TPM Special Series: Race, Racism and the Middle Ages

In February, 2017, The Public Medievalist inaugurated a new special series of essays on one of the thorniest issues surrounding the Middle Ages today: Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages. Issues of race lie at the heart of our understanding of the medieval world; racists—even within the ranks of the academic medievalist community—have, for far too long, warped our understanding of the past. And considering the recent uptick of overt prejudice, hate crimes, and politically sanctioned racism in the US and Europe, this series seems particularly timely and necessary.

The series is currently ongoing.

The goal of this series is the same as the overarching goal of The Public Medievalist: present cutting-edge scholarship that explores these issues with depth, nuance, and complexity, and do it in as accessible a manner as possible. We hope that you find these essays thought-provoking, enjoyable, and useful.

Introduction: Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages: Tearing Down the “Whites Only” Medieval World

by Paul B. Sturtevant

Introducing a new Public Medievalist series: taking on the white-supremacist ideas of the medieval past, and exploring the stories of people of color in the Middle Ages.

Part I: A Brief History of a Terrible Idea: The “Dark Enlightenment”

by Dr. Dark Age

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


Part II: A Vile Love Affair: Right Wing Nationalism and the Middle Ages

by Andrew B. R. Elliott

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


Part III: “Race” in the Trenches: Anglo-Saxons, Ethnicity, and the Misuse of the Medieval Past

by James M. Harland

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

Part IV: Is “Race” Real?

by Paul B. Sturtevant

Spoiler Alert: no. Everything you’ve been taught about “race” is is completely made up. Here’s how we know…


Part V: To Russia, With Love: Courting a New Crusade

by Dr. Dark Age

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


Part VI: Were Medieval People Racist?

by Paul B. Sturtevant

Were medieval people racist? You might think the answer is a simple “yes!”, but it’s far more complicated than that…


Part VII: Where were the Middle Ages?

by Marianne O’Doherty

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


Part VIII: A Wonder of the Multicultural Medieval World: The Tabula Rogeriana

by Paul B. Sturtevant

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

Part IX: Finding Islamic Culture in a Christian Space

by Clare Vernon

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

Part X: The Poet of the Mediterranean: Ibn Hamdis

by Luca Asmonti

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

Part XI: Where Do the “White Middle Ages” Come From?

by Helen Young

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


Part XII: Miraculous Bleach and Giant Feet: Were Medieval People Racist? II

by Dr. Dark Age

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


Part XIII: Feeling ‘British’

by Eric Weiskott

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


Part XIV: Recovering a “Lost” Medieval Africa: Interview with Chapurukha Kusimba, part I

by Paul B. Sturtevant

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

Part XV: Cupid at the Castle: Romance, Medievalism, and Race at Atlanta’s Rhodes Hall

by Richard Utz

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



Part XVI: Who Built Africa?

by Paul B. Sturtevant

Racist colonialists needed African civilizations not to have been built by Africans to justify their plunder of the continent. Continuing our special interview with Professor Chapurukha Kusimba.


Part XVII: Uncovering the African Presence in Medieval Europe

by Adam Simmons

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