News

January 25, 2010

Professor Ian D. Smith Explores Language of Race in Latest Book

Fellowships from major libraries helped him complete Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance
As the College’s resident Shakespearean, Ian D. Smith, associate professor and associate head of English, has run into the description “barbarous Moor” frequently while studying Renaissance theater. His new book Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance: Barbarian Errors, explores how linguistic rehabilitation identified the African as the outsider while boosting England’s self image.

Smith received prestigious fellowships from The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., The Newberry Library in Chicago, and The Clark Library in Los Angeles to complete most of his research.

Published in December by Palgrave Macmillan, Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance argues that the barbarian of classical times was an enemy outsider whose distinguishing characteristic was not physical appearance but an inability to speak the master language (first Greek and then Latin). Attempting to establish itself as a power among European nations, 16th century England shifted attention onto Africans as the outsider group in order to leave behind centuries-old claims that the English language was the mark of a barbarian.

“The familiar refrain ‘barbarous Moor’–epithet for the outsider, the pernicious, cruel, dangerous African–was popularized in the theater especially, reviving the historical framework within which one could produce the African following the agonistic cultural paradigm of antiquity,” explains Smith. “The proliferation of texts related to the language arts identified English linguistic eloquence as a cultural goal of national import. The study concludes that England’s narrative of an African racial identity was informed by an insidious, if not always fully stated, desire concerning its own already deeply compromised linguistic identity. As the English pursued the national benefits of capital investment through trade and linguistic prestige through the acquisition of rhetorical skills, they found a convenient and available people, Africans, on whom they could export and project the discarded barbarisms of their rejected past.”

The issues raised in the book are relevant in the multidisciplinary classroom and for contemporary society.

“The book’s focus on language is ideal for literary studies; it takes an issue that is central to our discipline–language–and situates it in the social context of race,” says Smith. “Its historical emphasis, the development and evolution of language as a racial category, helps us understand our current tendencies, habits, and practices related to race.”

Smith’s scholarly research on Renaissance studies and drama, as well as postcolonial literature, has appeared in numerous publications, including articles in the Blackwell Companion to Shakespeare: The Tragedies, Blackwell Companion to the Global Renaissance 1550-1660: English Culture and Literature in the Era of Expansion, Shakespeare Quarterly, and Renaissance Drama; two entries in the Encyclopaedia of Post-Colonial Literature; and four entries in the Greenwood Shakespeare Encyclopedia.

His next book project, titled Fabricated Identities: Racial Cross-Dressing on the Early Modern Stage, will examine racial prosthetics (early modern blackface) and their material implications in the early modern era.

Smith is a recipient of Lafayette’s Student Government Superior Teaching Award, Daniel L. Golden ’34, Alumni Association-Faculty Service Award, and Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Lecture Award.

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