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“After #RaceB4Race” Event Discusses Race in Premodern Studies and The Classroom

For some, it is difficult to imagine that within medieval and pre-modern texts like The Canterbury Tales that racism could be discussed. However, it becomes more pertinent to recognize a “genealogy” of race within these texts.

The event “After #RaceB4Race” was an English Department (Early Modern research group) event held on February 27th. The event was a response to and report out from the Race before Race symposium held earlier in the year at The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Both events tackled the assumption that “race is not a thing in premodern studies,” by exploring how critical race studies does need inclusion within these fields.

Yasmine Hachimi, graduate student and host of the event, powerfully stated that “whiteness interrogates what we study and how we study in the modern world.” Acknowledging that the way scholars and teachers practice and utilize research and teaching methods have been built upon racist influences, the event espoused a twofold mission: to learn how to study race in premodern studies and to become better at addressing race in the classroom.

One key point in the event was PhD Candidate in English Averyl Dietering’s presentation “Manufacturing White Fear: The Racism of Anatomical Illustration in Defense of the Human” in which she integrated afropessimism as a method of reading a woodcut of a body labeled as criminal. Dietering stated that her reading of this text was part of a larger project that wondered how “[scholars are] supposed to be good anti-racist scholars if we are using grading practices and teaching practices that are based in racist practices?” Dietering pointed that her efforts as a scholar tried to do both.

The woodcut image and description encourages the reader to practice a racial reading practice

Dietering argued that the woodcut from this book on anatomy had a detailed description on it that taught individuals how to read the body as a racial other. Though racism may be evident, it is more important to “name the strategies of race” and how it is constructed within society. The woodcut was a prime example of a “genealogy” of racism that existed before the common notion of racism beginning with the rise of capitalism. It encouraged the reading of a description of an individual with a “monstrous shape” while the image presented a commonplace portrayal of one that was only distinguished by cloven feet. However, the description created a reading practice that encouraged a dissociation with the individual’s humanity and to see them as a monster.

Dietering stated that this reading practice still occurs today as racism has moved on from using description in combination with images to solely images. They pointed at the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag to draw parallels with the premodern to the modern, illustrating how distinction through race is automatically registered and associated with negative qualities without a description, built from prior reading practices that associated negative qualities to difference.

The #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag is used to illustrate how the media portrays Black bodies in a negative way when Black Individuals are shot. (tweets from @kipsmither and @Heatherrehtaeh


Later on, a discussion on race led to an understanding of a need to teach with race in mind, to create spaces where racism is not welcomed and to structure with race not as a module or section but more like a “prism” from which to construct the class.


–Mario Giron, humanities correspondent and Ph.D. student in English


This page was last updated: March 4, 2019



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