Noémie Ndiaye and Lia Markey

[Print edition page number: xiii]

The work of Augsburg-based clockmaker Nikolaus Rugendas the Elder is on display in major museums around the world: equinoctial dials, compass dials, sundials, moondials, stackfreed watches at the British Museum, finely carved egg-type watches at the Art Institute in Chicago, ruby-studded pocket watches, and watches made of lapis-lazuli, gemstones, and gilt metal at the Metropolitan Museum of Art all astound visitors with their carefully contrived baroque designs.[1] The Milwaukee Art Museum, however, owns a particularly rich collection of German Renaissance timepieces, among which you might encounter the astonishing “Figure Clock with an African Man” that Rugendas crafted circa 1620 CE. Made of gilt brass, copper, colored iron, and polychrome decorations, this small automaton clock (29.21 × 15.24 × 13.34 cm) features a Black-skinned Moorish man holding a long rod, halfway between a wand and a spear, which directs our attention to a rotating sphere. When the hour strikes, the sphere rotates and the Black man’s head turns sideways to look at us (Figure 1).[2] At his feet, a static monkey faces him, holding up an unidentified object to mimic his pose while looking at us. The derogatory association[xiv] of Black men with apes and monkeys was pervasive in early modern European culture; so were sexual anxieties about the size of their threatening phallic wands, and of course, the automation of this figure resonates with the mass enslavement of Afro-diasporic people on both sides of the Atlantic that started in the mid-fifteenth century.[3] Indeed, there were many enslaved people of sub-Saharan descent in Rugendas’s Germany: just like those figure clocks produced for the open market in Augsburg, they were increasingly accessible to the upper middle-class, and one can hardly think of a better materialization than this automaton figure clock for the Aristotelian idea that the slave is merely “an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments.”[4]


Brass figure clock, featuring an African man, in Roman dress, pointing to the hour.
Figure 1. Nikolaus Rugendas the Elder, Figure Clock with an African Man, ca. 1620
11½ × 6 × 5¼ in. (29.21 × 15.24 × 13.34 cm), Gilt brass, gilt copper, iron, blued iron, and polychrome decoration, Milwaukee Museum of Art, Gift of Gabriele Flagg Pfeiffer M1995.670
Photo credit: Larry Sanders

Notice the man’s outfit: while his hat resembles some of the Moorish headpieces featured in Renaissance costume books, his dress is unambiguously Roman, which aligns this figure with Saint Maurice, the African patron saint and martyr enlisted in the Roman army who died in 287 CE and whose cult was particularly strong in premodern Germanic regions. This gives a new meaning to the Black man’s spear, for Saint Maurice’s lance was associated in Catholic cultural imagination with the Holy lance that had pierced Jesus’s side on the cross.[5] In a culture where Christ’s death had literally warranted the re-start of time and marked the beginning of a new era, the Maurice-like figure’s Holy lance pointing towards the Roman numbers on a rotating sphere that conspicuously looks like an earthly globe evokes the origins of Christian time and turns him into a witness to its worldwide marching towards the end of times. In the same mechanical gesture, however, the automated Black figure signals the start of a new age, a new era of increased commodification of Blackness in the context of rising capitalism and consumerism ​—​ in other words, the beginning of a new racial era worldwide. Across a 400-year divide, an enslaved automated Saint Maurice turns his mechanical head to hail us and impart silent lessons about premodern racial times. The present volume aims to unpack those lessons. It is about time.

Racially charged automata overtly confront viewers in today’s museums, forcing us to think about the role of enslaved Africans and Turkish soldiers in European courts as well as other power relations across the premodern globe. Yet one lesson we wish to impart here is that race is also visually represented and invented in the pages of books, that is, in the printed woodcuts and engraved images often hidden in storerooms and vaults within museum and library collections today. Many of these images and texts, like Rugendas’s automaton itself, have not made their way into scholarship on race in the medieval and Renaissance periods, and many remain unknown or little studied. For instance, in plain sight within Albrecht Dürer’s renowned Four Books on Human Proportion (Cat. No. 5), first published in 1528 but then reprinted and translated for centuries, are African heads measured in comparison with European heads in a mode that seems to anticipate racial profiling today. In similarly explicit imagery, an early seventeenth-century etching documenting festivities at the Medici court, French engraver Jacques Callot (Cat. No. 36) depicted costumed aristocrats performing race through the streets of Florence. At the end of the seventeenth-century, a Black eunuch in Turkish dress represented on the frontispiece of Jean Racine’s play Bajazet (1697) (Cat. No. 34), in the very crease of the book, makes visible a pivotal figure that the play text itself invisibilizes. Finally, an eighteenth-century antisemitic colored print (Cat. No. 41) blatantly satirizes Jews as part of a “University of Big Noses.” Replete with premodern[xv] racial tensions, the Newberry’s archive functions as an ideal case study for this project.

There is a double meaning to the title of this volume. Seeing Race Before Race plays on the name of the RaceB4Race® interd0i

sciplinary research collaborative and conference series, an initiative of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, focused on Premodern Critical Race Studies (henceforth PCRS), with which the Newberry Library is partnering in 2023 to organize an exhibition of the same name. But this book’s title also explicitly rejects the logic that allows scholars and entire disciplines, such as art history among others, to claim that they “do not see race” when they focus on time periods that precede the Enlightenment. Indeed, as co-editor Noémie Ndiaye puts it elsewhere,

While race is a system of power falsely and strategically packaged as a system of knowledge mobilizing the dominant epistemic fields at any given point in time, scholars often privilege specific epistemic fields in their own investigations. Taking parts of the system for its totality, race historians often tend to think synecdochically and ignore periods in which the system of race drew on different epistemic fields. Thus eighteenth-century specialists often see the invention of race as coterminous with the invention of scientific racism. For Ivan Hannaford, for instance, “it is unhistorical to perceive the concept of race before the appearance of physiological anthropology proper” [ … ]: prior to Bacon, “attempts to establish anatomical, physiological, geographical, and astrological relationships between man and man, and man and beast, did not produce a fully developed idea of race, since there was no proper anthropology, natural history, or biology to support it.”[6]

In premodernity, the epistemic fields grounding emerging racial categorizations were religion, class, physiognomy, culture, and sexuality. Scholars ​—​ primarily in English studies but also in Middle Eastern, Colonial, Atlantic, and African Studies, have explored premodern racial formations within those epistemic frameworks ​—​ and within their own disciplines ​—​ for the last thirty years, but these methods have yet to obtain transdisciplinarity, and have often met with hostility both within and across disciplines. Claims that “race did not exist” prior to the Enlightenment impoverish our understanding of premodern visual cultures and allow us to ignore the various forms of prejudice that have shaped our archives as well as our methodologies, thereby reinforcing the status quo. Race can be seen, literally, in vast visual archives spanning centuries, and it must be seen too, if we want to understand the long-lasting effects of that social construct across time and space. Eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century scientific racism were not made out of thin air: just like color-based slavery, Indigenous dispossession and genocide, colonization, Islamophobia, and the Holocaust, they have deep roots in a historical terrain whose many sedimented layers rest on premodernity and its racial thinking. We must see race in the archives, and see it for what it is, in order to dismantle the regimes of contemporary white supremacy, which Charles Mills defines as “a political system, a particular power structure of formal or informal rule, socioeconomic privilege, and norms for the differential distribution of material wealth and opportunities, benefits and burdens, rights and duties.”[7] The task is urgent, for, as PCRS scholars like Dorothy Kim have shown, that system often finds its own justification in the cultural archives of Western premodernity.[8]

In order to see race then, this volume explores the visual manifestations of what co-editor Noémie[xvii] Ndiaye calls “the racial matrix” across the medieval/early modern chronological divide and across vast transnational and multilingual geographies.[9] Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton accurately remarked fifteen years ago that “whereas in other respects the ‘darkness’ of the Middle Ages is routinely contrasted to the ‘enlightenment’ of the Renaissance, with respect to race, there is often a fascinating conflation of the two to mark a premodern time before race. Thus the study of race interrogates the principles of conventional periodization.”[10] But once we reject the idea that race did not exist in premodernity ​—​ and there is now a critical consensus around that rejection in our field ​—​ interrogating the principles of conventional periodization means examining with greater granularity the continuities and evolutions of racial thinking between the Middle Ages and early modernity. Thus, in this volume, we embrace Margo Hendricks’s eloquent statement that “Premodern Critical Race Studies begins with a rejection of the periodization of the past and its implication for the study of race. PCRS’s refusal to employ ‘medieval’ or ‘renaissance’ as markers signals a step away from a post-Enlightenment tendency to carve time, place, and human lives into discrete boxes.”[11] It is precisely because early modernists working on race heard for so long from scholars of eighteenth-century Europe that their work was “anachronistic” that they must refuse to do that to medievalists today.[12]

The racial matrix is a metaphor used to articulate the relations between concepts that twenty-first-century readers tend to think of as separate, but which, in premodern times, were part and parcel of the same conceptual whole called race. Those concepts are, namely, religion, class, and phenotype. Indeed, race in premodernity referred to any type of difference that was strategically selected and essentialized in order to justify the specific positioning of different demographic groups in uneven social hierarchies. The critical lexicon of PCRS is built upon key definitions articulated over a decade ago by Geraldine Heng (“Race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content”),[13] and it embraces Stuart Hall’s idea that the “structural relationship of race” is an interested mechanism affecting “the distribution of symbolic and material resources between different groups and the establishment of racial hierarchies.”[14] When sixteenth-century French aristocrats looked for a way to contest the king’s efficacious ability to turn his bourgeois protégés and supporters into aristocrats themselves, they used the vocabulary of race.[15] When the Spanish Inquisition imagined Judaism or Islam as being transmittable through blood and strong enough to void the idea of sincere and efficacious conversion to Christianity, they thought of religion in racial terms. While phenotype has become synonymous with race for modern readers, in premodern times, it was only one paradigm in the racial matrix, one that developed rather late and always operated in relation or in tension with the older paradigms of class and religion. The metaphor of the racial matrix speaks to race’s[xviii] ability to produce new paradigms without abandoning old ones, and to the profound kinship that indissolubly binds class, religion, and phenotype together within the racial logic in premodern times. In this volume, we endeavor to explore ​—​ or rather see ​—​ premodern racial formations as they deployed themselves across time through the entire racial matrix.

The visual archives studied in this volume include a trove of materials: annotated and illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance costume books and travel books, maps and cartographic volumes produced by Europeans as well as Indigenous peoples, mass-printed pamphlets, jewelry, decorative arts, religious iconography, paintings from around the world, playing cards, ceremonial objects, festival books, automata, play texts intended for live performance, and more. This volume heeds Kim F. Hall and Peter Erickson’s 2015 call for the field of Early Modern Critical Race studies to include visual culture in pursuit of “historically specific definitions of race” ​—​ and it does so in the most expansive way possible.[16] More than a catalog, this volume uses the items of the Fall 2023 exhibition “Seeing Race Before Race” ​—​ a collaboration between RaceB4Race and the Newberry Library co-curated by the co-editors of this volume and the Newberry Library’s Center for Renaissance staff members Rebecca Fall and Christopher Fletcher ​—​ as a starting point for the fresh and ambitious theoretical conversations between PCRS, art history, performance studies, book history, and Critical Race Theory.

Historiography and State-of-the Field

In a recent interview celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the landmark publication of Things of Darkness hosted by the Newberry Library, PCRS pioneer and volume contributor Kim F. Hall was asked what she would change to the book that launched the field of Early Modern Critical Race Studies if she were to rewrite it today.[17] She answered that she would change its internal structure to open the book with her chapter on Blackness in the visual and material culture of early modern England. Hall’s answer confirmed the premise of the present volume: that visual culture is a foundational regime of racialization that may not be elided in the racial historiographies of premodern Europe. Twenty years ago, Peter Erickson and Clark Hulse co-edited an important collection meant to “explore the social contexts in which [English] paintings, statues, textiles, maps and other artifacts are produced and consumed” and “also explore how these artifacts and the acts of creating, collecting, and admiring them are themselves mechanisms for fashioning the body and identity, situating the self within a social order, defining the visual otherness of race, ethnicity and gender, and establishing relationships of power based on exploration, surveillance, and insight.”[18] Yet to a large extent, Hall’s, Erickson’s, and Hulse’s visual examples have not been followed by race scholars working at the intersection of English studies and cultural studies in a framework informed by Critical Race Theory. In other words, within the study of race, while literary scholars influenced by Critical Race Theory have started bridging the traditional periodization gap that exists between medieval and early modern studies (due to no small extent to the RaceB4Race® conference series), disciplinary gaps, especially the gap between literary studies and art history, endure.[19]

Although vast, early art historical readings of race in the visual and material culture of the medieval and[xix] early modern periods alike have long been characterized by a certain reparative naivete.[20] In general, the scholarship can be defined as Premodern Race Studies (PRS) but not as Premodern Critical Race Studies (PCRS), and here is the difference, as Margo Hendricks luminously puts it: “as part of the larger critical race theory practice and practices, PCRS actively pursues not only the study of race in the premodern, not only the way in which periods helped to define, demarcate, tear apart, and bring together the study of race in the premodern era, but the way that outcome, the way those studies can effect a transformation of the academy and its relationship to our world.”[21] In other words, the “critical” in PCRS involves a set of concepts, tools, and keywords produced within the field of Critical Race Theory (which originated in legal studies yet has always aspired to interdisciplinary dissemination),[22] but it also involves, just as importantly, an ethical mandate for scholars to consider their own implication in the racial histories that they study.

For an example of non-critical premodern race studies in art history, consider the collection and sumptuous series of edited volumes The Image of the Black in Western Art, which, launched in the 1960s during the push for the Civil Rights movement, were powered by Dominique de Menil’s nostalgia for “a time when ‘ideals of fraternity blossomed’ between Europeans and Africans, a time before the start of the African slave trade to Europe and the New World, a time when race-based slavery and Jim Crow segregation were not the basis of the dominant socioeconomic relationship between them or the ways in which black people were ‘seen’ and represented in Western culture.”[23] Nostalgia is a limiting critical affect. Rare are art historians who probed power dynamics like Paul Kaplan did in The Rise of the Black Magus in Western Art (1985) and in his prolific output of articles over the past decades.[24] The development of Critical Race Theory (henceforth CRT) in the 1990s has yet to find its way into art historical methodologies.

Indeed, the 2012 exhibition “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe” and its catalog, edited by Joaneath Spicer, subscribe to the same reparatively-driven argumentative grammar, highlighting the ways in which the Renaissance “allowed (within the constraints of ingrained prejudice) for a gradually more nuanced view of blackness and of persons of African ancestry,” focusing on “the immensity, voluptuous strangeness, and seeming unknowability” of the African continent.[25] None of the essays by art historians included in the widely influential  and groundbreaking Black Africans in Renaissance Europe volume edited by T.F. Earle and Kate Lowe in 2012 use the word “race.”[26] The same affectively-tipped argumentative grammar is manifest in recent scholarship published in early modern Hispanic studies that attend to visual culture.[xx]

For instance, in Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism (2019), Erin Rowe explores the rich iconography of Black Saints only to argue that it produced “discourses of universal humanity in ways that decentered race as an exclusive lens through which to view Africans and their descendants”;[27] and in Black but Human: Slavery and Visual Art in Hapsburg Spain, 1480–1700 (2019), Carmen Fracchia primarily seeks to foreground the ways in which early modern visual representations “provide material for critical and emancipatory practices by Afro-Hispanic slaves and ex-slaves in imperial Spain.”[28]

Studies of art historians of colonial Latin America and Africa, led by the pioneering work of Thomas B.F. Cummins and more recently by volume contributor Cécile Fromont and Ananda Cohen Suarez, have made headway in thinking about the power dynamics of colonial racial images.[29] This volume expands their approach to a wider set of materials, deliberately embracing a capacious understanding of visual culture whose study requires interdisciplinary collaboration. Seeing Race Before Race intervenes in the field of PCRS by asking art historians and literary scholars steeped in cultural studies of premodernity to think together across disciplinary formations about the racializing regimes operative in premodern visual culture through the lens of Critical Race Theory. All essays in the present volume share the previously mentioned CRT-infused critical ethos as well as some fundamental conceptual premises: they all think about race as a system of power falsely packaged as a system of knowledge, about racism as systemic and institutionally upheld, and about whiteness as manufactured property whose manufacturing took centuries. They all aspire to think intersectionally about race, gender, and sexuality; and they are all attentive to the ways in which white privilege has shaped the various disciplinary historiographies that they have inherited.

Museum Interventions and the Newberry Collections

Our project responds to the interdisciplinary historiographic challenges described above but we also aim, with the Fall 2023 “Seeing Race Before Race” Newberry exhibition and the exhibition catalog included in this volume, to follow in the footsteps of groundbreaking museum interventions. The most renowned example of such interventions is Fred Wilson’s 1992 Mining the Museum at The Contemporary in Baltimore, curated by Lisa Graziose Currin.[30] Part contemporary gallery show, part history museum lesson, and part institutional critique, Wilson’s Mining unearthed objects and works of art at the Maryland Historical Society and placed them in contexts (often ironic) that made clear the racist power dynamics at play in the materials. For instance, an eighteenth-century portrait of a boy with his slave wearing a dog collar was paired with audio of a child’s voice asking: “Am I your brother? Am I your friend? Am I your pet?” Artist and writer Howard Halle wrote of the exhibition: “Mining the Museum succeeds in circumventing its own polemical potential; although it is a devastating indictment of racism, it is also ​—​ and chiefly ​—​ an optimistic act of consciousness-raising, and this hopeful note sets it apart from other, similar, works.”[31] Indeed Seeing Race also aims to inspire awareness and incite scholarly activism by unearthing materials in the Newberry Library’s collection and thinking about them in novel ways.[xxi]

Recent exhibitions and projects have similarly begun to illuminate the representations of enslaved, Indigenous, and other subjugated peoples of the premodern world in traditional museum exhibitions. The craftsmanship and ingenuity of Indigenous Americans have been celebrated in numerous exhibitions over the last decades starting with Circa 1492 at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. that juxtaposed pre-conquest Mixtec codices and other objects alongside Renaissance works. Joaneath Spicer’s aforementioned Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe (2012) at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Sylviane A. Diouf’s Africans in India from Slaves to Generals to Rulers (2013) at the New York Public Library, and Awam Akpa’s ReSignifications: European Blackamoors, Africana Readings (2016) in multiple museums in Florence, each brought to light the role of Africans in European iconography. In contrast to these exhibitions that focused on images of Africans, Caravans of Gold, Fragments of Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa (2019) attended to Africans’ economic agency in the medieval world. Furthermore, several more recent exhibitions, such as Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art (2019–2020) at the Getty Center, Afro-Atlantic Histories (2018–2022) at Museu de Arte de São Paulo and the Instituto Tomie Ohtake in Brazil and the National Gallery, Washington D.C. (2022), Slavery at the Rijksmuseum (2022), La voce delle ombre: Presenze africane nell’arte dell’Italia settrionale (XVI-XIX) (2022) at the Museo delle Culture in Milan, and European Art on First Nations Land at the Art Gallery of Ontario (ongoing) tackle issues of slavery, the African diaspora, and violence. Those exhibitions, their related publications, and in some cases complementary online resources are all significant contributions to race studies: our project simultaneously builds upon them and departs from them by working closely with the tenets of premodern critical race studies.[32]

Inside and outside museums today, curators and artists are approaching displays and developing projects that confront audiences with issues surrounding race. For instance, volume contributor Andrea Myers Achi has taken the lead in questioning race and intersectionality in the medieval galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Artist Justin Randolph Thompson, the force behind “Florence Black History Month,” has found that the Uffizi’s collection is ripe for racial analysis. Thompson has compiled entries by scholars about paintings and developed a video series on the Uffizi collection entitled “African Presence” that contextualizes the African figures in their social contexts.[33] These entries and videos deal with issues related to status, class, and slavery, probing representations and questioning the past narratives surrounding them.

While the Newberry is not a museum, its archive is similarly well suited for critical analysis of racial depictions from the medieval and early modern period due to the sheer magnitude and diversity of its manuscripts, printed books, and maps. The heart of its collection developed in the final years of the nineteenth-century and first decades of the twentieth-century when Newberry presidents, curators, librarians, and donors actively purchased books throughout Europe and the Americas. The Newberry was founded in 1887, and its first librarian, William F. Poole, acquired some 120,000 books and 44,000 pamphlets. Following a 1917 bequest from John M. Wing, who founded a history of printing collection, curators have built a collection of books by nearly every printer working in early modern Europe and Britain.[34]

More than half of the objects catalogued in this book and displayed in the related exhibition derive from the Newberry’s Ayer collection. It is worth[xxii] expanding here a bit on the complexity of Edward Ayer (1841–1927) as a collector and on today’s Ayer collection, in order to demonstrate why the Newberry serves as such a rich archive for this study.[35] Current Indigenous Studies Librarian and Ayer Curator Analú María López’s note in this volume further illuminates the importance of this collection. A self-made midwesterner who had a passion for collecting books and objects related to the Americas, Ayer helped to found Chicago’s Field Museum and donated a significant collection of anthropological materials to the museum. As a benefactor, Ayer gave the Newberry 20,000 books and manuscripts, 6,000 maps, 3,000 paintings, drawings, prints, engravings and lithographs, and over 9,000 photographs.

Ayer is a complex figure: he recalls collectors of the early modern period, as he simultaneously sought to conserve the records and materiality of Indigenous populations while he was also subsumed in the very network involved in the process of their obliteration. In her analysis of Ayer, Carolyn Kastner uses Renato Rosaldo’s concept of “imperialist nostalgia” to define Ayer as a collector who has “longing” for “what [he] is complicit in destroying or altering.”[36] Kastner goes on to state: “as a chronicler of Indian history, Ayer stands to speak for the Native Americans but writes them out of authorship.”[37] Indeed it is often difficult to find the Indigenous voice in Ayer’s manuscripts and books. The diverse rarities highlighted in the catalog from Ayer such as Columbus’s 1494 printed letter to the King of Spain (Cat. No 22), an Ottoman manuscript about the Americas (Cat. No 21), a Dutch world atlas (Cat. No. 26), and an Indigenous map of a region of Mexico (Figure. 3.2) all serve to represent the western response to or control over the Americas or other regions of the world. These materials cannot help but tell multiple stories here in the context of this project. They represent the power dynamics of their original time and place of production, evoke Ayer’s fraught collecting interests in Americana from the late nineteenth-century, and at the same time serve to mirror racial conflicts today.

Book Description

This book is organized thematically, following the same tripartite structure as the Newberry’s “Seeing Race Before Race” exhibition itself, around the practices of “Figuring,” “Mapping,” and “Performing” as techniques and epistemologies of premodern race-making. Each of those three thematic parts contains essays, notes, and catalog entries. The five long-form essays of Seeing Race Before Race take items from the Newberry Library’s holdings as catalysts for inquiries into the workings of the racial matrix in premodernity. All are co-authored by scholars working across disciplinary lines, and, often, across traditional lines of periodization, thereby modeling the kind of collaborations necessary for opening new directions in Premodern Critical Race Studies today. Envisioning visual culture as a capacious domain cutting across fine arts, material culture, and books of all types, those five essays explore the involvement of visual culture in the shaping of premodern racial formations: they foreground the lines of communication and influence that exist between visual culture, instantiated in individual items, and various institutions such as the law, justice systems, chattel slavery, and aggressively proselytizing Christianity. While visual culture is not an institution, it is a system, and the essays in this volume reckon with that system while attending to the uniqueness of each item by studying both the affordances of specific media for the purposes of race-making and the ways in which individual items[xxiii] can sometimes resist the white supremacist agenda that conjured them up.

Seeing Race Before Race is meant to showcase original and cutting-edge scholarship, but it is also meant to offer a reflection on the circulation of PCRS beyond academia and its mobilization within the larger framework of anti-racist activism. Thus, in combination with those five long-form essays, the volume offers three “Notes from the Field”: shorter essays written by PCRS and Critical Indigenous scholars about their experiences working in public-facing institutions adjacent to academia such as museums, libraries, and theaters. These essays and notes will shed a new light on the third kind of writing contained in this volume, the catalog entries for the items on display during the exhibition of the same name at the Newberry Library in Fall 2023, which we organized together with the RaceB4Race® collective. Those forty-two catalog entries are authored by brilliant graduate students, early career scholars, and Newberry staff members who are part of the extended RaceB4Race community: Beatrice Bradley, Katherine Chacon, Cecilio Cooper, Aylin Corona, Caitlin DiMartino, Olivia Dill, Alana Edmondson, Rebecca Fall, Christopher Fletcher, Jamie Keener, Andrés Irigoyen, Edward Johnson, Emily Kang, Suzanne Karr Schmidt, Stephanie Lee, Vivian Lei, Sarah-Gray Lesley, Julia Marsan, Earnestine Qiu, Arianna Ray, Melani Shahin, Daniela Gutiérrez Flores, Elizabeth Neary, and the book’s co-editors.

The first part of this book, exploring the practices and affordances of “Figuring” for the purposes of premodern race-making, opens with the essay “Manuscripts and Printed Books: Book History and Race,” where book historian Brandi K. Adams and English literary scholar Carissa M. Harris focus on the phenotypical paradigm of the premodern racial matrix, reading two items from the Newberry Library’s archives through a Black feminist lens in an attempt to undo the intersectional violence of gendered racism. Adams examines the deployment of what digital humanities scholar Moya Bailey calls misogynoir in English print culture by bringing to light the plight of Black women whose artificial images were circulated without their consent in early modern English literature. She focuses on the case study of Henry Rainolds’s and Henry King’s manuscript poems “A Black-moor Maid wooing a fair Boy” (1630s–1650s) and “The Boy’s Answer to the Blackmoor” (1630s–1650s) ​—​ mid-seventeenth-century avatars of the “Aethiopissa poems” launched by George Herbert, a genre based on literary blackface that often ridiculed the very idea of Black women as erotic subjects. In Adams’s view, those two poems’ ultimate circulation in print without authorial consent mirrors the violent act of writing and distributing poems about Black women and their personhood without their consent.

Carissa M. Harris closely reads A Letter from a Merchant at Jamaica (1709), a mass-produced London pamphlet advocating for slavery reform that features scenes where Englishmen abuse enslaved Black women in the British West Indies. Paying minute attention to the various slurs used to frame Black women as simultaneously made for labor yet always insufficiently laboring, and to the philological history of those terms from the twelfth-century onwards, Harris practices what she calls “intersectional material philology” in order to produce an account of lexical power and marginalization dynamics that still informs Black women’s lives today. Moreover, focusing on the visual dimension of the typographic choices made in the production of this pamphlet to dehumanize Black women while calling for their “improved” continual enslavement, Harris locates in the mass printed medium techniques of racialization that invite readers’ participation in what Saidiya Hartman would call scenes of subjection. Those techniques, Harris notes, often have their roots in older forms of manuscript publication. Adams and Harris ultimately remind us that book history “occupies a special place in visual culture as both constituted by its appearance on the page and inflected by philological and literary histories,” and they give us new ways of seeing gendered racism in that crucial interstitial field of inquiry.

The following essay of this section extends the focus on book history by investigating its intersections with material culture. Indeed, in “Fashioning Racial[xxiv] Materiality in Nicolas de Nicolay’s Images of Jews,” English literary scholar M. Lindsay Kaplan and art historian Dana E. Katz see early modern material culture, and clothing in particular, as crucial sites comparable to somatic constructions for the formation of racial identity. Since the Middle Ages, clothing had, via discriminatory sumptuary laws, facilitated the racialization of European Jews and Muslims for whom somatic difference often fails as a stable weaponizable visual marker. Early modern maps and costume books proclaim the power of clothing to fix racialized and gendered identities. Nicolas de Nicolay’s visual treatment of clothing in his 1567 Les Quatre Premiers Livres des navigations et pérégrinations orientales (The Nauigations, Peregrinations and Voyages, made into Turkie), half a travel narrative and half a costume book, strategically plays on similarities and distinctions between Jewish and Muslim clothing in the Ottoman world. Indeed, Nicolay participated in the European tradition that had, since the Middle Ages, mobilized the Muslim world and faith to uphold ideas of Jewish inferiority, either by framing Jews and Muslims as allies in their perceived attempts at overthrowing Christianity, or by highlighting the subjugation of Jews in Muslim cultures. Kaplan and Katz explore the sartorial manifestations of that coordination of Jews and Muslims in Christian visual imagination, which strategically accommodated contradictory fantasies of amity and enmity among “infidels” as the need arose.

Kaplan and Katz offer a detailed analysis of the interplay between text and image in Nicolay’s widely circulated account of the Ottoman world, showing how, among its sixty black and white woodcuts, images of Jewish men and women are caught in a compensatory relation with the accompanying text. That compensatory relation allows the book as a whole to advance a racial theology systematically framing Jews as inferior, even when the images or the text struggle to do so on their own due to the radical leveling that the zimmi status performed between Christians and Jews in Ottoman lands. Kaplan and Katz show how “the conflicting evidence of image and word reveals the counterfactual labor of race construction, the effort that goes into bending empirical evidence of the Ottoman Jewish experience to fit the imperatives of Christian triumphalism.” Focusing on the religious paradigm of the premodern racial matrix, Kaplan and Katz take us through a complex and fascination exploration of the strategic machinations of antisemitism and Christian supremacy.

In her “Note from the Field,” Analú María López shares her experience working as Ayer Librarian and Assistant Curator of American Indian and Indigenous Studies at the Newberry Library and thus “figuring out” her relation to a primarily white institution with a historically fraught relationship with Indigenous communities, as she discusses what a meaningful decolonization of archives and institutions might look like. “Without continuous commitment to serve as accomplices to Indigenous people, institutional gestures of acknowledgement risk reconciling ‘settler guilt and complicity’ and rescuing ‘settler futurity,” López warns us. The key to true reconciliation, she suggests, is for libraries and cultural institutions to think proactively about how to best serve a primarily Indigenous audience and how to bring in Indigenous community members both as collaborators and project leaders. While this first part concludes with the catalog entries for the exhibition items listed under the “Figuring” heading (1–14), we take liberties here in that we are using the catalog as a platform to highlight, even more than the exhibition itself does, two particularly salient heuristics in our project: Blackness and gender. Indeed, the “Figuring” section of this catalog, playing on the double meaning of the word as a way of figuring out race through visualization of the human body, proposes two thematic itineraries: the invention of racial Blackness from a 1250 Franciscan Bible to a 1638 government document attesting to Black and Indigenous alliances against white supremacy in Barbados, and the gendering of the racial analytic in a broad generic cluster showcasing the racialization of Black, white, Ottoman, South-Asian, and Indigenous women.

The second part of this book, which explores the logic and racializing effects of early modern “mapping” technologies and geographical thinking, starts with the essay “Geographies of Race: Constructions[xxv] of Constantinople/Istanbul in the Western European Imaginary,” in which art historian Roland Betancourt and English literary scholar Ambereen Dadabhoy examine the descriptions of Constantinople/Istanbul in the writings of medieval and early modern Western Europeans. Their essay “highlight[s] the ways in which the city was either othered or embraced by the West throughout its medieval and early modern history,” and show how such othering and embrace were always strategic in nature, following the needs of a specific cultural moment in a continuous history of imperial competition and religious opposition between Constantinople/Istanbul and Western Europe. Betancourt first examines early medieval documents by Western authors that sought to erase the Roman identity of the Byzantines, emphasize their Greekness, and exoticize their customs and physical appearance. By contrast, Crusader narratives framed the Byzantines as Christian kin crucial to Western interests against the Turks, and the long-standing Western-Byzantine antagonism was rewritten along those lines in the wake of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 (often framed as the result of the Byzantine schism). Starting in the mid-fifteenth-century and throughout the craze for early modern antiquarianism, Western historiographic interest in Byzantium solidified as a desire to learn how to resist Ottoman expansion, turned Byzantium into a Christianized object lesson, and whitened its inhabitants, using them as strategic floating signifiers in the process.

In turn, Dadabhoy shows how the city and its inhabitants were further racialized by early modern Western travelers in the Ottoman age. In those accounts, while the religious, social, political, and cultural habits of Ottoman Istanbul inhabitants were othered, the city’s geography was Europeanized: this representational strategy fantasized about the easily sexualizable vulnerability of a European city fallen into Muslim hands. Dadabhoy shows how sexualized tropes of white vulnerability were increasingly mobilized to frame the harem and the hammam as sites of radical alterity in Nicolas de Nicolay’s The Navigations, Pérégrinations and Voyages Made into Turkie (1585) and Sir Paul Rycaut’s The Present State of the Ottoman Empire (1668). Those two texts and their images “attest to the longue durée of both racial formation and Orientalism and the strategic ways in which these discourses intersect in order to advance relations of epistemic power in situations where material power is often lacking.” Asking how geographies can be racialized, Betancourt and Dadabhoy show that, across centuries, European authors wielded tropes of religious, cultural, and sexual difference against the inhabitants of Constantinople/Istanbul in futile attempts at reifying, through the strength of racial discourse, an East/West binary that the glorious Eurasian city always already resisted.

In the second essay of this section, “Race, Empire, and Cartography,” Hispanic studies scholar Ricardo Padrón and art historian Risa Puleo explore the premodern racial politics of cartography as a spectrum by pairing two case studies that sit at the opposite end of that spectrum: gigantic wall maps of the four continents made by French cartographer Nicolas de Fer in the 1690s and an Indigenous 1569 map known as the Farmers vs. Covarrubias map made in colonial Mexico. While the de Fer maps illustrate the complicity of global cartographic geography in the development of Western ideas about race and colonization, the Farmers vs. Covarrubias map shows how maps could become tools in the effort to resist the racialized notions of property ownership that colonialism unleashed in the Americas.

Medieval theories of difference inherited from Antiquity, such as climate theory, proved inadequate to shore up Eurocentric notions of absolute human differences and hierarchies in the age of colonial travel: Padrón shows that early modern theories of essential continental difference emerged as a solution to that problem, working in synergy with medieval discursive tropes of race that were repurposed to accommodate colonial developments. The de Fer maps illustrate the shift from climatic to continental thinking, reserving civility to Europe while framing Asia in proto-Orientalist terms and Africa and America in primitive terms. However, the America map stands out in that, by representing Indigenous peoples in the same space as enslaved Africans and Spanish conquistadors, the American map signals that their identities[xxvi] remained intact despite migrations, simultaneously underlining the limitations of continental logic and laying the groundwork for Enlightenment developments in racial theories.

For her case study, Risa Puleo goes back to the roots of Critical Race Theory: court cases. In 1569, the Indigenous farmers in the Tultepec area sought to protect their land and its capacity to produce food supplies (guaranteeing Indigenous food autonomy) against the encroachment of overgrazing sheep owned by Spanish colonials such as Covarrubias. Puleo shows how the Farmers of Tultepec vs. Spanish Rancher Juan Antonio Covarrubias map that was produced to supplement that property claim court case in colonial Mexico over a hundred years before de Fer created his Parisian maps used the affordances of Nahuatl pictography to speak a double language: one recognizable to the Spanish court using Nahuatl maps as admissible evidence (the language of property rights), and one recognizable to Indigenous viewers (the language of sovereignty). By uncovering symbols such as the altepetl glyph, which read as a church to Spaniards but as a sovereign city-state in pre-Conquest Nahuatl political theory, Puleo shows how fifty years after the military conquest of the Aztec empire, “the Tultepecans existed in a state of double-consciousness, much like the map itself.” Read together, Puleo’s and Padrón’s case studies evidence the involvement of cartographic culture in ideological production and the ways in which the medium itself could pressure the ideological project of white supremacy that necessitated it in the first place.

Focusing on museums’ spatial politics of display, Andrea Myers Achi shows in her “Note from the Field” how curatorial practices have accompanied the global turn in medieval studies by sharing her experiences incorporating medieval African (especially Ethiopian) art into the medieval galleries at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. She explores the implications of curating “Black art in white spaces,” for “museums are the first entry point to the medieval world for many people, and these spaces have the opportunity to share the multifaceted perspectives of the medieval period.” Myers Achi’s reflection is followed by the second segment of the exhibition catalog, “Mapping,” which traces a path through the rich cartographic archives of the Newberry Library by putting medieval and early modern maps in conversation with supplementary documents revealing the various acts of concrete racial violence authorized by the epistemes in which those maps participated. This collection of entries demonstrates how cartography, from the bound portolan charts of the fifteenth-century to large-scale wall maps of the eighteenth-century, functioned to delimit space based on race and to define power and control. Many of the items highlighted in this section also demonstrate how commonly premodern cartography displays racialized bodies on maps.

The third section of this book, “Performing,” focuses on the participation of premodern performance culture (capaciously defined) in the emergence of new racial formations. In their essay “Back Bending Labor, Savage Dances, Pious Stances: Race in Motion between Africa and the Americas,” early modern art historians Elena FitzPatrick Sifford and Cécile Fromont further explore the premodern manifestations of antiblack racism, yet they locate it in a visual discourse centering not skin color but civility and its manifestations in comportment and motion. Those, they argue, could sometimes supersede complexion and physiognomy as indicators of racial taxonomies. Renaissance culture, drawing on rhetorical traditions with roots in Antiquity, read bodily posture and movement as reflections of the soul. FitzPatrick Sifford and Fromont explore the ascription of bent and wayward postures to enslaved Africans whose depiction is not phenotypically marked in a wide array of visual sources including costume books, travel writings, map cartouches, illustrations in printed travelogues, and other artworks from Germany, Italy, England, France, and the Low Countries.

European visual representations of African and Indigenous American dances repurposed older choreographies of incivility, such as the medieval dance of death, to racialize their subjects. Inversely, early modern representations of the harmonious postures of Christianized Africans expressed early modern beliefs[xxvii] in the civilizing power of conversion. That is particularly visible in the religious paintings of colonial South America, where, for instance, the cross-armed stance pervasive in late medieval representations of the Passion became a standard feature of the bozal baptizand. Every medium has its own affordances for the purposes of race-making. FitzPatrick Sifford and Fromont’s essay suggests that one major affordance of motion as a racializing medium is its particularly strong ability to repurpose older tropes for new contexts by de-emphasizing the phenotypical differences that might hinder such repurposing. In the medium of motion, an Indigenous American can be made to look like a pre-Reconquista Muslim/“Moor” particularly easily. Studying the deployment of motion in visual sources can help us track with great acuity the series of strategic repurposings that animated the racial matrix. At the same time, the essay unambiguously concludes on the idea that the kinetic discourse of racialization has, over time, crystallized primarily around afro-descendants and fueled global antiblackness in ways that can be felt to this day.

Zooming in on theatrical culture more specifically in her “Note from the Field,” Farah Karim-Cooper charts the curatorial process that she has developed over 17 years as Head of Research and now Co-Director Education and Research at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, especially since 2017. She comments that “cultural organizations have the power to integrate scholarly conversations into their programming [in modes] that can influence and even alter the public discourse in impactful ways.” Persisting in the face of racist and traditionalist backlash, Karim-Cooper reminds us, however, that institutions can only instigate meaningful public conversations around PCRS if they start by taking steps to align their own structures and practices with the values of PCRS. Like Myers Achi, Karim-Cooper emphasizes the importance of using one’s platform to materially help create a student pipeline in PCRS. The last section of the exhibition catalog, “Performing,” moves from literary dramatic canon, masques, carnival performances, and theatricality of all stripes that fashion racial difference, Otherness, and hierarchy to striking instances of what we call “performances of the racial self.” Those include a number of individual performances of whiteness requiring props conserved in visual archives today.

This book concludes with an exclusive tri-interview featuring Kim F. Hall (PCRS and Africana studies), Scott Manning Stevens (Critical Indigenous Studies and early modern studies), and L. Lehua Yim (Critical Indigenous Studies and early modern studies), who discuss the complex relation between PCRS and Native Studies/Critical Indigenous Studies and underline the importance of joint Native/Indigenous and Black critical interventions into early modern studies. Lucidly analyzing the structural factors that have hitherto hindered meaningful conversations between those fields, especially in Western scholarship on early modern periods, Hall, Stevens, and Yim discuss potential collaborations and mutual support between the fields. They identify promising convergences around the critique of unchallenged tropes and truisms from history and anthropology and of premodern “histories of white settler colonial fear or pleasure.” There is potential for issue-driven “coalescence” between these fields. Hall, Stevens, and Yim define the conditions of possibility for mutual recognition and respectful, non-extractive knowledge-sharing, and they imagine how research institutions such as the Newberry Library might facilitate such necessary sharing. In relation to the theme of this volume, Hall, Stevens, and Yim also note that early modern visual culture and modern scholarship on it can be particularly potent sites of epistemological violence against Black lives and liberation and Native/Indigenous lifeways and sovereignties, thereby alerting us to the fact that ethically studying those images requires particularly thoughtful methodological and historiographic engagements.


It is our hope that the wealth of insights, analyses, provocations, and critical frameworks offered by the[xxviii] contributors to this book will illuminate our readers’ encounter with the objects presented in the catalog entries and encourage them to search the Newberry Library holdings for more. From Sir John Mandeville’s marvelous journeys en route to Jerusalem (Cat. No. 15) to Aphra Behn’s 1688 Oroonoko (Cat. No. 30) and its subsequent adaptations for the stage, via Wolfram von Eschenbach 1477 romance Parsival (Cat. No. 3) and Mary Wroth’s 1621 The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (Cat. No. 11); from Spanish patents of nobility proving one “purity of blood” (Cat. No. 40) to Nahuatl translations for the word “Blackness” in an annotated edition of Antonio de Nebrija’s Dictionarium (Cat. No. 6), via royal cedulas from sixteenth-century Guatemala (Cat. No. 23); from Shakespeare’s Othello (Cat. No. 27) to its 1794 French adaptation written in the wake of the Haitian Revolution (Cat. No. 29), via Ben Jonson’s Masque of Blacknesse (Cat. No. 35) and the mysterious frontispiece of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (Cat. No. 33)–the possibilities for interdisciplinary critical engagement are endless. From the “map of monstrous races” in the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle (Cat. No. 17) to Joan Blaeu’s 1663 atlas (Cat. No. 25) and its representation of animalized Chinese people via the 1550 Manuscript portolan atlas of the world (Cat. No. 20) which isolates Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent from other European monarchs, and the only known portrait from life of Pocahontas (Cat. No. 12),we want readers to forge their own paths through the thick visual archives produced by the premodern racial matrix. Examine Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s depiction of Hindu sati rituals in his 1596 Itinerario (Cat. No.9). Muse over the grisaille rendering of the Queen of Sheba in the 1455 miroir de humaine saluation (Cat. No. 2). The items featured in this exhibition include Crusade chronicles, conversion narratives, travel writings, ethnographic scrapbooks, maps, maps, maps and more maps, treatises on cosmetics, costume books, missionary writings, colonial administration documents, antisemitic caricatures, and emblem books, but there is more where they come from, and readers are invited to join the effort and help us further open the archives of the Newberry Library so we may finally face our past.

Many of the items discussed in this volume defy categorization and encompass more than one of the themes mentioned above. For instance, the sixteenth-century playing cards hung prominently on the wall of the exhibition (Cat. No. 39) map out figures in space on a page and would have been used in a performative manner for play. Analysis of the paper and style of figures has linked the cards to a specific printmaker in Germany. At first glance, this tattered sheet of playing cards is difficult to even comprehend and in fact, their recent discovery within the files of the Newberry archive inspired a variety of initial questions: What does this sheet represent? How did it function? Where are they from? To begin to answer these questions, one must first imagine cutting out each figure and pasting it onto a card or heavier paper as reinforcement. Then one must imagine a community of players holding these diverse figures of soldiers from around the world in hand in a lively game of exchange across a table, which, like any card game, demands from participants a vigorous sense of competition and the deployment of keen strategic thinking ​—​ two key elements underlying processes of racial formation across the ages. Imagine this community of players literally playing the race card. In our exhibition and in the present volume, the uncut playing cards symbolically encapsulate a premodern world in which race functioned as a powerful sleight of hand across cultures, class, and locations. While the Newberry archive is necessarily constrained by the limits of its holdings, which are largely Western reflections of its early twentieth-century collectors’ tastes, its objects can be used in creative ways to make links across time and space and to question the power plays of a past that lingers.

Seeing Race Before Race will be of interest to a variety of readers from academics to high school students and the general public. Beyond historians of the book, art, performance, and literature, the volume will speak to scholars in the more specialized fields of gender, Black, Jewish, Islamic, Indigenous, and colonial studies. Museum and library curators, hopefully, will feel hailed too. The volume’s essays will serve well on syllabi that teach PCRS to undergraduate students alongside Kim F. Hall’s Things of Darkness and Peter Erickson and Clark Hulse’s Early Modern Visual Culture. The catalog entries will help high school instructors teaching medieval and Renaissance studies holistically ground their teaching with visual aids. To that end, we have also included a Glossary of specialized and technical terms with which readers may not yet be familiar. As these terms appear in the book, they are followed by an asterisk. Available in open access, this volume is meant to showcase pathbreaking new PCRS scholarship, to reflect upon and encourage the deployment of PCRS outside of academia, and to help inspire and foster future PCRS scholarship. As Rugendas’s 1620 automated Saint Maurice would say if he could speak: it is time. We hope that you will find this book a useful tool. We dedicate Seeing Race Before Race to the diverse publics seeking to understand the long history of today’s racial thinking, from teachers to community organizers, activists, and ​—​ last but not least ​—​ visual artists.

  1. On the role of early modern automata in European culture, see Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe, ed. Wolfram Koeppe (New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2019); Jessica Keating, Animating Empire: Automata, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Early Modern World (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2018); Maurice Klaus and Otto Mayr, eds., Clockwork Universe: German Clocks and Automata, 1550–1650 (New York: N. Watson Academic Publications, 1980).
  2. “Collection: Milwaukee Art Museum,” Milwaukee Art Museum, accessed March 31, 2022,
  3. On the association between African people and apes, see Kim F. Hall, “‘Troubling Doubles’: Apes, Africans, and Blackface in Mr. Moore’s Revels,” in Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance, ed. Joyce Green MacDonald (Madison and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 1997), 120–144, 125–26; Noémie Ndiaye, Scripts of Blackness: Early Modern Performance Culture and the Making of Race (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022), 205–14.
  4. Paul H. D. Kaplan, “The Calenberg Altarpiece: Black African Christians in Renaissance Germany,” in Germany and the Black Diaspora: Points of Contact, 1250–1914, ed. Mischa Honeck, Martin Klimke, and Anne Kuhlmann-Smirnov (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013), 21–37; Aristotle, Aristotle’s Politics, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), 31. 
  5. Karen Blough, “The Lance of St Maurice as a Component of the Early Ottonian Campaign against Paganism,” Early Medieval Europe 24, issue 3 (2016): 338–61. 
  6. Noémie Ndiaye, “Rewriting the Grand Siècle: Blackface in Early Modern France and the Historiography of Race,” Literature Compass 18, no 10 (2021): 3, e12603, Ivan Hannaford, Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1996), 147, 183. 
  7. Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 3.
  8. Dorothy Kim, “White Supremacists Have Weaponized an Imaginary Viking Past. It’s Time to Reclaim the Real History,” Time, April 12, 2019, 
  9. Ndiaye, Scripts of Blackness, 4–8.
  10. Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton, Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 2.
  11. Margo Hendricks, “Coloring the Past, Considerations on Our Future: RaceB4Race,” New Literary History 52, no. 3/4 (2021): 381,
  12. While the Newberry exhibition and this volume focus on the 1300–1800 time period, the RaceB4Race® interdisciplinary research collaborative also comprises classicists and actively cultivates the inclusion of Antiquity within the scope of PCRS.
  13. Geraldine Heng, “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages: Locations of Medieval Race II,” Literature Compass 8, no. 5 (2011): 332–350,
  14. Stuart Hall, “Subjects in History: Making Diasporic Identities,” in The House that Race Built, ed. Wahneema Lubiano (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997), 290.
  15. “The term [race] was popularised during the [early modern] crisis of the French aristocracy, when the old aristocracy – la noblesse d’ épée, the military elite, whose noble origins were medieval – felt threatened in its prerogatives by the emergence of an educated, wealthy, and ambitious bourgeois class (la noblesse de robe). Members of that bourgeois class could buy aristocratic status by purchasing the expensive administrative offices offered for sale by an increasingly domineering crown. In reaction, a discourse developed that endowed the old nobility with supposedly hereditary superior qualities  ​—​  physical, moral, and intellectual, transmitted through blood, and thus non-vendible.” Noémie Ndiaye, “The African Ambassadors’ Travels: Playing Black in Late Seventeenth Century France and Spain,” in Transnational Connections in Early Modern Theatre, eds. M.A. Katritzky and Pavel Drábek, (Manchester University Press, 2020), 74–75. 
  16. Peter Erickson and Kim F. Hall, “‘A New Scholarly Song’: Rereading Early Modern Race,” Shakespeare Quarterly 67, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 5,
  17. Kim F. Hall and Noémie Ndiaye, “Race in Dialogue: Kim Hall and Noémie Ndiaye,” Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies, interview streamed November 13, 2020, on YouTube video, 1:05:10,
  18. Early Modern Visual Culture: Representation, Race, and Empire in Renaissance England, eds. Clark Hulse and Peter Erickson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 3.
  19. Under the leadership of scholars like Geraldine Heng, Jonathan Hsy, Cord Whitaker, and Dorothy Kim, the field of medieval critical race studies has been rapidly expanding of late. For a suggestive bibliography, see This online bibliography was inspired by the following online crowdsourced bibliography maintained by Kim F. Hall:  Exciting exceptions to disciplinary partitioning include Geraldine Heng, who explores visual materials and cites art historians in the introduction to her landmark The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 
  20. For the large output of art historical writing on race and representation compiled by Patricia Simons, see 8aXe1lzUrgmS4t30Xiye/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=117723222805979041146&rtpof=true&sd=true
  21. Margo Hendricks, “Coloring the Past, Rewriting Our Future: Raceb4Race,” lecture, Folger Shakespeare Library, July 8, 2020, transcript and audio, 23:31,
  22. CRT pioneer Kimberlé Crenshaw theorizes those aspirations to interdisciplinary dissemination in “Unmasking Colorblindness in the Law: Lessons from the Formation of Critical Race Theory,” in Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness Across the Disciplines (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2019), 52–84. Moreover, the importance of literature, music, and African-American cultural life in the formation of key texts in legal CRT is palpable in various essays collected in Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, eds., Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (New York: New York University Press, 2012). 
  23. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, and Karen C. C. Dalton, eds., The Image of the Black in Western Art, new edition, (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press in collaboration with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and the Menil Collection, 2010), viii. The 2010 re-edition of the series volumes includes new critical essays moving in the right direction, yet the price of the series has limited its circulation for the most part.
  24. Paul H. D. Kaplan, The Rise of the Black Magus in Western Art (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985). 
  25. Joaneath Spicer, ed., Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, 2012), 10–11.
  26. Kate Lowe, ed., Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
  27. Erin Rowe, Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 10.
  28. Carmen Fracchia, ‘Black but Human’: Slavery and Visual Arts in Hapsburg Spain, 1480–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 1. 
  29. Representative work from each of these authors includes Thomas B.F. Cummins, “Three Gentlemen from Esmeraldas; A Portrait for a King,” in Slave portraiture in the Atlantic world, eds. Agnes Lugo-Ortiz and Angela Rosenthal (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 118–45; Cécile Fromont, The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Ananda Cohen-Aponte, “Making Race Visible in the Colonial Andes,” in Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America, ed. Pamela Patton (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 187–212. 
  30. See Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum: An Installation (Baltimore: Contemporary, 1994).
  31. Fred Wilson and Howard Halle, “Mining the Museum,” Grand Street 44 (1993): 151–72. 
  32. See for instance the significant recent edited volumes connected to the Balthazar exhibition at the Getty and La voce delle ombre exhibition in Milan: Bryan Keene and Kristen Collins, eds., Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2023) and Carolina Orsini, Sara Rizzo, Luca Tosi, eds., La voce delle ombre: Presenze africane nell’arte dell’Italia settrionale (XVI–XIX) (Milan: Silvana editoriale, 2022). 
  33. “Black Presence: Uffizi Galleries,” Gallerie degli Uffizi, accessed March 31, 2022,
  34. Joel L. Samuels, “The John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing at the Newberry Library,” The Library Quarterly 58, no. 2 (April 1988): 164–89. 
  35. On Ayer, see Frederick Hoxie, “Businessman, Bibliophile, and Patron: Edward E. Ayer and his Collection of American Indian Art,” Great Plains Quarterly 9, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 78–88; Carolyn Kastner, “Collecting Mr. Ayer’s Narrative,” in Acts of Possession: Collecting in America, ed. Leah Dilworth (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003): 138–62. 
  36. Kastner, “Collecting Mr. Ayer’s Narrative,” 149.
  37. Kastner, 154.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Seeing Race Before Race Copyright © 2023 by Noémie Ndiaye and Lia Markey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Share This Book