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Medieval Studies Lecture: Cord Whitaker “‘The Shade of Trees Their Ancestors Left'”

March 18, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Cord J. Whitaker, Associate Professor of English at Wellesley College, and currently member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, will present a public, keynote lecture on “’The shade of trees their ancestors left’: Medieval Blackness, African American Medievalism, and the Resistance of the Far Right” on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 5:00pm CDT via Zoom. https://uwmadison.zoom.us/j/97268604827
Maya Angelou writes that the “Reverse Migration,” the mass movement of Black Americans from northern and western urban centers back to the U.S. South is a homecoming: They “make places for themselves in the land of their foreparents. They make friends under the shade of trees their ancestors left…” The southern U.S. is deeply imbricated with American medievalism—from the white community’s events in which they reenacted medievalising scenes from Sir Walter Scott’s wildly popular Ivanhoe to Black Harlem Renaissance intellectuals’ claims that to leave the South was to leave the dark and primitive Middle Ages for a bright, contemporary future. In more recent years, medievalism has animated the ascendant white supremacist nationalism of the far-right in the U.S. and Europe. This talk will explore such uses of the Middle Ages to ask: when, whether, and how might Black Americans claim a home not only in the subdivisions and McMansions of the U.S. South but also in the Middle Ages that have animated so much of the South’s—and America’s—history and politics? And what happens when they do?
Cord J. Whitaker is Associate Professor of English at Wellesley College. Having published widely on medieval romance, religious conflict, and race in premodernity and modernity alike, he advances work that troubles the powerful historical narratives that have denied the fullness of humanity to peoples around the world. The editor of postmedieval’s acclaimed issue “Making Race Matter in the Middle Ages” and the author of “Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), Whitaker has used his expertise in the Middle Ages and the history of race to explore and reconsider ideas fundamental to society and culture in the western world. In addition to his new book project on how Harlem Renaissance writers and intellectuals deployed medievalism as a tool for racial justice, Whitaker routinely writes and edits on modern politics for audiences outside academe—from serving as co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Spoke: the blog of the Madeleine K. Albright Institute for Global Affairs to publishing on the alt-right in Politico magazine. His scholarly activism extends to serving on and working to diversify the boards and committees of some of medieval studies’ most important and influential publications and organizations as well as helping to found and direct new organizations devoted to the advancement of scholars of color in premodern fields and to the study of race in premodernity.
This lecture is sponsored by the Anonymous Fund.
This lecture will take place in conjunction with the (virtual) 20th Vagantes Conference on Medieval Studies at UW–Madison.


March 18, 2021
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
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