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Suzanne Conklin Akbari (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton)

Suzanne Conklin Akbari

Suzanne Conklin Akbari
Image Credit: Dan Komoda

Fellow in Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"

June 2023

AANIHKWAACHIIMUWAK LUNAAPAHKIING: Rethinking Medieval Studies on Indigenous Lands

The Munsee phrase "aanihkwaachiimuwak lunaapahkiing" means literally "they interpret stories on Lunaape land", and is a way of expressing the work of the historian who recognises that they are situated on Indigenous land – in this case, an area in what is now the north-eastern USA that continues to be under the stewardship of the Lunaape people original to that land, or "Lunaapahkiing.". (The spelling “Lunaape” is increasingly preferred by the tribal nations also called "Lenape", "Leni Lenape" or "Delaware"; their preferred spelling is used in this project.) Munsee is one of two languages currently undergoing revitalisation among Lunaape tribal nations and communities, with a very small number of first-language speakers and a growing number of second-language speakers. The other language spoken by Lunaape people, Unami, is also undergoing revitalisation and reclamation. This project draws on an ongoing collaboration with members of Munsee-speaking Lunaape tribal nations to reconsider what the work of the medieval historian looks like when we take seriously the ethical and epistemological claims that arise from the effort to recognise and acknowledge the land we live and work on and our relationship to it. Such work looks very different depending on where one lives and works, whether on lands where settler colonialism took root, such as the Americas, or on lands that were the imperial centres that directed such colonial endeavours, including several European nations. The book's four chapters include: "Medieval Indigeneity"; "Rethinking the Medieval Canon"; "Finding India, from Mandeville to Pehr Kalm"; and "Supersessionist Hermeneutics: Moravian and Presbyterian Lunaape Encounters". During the fellowship period sponsored by EXC 2020 "Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective", Akbari will focus on the intersection of literary history and material culture, working with colleagues at regional museums (especially the Humboldt Forum) to learn more about how ethnographic discourses shaped and continue to inform encounters with Indigenous communities of the Americas, with a particular focus on Lunaape tribal nations.

Suzanne Conklin Akbari is Professor of Medieval Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Her books are on optics and allegory (Seeing Through the Veil) and European views of Islam and the Orient (Idols in the East), and she's also edited volumes on travel literature, Mediterranean Studies and somatic histories, plus the Open Access collections How We Write and How We Read. Her most recent publications are The Oxford Handbook of Chaucer (2020), co-edited with James Simpson, and Practices of Commentary: Medieval Traditions and Transmissions (special issue of The Medieval Globe 8.2 [2022]), co-edited with Amanda Goodman. Akbari is currently co-Principal Investigator on "The Book and the Silk Roads, phase II: Hidden Stories – New Approaches to the Local and Global History of the Book" (https://booksilkroads.library.utoronto.ca/). She is especially interested in how living and working on Lenapehoking (or "Lunaapahkiing") inflects our academic research and the communities we form. A co-editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature, Akbari co-hosts a literature podcast called The Spouter-Inn.