Since the 2016 presidential election, scholars have hotly debated the best way to counter the “weaponization” of the Middle Ages by a rising tide of far-right extremists, whether it’s white nationalist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., displaying medieval symbols or the white terrorist who murdered 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, using weapons inscribed with references to the Crusades.
And hanging over it all is an even more fraught question: Does medieval studies have a white supremacy problem of its own?
To some scholars, the answer is yes, and not just because the field is overwhelmingly white. Scholarship on the Middle Ages, they argue, helped create the idea of white European superiority, and still bolsters it today. There have been calls to “decolonize” medieval studies by confronting the structural racism that has kept both nonwhite scholars and nonwhite perspectives outside its gates.