Geraldine Heng is Perceval Professor of English and Comparative Literature, with a joint appointment in Middle Eastern studies and Women’s studies.
Heng’s research focuses on literary, cultural, and social encounters between worlds, and webs of exchange and negotiation between communities and cultures, particularly when transacted through issues of gender, race, sexuality, and religion. She is especially interested in medieval Europe’s discoveries and rediscoveries of Asia and Africa.
Her first book, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (Columbia UP, 2003, 2004, 2012), traces the development of a medieval literary genre—European romance, and, in particular, the King Arthur legend—in response to the traumas of the crusades and crusading history, and Europe’s myriad encounters with the East.
Her second book, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge UP, March 2018), questions the common assumption that race and racisms only began in the modern era. Examining Europe’s encounters with Jews, Muslims, Africans, Native Americans, Mongols, and the Romani (“Gypsies”) from the 12th through 15th centuries, the book shows how racial thinking, racial law, racial practices, and racial phenomena existed in Europe before a recognizable vocabulary of race emerged in the West.
Analyzing sources in a variety of media, including stories, maps, statuary, illustrations, architectural features, history, saints’ lives, religious commentary, laws, political and social institutions, economic relations, and literature, the book argues that religion—so much in play again today—enabled the positing of fundamental differences among humans that created strategic essentialism to mark off human groups and populations for radicalized treatment. The volume also shows how race figured in the emergence of homo europaeus and the identity of Western Europe in this time.
The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages was awarded the 2019 PROSE prize for world history, the 2019 American Academy of Religion prize for historical studies, the 2019 Robert W. Hamilton grand prize, and the Medieval Institute’s 2020 Otto Gründler prize.
Heng’s third (short) book, England and the Jews: How Religion and Violence Created the First Racial State in the West, also with Cambridge, is currently in production.
She is completing a fourth book: Early Globalities: The Interconnected World, 500-1500 CE.
Heng is editor of an MLA Options for Teaching volume on the Global Middle Ages, and co-editor, with Susan Noakes, of the 40-title Cambridge University Press Elements series on the Global Middle Ages, as well as co-editor, with Ayanna Thompson, of the Penn University Press series on early critical race studies, RaceB4Race: Critical Studies of the Premodern.
Heng is also founder and director of the Global Middle Ages Project (G-MAP): http://www.globalmiddleages.org
For more of her work, see her Academia.edu page at: https://utexas.academia.edu/GeraldineHeng
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