Thursday, March 15, 2007

Our Own Medieval History

As Medieval Writing is getting very close to registering 100,000 clicks on the home page, I continue to be amazed at the interest in this esoteric material. No, that is not a very big number compared with a YouTube video of Britney baring her unmentionables, but it is a lot more than I ever expected to be interested in medieval paleography, especially as many users don't use the home page but get in via Google to internal pages, or have bookmarked their favourite areas like the script index.
Here in Australia there can be a bit of a funny attitude to medieval history. I was once asked at a dinner party by a supposedly educated English person why I wasn't interested in my own history. I would hardly have thought it necessary to point out that we Australians of British and European heritage did not crawl out from under a rock in 1788, and European medieval history IS our history. Unfortunately, our politicians currently have the same illogical, blinkered mentality and are rabbiting on to the media about how our youngsters need to learn more Australian history, meaning anything after Captain Cook. Medieval history is being put under severe pressure in universities all over the country. Never mind that this era represents the birthplace of our languages, our art and architecture, our literature, our law, our moral codes and the religious beliefs and practices that underpin them, and our system of government. I have a horrible feeling that politicians are not actually interested in any of that, and think that civilisation began with the birth of consumerist economics.
Intriguingly, it is not lack of interest among potential students that is putting the pressure on. Those of you out there who are using these modern communications techniques to learn about old history also give us hope that our genuine cultural history will not be forgotten.


Anonymous said...

If you look at popular culture I think you find a rather enormous amount of material, from books to computer games to movies, is informed by the 'spirit' of the medieval period. Entire sections of bookshops are dedicated to high fantasy. RPG & Strategy computer games based either culturally or literally on the Middle Ages proliferate among young people (see Oblivion for Xbox or Medieval Total War for PC) Geek epic movies like Lord of the Rings are now a central part of the culture, and are completely medieval.
So you are certainly correct that there is a latent desire among young people for this stuff, they just need to be encouraged towards the real material. In fact some of the med pop culture does this anyway. Swedish historian Peter Englund described Medieval II Total War as a near perfect representation of the various battles throughout this period.

Anonymous said...

I also met John Howard once here in Ireland (well, attended a speech by him, but I was about 7 feet away), and he spent a lot of time talking about western civlisation, western and Christian values, how Australia is a western country etc etc. He seemed to care about western history and all that jazz, or am I wrong?
Are Australians not taught medieval history in school? Or is your whole curriculum being dumbed down a la everywhere else in the west? The period is so fascinating. I think the most astonishing and important thing of all was the religion, how it pervaded everything, all the pilgrimages, crusades etc. People with nothing wandering far and wide for... an ideal...
Ever read Charles Murrays magisterial 'Human Accomplishment'? There is a great line near the end which sums up how religion made the middle ages what they were:

"A story is told about the medieval stonemasons who carved the gargoyles that adorn the great Gothic cathedrals. Sometimes their creations were positioned high upon the cathedral or otherwise blocked from view. Yet even knowing that their work would remain forever unseen by any human eye once the cathedral was completed and the scaffolding was taken down, the stonemasons sculpted these gargoyles as carefully as any of the others. It was said that they carved for the eye of God."

Anonymous said...

The stonemasons, working on high, may have sculpted for the eye of the Deity but they also thought he had a sense of humour and was not above a titter at the erotic. Good healthy attitude.