Colonizing the Otherworld: Scientific Racism and the Medieval Parahuman


ACLS Fellowship Program


Corpus Christi College

Named Award

ACLS Carl and Betty Pforzheimer Fellow named award


“Colonizing the Otherworld” analyzes how writers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries interpreted premodern narratives of supernatural beings as accounts of ancient racial conflict and conquest. Researchers like Arthur de Gobineau—a founding figure of “scientific” racism and a major influence on modern far-right politics—and the Victorian folklorist David MacRitchie claimed that migrating “Aryans” in Europe and Asia encountered indigenous populations whom they defeated, subjugated, and mythologized as dwarves, elves, and otherworldly beings. Emerging at the intersection of historical linguistics, medieval studies, folkloristics, anthropology, and racial pseudoscience, these euhemeristic approaches coopted medieval texts into imperialist endeavors, rewriting the past in colonialist terms. In popular culture, foundational genre writers like Arthur Machen and Robert E. Howard absorbed the racialization of parahumans from academia during the period when it represented a mainstream view. Subsequent generations of authors and screen adaptations have continued to disseminate these concepts even more broadly. Drawing upon French and English texts as well as an array of medieval sources in Persian, Irish, Old Norse, and other languages, this study excavates the lasting influences of nineteenth century medievalism on academic and cultural imaginations of the past.