Cord Whitaker, assistant professor of English, has been awarded the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty. Only twenty fellowships are awarded each year nationally. The award supports promising research from young scholars who are committed to eradicating racial disparities, in core fields in the arts and sciences.
During the full-year fellowship, Prof. Whitaker will work on his book project Black Metaphors: Race, Religion, and Rhetoric in Late Medieval English Literature. The book argues that in the late Middle Ages “race thinking”—the notion that differences in physical appearance indicate religious identity and the comparative value of human groups—emerges from late medieval theology that challenges exactly that presumption. The book also posits that late medieval texts present black people as rhetorical and literary vehicles for dealing with anxieties about the ability of Christian conversion to efface differences such as those between Christians and Jews, Christians and Muslims, and even differences between Christians in the West and those in the East. Black Metaphors shows that attention to the medieval literary nexus of rhetoric with blackness and whiteness should play a major role in how we understand the history of race.
Prof. Whitaker’s activities will involve sustained periods of writing punctuated by work with medieval manuscripts of classical rhetorical works as well as medieval romances. Research visits will include trips to the Folger Library in Washington, DC, the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City, and the Huntington Library in California as well as return trips to several libraries in the UK.