Whose Middle Ages? is an interdisciplinary collection of short, accessible essays intended for the nonspecialist reader and ideal for teaching at an undergraduate level. Each of twenty-two essays takes up an area where digging for meaning in the medieval past has brought something distorted back into the present: in our popular entertainment; in our news, our politics, and our propaganda; and in subtler ways that inform how we think about our histories, our countries, and ourselves. Each author looks to a history that has refused to remain past and uses the tools of the academy to read and re-read familiar stories, objects, symbols, and myths.
Whose Middle Ages? gives nonspecialists access to the richness of our historical knowledge while debunking damaging misconceptions about the medieval past. Myths about the medieval period are especially beloved among the globally resurgent far right, from crusading emblems on the shields borne by alt-right demonstrators to the on-screen image of a purely white European populace defended from actors of color by Internet trolls. This collection attacks these myths directly by insisting that readers encounter the relics of the Middle Ages on their own terms.
Each essay uses its author’s academic research as a point of entry and takes care to explain how the author knows what she or he knows and what kinds of tools, bodies of evidence, and theoretical lenses allow scholars to write with certainty about elements of the past to a level of detail that might seem unattainable. By demystifying the methods of scholarly inquiry, Whose Middle Ages? serves as an antidote not only to the far right’s errors of fact and interpretation but also to its assault on scholarship and expertise as valid means for the acquisition of knowledge.
David Perry | 1
Part I – Stories
The Invisible Peasantry
Sandy Bardsley | 14
The Hidden Narratives of Medieval Art
Katherine Anne Wilson | 23
Modern Intolerance and the Medieval Crusades
Nicholas L. Paul | 34
Blood Libel, a Lie and Its Legacies
Magda Teter | 44
Who’s Afraid of Shari‘a Law?
Fred M. Donner | 58
How Do We Find Out About Immigrants in Later Medieval England?
W. Mark Ormrod | 69
The Middle Ages in the Harlem Renaissance
Cord J. Whitaker | 80
Part II – Origins
Three Ways of Misreading Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an
Ryan Szpiech | 94
The Nazi Middle Ages
William J. Diebold | 104
What Would Benedict Do?
Lauren Mancia | 116
No, People in the Middle East Haven’t Been Fighting Since the Beginning of Time
Stephennie Mulder | 127
Ivory and the Ties That Bind
Sarah M. Guérin | 140
Blackness, Whiteness, and the Idea of Race in Medieval European Art
Pamela A. Patton | 154
England Between Empire and Nation in “The Battle of Brunanburh”
Elizabeth M. Tyler | 166
Whose Spain Is It, Anyway?
David A. Wacks | 181
Part III – #Hashtags
Modern Knights, Medieval Snails, and Naughty Nuns
Marian Bleeke | 196
Charting Sexuality and Stopping Sin
Andrew Reeves | 208
“Celtic” Crosses and the Myth of Whiteness
Maggie M. Williams | 220
Whitewashing the “Real” Middle Ages in Popular Media
Helen Young | 233
Real Men of the Viking Age
Will Cerbone | 243
Adam M. Bishop | 256
Own Your Heresy
J. Patrick Hornbeck II | 265
Afterword: Medievalists and the Education of Desire
Geraldine Heng | 275
Appendix I: Possibilities for Teaching—by Genre | 293
Appendix II: Possibilities for Teaching—by Course Theme | 296
List of Contributors | 301
This book is timely in a way that won’t get old. It has something for everyone, from professional educators seeking to enliven their classrooms to anyone curious about the origins of popular symbols and phrases. With a plethora of compelling case studies from contemporary culture, religion, art, and politics, there are vital lessons on almost every page. In example after example, the authors show how people shape the Middle Ages to reflect their fears and dreams for themselves and for society. The results range from the amusing to the horrifying, from video games to genocide. Whose Middle Ages? Everyone’s, but not everyone’s in the same way.
Michelle R. Warren, author of Creole Medievalism: Colonial France and Joseph Bédier’s Middle Ages
Whose Middle Ages? offers an ethical and accessible introduction to a historical period often implicated in racist narratives of nationalism and imperialism. A valuable teaching resource, Whose Middle Ages? will inspire necessary discussions about the politics of engaging the past in the present, as it also recovers a Middle Ages that is complex, messy, and belongs to us all.
Sierra Lomuto, Assistant Professor of English, Macalester College
Cross-disciplinary, classroom-ready, and super-timely meditations on medievalisms in our midst, benign and malign, and on medieval self-understanding. Recommended.
David Wallace, Judith Rodin Professor, University of Pennsylvania
This is an important book, filled with brief, accessible essays by a who’s who of experts in medieval studies. As a whole, it demonstrates how scholars can open up their field to a wider audience and why those conversations matter, particularly in our own historical moment when history in general—and the medieval past in particular—is weaponized in the service of hate. Whose Middle Ages? should be on every medievalist’s bookshelf and on every class’ reading list.
Matthew Gabriele, Virginia Tech