The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize
Abigail Krasner Balbale, The Wolf King. Ibn Mardanish and the Construction of Power in al-Andalus. Cornell University Press.
The Wolf King is an ambitious and impressive book in its chronological and geographical breadth, interdisciplinary approach, range of sources, and historiographical intervention. Taking Ibn-Mardanīsh/ the Wolf King, who ruled al-Andalus from 1147-1172 as her focus, Abigail Krasner Balbale explores fundamental questions about how political legitimacy, identity formation, historical memory, and academic knowledge are constructed. By turns vilified as irreligious, debauched, a Christian collaborator and lauded as secular, protomodern, a European Muslim, Ibn-Mardanīsh’s complexity as a ruler, Balbale demonstrates, has been obscured to serve particular political and cultural agendas, beginning with his enemies, the Almohads, and continuing through to the present day. Balbale creatively mines textual, material, and visual sources to show how Ibn-Mardanīsh’s story defies the all-too-entrenched binaries in scholarly discourse: religious /secular, medieval/modern, Islamic/Christian, European/non-European. Ibn-Mardanīsh constructed his ruling culture by adapting iconography, architectural forms, and language from the Islamic East. He was also at various times allied to Castile, Aragon, and England and entered commercial treaties with Italian city-states. Using genealogy as a “mode of thinking about practices of power,” Balbale re-establishes links across space and time and foregrounds the shifting kaleidoscopic nature of relations among Muslims, between Muslims and Christians, between alliance and violence.
A rich history of the time, place, and ruler at the book’s centre, The Wolf King is above all a call for scholars in general, and historians in particular, to reflect on how historical narratives – and their silences – produce systems of power, ones shaped by geographical, racial, and temporal hierarchies. Through this finely crafted, multilayered, and methodologically rich book, Balbale demonstrates the power of historical constructions and the categories that undergird the very practice of history, and provides a compelling example of how to overcome them.
SHORT LIST – in alphabetical order
Sebastian Huebel, Fighter, Worker, and Family Man: German-Jewish Men and Their Gendered Experiences in Nazi Germany, 1933–1941. University of Toronto Press.
Sarah Shortall, Soldiers of God in a Secular World. Catholic Theology and Twentieth-Century French Politics. Harvard University Press.
Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, The Three Deaths of Cerro de San Pedro. Four Centuries of Extractivism in a Small Mexican Mining Town. University of North Carolina Press.
Aaron Windel, Cooperative Rule: Community Development in Britain’s Late Empire. University of California Press.