Race and American Medievalism in the U.S. South and Beyond

deadline for submissions: 
February 28, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Alex Cook / University of Alabama
contact email: 

Call for Papers: English Department Symposium, University of Alabama (September 8-10, 2022)

 Cultural appropriations of the European middle ages abound in American popular culture, particularly in the South. Southern investments in the middle ages and in medievalism are rooted to race, and while they begin during the antebellum period, relationships between the South, race, and the middle ages / medievalism extend well past the post-Reconstruction era, into the contemporary moment, and across America. We can see medieval iconography, for example, in the popular HBO television series Game of Thrones, in the backdrop of Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning film BlackKklansman, and in the portrait paintings of artist Kehinde Wiley. 

 Similar connections between the middle ages and medievalism, race and racism, are likewise built into the architecture, topography, and decoration of American college campuses--especially in the South. Architectural features of the University of Alabama, the site for this symposium, position antebellum and gothic styles in proximity to one another; and among the many Confederate memorials on campus is a Tiffany glass window of a golden knight, with a dedicatory epigraph that likens the university cadets to “crusaders of old” and honors those who “fought their heritage to save.”  

 This three-day symposium asks participants to explore the ways in which the South’s relationship to the middle ages and to medievalism has shaped the history of American race relations. Furthermore, this symposium asks participants to consider how the architecture, site plans, and decorative arts at American universities--especially Southern ones--not only contribute to this history but also play a role in shaping the often racially-charged perception of the middle ages in American universities and in popular culture. 

 We invite the submission of 250-word abstracts for papers that explore any aspect of 19th, 20th, or 21st-century American medievalism and welcome papers that explore a wide range of approaches to the topic, from the methodological to the pedagogical. We are especially interested in papers that are attuned to the role of medievalism in the U.S. South, Southern universities, and Southern arts, architecture, and museum studies.


Potential topics include but are not limited to:

 The South and medievalism

Old English, the medieval, and Hip Hop as portrayed, for example, in the work of Atlanta rapper Young Thug and Houston rapper Travis Scott

Medieval literature and its American afterlives

Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars

Medievalism in the New Negro Movement, WEB Dubois, Nella Larson, and Jessie Fauset 

The Lost Cause and the middle ages

Monuments and Southern Chivalry

Gothic revivalism

Toni Morrison and Beowulf

Saxon College in Alice's Walker's Meridian as a site of medieval myth-making

Memorials and medieval archives

Architectural aesthetics, museum studies, and the politics of conservation

Anglo-Saxonism and the myth of racial purity

Medievalism in the work of Black visual artists such as Kehinde WileyWilmer Wilson IV, and Spike Lee


The deadline to submit your 250-word abstract is January 31, 2022

 Please send abstracts and/or inquiries to symposium organizers with the subject line: Middle Ages and Afterlives