Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Will It Never End?

Just saw this op-ed in The Daily Telegraph (UK), in which the writer talks about how much he loves the "medieval."

I'm not sure about his history but I'm pretty sure "medieval" predates 1827 and I'm pretty sure that this author is not alone in "rescuing" the word "medieval" from its Pulp Fiction-related evilness. I'm darn sure that the 2 books he mentions are not the first to appear on modern medievalism (although they both do sound interesting). Anyway, despite the op-ed's laudatory tone for 19th-century medievalism, the author may also want to look at this book by Elizabeth Siberry. It documents the use of the crusades in the colonial enterprise. I know, it complicates a nice story, but doesn't reality always do that?


Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

The Oxford English Dictionary lists 1827 as the earliest use of the word "medieval," and I've never found one earlier. I always assumed that the coinage was 18th century, but it appears to have been 19th.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Middle Ages or Medieval? i.e., the actual use of the word mediaeval, or the first reference to a coherent period? And first ref in English? or in general? Inquiring minds want to know! I think if it's the latter, you're absolutely right, Matt.

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

If it's in the OED, it's the first actual use of the word "medieval" in English. I think that's the reason the 18th century English antiquaries called themselves "antiquaries" -- because the word "medieval" either hadn't been coined, or hadn't been introduced into the English-speaking world yet.

The reason the shelfmarks on so many Old English manuscripts are called "Cotton Nero X.y" or "Cotton Vitellius X.y" is that Robert Cotton used the busts of Roman Caesars to organize his library -- suggesting that 18th century antiquarians still didn't sharply divide the classical from the medieval as we do today.

In terms of anecdotal evidence, I've kept my eyes peeled for earlier uses of the term "medieval," and haven't yet found any. If you know of a reference before 1827, in English or any other language, you could probably publish a paper on it ... or at least a note.

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

Er, the above sentence should have read, "I think that's the reason the 18th century English antiquaries called themselves "antiquariANS"

Matthew Gabriele said...

Surely, the term must've come from the French? Could "medieval" have sprung up ex nihilo in English? I mean, the period has "existed" since the 16th century, so shouldn't it have had an adjectival form?

I don't have my library here but does Ferguson or Bull (in his recent "Thinking Medieval") talk about this?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Well, I do know that a very close friend's D.Phil is in Modern History -- because anything after Classics at Oxford at the time was Modern!