Ongoing discussions about erasure in literary and cultural studies frequently circle back to English literature of the first millennium; Mary Rambaram-Olm and many others have pointed particularly to the racism inherent in characterizing the peoples and cultures of England between 400 and 1066 as a singular “Anglo-Saxon” group. These conversations have been going on for a while. In 1985 Susan Reynolds surveyed the history of the peoples of southern England across the period, recognizing that these were distinct peoples for much of the span concerned and that “When a single kingdom was formed” (suggesting in this formation the existence of a “sense of unity” among its peoples) that kingdom “was called the kingdom of the English” (414). There was no meaningful group of people well described by a label such as “Anglo-Saxon.” Despite this ongoing conversation many available anthologies continue, without acknowledgement of the problem, to label early literature of the British Isles as “Anglo-Saxon.” The scholarship is hardly new; the academy has been frustratingly slow to face its implications.
Moving forward to the Renaissance, we find another field in which the serious and significant work to be less exclusionary is present but insufficiently prominent. Shortly before our project was approved, Urvashi Chakravarty’s reflection on the state of Renaissance studies in relation to race was published in English Literary Renaissance. Framing her discussion in relation to the manner in which ELR scholarship has “naturalized” such a range of concerns (“scholarship has engaged not only with ecocriticism but the Anthropocene; with object-oriented ontology; with digital or post-humanisms; [...], even approaches using digital humanities”), Chakravarty points to the breadth of inclusions, in contrast to the treatment of critical race studies, and pointedly asks, “What, then, and (perhaps more importantly) who is assimilable?” (18) Certainly the past four years give ample reason to foreground this question. Chakrabarty cites Dennis Britton, Peter Erickson, and Kim F. Hall variously demonstrating the outsider status of critical race studies approaches to Renaissance scholarship broadly and to Shakespeare studies in particular.
The work of bringing attention to race in Renaissance studies has also been increasingly evident in lectures, events, and social media. For instance, The Globe Theatre and the University of Sussex offered a “Shakespeare and Race” event in August 2018. In January 2019 Ayanna Thompson convened a symposium on “Race Before Race” at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the work continued through both Twitter conversations (#RaceB4Race) and a sequel symposium (“Race and Periodization”) co-sponsored by the Center and the Folger Shakespeare Library in September 2019 (Chakravarty 22, 23; Newsom; Folger). Some of the scholars contributing to this important work include Miranda Kaufmann’s Black Tudors: The Untold Story, Onyeka Nubia’s England’s Other Countrymen: Black Tudor Society, Ania Loombia and Jonathan Burton’s Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion, Imtiaz Habib’s Black Lives in the English Archives, 1550-1677: Imprints of the Invisible, and the many contributors to Susheila Nasta and Mark U. Stein’s The Cambridge History of Black and Asian British Writing.
Chakravarty, Urvashi. "The Renaissance of Race and the Future of Early Modern Race Studies," English Literary Renaissance vol. 50, no. 1 (Winter 2020): pp. 17-24. https://doi.org/10.1086/706214. Accessed 29 June 2020.
Folger Shakespeare Library. "2019-2020 Institute Scholarly Programs." Folger Shakespeare Library. <https://www.folger.edu/2019-2020-institute-scholarly-programs>. Accessed 29 June 2020.
Newsom, Leah. “ASU Medieval Center Brings Conversations about Race to Our Nation’s Capital.” ASU Now, 27 Aug. 2019. https://asunow.asu.edu/20190827-asu-medieval-center-brings-conversations-about-race-our-nation%E2%80%99s-capital Accessed 29 June 2020.
Rambaram-Olm, Mary. “Misnaming the Medieval: Rejecting ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Studies.” History Workshop, 4 Nov. 2019. http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/misnaming-the-medieval-rejecting-anglo-saxon-studies/ Accessed 19 June 2020.
Reynolds, Susan. “What Do We Mean by ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘Anglo-Saxons’?” Journal of British Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, 1985, pp. 395–414. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/175473. Accessed 19 June 2020.
African American Registry. 2021. https://aaregistry.org.
BlackPast. 2021. https://www.blackpast.org.
“Black Perspectives.” AAIHS: African American Intellectual History Society. 2021. https://www.aaihs.org/black-perspectives/.
BOA: Books of Africa. 2021. https://booksofafrica.com.
Habib, Imtiaz. Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible. Routledge, 2016.
Hall, Kim F. Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England. Cornell UP, 1995.
Humanity Archive, The. 2021. https://www.thehumanityarchive.com.
Kaufmann, Miranda. Black Tudors: The Untold Story. London: One World, 2017.
Loomba, Ania, and Jonathan Burton. Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Nasta, Susheila and Mark U. Stein, editors. The Cambridge History of Black and Asian British Writing. Introduction. Cambridge UP, 2020. Pp.1-21.
Nubia, Onyeka. England’s Other Countrymen: Black Tudor Society. Zed Books, 2019. Blackness in Britain.
Smith, Cassander L., et al., editors. Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies: A Critical Anthology. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.