News Release

Bringing race into focus: celebrating a special issue of Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Chicago Press Journals

You’re a medievalist?”

This is the question that Cord J. Whitaker, an expert in Medieval English literature and the history of race, found himself facing as an early career scholar. Both his identity as a Black American man and his research, which employs elements of critical race theory, were seen as too niche or simply outside the scope of mainstream medieval studies.

Whitaker details these challenges in the introduction to the April 2024 issue of Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies. Co-edited by Whitaker, Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, and François-Xavier Fauvelle, this special issue is entitled “Race, Race-Thinking, and Identity in the Global Middle Ages.” It aims to legitimize and advance the field of premodern critical race studies (PCRS) and to elevate the voices of early career authors. The issue marks a major contribution to the field of medieval studies, but it also serves as a timely response to recent assaults on critical race theory in U.S. curricula and the appropriation of the Middle Ages by White supremacists.

As the flagship journal of the Medieval Academy of America, Speculum is a highly regarded platform for scholarship on the Middle Ages. When Katherine L. Jansen became editor in 2019, it became clear to her that the journal needed “to engage with the ideas, topics, and methods of PCRS . . . an area which was thriving, even if unappreciated by [Speculum].” The April 2024 issue not only foregrounds the methodologies and topics of PCRS, but it also highlights work by early career researchers—a departure from the journal’s reputation as a forum for established scholars. As the issue editors put it, this energetic array of perspectives reflects “the shimmering brilliance of our field’s future.”

The articles in the April 2024 issue of Speculum deal with a wide variety of topics from within the Global Middle Ages. Some of these essays identify resonances between medieval history and present-day disputes. For example, an article by Soojung Choe traces modern discourse on Asian food and foodways back to medieval racializing tropes. In another piece, Thai-Catherine Matthews reads abolitionist Harriet Jacobs in tandem with the English anchorite Julian of Norwich. Other articles in the issue range far and wide, from medieval Scandinavia to Afro-Eurasia, posing important questions that reveal historical systems of control and oppression. As the issue editors put it, “a PCRS approach exposes how power shapes narrative and how narrative, in turn, informs power.”

Emphasizing the critical and timely nature of the articles in the April 2024 issue of Speculum, Whitaker, Otaño Gracia, and Fauvelle close their introduction with a hopeful vision for the journal:

“This volume aims to usher Speculum into a new era that would see works on race and race-making not as the stuff of a niche subfield but as an integral framework within the one field—as multifaceted as it is—that medieval studies endeavors to be.”

Founded in 1926, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies was the first journal in North America devoted to the Middle Ages. It publishes interdisciplinary medieval scholarship that covers a broad cultural landscape. The journal is the most widely distributed journal of medieval studies and is received by all members of the Medieval Academy of America as a benefit of membership.

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