LURe’s Interview with Dr. Cord J. Whitaker

In preparation for Dr. Cord J. Whitaker’s visit to the University of West Georgia for the English & Philosophy Undergraduate Research Conference, LURe has asked Dr. Whitaker a few questions about his research, scholarly interests, writing process, and his book.



Dr. Whitaker is an Associate Professor of English from Wellesley College who specializes in medieval literature, particularly examining religious conflict and the history of race. During our conference, Dr. Whitaker will act as the plenary speaker to discuss Black Metaphors: Race, Rhetoric and the Middle Ages Today in relation to recently-published book, Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking where he examines the rhetorical and theological moves through which blackness and whiteness became metaphors for sin and purity in the English and European Middle Ages.

His scholarship transcends periods, critical/theoretical schools, methodologies, and so forth, so his talk should be appealing to everyone and not just students focusing on Medieval literature. Be sure to join us on October 24, 2019 at the University of West Georgia Campus Center to hear his talk! LURe would like to thank Dr. Whitaker for taking the time to answer out question, and we look forward to his upcoming presentation.


What author/work from the Medieval period inspired you to have a focus on the period?

During my undergraduate career at Yale, I fell in love with medieval literature and Middle English language—especially the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. It was only much later, during my graduate career that I noticed something unexpected in the medieval romances I was studying for their implications regarding gender and medieval popular understandings of theology. These romances, it appeared, were quite interested in the development of identity—religious, geographical, and physiognomic. The dynamics I found reminded me quite a bit of what I knew to be the dynamics regularly employed in race and race-making in modernity.

What emotions did you experience writing your upcoming book?

While I was researching and writing Black Metaphors, I experienced anger and frustration as well as great joy. Anger and frustration at the many terrible events that comprise the history of race-making: from lynchings to the assaults and murders of anti-racist protestors in modern America to the beatings and massacres of Jewish inhabitants of medieval England and Europe, the violent expressions of race and race-thinking led to moments when I could do little but bury my head in my hands at my writing desk. But the extraordinary resilience of people and communities in the face of racism brought me, on many occasions, great joy at the bold and creative ways people rise above adversity. In many cases, how people have used their enemies’ strategies against them is nothing short of genius. Also, from a philological point-of-view, the power of language—whether put to edifying and equality-building use or to racist and community-destroying use—never ceases to amaze. There is joy, or more properly awe, to be had in studying deeply language’s power to shape and construct the world. I found myself impressed with that power many times during the decade or so it took to write Black Metaphors.

What was the hardest thing to write about in your upcoming book?

It depends on what you mean by “hard.” The most emotionally difficult thing to write about was Charlottesville—the “Unite the Right” rally that took place in August 2017 and resulted in the death of anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer and the injuries of many other demonstrators for racial justice. As I watched it unfold, as I watched racist demonstrators donning the trappings of their fantasy version of medieval Europe, I knew that this event was an expression of the long and troubled history of the racist cooptation of the Middle Ages. Medieval literature and culture are an object of love for me, and to watch them put to such a horrifying use in this day and age, right in front of my face, was heart-rending. To write about Charlottesville, while analyzing its political implications now and the historical forces that led to it, was cathartic indeed, yet still heart-rending all at once.

The part of the book that was most difficult intellectually to write was my Chapter 5: “Separate and Together: Strife, Contrariety, and the Lords and Bondsmen of Julian of Norwich, G. W. F. Hegel, and W. E. B. Du Bois.” This chapter compares the philosophical work of fourteenth-century English anchoress Julian of Norwich; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German philosopher Hegel; and twentieth-century African American sociologist, race scholar, and activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Each uses a metaphorical pairing between the powerful and the powerless—whether God and human or feudal lord and bondsman—in order to explore the dynamics of agency. Though Julian, Hegel, and Du Bois are writing in very different times and contexts, there are fascinating overlaps in their thought. It was difficult to bring them together, while remaining intellectually responsible to each of them, because no other scholar has before done this in print. At the same time, it was extraordinarily rewarding to produce a reading that draws out similarities in the dynamics of power and disempowerment across such varied times and spaces.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

Black Metaphors offers activists and community organizers a new way to see race—as a rhetorical practice with historical roots that extend back well beyond the periods of Enlightenment science and American slavery to which it is often attached. Black Metaphors helps its readers understand the rhetorical and logical processes that went into creating race and racism. Take, for example, the rhetorical device enthymeme, in which a proponent strengthens her position by inducing readers to presume a hidden premise and then presenting that premise’s logical conclusion as a natural fact that relies on no premise at all. Enthymeme is a major element in racial ideology. When activists and organizers are well versed in the deep rhetorical, logical, and ultimately psychological processes that undergird racism, they can develop effective strategies for disrupting them, for breaking the line of reasoning that leads readers to presume that blackness is a sign of spiritual depravity and then presents as natural the conclusion that black people are inclined to criminality. They can disrupt the even more basic line of thought that takes as a hidden premise that anything abnormal is inferior and then presents as natural the conclusion that black people are somehow inferior to white people. Black Metaphors even offers a model for how to disrupt entrenched ways of thinking: the medieval rhetoricians featured in the book changed millenia-old ways of thinking about what makes a good metaphor. Their changes paved the way for the development of race, but learning from the dynamics of their intellectual and rhetorical revolution can teach us how to make changes that can do away with the racism they helped create. 

How was your experience working with an editor on your book?

My editors were always thinking ahead. On more than one occasion, while I was deep into the nuances of a particular line of inquiry, my editors were able to offer a birds-eye-view. They gave helpful perspectives on how sections or lines might be read in ways I did not intend, and how to most effectively harness the power of the argument with attention to the current U.S. political climate.

What does your writing process look like? Did it change over the course of writing your book?

My writing process varies. I have no single process. But a lot of my writing, and even more of the intellectual work that allows me to organize my thoughts, occurs while in locomotion. Whether I’m on a plane, on a train, or driving, there is something about moving through the world quickly, crossing paths with a multitude of others who all have different agendas, who are all headed to different places for different reasons, that attunes me to the myriad impulses that drive a piece of literature or that contributed to an historical event. Sitting on an airport tarmac or running through a crowded train terminal, I am reminded that some of these impulses—and their implications—compete with one another, disrupt one another, and slide by one another obliviously. It is my job, as the analyst, to tease apart these impulses and implications and trace their relationships to one another. The work is just as much fun as it is to gun the engine in a powerful sports coupe.

What kind of research did you do to set about writing your book?

Black Metaphors required years of research in libraries all over the world. I spent time examining a number of medieval manuscripts, but I also spent time engaging with the newest works in critical race theory. I spent time thinking through the implications of colonialist pedagogy for the idea of the Middle Ages in the modern West, and I also paid close attention to events in the contemporary news cycle. I engaged with today’s analysts on current events even as I situated those events within longer histories than most analysts do.    

If / when you feel burned out from writing, what helps you revive your inspiration to write?

When I feel burned out from researching and writing, my favorite place to think is by the sea. The calming swell and crash of the waves frees my mind to identify and explore connections—between texts, rhetorical devices, historical events, concepts, and ideologies—that have not yet been adequately explored.

What are you most excited for at the UWG Undergrad Research Conference?

I am most excited for time spent sharing my ideas with, and learning from, the brightest young minds at UWG. Often the greatest scholarly insights have come from those who are new to their fields—because they see evidence with fresh eyes, and they are not yet wedded to modes and methods of analysis that may be ripe for rethinking. I look forward to learning how UWG’s ungraduate researchers are intervening in their fields.

No one can write and read all the time, what do you do away from your work to de-stress?

In addition to enjoying medieval and African American literatures, I am an avid connoisseur of black musical forms—jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop. I sing African American gospel music, and I have performed chorally and as a soloist with a number of groups over the past several decades. I also enjoy political analysis, and I am the founding co-editor-in-chief of The Spoke, the blog of the Madeleine K. Albright Institute for Global Affairs.

Also check out an image representation of his interview below!

Undergraduate Research Conference & LURe Release 2019 Program

The official program for the University of West Georgia Department of English & Philosophy Undergraduate Research Conference has been released! Below, you’ll find the schedule of events, which includes a welcome session, three panel sessions, a lunch, our special plenary speaker Dr. Cord J. Whitaker, and the LURe vol. 9 release. Take a peak at the program, plan your day, and join us as we celebrate undergraduate scholarship!

We look forward to seeing you on October 24, 2019!

Plenary Speaker Announced: Dr. Cord J. Whitaker!

The 2019 University of West Georgia English and Philosophy Department Undergraduate Research Conference is proud to announce this year’s plenary speaker: Dr. Cord J. Whitaker!

Dr. Whitaker hails from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where he operates as an associate professor of English. His research, scholarship, and teaching centers on late medieval English literature, specifically Chaucer and romance, as well as medieval religious conflict and the history of race.

For the Undergraduate Research Conference, Dr. Whitaker will open the day’s events with a discussion on Black Metaphors: Race, Rhetoric, and the Middle Ages Today in connection with his soon-to-be-published book: Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking.

We at LURe are so excited to welcome Dr. Whitaker to the UWG campus to support English and Philosophy undergraduate research. Be sure to stop by the Conference on October 24, 2019 to hear Dr. Whitaker and all the other amazing panels that will be held that day!

Also be on the look-out for an upcoming interview with Dr. Whitaker, where we take a deeper look into the process of research scholarship.

UWG ENGL & PHIL Undergraduate Research Conference 2019 – CALL FOR PAPERS

Attention University of West Georgia students! The Department o English and Philosophy Undergraduate Research Conference Call for Papers* is officially open!

If you have written an essay for an English or Philosophy class that engages in research, consider submitting your paper for the opportunity to potentially present it on a panel of your peers during our conference on October 24, 2019 at the University of West Georgia!

The deadline for submission is September 23, 2019. Please send all essays and direct any questions to Dr. Leah Haught (

*Please note that this Call for Papers is different from the LURe Call For Papers, which will open on the same day of the Conference alongside the release of our previous volume of the journal and is open to all students enrolled in an undergraduate institution, not just UWG. The announcement for the journal CFP will be posted on our website and social media when it becomes available.

LURe at the 2019 Student Organization Fair

On September 5, LURe joined numerous University of West Georgia campus organizations at the annual Student Organization Fair to spread awareness about the journal to UWG students. This event is significant for students looking to get involved on campus, allowing them to visit various clubs and see their options heading into the fall semester. Similarly, the event allowed LURe to meet new students in person, let them know who we are and what we do, and answer any questions they might have.

Each student who stopped by the LURe table was informed about our student-run journal, our submissions, our Undergraduate Research Conference, and the opportunity to become an integral part of the journal’s production as a staff editor. We encouraged these students to take home our informational flyers and pieces of candy along with fun LURe stickers to promote future engagement.

We wish to thank all students who stopped by our table and inquired about our organization! The LURe Team is looking forward to an amazing year ahead.

Come Visit LURe at the Student Organization Fair!

The University of West Georgia Center for Student Involvement is hosting its annual Student Organization Fair on Thursday, September 5, 2019 from 11am – 2pm to showcase the numerous opportunities to get involved on campus! Student Organizations from multiple disciplines are participating in the fair to spread the word about their club and encourage participation. LURe is no different! Stop by our table to learn more about who we are, what we do, and how you can be a part of the LURe team! (And feel free to pick up some candy while you visit us.)

So many opportunities await you, and we can’t wait to meet you there!

Interested in joining our team? Click this link to apply!

Dr. Valerie Johnson on Maid Marian


“Perhaps this is the start of a new pattern:

the legend we know, and the story we don’t.”

Enormous thanks to Dr. Valerie Johnson of the University of Montevallo for giving her talk concerning the ever-evolving role of Maid Marian in the cinematic and television canon of Robin Hood! She provided a thoroughly delightful look into the character as an almost-feminist feature in film, and we can’t articulate how much we enjoyed it! And thanks to everyone who came to hear her talk! We appreciate your questions and involvement with the journal!



Guest Speaker: Dr. Valerie Johnson

Spring 2019 Speaker Poster

LURe Journal is pleased to announce our spring speaker, Dr. Valerie Johnson, who will be speaking on the feminist and anti-feminist interpretations of Maid Marian in modern interpretations of Robin Hood. 
The presentation will be on Friday, March 29, 2019 from 12:15 to 1:15 in TLC room 1301 at the University of West Georgia. All are welcome to attend!
LURe would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting scholarly dialogue and academic enrichment.

An AMAZING Book Sale!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of our Used Book Sale! Whether you donated books, bought from the sale, volunteered to man the table, or spread the word about the sale to your friends, we are so grateful for your support. Thanks to you, LURe raised a significant amount of money towards our NEH grant. Plus, we got to spread our love for books on campus. Win-win!

LURe’s 2nd Annual Book Sale!

LURe journals 2nd annual

ATTENTION MEDIA LOVERS! LURe staff will be stationed in the TLC Lobby at the University of West Georgia from 9am to 5pm on Monday, February 18th and Tuesday, February 19th with hundreds of donated, gently-used books and DVDs for you to explore.

Among the multitude of genres, you’re certain to find a treasure or two (or ten). From textbooks to classics to box office hits, there’s something for everyone!

Prices are extremely reduced, as low as $1! All profits will benefit LURe Journal in an effort to raise funds for our highly competitive NEH grant.

Be sure to stop by and peruse the stacks! We can’t wait to see you there!

LURe will be accepting donations until Friday, February 15th.