Race and Nation (or Not?) in the Premodern Mediterranean

AHA Session 226
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Andrew Devereux, Loyola Marymount University
We will ensure a lively and dynamic discussion/debate by combining a roundtable format with longer pre-circulated versions of the papers. This session is organized by the Mediterranean Seminar (www.mediterraneanseminar.org), an international forum with over 1,200 associates worldwide.
The Audience

Session Abstract

Medieval history has long been seen through the lens of nineteenth-century northern European paradigms, including race and nation. Recent work in Mediterranean Studies has served to interrogate the validity of these categories for the premodern period. Clearly, notions of both race and nation can be found in the Middle Ages; but what did they mean, how much did they vary, and in what contexts were they deployed? To what degree did they shape individuals’ sense of themselves and their community, and of others? To what extent did they shape culture and policy, or to what extent were they informed by it? And how can we square the reality of a multi-confessional, multi-lingual, culturally engaged Christian- and Muslim-dominated Mediterranean characterized by fluid identities, kin-based patrimonial polities, and inter-ethnic collaboration.

Four papers analyze these issues in the context of the pre-Modern Mediterranean.

1. Through an examination of the “Slav” taifa kingdom of Denia, Travis Bruce’s “Race, Identity, and the Andalusī Fitna” revises the notion, broadly accepted in Anglo-American historiography, that the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba was brought down by a civil war sparked by ethnic or racial tensions.

2. Paolo Tocco's "The Sicilian Vespers: Did A Sicilian Nationalism Actually Exist in the late Middle Ages?," critiques the notion of Sicilian nationalism that has been deployed since the 19th century to analyze the Norman, Angevin and Aragonese Sicily.

3. Leonardo Francalani’s “Plural identities in the Medieval Mediterranean: the Crown of Aragon’s nation-building process (13th-14th centuries),” analyzes the use and meaning of identity in the Catalan Quatre Gran Croniques.

4. Nikki Malain, in “e tanti son li Zenoesi - e per lo mundo si destexi: The importance of hometown identity in the medieval Mediterranean world,” looks at the specific contexts in which municipal identity was used in notarial records in northern Italy and Provence to show how this has obscured other modes of identity for historians.

5. Jonathan Ray, in “Christians Becoming Jews in Muslim Lands: Jewish Perceptions of Race, Nation and Communal Boundaries in the Late Medieval Mediterranean,” nuances contemporary notions of race, nation and community by studying conversos who moved from Spain to Islamic lands and reconverted to Judaism.

Together, these four papers focus on the Islamic and Christian Mediterranean across six centuries, utilizing a variety of sources and approaches to consider the limitations of modern understandings of “race” and “nation” when applied to the Middle Ages, and to suggest how case studies from the pre- and early modern era might prompt a rethinking of modern notions. Participants will submit "full" versions of their paper in advance, for pre-circulation, and will be encouraged to present their arguments in person as briefly as possible, and to address larger questions of race, nation and idendity in the pre-Modern Mediterranean. We will reserve at least 30 minutes for discussion, but expect to have much more.

This session is sponsored and organized by The Mediterranean Seminar (www.mediterraneanseminar.org)

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