Monday, February 11, 2008


Over on The Ruminate, I've been musing for a couple weeks on Why I Teach Medieval Lit (and Medieval Schtuff generally). I finally put up some preliminary comments. While I was doing all that, one of the reasons I gave for teaching Medieval lit was a kind of "presentism", the medieval has a lot to say to the modern era. I didn't fill that out much, because I wanted to bring that part of my thinking process here. But while I still ruminate on the topic, I'd like to challenge my fellow bloggers here to join me: what does the medieval have to say to the present?


Anonymous said...

If no-one else is going to have a go, I will I suppose. As you probably remember from when I had a go at a related question, I'm not sure about the validity of making the Middle Ages speak to the present; I always worry that we distort or obscure the medieval context by focusing on details that look relevant. But if we accept that doing historical study can be a kind of trip in a time machine, and ask what is there in the world we go back to that should strike the modern viewer, then I'd suggest the following: (1) that the people of the past were sometimes as noble, creative or entertaining as us, despite being restricted by religion as some might see it, and by much poorer living conditions and material wealth, and that they could also be as unpleasant, corrupt or morally ugly as us of course; (2) that some things we think of as human constants are demonstrably not because they were otherwise in the Middle Ages (hat tip to Magistra); and (3) that really, everyone has a story to tell and the people of the Middle Ages are, however differently they may have lived or seen the world compared to us, were no exceptions to that, when we can get at the stories they left.

Matthew Gabriele said...

This is certainly a question I'm struggling with/ working through (hence this blog's existence) but maybe let me suggest the MA says something about contingency.

What I mean is that the MA speak to the possibilities that arise from the infinite conscious/ unconscious choices that are made every day. A better understanding of why things played out as they did may end up helping us think with possibilities in our own day. Granted, histories from all periods do this but I think there's a special connection that modern society has with the MA because, in my opinion, much more than Rome or Greece, the MA is the birthplace of the western world -- where all that old stuff gets smushed together with all the new stuff, when people begin to really struggle with how these ideas fit together and what they should do with them.

Then again, maybe I'm just in that state of mind because of the course I'm teaching this semester.