic music, the Crusades, Gothic blackletter typeface and the fiction of a pure Anglo-Saxon race. This is common knowledge, particularly in the catalyzing wake of Charlottesville. But what of Iberia? Iberia’s complex cultural, ethno-racial, religious, and linguistic past—its hybrid forms and protean border crossings—would seem to render it an uneasy fit in amongst the aforementioned medievalist appropriations. Maybe we just don’t have a big role to play in resisting our appropriation for the purposes of hate because, well, we just aren’t really being appropriated that much. Perhaps the radical alterity of medieval Iberia, its intuitive “midcoloniality” grounded in a “multiculturalism” worn very much on the sleeve, is just not a natural fit. (See Nadia Altschul’s “The future of postcolonialapproaches to medieval Iberian Studies”).
Despite such legitimate points, I would urge us to recognize something frontally: the same ideologies that weaponize The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise are, despite it all, definitely at work co-opting a variety of Iberian subjects that many of us work on. It does not take much effort at all to dredge up traces of admiration for Spain’s expulsions of Jews (1492) and moriscos (1609-1614) scattered around on sites like Stormfront and /4chan. (I refuse to link to such places). And the Alt-Right appears at least intrigued with the narrative of reconquista (for example, one Stormfront user asks: “Is there any good documentary about the Reconquista? I doubt it since it's something the jews and libtards [sic] wouldn't like to make”). I have also encountered in several places an absolutely fascinating and completely bizarre-o deployment of reconquista as a way to imagine a perceived re-Mexicanization and browning of the American Southwest. And such folks are, of course, foreseeably also big fans of the foundational mission of the Holy Office (one /pol/ user suggests that the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada is “/ourguy/”). Sánchez-Albornoz even shows up once in a while—although mostly in monolingual Spanish threads—probably thanks to the ideological utility of Sánchez-Albornoz’s homo Hispanus, that transhistorical (white) Catholic Roman-Visigothic essence at the heart of authentic Spanishness. In short, it would be disingenuous to suggest that our field, unlike Anglo-Saxon studies or Crusade studies (to mention just two intuitive examples), is somehow immune to such appropriations.
Nevertheless, I admit that we would be left wanting if we were to go hunting for tattoos of Santiago Matamoros or Torquemada or Don Claudio at places like Charlottesville’s Alt-Right rally. Tellingly, unlike terms such as “Celtic” and “Norse,” a search for the terms “Iberia” and “Spain” in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s substantive Hate on Display Hate SymbolsDatabase yields no results. And it’s not too hard to venture some educated guesses as to why. We might argue, for example, that the dearth of such public appropriations of Iberian symbols, tropes, and slogans is due to popular ignorance of Iberian history in the United States. Or, more suggestively, perhaps we might even fault the strategic racializing of Spain that George Marsical years ago associated with the uses of the Black Legend in the 19th-Century U.S. Maybe Spain is just too Other, too barbarian, too suspiciously brown, too much a sort of imaginary almost-Mexico to be useful for the Alt-Right. (See also several of the contributions in Rereading the Black Legend and Eric Griffin’s “From Ethos to Ethnos: Hispanizing the‘Spaniard’ in the Old World and the New”). And then there are those pesky demographics. There are so many Iberian Muslims and Jews and people of color that maybe even triumphalist Catholic ethno-nationalism starts to look suspect.
So while diverse medievalisms obviously lie at the core of Spanish nationalism (see this, courtesy again of S.J. Pearce), perhaps we can agree that Iberia doesn’t enjoy the same cache as other medievalist subjects among North American white supremacists. Such a situation might even be cause for rejoicing, if it weren’t for the fact that our field is, nevertheless, expressly deployed to support abject ideologies of hate in the US, even if to a far lesser degree. Allow me to acknowledge, also, that the ultimate measure of our engagement as scholars should not be whether or not we are embraced by neo-nazis. The more important question remains: given the contours of our field(s), especially for those of us in the US, what specific role do we play in the broader disciplinary counter-crusade being waged across Medieval Studies to resist right-wing narratives built on the masculinist fictions of homogenous European cultural Catholic whiteness? And going back to my points earlier about rethinking who the us is here: what, similarly, are we doing to combat the more benign but no less problematic positions of those among our own ranks who deny that race is even a question we can or should think about? Such race deniers are, I’m afraid, legion in Hispanism. How do we fight them?
I would like to underscore what I’m sure many of us already know: the question of race and the Middle Ages is in fact an exceptionally relevant question in particular for Iberianists to confront since race, especially when conceived of as a question of blood and blood purity, heredity and the body—and not just as an allegedly pre-Modern non-scientific frame for processing purely cultural or religious differences—is integral to the very invention of the Spanish nation itself. These are concerns lodged at the heart of our field. (Check out this and this and this and this and this and this and this and Altschul’s comments here, and maybe some of Heng’s comments here). And need we even mention that Iberia’s racial epistemologies –rooted deep in Classical and Medieval thought– served to justify practices of forced labor and slavery long before the triangle trade was even a glimmer in Britain’s eye? (See this and thishere). Given the unique place Iberia occupies as a key motor in the historical development of modern racializations, couldn’t we play a more protagonistic role in contemporary discussions about race both in Medieval Studies and in the sphere of medievalist appropriations? Shouldn’t we be all over the partial bibliography on race and Medieval Studies recently published in postmedieval? We have many things to say here, and I think that we’re saying many of those things already, through publications and in our classrooms and in our conference papers and in our blog posts. But can we find ways to say those things in even more concerted, collectivized, loud ways? And, most especially, in ways that will invite greater collaboration across our diverse fields? Ways that will invite folks across the Anglo-Iberian divide to talk to each other more? Ways that will make it harder for the in-house race deniers to insist on the fictions they love? Ways that will facilitate the use of our work for all of the allies that sit under the big tent that I earlier envisioned?
I would like to close with two calls for specific action, related to all of the preceding.
- If you know of, or are personally engaged and working on, relevant stuff that you feel would benefit from reaching a broader audience—even if, perhaps especially if, that work is published in other languages or geographies—please consider S.J. Pearce’s hashtag #HereAreThe Iberianists. By putting this diverse work together all in one place, we render it more visible and we also invite the cross-germination of ideas that might arise from seeing things we were unaware of, written from disciplinary positions distinct from our own. This could be just one small gesture in the direction of even more collective action, a more common front, a bigger tent.
- In a related gesture of brazen and absolutely admiring imitatio, I have created a Google doc to start work on our own version of Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski’s labor facilitating the construction of a critical bibliography on race and medieval studies. Here it is: Race and Medieval Iberian Studies:A Partial Bibliography. Allow me to note that, as I envision this document, there should be space here not just for rigorously historicized ideations of race drawn from the long and diverse Iberian Middle Ages but also for later medievalist appropriations of race rooted in those same histories. Medieval race as seen from Early Modern Spain; Medieval race as imagined by 19th-century nationalist philology; Medieval race as imagined by Franco; Medieval race as imagined by white supremacists in the contemporary US. It goes without saying that this should also be a space for showcasing work in the full range of diverse languages, geographies, and identities implied in all of our related fields. And it should be a space to privilege the work of POC / ethnic / religious minority scholars, in particular.
Both of these requests are extended not as disciplinary challenges to make more noise nor as criticisms of those already deeply engaged in this work. I offer them simply as ways for us to potentially make more audible the substantial noise already being made. But also—not just for the sake of symmetry but because there is, in fact, more to be done—Dear Fellow Iberianists: can we make some (more) noise?
Chad Leahy is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Denver. His research centers on the politics of Jerusalem in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain. He has published on a range of topics including Lope de Vega, Cervantes, and the morisco expulsion, and teaches regularly on al-Andalus.