Two recent grant awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Advanced Study will help support the development of a new book by Associate Professor of History, Sarah Davis-Secord. These awards will allow her the opportunity to spend a year in residence at the Institute for Advanced Study to research her project titled, “Encounter and Identity: Christians and Muslims in Early Medieval Italy.”    

Davis-Secord’s book will analyze medieval accounts of interpersonal interactions between Muslims and Christians to focus on how these communities together shaped the history of southern Italy. Her project will tell the history of this complex region through human stories of interaction across lines of language, culture, and religion. 

Associate Professor of History, Sarah Davis-Secord

These texts show how early medieval Italian Christians understood what Islam was, what it meant to be a Muslim, and how Christians understood that they could communicate with Muslims despite their many differences. The work ultimately argues that Muslims were integral to the historical development of early Italy in ways that have not previously been fully appreciated.  

I have long been interested in the ways that Muslims and Christians encountered each other, and because the Middle Ages was a time in which confessional identities were a primary factor in how people related to each other, it is a natural fit,” said Davis-Secord. 

Her first book, Where Three Worlds Met: Sicily in the Early Medieval Mediterranean, focused on medieval Sicily, which was a Muslim island for many centuries. Through her research, she analyzed the large-scale patterns of communication between that island and other regions of the medieval world.  

With this project, Davis-Secord will narrow her focus on the human relations between the Christians and the Jews who lived alongside Muslim traders, warriors, mercenaries, and diplomats in mainland Italy in the Middle Ages. Davis-Secord’s research will explore how their different languages, cultures, and religions shaped how they lived together and viewed one another.   

The National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for Faculty supports advanced research and writing projects by humanities scholars who teach at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities. 

The Institute for Advanced Study is an independent center for intellectual inquiry and study that supports curiosity-driven research. Located in Princeton, New Jersey, the Institute offers a completely secluded environment in the middle of nearly 600 acres of woods, farmlands, and wetlands to provide a true “academic village” for thorough research and engagement with other scholars. 

Davis-Secord is a historian of the multicultural world of the medieval Mediterranean basin, with a specific focus on Sicily and the central Mediterranean region. Her larger interests include Muslim-Christian interactions and the globalization of trade and communication networks in the medieval world.  

She has published books on medieval Sicily, human migration in the medieval Mediterranean, and a co-authored textbook on the global Middle Ages. She is also the president of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association and director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History. 

The experience at the Institute for Advanced Study promises to be rewarding both professionally and personally, as Davis-Secord says, ”I am excited to be among the community of scholars who gather in a place dedicated solely to thinking and writing, among the peaceful green spaces of the IAS’s 600 acres of woodlands. I am intensely grateful to both granting organizations for their support, and also to UNM for supporting the project through travel and research grants.”  

The UNM Department of History is one of the top 50 graduate programs in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.