Speakers & Abstracts

Image: a Muslim baptism from the “Cantigas de Santa Maria.

  • Abigail Agresta (George Washington University)

    “‘Bring[ing] the disease into the house’: Contact, Contagion, and Enslavement in Late Medieval Valencia”

    This paper examines how the slave trade and the emerging infrastructure of quarantine interacted in late fifteenth-century Valencia. A century after the Black Death, municipal reponses to plague began to stress the risk of contagion, presuming that plague would arrive in the city in the bodies and belongings of infected human beings. At the same time, Valencia was also the main marketplace of the western Mediterranean slave trade. Enslavement brought people to the city from a variety of places and ethno-religious backgrounds, including local mudéjars, Muslims from all over the Mediterranean, West Africans, and Canary Islanders. The Valencian government thus embraced a public health strategy focused on contagion risk from travelling human bodies at the same time that the city profited from the importation of enslaved bodies from near and far. The paper will show how the infrastructure of quarantine worked symbiotically with that of the slave trade, enabling the transport of enslaved people even in times of restricted travel. The slave trade was an “essential business” in fifteenth-century Valencia, bringing enslavers and enslaved into close contact regardless of contagion risk.

  • Mohamad Ballan (Stony Brook University)

    Rebels and Renegades: Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khaṭīb (d. 1374) and the Christians of Medieval Granada”

    This paper seeks to demonstrate the convergence between Nasrid discourses about ethno-religious identity and the complex borderland realities of the Muslim-Christian frontier in 14th-century Iberia. It seeks to contribute to larger conversations about Nasrid cultural and religious polemics by critically examining the writings of the Granadan scholar-statesman Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khaṭīb (d. 1374) about Christians in medieval Granada (including Christian converts to Islam). My paper demonstrates that the organization of communal identity around notions of religious and ethnic purity in Nasrid Granada involved the marginalization, omission, and erasure of Christian communities and lineages from the collective memory of Andalusi Muslims. These discourses sought to render the region that constituted the Nasrid kingdom as a “borderland of Islam” that possessed a deep-rooted Arab and Islamic character.  This confessionalized construction of Granadan identity through the erasure of Christian lineages, in particular, is most evident in Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s extensive narration, and justification, of the violent expulsion of the Christian populations in the region to North Africa during the early 12th century.  Throughout the “Comprehensive History of Granada” (al-Iḥāṭah fī Akhbār Gharnāṭah) and many of Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s other works, Christians appear primarily as foreign enemies and enslaved peoples, and occasionally as merchants or mercenaries, but rarely as progenitors of local lineages or constituents of the ethnic and social landscape of Granada since the 12th century. The descent of Andalusi Muslims from Christian communities, or the affiliation of Andalusi elites with Iberian Christians, was primarily invoked by Ibn al-Khaṭīb as a marker of religious deviance and disloyalty. This paper argues that these cultural and religious polemics, which were tied closely to the representation of Christian figures and communities, reflected Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s anxieties about the dynamic borderland realities produced by migration, conversion, and acculturation along the Nasrid-Castilian frontier in late medieval Iberia.

  • Thomas Barton (University of San Diego)

    Cataclysmic Comorbidities: Muslims and the Contagious Violence of 1391

    While most scholars adhere to the notion that the pogroms of 1391 spread like a contagion as inflamed mobs migrated from one community to another inciting conversionary violence, recent research has contributed to the growing sense that individuated, localized, long-term patterns of ethno-religious interaction powerfully conditioned each outbreak. This paper considers a phenomenon within the Crown of Aragon that has received little scholarly attention: how royal policy-making concerning the residency of Muslims over the latter decades of the fourteenth century engendered mounting frustration over the dangerous loss of social control among the Christian sectors of certain communities that could, in turn, motivate collaboration with these subversive attacks on the combined Jewish-Muslim royal treasure when the opportunity presented itself in 1391. I will examine several case studies that illustrate how deep-seated interfaith distrust and dysfunction could encourage feelings of impotence that functioned as comorbidities, rendering certain Christian communities more susceptible to the invading contagion and intensifying the destructiveness and long-term implications of the resulting infections.

  • Debra Blumenthal (University of California, Santa Barbara)

    Uncontaminated Gentiles:  Contesting the Enslavement of Canary Islanders in Late Medieval Valencia”

    Between 1489 and 1515, Portuguese, Genoese and Castilian merchants and corsairs transported some 630 Canary Islanders to the port of Valencia to be sold.  Strikingly, more than three quarters of those whose ages were recorded were children under the age of 15. This paper examines the extension of human trafficking networks from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic at a time when the Canary Islands’ status as a legitimate ‘slaving zone’ was in dispute. Protests against child trafficking became especially loud in the aftermath of the brutal suppression of a revolt on the island of La Gomera in 1489, when Beatriz de Bobadilla, the widow of the assassinated Castilian governor, launched retaliatory raids targeting women and children. While the Catholic Monarchs’ efforts to liberate and repatriate gomeros exported to southern Andalusian ports left an impressive paper trail (namely, receipts of payments of reparations to 99 owners of freed gomeros) the fates of those exported into the Mediterranean remain obscure. This paper focused on the broader trajectories of enslaved Canary Islander coming into Valencia, not just in the wake of the repression of the revolt on La Gomera, but likewise exploring the fates of those trafficked into the peninsula significantly earlier. “Uncontaminated Gentiles” comes from Alonso de Espinosa’s characterization of them in his late sixteenth century history of Tenerife.

  • Brian Catlos (University of Colorado, Boulder)

    “Big Trouble in Lower Aragon: Mudéjar Confidence and the Limits of Royal Authority”

    In 1307 James II of Aragon sent his royal porter, Guillermus de Marsella, to collect an extraordinary tax he levied on the mudéjares of Daroca, a town in the Aragonese Extremadura, to pay the costs of a royal visit with the king of Castile. But instead of paying the tax a band of local Muslims chased Guillermus out of town at point of sword. Sent back to collect the fee and redeem his honor the porter detained the town’s leading Muslims in an improvised prison and threatened to starve them into submission. But far from cowering before the royal functionary, they defied his authority and the terms of their confinement. The events that followed showed how tenuous royal power was even when wielded against marginalized constituencies, and reveals the confidence that well-connected and prosperous mudejar communities felt at the turn of the fourteenth century, and reveals that far from being marginalized communities of internal exiles, mudéjares were conscious of their own value to the crown and within their local environments.

  • Roxanna Colón-Cosme (UCLA)

    Reimagined Cityscapes: Sites of Exchange, Urban Expansion, and Expunged Diversity in Iberian Chapbooks”

    Sixteenth-century Iberian pliegos sueltos were brief popular pamphlets that published both medieval and modern materials. As such, they reproduced dual medieval-modern representations of Iberian culture, demographics, and space. Evaluating the spatialities represented in these ephemeral materials can reconstruct some of the economic, cultural, and social activities carried out in pre/post conquest Iberia. In often overlapped timelines, individuals participated in a collective process that attempted to define Iberia’s emergent (post-conquest and Christian) identity, contested by the diversity and transactional nature of late medieval and sixteenth century quotidian dynamics. The paper will outline disputed spatialities, processes of demographic segregation and displacement, and renovated, reconstructed, and repurposed architectures in Iberian chapbooks. They will demonstrate how the evolving Iberian urban space was negotiated through a—often violent—reimagination and appropriation of space. I argue that the omission and erasure of ethno-religious groups—which often, but not always, was linked to the renewed conceptualization of the Iberian city—showcased Christian anxiety regarding religious, cultural, and spatial homogeneity and was influenced by the ideas of conquest and political expansion in the sixteenth century. The goal of the paper is to evaluate ethno-religious interactions in Iberian chapbooks from the perspectives of space and literary cartography.

  • Sarah Ifft Decker (Rhodes College)

    From Generation to Generation: Jewish Inheritance Practices and Christian Notarial Culture in the Crown of Aragon, 1250-1391”

    At first glance, the transmission of inheritance seems like an unlikely arena for inter-religious interaction in the Iberian Peninsula of the later Middle Ages. Jews in the Crown of Aragon had the privilege of self-governance in most internal affairs, including family law. With few exceptions, the transfer of estates and division of property within Jewish families fell firmly within the bounds of self-governance. However, a number of Jews in the Crown of Aragon chose to participate in a multi-lingual, legally pluralistic contractual culture, in which they relied on an intricate combination of Hebrew-Aramaic and Latin notarial contracts to organize and formalize the division of estates within Jewish families. Robert I. Burns brought together a wide array of Jewish wills drawn up by Christian notaries in Latin, in accordance with the norms of Roman and local customary law. This paper draws not only on wills, but also on a wide range of notarial contracts that reveal how Jewish families defined and justified inheritance strategies when doing business with Christians.

    This paper argues that the vast majority of Jews who drew up notarial wills, donatio inter vivos contracts, and other Latinate documents related to inheritance did not seek to circumvent Jewish law. Instead, they valued a combination of Latin and Hebrew-Aramaic contracts as a means of making their inheritance choices intelligible both within and beyond the Jewish community. These contracts demonstrate the crucial importance for Jews, especially Jews of elite families, of business ties with Christians, as well as their comfort with Latin notarial culture. Additionally, this paper will consider which Jews were most reliant on Christian notarial culture and why—in particular, how Jews’ relationship with notarial culture was shaped by socio-economic status and by gender.

  • Andrew Devereux (University of California, San Diego)

    Cities of the Sun: West African Urban Spaces, Commerce, and Ibero-African Interaction”

    With incursions into the Canary Islands from the 1340s on, Iberians came into direct contact with a zone in the southern latitudes whose features and inhabitants lay beyond the traditional European oikumene.  By the mid-fifteenth century Portuguese and Castilian ships plied the waters off Guinea and Sierra Leone, occasionally ascending the African riverine systems and encountering portions of the Sahel and the forest regions lying to its immediate south.

    Overlooked by comparison with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa also represented a “New World,” in so far as its features, and indeed its very inhabitability, challenged so much of Europeans’ geographical and ethnographic knowledge.

    This paper examines ethnographic observations Europeans recorded as they attempted to comprehend the built environment and commercial practices of the societies they encountered in the Canary Islands and West Africa.  These observations were inextricably linked to European ideas about natural law, definitions of “civilization,” and a society’s capacity for self-governance.  Many early European travelers perceived that West African states were linked, through a vast Sahelian and Saharan commercial network, with Alexandria, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean.  Thus, early European wonder at the novelty presented by Tropical Africa was tempered to some extent by a recognition that the region formed an integral part of Old-World commercial systems.  By contrast, early accounts of the Canary Islands and the Americas portrayed these as true terrae incognitae.

    Drawing on fifteenth-century descriptions of commercial exchange with West Africans, I analyze a range of European and edited Arabic sources to argue that European engagement with West African societies diverged from that with the Canary Islands or the Americas due to certain elements of commensurability that rendered West African societies more “legible” to the fifteenth-century Mediterranean interlopers.  In these encounters, West African urban spaces (including, among others, Gao and Timbuktu) were sites of commercial exchange among merchants from many distinct locales, and in this capacity these urban spaces allowed for this commensurability.  In addition to the textual source base, this paper draws on recent archaeological research in order to develop a distinct perspective against which to read the narrative sources produced by European and Arabic writers.

  • Hussein Fancy (Yale University)

    “The Alexandrians of Aragon: Confessions and Confessionalism in the Crown of Aragon”

    Examining the petitions of the ‘Alexandrini,’ the generic term for Christians who smuggled goods to Islamic ports, this talk traces the practices, logic, and limits of understanding of confessions and confessionalism in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Mediterranean.

  • Claire Gilbert (Saint Louis University)

    From Legal Commensurability to Exclusion in Late Medieval Spain”

    This presentation examines three sets of legal, economic, and political transactions where frameworks of commensurability between Christians and Muslims were invoked at the turn of the sixteenth century, namely: inter-religious property transactions following the Guerra de Granada (1482-1492), the “contracts of conquest” enacted on mudéjar and then morisco subjects (1487-1502), and finally the early morisco legislation drawn up in the 1510s. As political and legal vocabularies changed in these crucial decades, so too did policies of assimilation or exclusion by Christian rulers toward their Muslim subjects. Such normative practices coupled legal fictions with evolving cultural stereotypes, whose tandem would have enduring ideological resonance and affect thousands of Spanish subjects who found themselves before Inquisitorial tribunals, and eventually, faced expulsion from Spain itself. This presentation traces the discursive changes across legal and political instruments which took place over three decades, and which became reflected in real-life policies and violence over the following century. Throughout, the concept of legal commensurability is tested as an heuristic in Mediterranean studies which may be applied to the discursive, ideological, and political experiences of Spanish subjects at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

  • Alexandra Guerson (University of Toronto) and Dana Wessell Lightfoot (University of Northern British Columbia)

    “The Kidnapping of Baby Bonafilla: Jewish guardianship, conversion, and mixed families in the aftermath of 1391 in Girona”

    The mass violence against Jews in Castile and the Crown of Aragon in 1391 changed forever Christian-Jewish relations in the Iberian peninsula. While the Jewish community of Girona survived the mass violence of 1391 as local authorities responded promptly by admitting the Jews to the safety of the Gironella Tower, the subsequent decades would prove to seal their fate. In the early fifteenth century, a wave of conversions swept through the Jewish community influenced by growing fiscal crises and increased pressure from local municipal and ecclesiastical officials, especially in the years after the Disputation of Tortosa in 1413-1414. We can see this pressure on the fate of young Jews following the death of their parents.  In early 1417, the Jewish guardians of Bonafilla, the daughter of Nacim Roven, kidnapped the young toddler to prevent her conversa mother and stepfather from converting the child. In 1415 another young girl, this one called Tolrana, appealed to the king because she wanted to convert to Christianity but was being prevented by her Jewish guardians. She asked the king to make her converso uncle her guardian and allow her to convert to Christianity. The lives of these two young girls serve as a focal point to unravel the complicated set of pressures on the Jewish community of Girona in the decades after 1391. It is only by combining documentation available at several local and federal archives through collaborative research that these stories are able to be examined in all of their complexities. Bringing together notarial documentation, letters between municipal authorities and the Crown, as well as royal letters allows us to understand the whole context of these moments of conflict and tension between Jews, conversos, and Christian authorities. In doing so, our work together allows us to tease out the longer-term implications of 1391 for Jewish families in Girona.

  • Maya Soifer Irish (Rice University)

    The Politicization of Perfidia Iudeorum in Fourteenth-Century Castile”

    Since the time of the Church Fathers, the topos of a “perfidious Jew,” the murderer of Christ, has been an integral part of the theological discourse in the medieval West.  The phrase perfidia Iudeorum appeared frequently in the correspondence and bulls of medieval popes, and in the decisions of church councils.  In most of these contexts, the words probably signified the Jews’ blindness to the truth of Christianity, and their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah.  But there was also a concurrent, and explicitly political, meaning of perfidia Iudeorum that carried the connotation of treachery and treasonous conspiracy against the community of Christian believers.  This paper will show how the politicization of the notion of Jewish treachery emerged in Visigothic Spain, when in 694 King Egica justified the condemnation of Jews to “perpetual slavery” by accusing them of conspiring with their coreligionists overseas to destroy Christianity in Hispania.  In the twelfth century, Christian chroniclers began to popularize the accusation that the treasonous Jews had helped Muslim invaders to defeat the last Visigothic king in 711.  In the thirteenth century, the political weaponization of the accusation entered a new phase, when king Alfonso X demanded that some Jewish communities pay a “treason tax” to the church: the thirty dineros tribute, meant to symbolize the guilt of Judas who accepted thirty pieces of silver in exchange for betraying Christ.  But it was in the fourteenth century that the accusation that Jews were playing dirty tricks and lying to kings (“silencing the truth”) to gain political advantage reached its apogee.  During the war between King Pedro I and Enrique Trastámara, some walled juderías became bastions of support for the reigning monarch and centers of resistance to the pretender’s invasion.  After Enrique’s victory, representatives at cortes demanded that the walls around Jewish quarters be torn down, because having treasonous supporters of the deposed “tyrant” ensconced in the heart of their cities was a hazard to Christian communities.  The paper will conclude with an analysis of the impact of Archdeacon Ferrán Martínez’s speech at the Tribunal del Alcázar – three years before the 1391 anti-Jewish riot in Seville – in which the preacher incited the crowd by calling the Jews “traitors,” and declaring that they always “rob and steal and lie to the kings and princes of the lands where they live.”

  • Mark Meyerson (University of Toronto)

    Paradise Lost?  Conversos in Valencia, 1391-1530”

    In this paper I will sketch a detailed interpretation of the history of the Converso community of Valencia during the long fifteenth century, ca. 1391-1530.  It is an interpretation which, I hope, will move historians to reconsider assumptions about Converso-Old Christian relations and the inevitable trajectory of ‘Spanish’ history.  One of the largest Converso communities in ‘Spain’, the Valencian community’s history differed significantly from the more turbulent history of Converso communities in the realm of Castile.  Most historical scholarship on Conversos, however, has focused on Castile—on the events of 1449 in Toledo and early purity of blood laws, on the substantial corpus of polemical and apologetic texts debating the religious loyalties and social status of Conversos, on Old Christian violence against Conversos, and on the establishment and operation of the ‘Spanish’ Inquisition, a Castile-centered institution.  I will first explain why Valencia’s Conversos had a much quieter history, one characterized by their steady integration into an economy, society, and municipal government dominated by a much larger Old Christian population.  I will then address an apparent paradox in this history:  while Conversos achieved economic success, gained entry into local government, and won the social acceptance of Old Christians, the majority of them continued to adhere to Judaism and practice it to some extent throughout the fifteenth century.  I will explain, in other words, how Old Christians and Conversos became mutually more accepting even as many of the latter Judaized, often in a none too secret manner.  As will become evident in the course of the paper, this ‘paradise’ was not without conflict and, indeed, was partly predicated on it, but it was not conflict that involved the clash of opposing Old Christian and Converso ‘ethnic’ blocs.  I will conclude the paper with a consideration of how the new ‘Spanish’ Inquisition, which began its work in Valencia in 1482, employed a range of effective methods to drive Old Christians and Conversos apart while relentlessly eradicating the Judaizers, such that by the 1520s the history of Valencian Conversos resembled that of their Castilian counterparts.

  • Erin Rowe (Johns Hopkins University)

    Enslaved Black and North Africans: A New View of Early Modern Slaving Systems”

    The systems of enslavement that entangled Black and North Africans in the early modern Western Mediterranean are generally approached by scholars as separate from each other. While the structures of these systems were indeed distinct — economically, politically, logistically, diplomatically, religiously, etc. —, the Western Mediterranean was a site where the systems co-existed and overlapped rather than existing in parallel. This paper explores the religious and racial discourses that undergird Spanish thinking about the relationship between enslaved “Turkish” Muslims and pagan Black Africans, and the ways in which Spanish authors deliberately compared these groups of people in contrast to White, Christian Spaniards as part of their project of race and empire making.

  • Teofilo Ruiz (UCLA)

    Ávila for the Queen: War, Taxation, and Religious Minorities in Late Medieval Ávila”

    The paper examines the increasing intrusive power of the Catholic Monarchs on Castilian municipalities in general and Avila in particular. Conscription, requests for financial support for the Granada campaign (and later for the Italian conflict against France, the Catholic Monarchs place enormous pressure to Avila’s municipal authorities. Although the city was at times compensated by

    royal grants or return of part of its hinterland from noble predatory behavior. An important part of these fiscal negotiations was the excessive taxes imposed to Muslims and Jews as compared with the

    fiscal demands on Christians. These frequent levies and the expectations that Jews and Muslims (which were numerically one fifth of the population of the city) led to violence as religious minorities were caught in the middle of the unresolved issue of municipal autonomy versus encroaching royal control.

  • Michael Schraer (Independent Scholar)

    Inter-communal violence and human contagion: 1391 and its precedents”

    Much has been written about the wave of anti-Jewish riots that spread across the Iberian peninsula during 1391. Wolff’s seminal paper places the riots in the broader context of political unrest in key cities, a theme built upon by other writers covering individual locations, notably Valencia and Girona. Similarly for Nirenberg, the systemic violence of medieval society erupted into occasional catastrophic outbursts as a result of specific local and temporal factors. Gampel’s comprehensive description of the events focuses on the supposed failings of members of the Catalano-Aragonese royal family in protecting “their” Jews. None of these theses, however, casts light on perhaps the most distinctive feature of the events of 1391, namely the extraordinary speed and extent of contagion, between cities and across borders. This paper focuses on the engines of contagion, in an attempt to explain why the events of 1391 spread in such unique fashion, with deep-seated and long-lasting consequences. The approach is rooted in theories of human contagion and crowd behaviour and utilises comparative analysis with a series of earlier episodes of anti-Jewish violence.

  • Ryan Szpiech (University of Michigan)

    The Contours of Contact: Reconsidering the Metaphor of Borders in Religious History”

    In the early fourteenth century, Dominican Riccoldo da Monte di Croce argued that the ‘proximity’ of non-Christians – in physical space and on a scale of absolute truth – was inverse to their openness to conversion. His words make use of a common metaphor in which religious difference is defined in terms of physical space and distance is a proxy for heresy and infidelity. This lecture will discuss the use of spatial language in the study of medieval religious contact, paying particular attention to such language in polemical writing between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the (mostly western) Mediterranean. It will consider how polemical debate is characterized in terms of a battle for territory, conversion as a kind of departure or migration, and apologies in defense of religious belief as defenses of the spaces of salvation – bounded communities, walled cities, purified bodies, or closed gardens. We will ask how such perspectives can be historicized from a scholar’s present vantage point, ‘from a distance’, so to speak. In taking up these questions, this lecture will consider the pitfalls of adopting such metaphors of geography in critical language, chief among which is the ease by which spatial metaphors impose a conceptual uniformity on understanding that can gloss over the particularities of historical circumstance. It will propose that, in approaching medieval sources about polemical contest and conversion, we must find a way to criticize the metaphors of space and place as figures of thought, without falling into the ‘territorial trap’ that these metaphors lay before us.

  • Paola Tartakoff (Rutgers University)

    Birth, Blackness, and Baptism: A Story’s Journey across the Pyrenees”

    Recent scholarship on premodern processes of racialization has explored medieval narratives in which the offspring of a Muslim or pagan parent is born with a shocking appearance that miraculously resolves at baptism. Found in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century English, French, German, and Catalan romances, chronicles, and correspondence, these stories tell of newborns who were born as a shapeless lump of flesh, completely or half hairy, part animal, part ugly, or part black. Their analysis has yielded important insights about the ways medieval people conceived of the relationship between the body and religious identity, especially in regard to issues of religious difference and transformation.

    This paper presents the first known instance of a medieval narrative depicting the offspring of Jewish parents as black at birth and miraculously whitened by baptism. This tale appears in a begging license issued in 1371 by the bishop of Barcelona to the parents of this child, who had recently converted from Judaism to Christianity in the County of Béarn-Bigorre and were now passing through Barcelona. In fact, this tale presents the newborn’s black-to-white transformation as the catalyst for this family’s conversion.

    This embedded miracle story raises myriad questions. For example, what did it mean in late fourteenth-century Barcelona for Christians to imagine that Jewish identity manifested epidermally as black, just as they often imagined Muslim and pagan identity? What was the relationship between this Iberian narrative and the northern European narratives with which it shared key themes? What might we learn about contemporaneous Christian conceptualizations of religious conversion from the juxtaposition in a single document of two modes of discourse—an embedded miracle tale about a Jewish family’s conversion to Christianity, on the one hand, and a bishop’s exhortation to clergy to collect alms for these converts, on the other?

    Exploring the sources and functions of a story about a Jewish infant’s alleged black-to-white transformation, this paper seeks to understand late medieval Iberian Christian preoccupations with human difference in broader geographic and cultural contexts.

  • Kenneth Baxter Wolf (Pomona College)

    Between Blasphemers and Whisperers: Managing Christian Identity in Ninth-Century Córdoba”

    Paul Alvarus wrote the Indiculus luminosus in 854 ostensibly to defend those Córdoban Christians who were executed for deliberately and publicly denouncing Muhammad. This paper, informed by my recent translation and study of the text, unpacks Alvarus’ defense of the blasphemers on the one hand and his disparagement of their Christian detractors on the other to appreciate the full range of dhimmi Christian responses to life under Islamic rule.