SEMA 2018 Bahamas

The Southeastern Medieval Association will be meeting in Nassau, The Bahamas from November 8 – 10th on the theme of “Diaspora: Identity, Migration, and Return.” Scholars from a range of fields will be exploring the concept of diaspora in the Middle Ages, and how migration affects the concept of nationhood; conquest, exile, and colonization; economic migration; the pursuit of educational, religious, cultural, or geographical identity.

Plenary #1 - Wandering Christians and Accommodated Jews

Kathy Lavezzo, University of Iowa

1640 witnessed the publication of an anonymous—and brilliantly satirical—chapbook, The Wandering Jew Telling Fortunes to Englishmen. The title of the pamphlet suggests its interest in the Wandering Jew, a stereotype that had currency in England since the turn of the 17th century. But in fact, the booklet concerns the journeying of a motley group of dissolute and notably greedy Londoners to the cozy abode of a homey Jew. Located on the outskirts of the city, the Jew's house draws Christians who seek to learn their futures.
My presentation takes this chapbook as a heuristic for what I argue is a major component of the long history of medieval and Early Modern English antisemitic writing: the association of Jews with not diaspora, but housing. The English represent accommodated Jews, I suggest, in order to accommodate themselves to an emerging urban, bourgeois and profit-driven society. Understood broadly, this presentation speaks to ongoing debates about how imaginative writing responds to historical problems, the supposed alterity of medieval to Early Modern culture, and “the Jew” as a charged object of cross-identification.

Kathy Lavezzo is Professor of English at the University of Iowa. She is the editor of Imagining a Medieval English Nation and the author of both Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature and English Community, 1000-1534 and The Accommodated Jew: English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton. Her current book project examines racial thinking in medieval Europe.

Plenary #2 - Too Soon and Too Late: West Africa's Own Imperial Age

Michael A. Gomez, New York University

West Africa in the fourteenth century was a region in rapid ascent, a burgeoning economic center with imperial ambitions, maintaining commercial and diplomatic with North Africa and Egypt vital to all concerned. The state of Mali was at the center of dramatic developments, and this presentation carefully explores what we actually know about Mali through focusing on one of its most famous rulers, Mansa Musa. In dispelling various myths of one sort or another, we arrive at a much more complete and accurate picture of religious transformation, the technology of memory, and West African forms of empire.

Michael A. Gomez is currently Silver Professor of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, having served as the founding director of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) from its inception in 2000 to 2007, and is currently series editor of the Cambridge Studies on the African Diaspora, Cambridge University Press. He has chaired of the History departments at both NYU and Spelman College, and also served as President of UNESCO's International Scientific Committee for the Slave Route Project from 2009 to 2011. His first book, Pragmatism in the Age of Jihad: The Precolonial State of Bundu (Cambridge University Press, 1992), examines a Muslim polity in what is now eastern Senegal. The next publication, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), is concerned with questions of culture and race. Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (Cambridge University Press, 2005) is more fully involved with the idea of an African diaspora, as is Diasporic Africa: A Reader (New York University Press, 2006), an edited volume. Black Crescent: African Muslims in the Americas (Cambridge University Press, 2005), examines how African Muslims negotiated their bondage and freedom throughout the Americas, allowing for significant integration of Islamic Africa. Gomez’s new book, African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa (Princeton University Press, early 2018), is a comprehensive study of polity and religion during the region’s iconic collective moment. Invested in an Arabic manuscript project disrupted by war (in Mali), arguably one of the most important endeavors of its kind in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Gomez remains supportive of the struggles of people of African descent worldwide.