Cord Whitaker

Associate Professor of English

Researches and teaches late medieval English literature, the history of race, religious and cultural conflict in the Middle Ages, and the modern literary and political uses of medievalism.  

Dr. Cord J. Whitaker teaches courses on a wide variety of medieval subjects such as Chaucer, medieval romance, and the medieval development of race as well as the modern afterlives of these authors, texts, and developments.

His scholarship likewise routinely moves between focusing on medieval literature and history and focusing on medievalism, or how the Middle Ages were evoked or recreated by post-medieval authors. Dr. Whitaker’s scholarship has appeared in journals such as the Journal of English and Germanic Philology and the Yearbook of Langland Studies, and in collections such as Veer Ecology and the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales. He routinely edits important work as well, and he is the 2019-2020 Friends member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and a 2019 Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. In October 2019, he published a new book Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), and he is hard at work on another, to be titled The Harlem Middle Ages: Color, Time, and Harlem Renaissance Medievalism.

Whitaker believes that scholarship matters most when it has an impact in the world outside the classroom. Whitaker’s commitment to public outreach means that he regularly writes for online, open access publications, such as the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales. He blogs at In the Middle, the most read academic blog in medieval studies, and The Spoke, which he co-founded as the blog for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley College. In addition to serving on major committees for the Modern Language Association and the Medieval Academy of America, he is also on the Steering Committee for the Medievalists of Color, a professional organization dedicated to supporting the work of scholars of color working globally in the different disciplines of medieval studies. In his work, he strives to model how public scholarship can be simultaneously intellectually rigorous, broadly accessible, and inclusive.

Whitaker’s courses include:

  • English 210: “The perfection, the beauty, the grandeur & sublimity”: The History of the English Language
  • English 213: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: Community, Dissent, and Difference in the Late Middle Ages
  • English 291: What Is Racial Difference? on the literary, social, and scientific histories of race
  • English 315: Medieval special topics including
    • The Black, the Lady, and the Priest: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Race
    • Reason and the Medieval Wild Man on medieval literature’s philosophical and conceptual engagements with the idea of the human.


  • B.A., Yale University
  • M.A., Duke University
  • Ph.D., Duke University

Current and upcoming courses

  • In 1774, an anonymous author wrote of "the perfection, the beauty, the grandeur & sublimity" to which Americans would advance the English language. In this course, we will explore the complex history that allows us to conclude that American English is not perfect and is but one English among many. We will study Old English, later medieval English, the early modern English of Shakespeare's day, and the varying Englishes of the modern British isles as well as those of modern America. We will read linguistic and literary histories along with literary passages from multiple times and places. We will ask, how does the history of the language affect our views of the world and our selves? And how are we continually shaping English's future?