Session #169 Race and Its Historiography in Medieval Iberian Studies

Locating Ibero-Medievalists in Current Research and Teaching: La corónica Commons’s “Bibliography of Race and Visibility in Medieval Iberia”

Christi Ivers, University of Dallas

In this presentation, I will offer a partial history of my own and some of my colleagues’ participation in the ongoing academic conversation about Race and Historiography in the field of Iberian medieval studies and medieval studies in general. My talk is by no means exhaustive and it will also necessarily be impressionistic; I hope the inevitable gaps will be considered as invitations to discussion later in this session as well as invitations to collaborate with us as we continue to expand and improve our “Bibliography of Race and Visibility in Medieval Iberia” on La corónica Commons.

The Bibliography started with the goal of increasing the visibility of scholars’ research in areas related to race, the Middle Ages, and Iberia. Because the bibliography project was born in response to events within our profession and in the broader context of U.S. politics and culture, I will offer a selective recap of the circumstances that led us to begin this work as well as place the “Bibliography of Race and Visibility in Medieval Iberia” in the context of similar work being done by others in other disciplines within medieval studies.

Our engagement with race and the Middle Ages is pressing and may feel recent. However, Erik Wade, in a tweet from 27 August 2020, posted a thread in which he reminded us, “There is a seemingly endless list of scholars of color, particularly Black scholars, who have been deconstructing race and skin color for over a century” and he linked to reading lists that he and Mary Rambaran-Olm compiled, including the work of such scholars and writers as W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Toni Morrison, and Angela Davis.[1] Crucially, Wade signaled that these individuals’ and others’ work on race and Middle Ages predates that of most (white) scholars more typically cited during conversations on race and medieval studies.[2] Those of us in Iberian studies know that our colleagues and predecessors have also been engaged with this work for decades, although perhaps not always with the same critical posture that we seek to take today.

With this in mind, although these conversations did not begin in the mid-2010s, the months preceding and following the 2016 presidential election did once again pull our country’s lingering problems with racism, white nationalism, and discrimination against minority groups to the fore. Over the summer of 2017, Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski facilitated a crowd-sourced bibliography, called “Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography,” that has contributed to anti-racist and anti-white nationalist work in academia and the public sphere as well as highlighted the work of “many POC/ethnic/religious minority medievalists who have been thinking and publishing about such issues for quite some time” (Hsy and Orlemanski 501).[3] After the August 2017 rally in Charlottesville -during which white supremacists’ donned medievalesque antisemitic and anti-Muslim accoutrements-, tensions surrounding the appropriation and misuse of the Middle Ages gained even more visibility. Six months later, beginning in February of 2018, two blog posts by Chad Leahy on In the Middle posed the question, “Dear Fellow Iberianists: Where Are We?” and challenged those who study medieval Iberia to be vocal outside our own discipline to counter racist and misogynist medievalisms.[4] In response to his urge for action, S. J. Pearce created the hashtag #HereAreTheIberianists, calling upon colleagues to showcase the work they had already been doing in these areas. Shamma Boyarin also published a response on In the Middle, in which he expressed support for Leahy’s intentions, but also pushed back against the idea that Iberianists are not and have not already been vocally and publicly involved in the fight for equity and the study of race, racialization, and whiteness in our discipline and our countries.[5]

Chad Leahy hypothesized that Iberianists’ public responses and condemnations of white supremacist speech and writing may seem more scarce than they are because of the venues in which they appear or the way in which they are gathered. He proposed in his second post that the #HereAreTheIberianists hashtag become “a repository of such work, particularly to show the strength of our valuable contributions to a broader audience” and that the hashtag “could help us to front this body of work as, precisely, a body of work, evincing the specific strength of Iberianist contributions (writ large) to the broader fight.” The hashtag was active in 2018 to early 2019 and resources were shared using it on Twitter. While it did not go viral as social media items sometimes do, it was one of the inspirations for the bibliography on La corónica Commons. In this sense, Pearce’s hashtag and both Leahy’s and Boyarin’s posts initiated the compilation of Iberianists’ work on race and related topics into a single repository.

In May of 2018, Ángel Rañales-Pérez and Erik Alder and I started a “Bibliography of Race and Visibility in Medieval Iberia” on La corónica Commons, sister site of the journal La corónica.[6] We have been using La corónica Commons to support and extend the online presence and initiatives of the journal. La corónica is one of the major journals for those publishing and reading in Iberian medieval studies and the journal has recently made new efforts to amplify inclusion by sponsoring conference panels and roundtables on race in Iberian medieval studies and by inviting articles in Portuguese, Catalan and, most recently, Galician. We see the bibliography as part of this work because it foregrounds Iberianists’ academic publications and public scholarship related to race, the Middle Ages, and medievalism on a platform created for and by scholars of medieval Iberia.

An issue that arose in Leahy’s second post and in Boyarin’s piece pertains to the place of Iberian medieval studies within broader medieval studies. A glance through the table of contents of many collections of essays about the Middle Ages “in general” often reveals a scarcity or absence of chapters about Iberia. At conferences like Kalamazoo, Medieval Academy of America, and the Leeds International Medieval Congress, sessions about English literature and history dominate; yet even among the less-featured regions and cultures, sessions representing Iberia are few. Fewer still are panels that cross national and linguistic boundaries. Exceptions include the round table sponsored by La corónica at MLA last year with Iberianists Jean Dangler, Ana María Gómez-Bravo, David Wacks, and Anita Savo as panelists and Dorothy Kim, a scholar of medieval English literature, as respondent, as well as this year’s session on Isidore of Seville here at MLA, co-sponsored by Old English and Medieval Iberian LLC. I am sure that many of us know of other instances of inclusion and representation across disciplinary, linguistic, and national divisions; I hope we can share experiences of this kind during the discussion at the end of the session, particularly as they pertain to topics of race and the Middle Ages. The crowd-sourced “Race and Medieval Studies: (A) Partial Bibliography” facilitated by Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski does include several sources about Iberian texts and regions, although a comparison with the Iberia-specific bibliography that I’m discussing today clearly shows that we have more ground to cover in terms of more fully representing medieval Iberian scholarship among the work of medievalists who study England and other parts of Europe and the world. The degree to which our “Bibliography of Race and Visibility in Medieval Iberia” either participates in or remedies our lack of representation in the broader field of medieval studies is another topic that I look forward to discussing with you during the conversation portion of this session.

Since the bibliography’s creation, we have continued adding to it and requesting collaboration. A Google Doc is linked through La corónica Commons on which users can post suggestions. We periodically update the static version that lives in La corónica Commons itself. Now that the bibliography has been in existence for a couple of years, it is timely to evaluate its direction and the degree to which it achieves the goals we had when we created it. Ongoing reflection on the intersections of premodern critical race studies with medieval studies over the last couple of years has been helpful as I reflect critically on the bibliography and where it – and Iberianists – have been, are, and may choose to be next. Over the past few years as I was finishing grad school and entering the profession, I have been learning from others in our field the ways in which not only the Middle Ages, but also the field of medieval studies, our conferences, and our Works Cited lists can be complicit in continuing rather than curbing racist practices. The marginalization of medievalists of color was brought into broader public scrutiny by Jennifer Schuessler’s article “Medieval Scholars Joust with White Nationalists. And One Another,” which appeared in May of 2019 in the New York Times. In the article, Schuessler posed the troubling question that we medievalists have been asking ourselves: “Does medieval studies have a white supremacy problem of its own?”[7] Sierra Lomuto posted a piece on In the Middle in which she flagged “a particular form of public medievalist discourse that focuses primarily on correcting racist misconceptions about the Middle Ages. While certainly useful, […] this work has largely been missing the rigor of anti-racist critique.”[8] In preparing for this panel, I have been asking these types of questions of our bibliography. Which parts of our bibliography itself are anti-racist? Are there any ways in which it participates in promoting white power structures? My thoughts at this point -and I hope to hear yours shortly in the discussion time- are that our bibliography is progressing well toward foregrounding important work that Iberianists do regarding race and the Middle Ages. The Public Scholarship section also includes pieces in which scholars of medieval Iberia and others reflect critically on our own work and on our field. But I think we have room to improve.

In Dorothy Kim’s introduction to the special cluster on Critical Race and the Middle Ages in Literature Compass in 2019, she mentions a couple of tests she as editor and the contributors used to evaluate the inclusivity of their articles for the cluster.[9] Wendy Laura Belcher created one of them, the Gray Test, based on Kishonna Gray’s 2015 #CiteHerWork hashtag.[10] This test assesses the gender and racial inclusivity of an article’s Works Cited list and the use of those sources in the body of the article: “To pass the Gray test […], a journal article must not only cite the scholarship of at least two women and two non-white people but must discuss it in the body of the text.”[11] So on Tuesday last, I loosely applied the Gray test to our bibliography to see if I could get a sense of the gender and racial statistics for our bibliography on that day. I look forward to an iteration of a test like these that includes non-binary gender representation, but for now these data classify the current entries in our bibliography by female or male author/editor, or by a group that includes men and women authors or editors.

Female Author(s)/ Editor(s) Male Author(s)/ Editor(s) Joint Authorship
Secondary Sources 24

40%

33

55%

3

5%

Public Scholarship 3

37%

4

50%

1

13%

Total 27

40%

37

54%

4

6%

Secondary Sources and Public Scholarship Sources by Gender in La corónica Commons’s “Bibliography of Race and Visibility in Medieval Iberia” on 4 January 2021

 These numbers should be more equal, but we are moving in the right direction to align with the ratios of male to female faculty in higher education in the U.S. Bridget Turner Kelly posted data on the Brown Center Chalkboard for the Brookings Institution that in 2019, women made up 45% of full-time higher ed faculty.[12]

The number of contributions authored or edited by medievalists of color was harder to determine unless I personally knew the scholars in question. Our institutions and the federal government collect data on how we self-identify with set racial and ethnic categories, but journals and academic presses and our professional bios on websites usually don’t include this information. It would be interesting to discuss in a moment the customs and strategies we have in academia and sometimes adopt individually that can make a scholar’s racial, cultural, and / or gender identity more or less visible. I can say that our bibliography does include non-white authors, but the majority of the authors and editors are white – much like the field of medieval studies. I would be glad if our discussion today generated recommendations for the bibliography of sources authored and edited by scholars of color. We might also discuss in a few minutes how we can approach the process of citing more scholars of color in our academic writing and our course syllabuses.

By way of conclusion, I will seed a few more potential topics for discussion during the rest of this session, in addition to questions and comments about my colleagues’ papers. I would be interested to hear about courses we have recently taught that deal with race and Iberian medieval studies. How do our syllabuses balance primary texts by and about people of color with secondary sources from non-white and white medievalists? We could also discuss our thoughts about creating more conference panels and collections of essays that cross our typical disciplinary, linguistic, or national divisions. Last, I would like to hear your ideas regarding the role of a bibliography like ours as we work to decolonize Iberian studies in our departments, our research, and our classrooms. How can we make this bibliography a more useful and just tool for users of La corónica Commons and our students?

 

[1] Erik Wade and Mary Rambaran-Olm. “Recommended Readings for Early Medieval Studies.” M. Rambaran-Olm.medium.com. 28 Jul. 2020. https://mrambaranolm.medium.com/race-101-for-early-medieval-studies-selected-readings-77be815f8d0f

—. “Other Essential Readings.” M. Rambaran-Olm.medium.com. 28 Jul. 2020. https://mrambaranolm.medium.com/race-101-for-early-medieval-studies-selected-readings-77be815f8d0f

[2] Erik Wade as @erik_kaars. On the account Tweeting Historians as @Tweetistorian, Twitter, 27 Aug. 2020. https://twitter.com/tweetistorian/status/1298966792543653888

[3] Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski. “Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography.” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, vol. 8, 2017, pp. 500–31. https://docs.google.com/document/d/18JClsma1BMKYCxvgeWqwPej3ZSCrQXlAlXbL0CdqWmE/edit

https://doi.org/10.1057/s41280-017-0072-0

[4] Chad Leahy. “Dear Fellow Iberianists: Where Are We?” In the Middle, 25 Feb. 2018. https://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2018/02/dear-fellow-iberianists-where-are-we.html

—. “Dear Fellow Iberianists: Where Are We? –Part Two.” In the Middle, 15 Mar. 2018. https://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2018/03/dear-fellow-iberianists-where-are-we.html

[5] Shamma Boyarin. “Putting Iberia in the Middle.” In the Middle, 17 Mar. 2018. https://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2018/03/putting-iberia-in-middle.html

[6] La corónica Commons. https://lcc.ku.edu/

[7] Jennifer Schuessler. “Medieval Scholars Joust with White Nationalists. And One Another.” The New York Times, 5 May 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/05/arts/the-battle-for-medieval-studies-
white-supremacy.html

[8] Sierra Lomuto. “Public Medievalism and the Rigor of Anti-Racist Critique.” In the Middle, 4 Apr. 2019. https://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2019/04/public-medievalism-and-rigor-of-anti.html

[9] Dorothy Kim. “Introduction to Literature Compass Special Cluster: Critical Race and the Middle Ages.” Literature Compass, vol. 16, nos. 9-10, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1111/lic3.12549

The other test was created by Alison Bechdel in a 1985 comic strip in which one of her characters provides three criteria for films: there must be at least two women, the women must speak to each other, and the topic of their conversation must be something besides a man.

[10] Kishonna Gray. “#CiteHerWork: Marginalizing Women in Academic and Journalistic Writing.” KishonnaGray.com, 28 Dec. 2015. http://www.kishonnagray.com/manifestmy-reality/citeherwork-marginalizing-women-in-academic-and-journalistic-writing

[11] Wendy Laura Belcher, Tweet 17 Jul. 2018, https://twitter.com/WendyLBelcher/status/1019320543953260546

—. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. 2nd ed., U of Chicago P, 2019, p. 184.

[12] Bridget Turner Kelly. “Though More Women Are On College Campuses, Climbing the Professor Ladder Remains a Challenge.” Brown Center Chalkboard, Brookings Institution, 29 Mar. 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/03/29/though-more-women-are-on-college-campuses-climbing-the-professor-ladder-remains-a-challenge/#:~:text=Women%20made%20up%2031%20percent,has%20tripled%20during%20this%20period

Download PDF “Locating Iberianists MLA 2021 Handout”

Session #169 “Locating Ibero-Medievalists…” by Christi Ivers

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