Thomas Barton, PhD

Thomas Barton
Phone: (619) 260-4042
Fax: (619) 260-2272
Office: Kroc Inst for Peace & Justice 266

Associate Professor, History
Co-Director, Medieval Renaissance Studies

  • PhD, Yale University (2006)
  • AB, summa cum laude, Princeton University, History with a certificate in Medieval Studies (1998)

Thomas W. Barton, PhD, joined the faculty in 2007 after teaching for one year at Oberlin College. He offers a wide sweep of undergraduate courses, including The Medieval World, The Atlantic World, The Pacific World, The Global Renaissance, Europe’s Discovery and Conquest of the World, Mediterranean Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and Castles and Crusades. His research concerns the social history of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the emerging Atlantic world with a focus on contacts between Europeans and non-Europeans in the medieval and early modern periods. He is an expert on the development of policies regarding non-Christian inhabitants on Christian-ruled lands.

Areas of Expertise

Medieval and Early Modern Europe and the Mediterranean, Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations, Jewish/Islamic civilizations and cultures, Early Modern Atlantic world

Scholarly Work

Thomas W. Barton's research concerns the institutional and social history of the medieval and early modern Mediterranean with a focus on the confederation known as the Crown of Aragon, which was based along the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. He has won a number of fellowships and awards for his research, including a full-year fellowship from the ACLS (2010) and the Bishko Prize for the best article by a North American scholar on a medieval Iberian topic (2012). His first monograph, Contested Treasure: Jews and Authority in the Crown of Aragon (Iberian Encounter and Exchange, 475-1755, Penn State, 2015), explores how different non-royal Christian authorities sought to maintain or harden their administrative control of Jews residing on their lands in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries and thereby challenge the crown's claim that Jews (and Muslims) were its exclusive regalian preserve. It has won two major book awards. The Association for Jewish Studies awarded it the 2017 Jordan Schnitzer Award for the best book on Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History and Culture published between 2015 and 2016. Contested Treasure also received the 2016 Best First Book Award from the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, which considers all first monographs in Iberian history (from ancient to modern) in English, Spanish, and Portuguese over a three year period (2013-2015).  

Barton’s second monograph is under contract and forthcoming from Cornell University Press in 2018. Entitled Ambivalent Conquest: The Political Significance of Catalonia’s Frontier with Islam, the book concerns Christian-Muslim interaction along the lower Ebro River valley between the eleventh and later thirteenth centuries. It examines how changing relations between Christian and Muslim principalities culminating in the conquest and integration of Muslim territory engendered significant political shifts and reorganizations that, it argues, were integral to the development and expression of royal authority within the emergent composite monarchy known as the Crown of Aragon. This study not only breaks new ground as the first archive-based examination of this process of territorial expansion along this boundary in any language. It also makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate among scholars concerning conquest, colonization, and frontier expansion in High Medieval Europe.

Barton’s third book project is already well under way and will be ready for publication within two years. From the Hands of Infidels: Diocesan Construction in the Crown of Aragon addresses another topic that has received little attention by modern scholars. It explores how the dioceses of Tortosa and Lleida were restored and developed on lands seized from Muslim control. The book examines closely how these new episcopal sees organized themselves during the consolidation and reorganization of this conquered landscape, jockeyed with neighboring dioceses and independent religious institutions for authority, patronage, and other resources.

Finally, Barton’s fourth book project will delve more deeply into the origins of shifts in policy regarding Jews, crypto-Jews, Muslims, and converted Muslims throughout the Mediterranean by scrutinizing purity-of-blood laws and other telling legislation during the late medieval period. It will consider how these changing mindsets and norms influenced the administrative conditions and prompted the development of casta race classifications that came to shape the lives of indigenous groups in the emergent Portuguese and Castilian colonies of the Atlantic World. This research will build on recent revisionist work, such as María Elena Martínez’s path-breaking Genealogical Fictions, by employing novel methodological approaches, by considering new source materials, and thereby developing fresh insights that have escaped scholars working exclusively within the Early Modern Mediterranean or Atlantic contexts.

Areas of Interest

Barton teaches a broad range of courses at USD, including surveys on the genesis of European society and upper-division topical courses on European interactions around the world. Strongly committed to developing interdisciplinarity at USD, he is currently co-directing the university’s new Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor and serves as a cross-disciplinary thesis advisor and occasional team-teacher in the Honors Program. Barton strives to implement fresh teaching techniques in his classes in order to offer students engaging and active learning experiences.