MAA News – Race & Gender in the Global Middle Ages Working Group

Friday, November 17 at 12pm EST

Stacey Murrell, Ph.D. Candidate

Brown University

“Birthing Dynasties: Concubinage, Status, and Race in the Western Islamicate World, c.700-1000 CE.”

This chapter examines the racialization of enslaved women and its impact on mother-child relations in the medieval Islamicate Mediterranean in two distinct ways. First, I argue that the racialization of enslaved women turned on the axes of their status, gender, and somatic difference and stratified the numerous women responsible for social procreation but excluded from social membership into a hierarchy that was central to the consolidation of ‘Arab’ identity. I use the case study of al-Andalus between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries to highlight how this racialization was adapted and reinscribed according to local circumstances and dynastic needs for political legitimacy. Second, I call attention to the gendered relationships between enslaved mothers and free sons and between enslaved mothers and (free) daughters, particularly in terms of identity formation and expression. While sons regularly omitted or fabricated their maternal lineage to secure political positions, daughters were more closely bound to their mothers and better positioned to carry forth their legacy in ways tangible and intangible. Although my focus is largely on enslaved women who ended up in the harems of rulers, racialization applied just as much to the mothers of emirs as to the larger population of enslaved women whose lives were spent in domestic households. In order to grapple with the anonymity and violence of enslavement and its archive, at times I mark the absence of the numerous majority of enslaved women, while at others I imagine their figures onto the page.

Responder: Dr. Rachel Schine, University of Maryland, College Park

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