• Date and time: Thursday 1 June 2023, 5.30pm
  • Location: K/111, King's Manor, Exhibition Square, University of York Zoom Registration available

Event details

Beginning in the 19th century, medievalist scholars attempted to rationalize premodern accounts of legendary beings by reading them as distorted reports of encounters between invaders (often specifically white or “Aryan”) and indigenous populations. Emerging at the intersection of Indo-European studies, folkloristics, anthropology, and racial pseudoscience, such approaches subsume accounts of parahumans into a social Darwinist perspective that affirms imperial endeavors by recasting medieval sources in colonialist terms. 

In this project, I focus on two particular cases. In the first, Arthur de Gobineau, a founding figure of scientific racism, argued that the demonic beings of Persian epic, the div, represented a dark-skinned indigenous population in conflict with Aryan invaders. In the second, the Victorian folklorist David MacRitchie asserted that Scottish fairy legends reflected a memory of an ancient aboriginal race driven into hiding by later conquerors. While MacRitchie’s theories eventually fell from academic favor, de Gobineau’s legacy endures within and beyond scholarly communities. More generally, the euhemeristic paradigm of parahuman origins remains ubiquitous within popular media. 

By revealing how colonial discourses of conquest and racialization have been employed to rationalize medieval accounts of parahumans, I examine the premises under which premodern texts have been exploited for ideological ends.

Hybrid options:  register for Zoom here

Dr Samuel Lasman (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)