The 2023 MAA inclusivity and Diversity Research Grant has been awarded to Lawrence Chamunorwa (Princeton University) to support his project, “Medievalizing Africa: Great Zimbabwe and the Poetics of Race and Nature.” In his words:
As a burgeoning scholar of medieval studies, I am broadly interested in the overlaps of literature, physical landscape, architecture, human, and nonhuman living things insofar as they relate to concepts of nature and environmental crisis. To this end, my research project seeks to center Great Zimbabwe (c. AD 1100-1420), a premier medieval Iron Age site in sub-Saharan Africa located in the Masvingo area of Zimbabwe. I intend to explore the site as a fertile locus for attending to ethical questions of not only environmental crises but those that border around race and racism– akin to Mabel O. Wilson’s (2019) study of how racialized labor factored into Thomas Jefferson’s architectural ambitions for the Virginia State Capitol. In tandem, I seek to explore these questions drawing from, on the one hand: how the notion of the “medieval” informs how white settlers, writers, and ethnographers to dehistoricize, that is, “naturalize” the African landscape and indigenous Karanga people thus undermining them as architects of the Great Zimbabwe monument. On the other hand, I unmute the literary archive of early indigenous Zimbabweans as well as modern black Zimbabwean literature to track the figuration of Great Zimbabwe and how it challenges the racializing notions of the origins and the ecological demise of the medieval city.