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New Medieval Books: Africanism

Africanism: Blacks in the Medieval Arab Imaginary

By Nader Kadhem, translated by Amir Al-Azraki

McGill-Queen’s University Press
ISBN: 978-0-2280-1872-8

A groundbreaking book that examines the history between Arab and African peoples in the Middle Ages, focusing on Arab depictions of Black people in literature.


The representation of blacks explored in the previous chapters was produced by the “formal” or “high” Arab cultural discourse and recognized by the “intellectual” elites. Was this representation of blacks different in popular “low” discourse, specifically in the popular folk narrative spread among the common people? In fact, those popular narrations converge with those formal and elite narrations in their view of blacks and blackness. In this section, I will focus on narratives that have some commonalities, which is why they have been chosen as a representative sample. As for the aforementioned biographies (siyyar), they belong to what is called “folk biography,” whereas One Thousand and One Nights belongs to the mythical or wonder and fantasy genre. Also, between these two narratives, there is a convergence and overlap that I will refer to later. Moreover, these narratives are popular folk narratives in terms of language, composition, and circulation.


Who is this book for?

This book should be read by those interested in the ‘Global Middle Ages’, the history of racism, and Arabic society in the Middle Ages. The book is not just for those interested in history, as it also says a lot about racism in today’s world. It is somewhat difficult read for those without a background in Arabic literature and culture.

The author:

Nader Kadhem is an academic and writer from Bahrain. You can follow him on X/Twitter or Instagram. This book was originally published in 2004 and has been translated by Amir Al-Azraki, an Assistant professor at the University of Waterloo.


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