Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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MEMOs: An Exciting New Digital Hub for Early Interactions Between England and the Islamic Worlds

Lubaaba Al-Azami & Samera Hassan

[1] Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs) is a recently launched AHRC-funded collaborative project that seeks to illuminate the encounters between England and the Islamic worlds of the medieval and early modern ages. MEMOs seeks to be the primary port of call for anyone with an interest in this rich and fascinating history. We are delighted with the overwhelming positive response we have received since our launch, from individuals and organisations the world over. The enthusiasm and interest MEMOs has garnered is a reflection of the desire and need for learning and celebrating this important epoch in our shared history.

[2] MEMOs was conceived several years ago to provide a much-needed corrective to the lack of knowledge of England’s symbiotic relationship with the Islamic worlds of the medieval and early modern periods. It is a vitally important aspect of history that has been neglected in dominant historical accounts. It is not a history that is taught in schools. It is not a history that has a place in the everyday cultural discourse of the people whose world has been shaped by it. And of course, knowledge of historic cultural interaction and of empire is crucially necessary in understanding the world in which we live today. This is currently illustrated most powerfully by the discussions on the history of empire, in the context of Black Lives Matter. The debate around the presence of statues for those who gained their wealth from the trading of slaves casts a revealing light on the nature of received historical knowledge that has permitted these monuments to be erected and maintained.

[3] MEMOs offers an intersectional and decolonial platform to discuss, dissect and disrupt accepted knowledge around England’s early interactions with the wider world in general, and the Islamic worlds in particular. By critically and conscientiously challenging prevailing accounts of history, we aim to inform and equip our readers to confront these narratives and the inequities that they help support to this day.

[4] There have been numerous researchers addressing the dearth of awareness of this history in recent years, and MEMOs hopes to join the front ranks of these efforts to promote, share and disseminate this research within and well beyond the academic community. In the same way that the Journal of the Northern Renaissance works to challenge established paradigms and disrupt existing narratives of the Renaissance, we hope to challenge received knowledge of this period by reframing the discourse and bringing to light little-known or alternative aspects of interaction.

[5] MEMOs hosts a number of features on our site to provide information about these historical interactions. Our specialised maps of the Islamic empires detail important geographical locations and borders. Alongside these are overviews and timelines of key historical moments of cultural, diplomatic and military points of encounter, and bibliographies for further reading. We hope readers will particularly enjoy our blog, regularly updated by those working in the archival trenches and sharing their fascinating discoveries. Our News and Events pages will be spaces to share all happenings medieval and early modern. We also look forward to hosting freely accessible digital MEMOs events in the near future. As we expand our team and our expertise, we hope to expand our informative coverage, both temporally and geographically.

[6] We are grateful for our fabulous Research Team at MEMOs – a team we hope to see grow in number. These archival investigators spread across four continents, who daily weave new and broader realms of knowledge with erudition, are what make MEMOs the enriching space it is. Our thanks to the incredibly talented Programming and Design Team who succeeded in fashioning a stunning digital work of art out of our often incoherent aspirations. And our sincere gratitude to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and in particular the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP), for their generous funding that has allowed MEMOs to come into being.

[7] MEMOs goes live at an unusual and uncertain time. The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt acutely worldwide, and no less in academia. The closures of universities, libraries and other institutions of learning, alongside the postponement or cancellation of conferences and international travel restrictions have severely limited face-to-face learning, networking and collaboration. This has imposed a necessity to find creative ways of exchanging knowledge.

[8] The online presence of MEMOs enables us to come together, beyond the necessary physical restrictions placed on us, to collaborate on a truly global scale. By connecting people with knowledge and with each other, MEMOs seeks to build an enriching and boundary-defying network of ideas, research and action. MEMOs warmly welcomes your questions, suggestions and comments on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. If you are interested in submitting your own blog pitch or announcements, please visit our Submissions page.

[9] We are humbled to have already connected and exchanged knowledge with so many people through this project. We look forward to seeing the continued growth of this truly vibrant global community.

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