Vol. 6, Issue 1: Making Race Matter in the Middle Ages

Editor: Cord J. Whitaker, University of New Hampshire (cord.whitaker@unh.edu)

Only in the past fifteen years have medievalists considered with any regularity the question of whether race mattered in the Middle Ages. In that time, medievalists' interest in racial alterity has grown significantly, witnessing the release of such works as Geraldine Heng's Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (2003) and Suzanne Conklin Akbari's Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100-1450 (2009). These studies and others like them take into account the similarities between medieval forms of cultural differentiation and modern racial ideology. On the contrary, other studies have maintained that race is indeed an early modern invention, arguing that to look for signs of race in the Middle Ages is at best wrongheaded and at worst irresponsible. Still others have addressed at length and without decisive conclusion the question of whether modern racial discourse can be profitably and responsibly deployed in medieval studies. postmedieval's mission to develop a "present-minded medieval studies" makes it the perfect forum in which scholars might proceed from the standpoint that the benefits of locating the pre-history of race in the Middle Ages outweigh the potential pitfalls.

The editor invites scholars of literature, history, art history, and related fields to focus on how race can best be examined through medieval cultural materials. For instance, contributors may examine medieval representations of bodies and cultures that purport to be different from one another. More often than not, borderlines between bodies or cultures become most interesting when they are transgressed; there is much to be learned from instances when borders are (or are not) reestablished. Articles may also investigate the relational dynamics between the individual body and communal identity in the medieval construction of race. In addition, articles may address the role of spiritual conditions and religious doctrines in the development of race.

This special issue will explore in-depth medieval articulations of racial difference even while it asserts the place of race in medieval studies and the place of medieval studies in the study of race. The issue as a whole seeks to ask, how did the Middle Ages make race matter? ("Matter" can be taken as a verb, meaning become important, or the second term in a compound noun, meaning material pertaining to race.) And how can we best illuminate the ways race matters to the study of the Middle Ages and vice versa?

Issue 6.1 (Spring 2015)


Volume 6, Issue 2: Contemporary Poetics and the Medieval Muse

Editors: David Hadbawnik and Sean Reynolds, University at Buffalo, SUNY

One of the aims of this issue is to build on the work of recent scholarship regarding contemporary poetry in relation to medieval language and literature—such as Chris Jones' 2006 book Strange Likeness, which examines the use of Anglo-Saxon in four 20th century poets—and extend the scope to more overtly experimental poets and contemporary postmodern poets who work with the medieval in a variety of ways. Many poets and critics who consider the medieval in juxtaposition with modern poetry tend to reinforce long-standing notions of medieval literature as a static Other firmly lodged in the past, to be delved into, drawn from, imitated, or alluded to for aesthetic effect—that is to say, the resulting poetry must have the feel of something medieval about it, if not actually be in a sort of medieval verse form. However—and this is the second and more important set of questions that we wish to explore in this issue—what would a poetics look like that, instead of limiting itself to reaching into the medieval for content and form, explored medieval modes of authorship, subject position, voice, gender, genre, etc.? How could a poetics critically engage with the medieval through creativity itself, rendering both breaks and continuities between contemporary and medieval poetry in the relief of the language, lines, and utterance, rather than relying on traditional academic discourse?

This issue of postmedieval will explore such poets and poetry with these questions, and modes of engagement, firmly in mind. We feel that this is an exciting moment in medieval scholarship, when authors such as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Carolyn Dinshaw, Kathleen Biddick, Patricia Clare Ingham, and many others have opened up the field to consider the medieval in ways that work to confront and undo “medievalist fantasies” of what that life and literature were like, at the same time mindfully accounting for fissures and continuities, not only between medieval and contemporary culture, but along and throughout the academic field that has mapped it, all the while carving out a (contentious) space for itself within the university. Our generation of scholars, many of whom have come to PhD programs in literature with MFA degrees in poetry, or are active in poetry in other ways, seek to approach medieval scholarship via a parallel lineage of poets who see no reason to separate the various threads of their critical and creative interests. Together with our contributors, we will explore not only the ways that medieval literature informs and influences the work of poets such as Jack Spicer, Tom Meyer, and, more recently, Caroline Bergvall and Julian T. Brolaski, but how their work can provide an intriguing lens for considering medieval literature itself, and how certain medieval modes of writing and authorship anticipate strains of the contemporary avant-garde.


Volume 6, Issue 3: Latin American Gothic

Editors: Richard A. Sundt, University of Oregon; and Paul B. Niell, University of North Texas

For most of us who reside in the northern hemisphere, the image that first comes to mind at the mention of architecture in Latin America is some type of colonial-style building, that is, one that derives its essential inspiration from Renaissance or Baroque traditions. Such buildings can range from very elaborate creations, like some of the churches in Mexico, to the simplified and austere designs that characterize the mission churches in California and the American southwest. But this image leaves out a large and important corpus of architecture in the Americas whose sources go back directly to the late Middle Ages. The aim of this collection is to provide an introduction to a topic that is virtually unknown, and to identify the circumstances that gave rise to the Gothic style in the colonial period, and subsequently the Gothic Revival in the nineteenth century.

The volume will open with a general introduction by the two editors to Late Gothic and Gothic Revival in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America. The first three essays, which follow, treat the Late Gothic period, beginning in the early sixteenth century, when waves of European invaders toppled the empires of the Aztec and the Inca, constructed urban centers, and founded religious complexes for the conversion of the indigenous population. In efforts to assert legitimate political authority, to “civilize” according to European culture, and to establish the workings of societies on a frontier, colonial builders looked first to the Late Gothic style of Europe to express power and presence overseas. Early churches, convents, civic buildings, and private houses in the Spanish colonial Americas reveal a lingering taste for things Gothic, one that would persist into the seventeenth century and reveal a multifaceted causation.

After a hiatus of about a century and half, during the course of the first decades the nineteenth century, the Gothic style was revived in parts of Latin America, and by the early twentieth nearly every country in the region had followed suit. The four essays dealing with this more recent development reveal numerous parallelisms between two large but widely separated countries within Spanish-speaking America. In Mexico and Argentina, architects and patrons who desired Gothic forms did not look back to the Late Gothic of the colonial era for inspiration, but to contemporary Europe. As Latin countries gained independence, the new political climate encouraged wider contacts with other parts of the world, and immigration was a key player in this regard. To a large extent, it was the immigrant communities from Britain, France, Germany and Italy that were primarily responsible for introducing Gothic Revival into the Americas. Initially, this was driven both by fashion and a desire to assert national identity, but by the late nineteenth century the Gothic style was readily accepted by Latin Americans as a whole, regardless of whether they were recent arrivals or descendants of the earliest settlers.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction to Late Gothic and Gothic Revival in Latin America
    Paul B. Niell, University of North Texas and Richard A. Sundt, University of Oregon
  • The Cathedral of Santa Maria Menór, c. 1521-44: A Late Gothic Synthesis in Early Santo Domingo
    Paul B. Niell, University of North Texas
  • When Ideology Meets Theatrics: Late Gothic Architecture in Sixteenth-Century New Spain
    Jaime Lara, University of Notre Dame
  • Late Gothic Architecture at Guadalupe and Saña on the Peruvian Coast and the Re-emergence of Rib Vaulting in 17th-Century Lima
    Humberto Rodríguez-Camilloni, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Neo-Gothic Architecture in Mexico: Variety of Patronage and Approaches to Design
    Lucia Santa-Ana Lozada, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
  • Origin and Development of Neo-Gothic Architecture in Argentina
    Francisco Corti, Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Neo-Gothic Style: Shaping National Identity in Exile
    Jorge F. Buján, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina
  • The Church of the Inmaculado Corazón de María: An Evocation of Medieval Catalan Gothic in Early 20th-Century Buenos Aires
    Richard A. Sundt, University of Oregon

Volume 6, Issue 4: Writ Large: History, Fiction and the Humanities

Editors: Bruce Holsinger (University of Virginia) and Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne)

From Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe to Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, from Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy to Tarik Ali's A Sultan in Palermo, and so on, historical fiction has played a central role in shaping modern conceptions of the Middle Ages. A wealth of scholarship on modern medievalism reveals the variety of ideological, religious, and political uses to which historical fictions set in this era have been put, and the genre shows no sign of losing traction among contemporary readerships. The enduring popularity of historical fictions of the Middle Ages invites a more extended investigation into the intellectual and cultural stakes of this genre, the changing relationships between fiction and history, and the multiple temporalities of medievalist fictional and critical practice at a moment when the academic study of the Middle Ages faces unprecedented institutional challenges.

In this spirit, the editors solicit contributions from scholars and writers with varying investments in the topic: both literary scholars interested in historical fiction as a genre through which to think and teach past and present, as well as published writers of realist fiction set in the Middle Ages. We hope the issue will encourage several contemporary novelists to speculate about why and how they envision the Middle Ages the way they do, and what they see as the role of fiction in bringing the historical past (as opposed to medievalist fantasy worlds) alive for modern readers. Some guiding questions: What is the nature and role of research in the production of historical fiction, and how is it made visible or invisible within fictional narratives? How do writers of historical fiction balance a will to historical authenticity with the creation of those compelling imagined worlds central to any fictional enterprise? How does the genre figure in the modern classroom, and with what consequences for the curriculum (both university and K-12) and for the boundaries of discipline and period? Do fiction writers struggle against or embrace the conventions and influences of the genre? How do fiction writers and critics negotiate the pre-modern sexual politics of the Middle Ages while appealing to contemporary readers? How do historical fictions of the European Middle Ages compare to fictions set in other eras and world regions (ancient Rome, say, or early modern Japan)? We are also keenly interested in essays that address issues of contemporary economic and institutional difference (considering, for example, the for-profit character of much historical fiction in relation to the dire situation of the academic disciplines—and thus the research—that has long undergirded the genre), and the potential of historical fiction to range from philosophical post-modernist paradox to popular culture and historical romance.

One of the larger purposes of this volume, in fact, will be to use contributors' joint academic-writerly energies to think broadly about the humanities as they inhabit and inform contemporary fiction, creating an alliance of sorts between the academic and creative side of the divide (while exposing this divide as something of a fiction in itself). Ideally the issue will feature a range of voices, styles, and ambitions, combining longer essays with shorter think pieces, clusters, interviews, and other forms of dialogue. Initial inquiries (though not contributions at this point) should be addressed to the special issue editors, Bruce Holsinger (bh9n@virginia.edu) and Stephanie Trigg (sjtrigg@unimelb.edu.au).