Monash CMRS Public seminar 20 May: Talking about Ethnicity in Europe, 950-1250

Assistant Professor Claire Weeda from Leiden University, who will present work from her recent book

Abstract:  How and why did men of the pen – monks, schoolmen and courtiers – talk about ethnicity in the Latinate world? Ethnic and racial stereotypes abound in all kinds of texts produced between the tenth and thirteenth centuries: in poems, lists, encyclopaedias, medical treatises, histories and schoolbooks. This presentation argues that the production of such images was informed by religious and scientific commentaries circulating at the time, dealing with the history and nature of humanity and its governance. As new centres of learning evolved, schoolmen thereby more explicitly embedded religious-genealogical constructions of ethnicity in Graeco-Arabic theory as well, holding that environment and territorial situation shaped group physiology and character. The evolving gendered images of ethnicity reflected a negotiation over self-representations of discipline, rationality, and strength. These self-representations were juxtaposed with the alleged chaos and weakness of racialised others.

Which claims did these images serve to authorize? In chronicles, chansons and ethnography, ethnic and racial stereotypes emerge significantly in the context of talking about production and security. Qualifying labourers and army recruits, they intersect with images of peasants, servants, and women. I will subsequently argue that the attributed traits allowed the men of the pen to warrant, along various lines, a division of labour and property rights in territories that were presented as domesticated spaces. My work aims to contribute to our understanding of how constructions of race, gender and social groups were interconnected through discourses about the functioning of the body and the mind, environment and inheritance, production and reproduction, and their significance for creating, sustaining and dismantling inequalities. 

Bio: Claire Weeda is a cultural historian who works at Leiden University. She is the author of Ethnicity in Medieval Europe, 950-1250: Medicine, Power and Religion (2021) and the co-editor, with Carole Rawcliffe, of Policing the Urban Environment in Premodern Europe (2019). Her current research focuses on labour, medicine and racial capitalism between 1200 and 1600.

Friday 20 May, 2022, 6-7pm AEST.

Via Zoom. Click Here for Link. Password: 939747