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The Medieval Roots of Racism

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, June 3, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0092
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Fortune-telling book illustration (detail), early 15th century

Combatting racism and white supremacy are among the great challenges we face today. But to fight racism we must understand its origins, reminds medievalist Paul B. Sturtevant. Over the past two decades, historians have uncovered that our current ideas about race are rooted in the Europe of the Middle Ages. Over much of the period, prejudice and hate were centered around religious and economic class differences: There were many infamous examples of Christian violence against Jews, Muslims, and those considered to be heretics. Aristocrats often saw themselves as a breed above those they ruled. And as the Middle Ages gave way to the Early Modern era, Europeans found another way to separate people: by race.

Join Sturtevant as he uncovers the thousand-year old lineage of a very modern problem. Along the way he explores the similarities and differences between medieval and modern attitudes to race, the stories and rhetoric that began to animate a new way of looking at one another, and the violence against minorities that followed suit.

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