As I aged and matured through life, I found myself in the academy under the guidance and tutelage of esteemed advisors and professors of Medieval Studies like Dr. Eileen Joy and Dr. Ruth Evans. Dr. Joy’s class re-introduced me to Bede and Ælfric, and exposed me to the Angelcynn and mechanic conceptions of the English people and race. Her class challenged me to consider how the English nation developed out of disparate, heterogeneous groupings of tribespeople. Dr. Evans’s class on medieval theatre--particularly as focused upon the Corpus Christi cycle--was elucidating as regards the roles of the transgressive and the carnivalesque within medieval English society. When combining my youthful approaches and curiosities of medieval literary productions with Joy’s mechanic notions of medieval approaches to race and Evans’s acknowledgment of the transgressive uses of language on the medieval stage, I become quite aghast at the current tenor and atmosphere of Medieval Studies in general with respect to scholars of color within the academy. Racial essentialism, censorship, and the delimitation of academic freedom have no place in Medieval Studies; the concepts should be thought anathema to the field.
In “Anglo-Saxon Studies, Academia and White Supremacy,” “Statement Regarding ICMS Kalamazoo,” and “Lost in Our Field: Racism and the International Congress on Medieval Studies” scholars Mary Rambaran-Olm, Seeta Chaganti, and Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, respectively, outline the state of race relations within the field of Medieval Studies as regards the dearth of Medievalists of Color (MoCs). More specifically, the scholars elucidate why MoCs are leaving the field and why MoCs feel unwelcome in their chosen fields of study and inquiry.
Like me, Dr. Rambaran-Olm was drawn to the field as regards its literary beauty. She writes,
The first time I read Beowulf, I was hooked. Set against an ominous backdrop, the flawed hero immortalized for his pride just as much as his courage piqued my interest along with the complexity and foreignness of the archaic language in which the poem is told. It’s like that for a lot of us: One spark starts our journey into academe. That was nearly two decades ago. Today I am one of the only active scholars of color specializing in Early medieval England* in the native-English speaking world.. (Rambaran-Olm)
Dr. Chaganti writes of the organizational leadership challenges that are apparent within the field, particularly as regards the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo. She writes,
While performing a seemingly virtuous commitment to academic freedom, the actions of this organization’s leadership not only silence marginalized voices but also enable racially-based harassment. More than one organization whose intellectual profile reflects a commitment to politically progressive critical theory along with social and racial justice has found its voice minimized in the planning for next year’s conference...an environment permitting such minimization...facilitates harassment and potential harm. It is an environment entirely inimical to genuine academic freedom. (Chaganti).
I am a Medievalist--among many, many other things. While I may never attend ICMS, I plan to publish on topics with respect to concepts associated with approaches to Medieval Studies and I plan to congregate among, and to associate with, other Medievalists, particularly scholars of Early Medieval England. I will NOT be pushed from the field. I find many of the concepts, theories, and structures of analysis developed as regards approaches to Medieval Studies useful in my scholarly endeavors--even those not seemingly connected to medievalism. For example, consider the historiographical concept translatio imperii. In the following discussion, I utilize translatio imperii to explain the significance of the character Erik “Killmonger” Stevens in the movie Black Panther.
Translatio imperii, or the transfer of imperium, refers to an approach to history that focuses on a centralized world power determined by linear succession of rule. This concept combines ideas of geography and genealogy as factors for determining the transfer of power between places. This transfer of power is determined in an unbroken and linear manner, and suggests that imperial power exists as an uninterrupted process of rule subject only to the movement of the demographic group possessing the power. In practice, this power is usually described as an incrementally western movement. This was a popular medieval model of history. Take, for example, the case of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. According to Geoffrey, in the Middle Ages imperial succession flows from Troy to Rome to Britain . He describes how Aeneas of Troy founded Rome after the Trojan War. Then, Aeneas’s great-grandson Brutus--after being banished from Rome--founded Britain. Geoffrey describes Britain as inheriting the seat of imperial power from Rome; he exploits the importance of Britain in the course of world history by linking it to the great empires of earlier world history.
In Black Panther, the importance of African Americans in the course of world history--as represented by Erik Stevens--is exploited by linking Killmonger--and, by manner of substitution, all African Americans--to the great, mythical nation of Wakanda. The Black Panther and Wakanda’s exclusive hold over vibranium represent centralized world power determined by linear succession of rule...with a difference. Yes, T’Challa--the current Black Panther--is the son of T’Chaka, the Black Panther before him and a descendant of Bashenga. The mantle of the Black Panther transfers from T’Chaka to T’Challa as descended from Bashenga in a linear fashion. Still, ascendance to the Black Panther is a democratic, meritorious process in many ways. As depicted in the movie, all Wakandans who are eligible to become the Black Panther are born with a glowing sequence of characters on the inside of their bottom lips. As the son of Prince N’Jobu--T’Chaka’s brother--and an American woman from Oakland, California, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens--whose Wakandan name is N'Jadaka--is a cousin to T’Challa. And, a legitimate claimant to the throne. When Killmonger defeats (only temporarily) T’Challa and usurps the Black Panther, translatio imperii occurs. The transfer of power goes from T’Chaka to T’Challa to N'Jadaka. On one hand, this succession of power falls in line with normative understandings of translation imperii: after all, both T’Chaka and N’Jobu are princes descended from Bashenga. Nevertheless, this repetition of translatio imperii as relates Wakanda in comparison to its occurrence within the Western tradition does exhibit a difference. In a sense, the transfer of power is NOT unbroken, for Killmonger is an exiled prince in a foreign land: the United States. Not only does Killmonger’s ascension to the throne represent a break in the line of succession as relates T’Chaka’s familial line, but his ascension represents a western movement of power: from eastern Africa to western United States. Still and all, as regards the line of Bashenga, Killmonger’s ascension to the Black Panther suggests that imperial power exists as an uninterrupted process of rule subject only to the movement of the demographic group possessing the power: the Panther Cult.
This thought experiment, utilizing the historiographical concept translatio imperii, will be developed with greater emphasis in the forthcoming “Medievalists of Color” special issue of Quimbandas: Explorations of Identities. I would implore MoCs seeking a safe place to engage in professional scholarship to consider submitting to the journal or serving as a reviewer. More information coming soon.
 I discuss Geoffrey and translatio imperii with greater detail in 2012’s “A Jay Without Decency.” In the paper, I suggest that the imperium of the cocaine trade is transferred from Richard Porter to Jay-Z within the narrative landscape of Shawn Carter.
Chaganti, Seetha. “Statement Regarding ICMS Kalamazoo.” Medievalists of Color, 9 July 2018.
Otaño Gracia, Nahir I. “Lost in Our Field: Racism and the International Congress on Medieval
Studies.” Medievalists of Color, 24 July 2018.
Rambaran-Olm, Mary. “Anglo-Saxon Studies, Academia and White Supremacy.” Medium, 27 June