Justine Walden

Justine Walden

Berenson Fellow
Naming Race in the Renaissance
2023-2024 (January - June)
Justine Walden


Justine Walden is an early modern social and global historian with a background in philosophy, and has taught a wide range of courses in transnational early modern history in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After receiving a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies and Early Modern History from Yale University, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Toronto, then the Institute for Research in the Humanities at UW Madison. She currently uses Italian records to consider European-African interactions in the Mediterranean, in Africa, and at various sites in the Atlantic, 1500-1800. She is especially interested in interchanges between religion and race and the shifting use of these categories in defining humanity, identity, and difference. She has written and published on early modern Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims; on early modern Florence and Rome; and on race, blackness, global enslavement circuits, and antislavery in journals such as Renaissance Quarterly and Slavery and Abolition.

Project Summary

Naming Race uses fifteenth- and sixteenth- century printed Italian works to to discern race's early modern meanings and show how ideas about race emerged on European soil and among polities with only tangential links to colonialism. Race possessed distinctly Christian-religious underpinnings, for before it was used in a Transatlantic slaving context to characterize black Africans, European Catholics used it to denigrate undesirable non-Christian populations (e.g., Jews, Muslims, military enemies, Huguenots). Early modern 'race' both accompanied and engendered a secular-materialist outlook, for ontologically, to designate a religious group a 'race' was to radically demote them: to declare them 'created' or creaturely and therefore on par with the animal, as against proximally divine.