Sarah Whitten

Sarah WhittenAssistant Professor of History

Joined faculty in 2013

B.A., UC San Diego, 2005
M.A., Ph.D., UCLA, 2010

Contact Information

Henry House


My research focuses on the multi-ethnic and politically unstable borderlands of medieval southern Italy. I am currently writing a book manuscript that explores questions of sovereignty and the material history of legal authority in a borderlands of the Mediterranean World. Parts of the argument have appeared in an article with Viator, in a article with Early Medieval Europe, and multiple forthcoming book chapters. This area was the subject to the violence of the great Mediterranean empires, whose people also established tremendous religious, ethnic, cultural, and legal diversity in the region. The German emperors, Byzantine governors, popes, as well as Muslim and Norman adventurers all fought for dominance in the region. My scholarship explores questions of violence and law within narratives in historical and legal manuscripts as well as the hundreds of surviving charters, focusing on two main periods of research: the ninth century and the twelfth century. Southern Italy during the ninth century was divided by civil war that drew Muslim mercenaries as well as Byzantine and Carolingian empires into this conflict. I have written an article, which was published by Early Medieval Europe that challenges the traditional notion that these conflicts were religiously motivated violence between Muslims and Christians. Instead, I argue that contemporary southern Italians did not use religious differences as the primary framework for understanding the ninth-century conflicts but rather saw these tensions as concerned with local and foreign claims to political sovereignty and territorial control. 

My second major period of research is the twelfth century, when the Normans established kingship over southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia. The new Norman kings prompted local monasteries to reexamine their relationships to political leaders like the German emperors, Byzantine governors, and popes as well as assert new claims to property in the Mediterranean. During the twelfth century, four cartularies were created for the first time in the region documenting the history of their respective monasteries and their lands. These manuscripts contained charters, illustrations, and short narratives, which came from local and foreign rulers. For these monastic communities, their claims to land were deeply connected to a fragmented and contested history of public authority in southern Italy. As presented in court, these books were intended to explore and display a history of law, property, and sovereignty, coercing judges and political leaders to decide in favor of the claims of the monasteries in local disputes. 


Courses Taught

FSEM 13- Violence in the Sea of Faith: Religious Violence in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean Sea

History 101- Foundations of European Society

History 151-Food Systems in History

History 209-History of Medieval Women

History 211-Medieval and Renaissance Italy

History 220-Early Medieval Europe

History 250-Medieval Popular Culture

History 253- Renaissance and Reformation

History 297- Law in the Pre-modern Mediterranean

History 334- Sources of the Pre-modern Mediterranean


Book Manuscript:

Law across Jurisdictions: Political Authority, Slaves, Women, and Legal Culture in  Medieval Southern Italy, Book manuscript in progress

Peer Reviewed Articles and Book Chapters:

“Quasi ex uno ore: Legal Performance, Monastic Return, and Community in Medieval Southern Italy” Viator 44 no. 1 (Spring 2013) p. 49-63.

“Saracens, Greeks, and Franks: Violence, Religion, and Empire in Ninth-Century Southern Italy,” Early Medieval Europe 27.2 (2019) p. 251-278.

“Remembering and Forgetting in the Register of Peter the Deacon,” in Designing Norman Sicily: Visual Stories of a Mediterranean Kingdom, ed. Emily Winkler et al (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2020) ISBN: 1783274891.

Invited Book Chapters and Journal Articles in Progress:

Secundum Legem: Gender, Law, and Ethnicity in Early Medieval Southern Italian Documents,” in The Future of Medieval Studies Honoring Patrick Geary, ed. Hans Hummer and Courtney Booker, Currently under review

“Snake skins in thorn bushes: Slavery and contested political rule in ninth-century southern Italy,” Mediaevalia, solicited for volume 40 (2020), Currently under review.

“War upon Rome,” in A Companion to Early Medieval Rome (c. 400-c. 1050), eds.Caroline Goodson and Julia Hillner, (Brill) Solicited for publication in summer 2021.


What is that man doing?