Resources for Medieval Studies
July 1, 2004 7:10 AM   Subscribe

The Labyrinth: Resources for Medieval Studies.
posted by hama7 (4 comments total)
Labyrinth, which helped me get through my medieval studies minor, is truly part of the Best of the Web. Good to see it on the Blue!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:52 AM on July 1, 2004

Wow. This is really is a labyrinth, and a fun place to get lost. Full of gems like period documents and heavy detail. For example, an initial foray reveals, from the original financial documents, the wages paid Edmund Butler's men-at-arms, hobelars (mounted spearmen), and foot-soldiers during the skirmishes between the "Anglo-Irish" vs the united Irish chiefs and Edward the Bruce in Ireland. Circa 1317 A.D. (PDF)

Very cool. But leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back out.
posted by Shane at 8:06 AM on July 1, 2004

Excellent, thanks.

I have a question. It is my understanding that "antiquity" generally means anything before the modern era. And that the modern era is generally considered to start with the Renaissance (end of the Middle Ages) sometime in the 14th and 15th Centuries. Given that there was not one single Renaissance but each country/region went through its own, Italy being the first, what is the generally recognized start of the modern era? Or is it too broad a question. When did the modern age begin?
posted by stbalbach at 12:27 PM on July 1, 2004

The traditional western system of periodization gives us three major ages: ancient (or antiquity), medieval and modern. These categorizations have changed a bit since Petrach popularized this division (his Renaissance/Modern period started with his own generation in the 14th century). For the most part, ancient/classical runs through the last gasps of Roman imperial power in the 4th-5th centuries and medieval trickles out around the 15th century as we are rescued from barbarity by the Renaissance and placed lovingly into the bosom of Modernity.

However, this traditional western system doesn't hold up very well especially with the growing popularity of world/global history. Even a cursory glance at the past shows dozens of other ways we could periodize things. The three age system betrays the assumptions and interests of western historians.

The ancient/medieval/modern system is an extremely European model (with a heavy Mediterranean focus) based on the idea that things (certain modes of knowledge and art, economics, political institutions, etc.) were really great in the ancient world; everything went in the crapper in the vast, undifferentiated Middle (or medieval); the modern world revived all the classical ideas and improved on them.

This ignores developments and processes in global, regional and local contexts. How does the W. Euro concept of 15th c. renaissance fit in with what was going on in Aztec Mexico or Maori New Zealand? Does the three age system help us understand Chinese history? Of course not.

Nor is it a particularly useful model for periodizing even limited parts of Europe: what about the Carolingian Renaissance? Or the English Renaissance of the 12th century? Or the 9th century? Or the Muslim kingdoms in Spain?

Simply put, the three age system says more about what the people who created and use the system felt about the past than some kind of real or imagined development of Modern Man. However, that doesn't mean we should just discard it wholesale. We just need to be aware of the implict assumptions of the model and its advantages and disadvantages to understanding the past.

Other models suffer from the same problems, though more contemporary periodizations try to minimize the flaws inherent in the three age system. Work by folks like Howard Spodek, Bruce Mazlich and Peter Stearns are good places to look for the periodizations used by world historians. These are macrohistorical models and attempt to create common divisions of the past across the globe. Of course, these necessarily ignore regional chronologies and periodizations and focus on things like technology and economics. If global history is really the history of globalization, it makes sense that their periodization reflects the trends we associate with a globalized society.

But the old models aren't dead. You can still find them in college history departments across the US and Europe, but they are becoming increasingly specialized or regionalized.

In some places, anyway.

In answer to the question, "When did the modern age begin?", you really need to consider your frame of refernece. What does modern mean to you? The Modern History department at the University of Oxford has a slightly wait and see attitude towards periodization. At the oldest university in the English world, modern history is considered the period from AD 300 to the present. Seventeen centuries of modernity ain't a bad start.
posted by ahughey at 9:30 PM on July 1, 2004

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