A Path-Breaking International Conference: ‘Race’, Law and Group Identity in Medieval Europe

On 6 & 7 September 2021 Swansea University and Nicolaus Copernicus University (Toruń, Poland) co-hosted this interdisciplinary conference welcoming registered delegates, both historians and art historians from Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Finland, England, Wales, Ireland, Spain and Brazil. Delegates discussed, from a variety of cultural and historical perspectives, the complex relationships that existed between medieval ‘race’ –problematized as constructed variously in relation to biological, ethnic, linguistic or even proto-national elements; laws directly or indirectly governing perceived ‘racial’ or other identity groups; and the formation and perpetuation of ‘racial’ or other group identities.

German Crusaders fighting Prussian pagans. Malbork Castle, Poland. Photo by Matthew Frank Stevens

Highlights included Dr Toslima Khatun (King’s College London) discussing material culture, medicine and identity in the early medieval Mediterranean world, as emanating from the Islamic east; Liya Okroshidze (Lomonosov Moscow State University) discussing artistic representations of St Mauritius in medieval Europe as a black African knight; and Professor Roman Czaja (Nicolaus Copernicus University) discussing discriminatory anti-native-Prussian and anti-Polish laws in the German colonial towns of medieval Prussia.

Swansea University’s contributions included keynote speaker Dr Emma Cavell, discussing Jewish women in medieval English courts; Dr Matthew Frank Stevens, discussing anti-Welsh animus in medieval Wales; and recent Swansea PhD Rhiannon Sandy discussing foreign apprentices in medieval England.

Support for the conference was provided by an Ulam fellowship from the Polish Agency for Academic Exchange, grant no. PPN/ULM/2019/1/00033.

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