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Was There Race before Modernity?

Was There Race before Modernity?

The Example of “Jewish” Blood in Late Medieval Spain

Chapter:
(p.169) [8] Was There Race before Modernity?
Source:
Neighboring Faiths
Author(s):
David Nirenberg
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226169095.003.0009

Race and racism are concepts of great importance to historians, but the history of those concepts is particularly challenging. On the one hand, most historians (and biologists) today do not believe that biological race exists. On the other hand, they do not doubt that racial concepts played powerful roles in some (but not all!) periods in the past. How can we tell when a concept we encounter in the past is “racial”? Does it depend on the use of the word “race”? Or on some implicit definition of race we might have in mind, such as the biological reproduction of cultural characteristics? Both the word raza (race) and the conviction that many cultural attributes were encoded in the reproduction of Jewish blood emerged simultaneously in medieval Spain after the mass conversion of Jews to Christianity in 1391. By focusing on the way in which “racial” thought emerged in medieval Spain, this chapter offers a new way of thinking about the history of concepts like race and racism in general.

Keywords:   history of racism, race, Converso, historiography, Spain, limpieza de sangre, purity of blood

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