MAA News – From the Editor’s Desk

Greetings from the editor’s desk at Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies.

Over three years in the making, the April issue is the long-anticipated themed collection of essays entitled “Race, Race-Thinking, and Identity in the Global Middle Ages,” guest edited by the team of Cord J. Whitaker, Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, and François-Xavier Fauvelle.  The results are worth the wait. The issue comprises seven multidisciplinary articles from predominately early career researchers; in most cases, this is the first fruit of their research.  We are all aware that some readers may find this subject matter vexed, but as I note in the issue, we take seriously the words of Luke Wenger, former editor of Speculum, who published two themed issues, both considered contentious in their day.  In the prefatory note to the “The New Philology,” he wisely wrote: “part of the mission of Speculum is to encourage forthright analysis of controversial issues in medieval studies.”  We think these articles do just that.  Our issue is neither the first word nor the last on the subject but demonstrates where the field of premodern critical race studies is now and points to the directions where it may be moving.

The editors’ introduction (free to read on our website) embeds the articles into the context of the field and indeed into their own personal histories as medievalists.  It is a useful and instructive essay for those who wish to learn more about the history and literature of premodern critical race studies, its methods, and its goals.  Thai-Catherine Matthews’s “On the Margins of ‘Alle’: Enclosure as Resistance in Julian of Norwich and Harriet Jacobs” opens the issue with an examination of the tracts of Julian of Norwich and Harriet Jacobs.  Reading the two women side-by-side reveals how female writers—both medieval and modern—have used physical enclosure to claim emancipation and authority as authors.  “Lucifer’s Shadow: Racial Divides in the Yiddish Bovo d’Antona” by Annegret Oehme analyzes the construction of Whiteness in the adaptation of a Christian medieval romance by Elia Levita.  Oehme shows how he participates in the period’s race-thinking by constructing a racialized identity for the knightly hero as Jewish, good, and White in opposition to his adversary, who is depicted as Muslim, evil, and Black, consequently disclosing how literature aimed at a Jewish audience could employ Christian racial tropes for its own ends.  In an entirely different tradition, Basil Arnould Price’s “Queer Indigenous Relationality in Finnboga saga ramma” unpacks the depiction of Norse-Indigenous relations in Icelandic family sagas by applying insights from Indigenous and queer studies to the text, thereby enhancing its interpretive possibilities.  From Icelandic literature, we move to the State Archives of Florence with Angela Zhang’s “Rethinking ‘Domestic Enemies’: Slavery and Race Formation in Late Medieval Florence,” which takes as its starting point Iris Origo’s foundational article on domestic slavery published in Speculum almost sixty years ago.  Through an analysis of the documentary and literary languages of the period, Zhang’s article aims to show race-thinking at work in the Tuscan capital and to uncover the lived experience of enslaved women in Florentine households.  From diplomatic evidence we return to the literary imagination with Eduardo Ramos’s “Imagined Invasions: Muslim Vikings in Laȝamon’s Brut and Middle English Romances,” which argues that Middle English authors retrofitted existing discourses of invasion for the crusading period, replacing Scandinavian enemies with Muslims.  This was done, however, with a crucial difference:  pagan Scandinavians were regarded as candidates for conversion while Muslims were not.  With Soojung Choe’s “Food, Contamination, and Race-Thinking: Culinary Encounters in Late Medieval Missionary Accounts of Asia,” we travel the medieval globe to the Mongolian Empire to examine how two thirteenth-century Christian missionaries engaged in the practice of racializing “Oriental” foodways, illuminating how old prejudices continue to haunt how we think of Asian food and foodways even now.  And finally, Krisztina Ilko expands the global theme into North Africa, India, and Persia with an analysis of “Chess and Race in the Global Middle Ages.”  Among other things, the article examines visual and literary representations of chess to demonstrate how the game may have enabled “cross-racial interactions” while simultaneously serving as a site where race-thinking paradoxically could be both reified and challenged.  Ultimately, the essays in this issue demonstrate why the analytical category of race is an important lens through which to examine the medieval period.  We hope the issue also serves as an invitation to readers to consider how premodern critical race theory is both enriching and reshaping the boundaries of our field.

The Speculum Spotlight podcast, our collaboration with “The Multicultural Middle Ages,” has also now posted.  Jonathan Correa-Reyes hosts this supersized episode that features both the guest editorial team and the contributing authors to “Race, Race-Thinking, and Identity in the Global Middle Ages.”   Its format is also a bit different than the norm: the first half is Jon’s conversation with guest editors Cord, Nahir, and F.X., while the second half spotlights the seven contributing authors to the issue.  The episode epitomizes the themed issue while adding new texture to it.  You can listen to the podcast here.

Turning our sights to the July issue, we are delighted to announce that it will feature a cluster of articles, edited by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, each of which assesses, reconsiders, and builds on two decades of scholarship on the topic of Chaucer’s scribes, since Linne R. Mooney’s notable unveiling of the identity of “scribe B,” published as “Chaucer’s Scribe” in Speculum in 2006.

On another note, I would like to invite all readers to consider submitting research articles to the journal if they fit the scope statement found here. If you are still not sure, please feel free to contact me directly.   And though we continue to have a deep pipeline of articles to publish, our response time aligns with that of most top-tier journals.

And finally, a note to graduate students: I will be participating in the hybrid session “Publishing as a Graduate Student (A Roundtable)” on Friday, 10 May at the ICMS in Kalamazoo.  I am happy to answer any questions you may have about publishing there.  Otherwise, I look forward to seeing many of you in person later this summer at Leeds!

Katherine L. Jansen
Editor, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies

This entry was posted in MAA Newsletter. Bookmark the permalink.