Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Autobiographical Fragments: Why medieval?

 You may well ask why I have started to include blogs on the Normans and, later, more general materials on medieval history.  Well, largely because I was trained primarily as a medieval historian and I returned to it at various times in my teaching career.  This despite the fact that all my published works and much of my research has been based on modern history and politics.  Perhaps because I came from a village five miles north of Ely and travelled past the wonderful octagon every day on my way to school I always felt a close link to the medieval past.  Perhaps it's because the teaching of medieval history at Reading when I was there was perhaps the best in the country...well at least that's what I believe.  Perhaps because medieval history, since it relies on the interpretation of limited sources often in Latin, proved a good grounding in evidential analysis for modern history.  Finally, of course, the curriculum in secondary schools places little emphasis on medieval history or at least did until the National Curriculum made it more a part of our national heritage. 

In the 'new' Europe, having an understanding of medieval history is essential.  The first European Union was the medieval notion of Christendom and the empire of Charlemagne. Although we place great emphasis on the importance of the Roman past in our heritage, it is our medieval past that should have greater resonance today in both positive and negative senses.  It was a time of mass migrations as peoples moved in search of security, wealth, land and prosperity.  This had its downside as existing inhabitants of land were either pushed aside or integrated with the new peoples and their customs.  Later, it was a period of expansive Christian colonialism as land hunger and evangelistic and aggressive faith sought new lands through crusading ventures inside Europe and beyond; today revived in disastrous venture in Iraq and elsewhere.  We daily see the results of medieval building and use the ideas of medieval thinkers who grappled with many of the problems of political and social philosophy that we still ponder.  Just as we seek to resolve the impact of global warming, so medieval people too faced the vagaries of the weather and the ever-present threat of famine and disease.  My point is that many of the problems were face today, were faced by people living across the millennium.

If it is true that unless we learn from what has happened then we are condemned to continually repeating the mistakes of the past, then examining medieval history is something that is important to us all. 

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