Illuminating the Middle Ages

Illuminating the Middle Ages

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Illuminating the Middle Ages

Panelists include: Elizabeth Boyle, Albert Fenton, Lindsay Johns and Levi Roach

Given at the Battle of Ideas festival in London, England, on October 21, 2012

Historically, our understanding of the Middle Ages has tended to be coloured by the ‘Dark Age’ label, which casts this as a time of cultural famine and stagnation in contrast to the Renaissance and our Classical heritage. Even the dates of the period — roughly between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the early modern period — are obscure and disputed. Medieval studies are seen by many as irrelevant, and are under increasingly threat as a university discipline, while the undoubted appeal of a Dark Age-inspired drama like Game of Thrones has more to do with its exotic barbarism than any real insight into our history.

Yet medievalists insist the era has a wealth of thought, art and culture to rival that of any period in history, to such an extent that scholars now talk of the Carolingian, Ottonian and twelfth-century renaissances, emphasising the richness of an era once considered barren. Poetry from ‘The Wanderer’ to ‘Piers Plowman’, visual art, castles and cathedrals that still dominate the landscape, philosophy, religious and political writing, the foundations of modern science — all these are accessible to us. And there are signs that we are beginning to look more carefully at what is there. Thoughtful TV series on the Crusades and medieval manuscripts, the brilliant British Library exhibition of illuminated manuscripts from the royal collection, versions of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by leading modern poets, all attest to a thirst to know more about what this period has to offer.

So what lies beyond King Arthur and the Round Table, and some bawdy poems by Chaucer? Is this a period that deserves to be better understood? Might medieval beliefs and attitudes to society, to mankind, to culture and literature offer insights into issues — from the relationship between church and state to the place of man in the universe — that still concern us today?

This panel includes:

  • Dr Elizabeth Boyle: research fellow, St Edmund’s College; affiliated lecturer, department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, University of Cambridge
  • Albert Fenton: graduate, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, Trinity College, Cambridge; web copywriter
  • Lindsay Johns: writer, broadcaster and cultural commentator; blogger, Daily Mail online; ‘hip-hop intellectual’
  • Dr Levi Roach: lecturer of Medieval History, University of Exeter

Watch the video: Rothschild Miscellany - Facsimile Editions and Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts (July 2022).


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