Hannah Johnson

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Contact Information

Associate Professor

Director - Literature Program


CL 517-B

Hannah R. Johnson earned her Ph.D. from Princeton University after receiving an M.A. in Medieval Studies from the University of York (UK). Her teaching and research interests encompass medieval historical writing and modern historiography, medieval Jewish-Christian relations, and the literary aspects of medieval cultural forms committed to truth-telling projects, such as saints’ lives and travel narratives.

Johnson recently taught students enrolled in the Pitt in London program, and soon hopes to offer a course through the Honors College entitled “Strange Pittsburgh.” This summer, she will join colleagues at the University of Iowa’s Obermann Center for Advanced Studies to work on a collaborate project concerned with the representation of medieval Jewish-Christian relations in post-Holocaust scholarship.

Research and Publications

Book Project: Blood Libel: Scholarship and Ethics at the Limits of Jewish History (University of Michigan Press, 2012)

Abstract: The ritual murder accusation, or blood libel, is the explosive medieval legend that Jews require Christian blood for obscure religious purposes and are capable of committing murder to obtain it. This libel continues to have a volatile afterlife in the public sphere, where Sarah Palin’s gaffe is only the most recent reminder of its power to excite controversy. Scholarly debates over the historical status of this legend are often conducted in terms that are as much ethical as methodological, and concern questions of historical responsibility and blame at least as much as issues of explanation, contextualization, or the knotty problem of causality. Debates about the blood libel have often acted as a stand-in for broader cultural arguments about Jews and Judaism, and have typically been conducted in juridical terms which suggest that the only choices for interpretation are between the volatile extremes of (collective) guilt or innocence. Blood Libel argues that recent controversies over scholarship by historians such as Israel Yuval and Elliott Horowitz highlight an ongoing paradigm shift that seeks to reimagine questions of responsibility by deliberately refraining from a discourse of moral judgment and blame in favor of an emphasis on historical contingencies and hostile inter-group dynamics. Most recently, Ariel Toaff's controversial book, Pasque di Sangue, fatally disrupts the productive tension between ethical discourse, method, and contending cultural discourses to become a tangled ideological parable of collective Jewish guilt, reimagined in twenty-first century terms. Ethical theory by Judith Butler and Gillian Rose offers a framework for analyzing the political stakes of a moralizing discourse and articulating the dilemmas that haunt any effort to think about responsibility in terms other than blame.

Recent and Forthcoming Articles:

“Massacre and Memory: Ethics and Method in Recent Scholarship on Jewish Martyrdom,” in English Society and the Jews in the Middle Ages: The York Massacre of 1190 in Context. Eds. Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (Boydell and Brewer, forthcoming 2012)

“Memory in a Landscape of Oblivion: Remembering a Lost England Among the Welsh in the Vita Haroldi,” in Middle English Literature: Criticism and Debate. Eds. D. Vance Smith and Holly Crocker (Routledge, forthcoming 2013).

“Rhetoric’s Work: Thomas of Monmouth and the History of Forgetting,” New Medieval Literatures IX: 63-92

Editorial Project:

Special issue, postmedieval: “The Holocaust and the Middle Ages.” Co-edited with Nina Caputo. Scheduled for publication 2014.


Undergraduate Courses:
The Medieval Imagination
Middle English Literature
Senior Seminar: Telling the Truth in the Middle Ages
Junior Seminar: Saints and Their Others in the Medieval and Early Modern Period
Lectures in Literature

Graduate Courses:
History and Representation
Ethics and History in Post-Holocaust Thought

Service and Other Duties

Acting Director, Literature Program (Fall 2010)
Interim Director, Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program (Fall 2008)
Chair, Graduate Placement and Professional Development Committee (2007-2009)
Literature Curriculum Committee
Faculty Mentor, First Experiences in Research Program

Blood Libel: The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History
Hannah Johnson. Blood Libel: The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History. University of Michigan Press, 2012