Miscegenation in the Medieval European Imagination

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:00 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Lynn Ramey, Vanderbilt University
Medieval Europeans did not have a stable notion of "race." Nonetheless, they did remark upon skin color and cultural differences, and they understood some traits to be inherited. Starting with the twelfth century, the first written stories of interactions between Christian of the West and "Saracens" of the South and East emerged from dynamic routes of pilgrimage, crusade, and trade. Whether found in crusade chronicles, poetry, or religious texts, these intercultural encounters were almost uniformly conceived of as between two people: warrior vs. warrior, or knight and lady. By pairing up Christian and "Saracen," authors invited listeners to think about the differences between these interethnic couples. In quite a few of the stories, couples fall in love, and authors imagine potential outcomes of their unions. In the nexus of race and gender created by procreation (or lack thereof) between Christian and Saracen, medieval texts shed some light on early notions of race and potential origins of racial consciousness. This paper will look at chronicles, stories, poetry, and art to examine what role skin color and proto-genetics played in how medieval Europeans defined the possibilities and limitations of the lives of people whom they saw as different from themselves.
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