Recent years have seen the rise of a new ultra-conservative political constellation known as the Alt-right in the United States. In August, alt-right demonstrators at Charlottesville, Virginia’s “Unite the Right” rally carried medieval-style battle shields adorned with the Holy Roman Empire’s black eagle. From demonstrators’ use of Holy Roman Imperial insignia to the more intellectual claims of alt-right spokespersons at conservative political gatherings, the Middle Ages come up again and again in the discourse of white supremacists in the United States. In this talk, I investigate the appeal of the Middle Ages to the alt-right and other white nationalist and supremacist groups by exploring their understandings of feudalism, caste systems, and racial homogeny in medieval Europe. Putting these into conversation with critical race theoretical concepts that explain the construction of whiteness, and with my own theories for medieval rhetoric’s role in the construction of modern blackness, this talk exposes the integral role of the Middle Ages in the development of modern racial ideology. Finally, this talk also offers intellectual strategies for resisting the further cooptation of the Middle Ages into racist objectives.
Sponsored by Department of French & Italian; L.P. Irvin Lecture Fund; Department of English; Department of History; GRAMELAC; Department of Global & Intercultural Studies, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies