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What is Medieval History?

What is Medieval History?

John H. Arnold

ISBN: 978-0-745-63932-1

Feb 2008, Polity

176 pages

In Stock



What is it that medieval historians do? And how and why do they do it? What is Medieval History? provides an accessible, far-ranging and passionate guide to the study of medieval history. The book discusses the creation of the academic field, the nature of the sources, the intellectual tools used by medievalists, and some key areas of thematic importance from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Reformation.

Students, teachers, researchers and interested general readers will find the book an invaluable guide. The author explores his field through numerous fascinating case studies, including a magical plot against a medieval pope, a fourteenth-century insurrection, and the importance of a kiss exchanged between two tenth-century noblemen.

Throughout the book, readers are shown not only what medieval history is, but the cultural and political contexts in which medieval history has been written. And, above all, What is Medieval History? demonstrates why the pursuit of medieval history continues to be important to the present and future world.

List of Illustrations vii

Preface and Acknowledgements viii

1 Framing the Middle Ages 1

A Medieval Tale 1

Medievalisms and Historiographies 8

The Politics of Framing 16

2 Tracing the Middle Ages 23

Polyphony or Cacophony? 23

Editions and Archives 26

Using Documents 30

Chronicles 36

Charters 40

Images 46

Legal Records 51

3 Reading the Middle Ages 57

Anthropology 58

Numbers and Statistics 65

Archaeology and Material Culture 72

Texts and Cultural Theory 79

4 Debating the Middle Ages 86

Ritual 88

Social Structures 95

Cultural Identities 104

Power 109

5 Making and Remaking the Middle Ages 119

Notes 128

Further Reading 143

Index 148

"This stimulating and nuanced book should be required reading for, at the very least, all of those taking Master and Doctoral degrees in the period and it will give those already 'in the field' at schools and universities much to reflect upon."
BBC History Magazine

"An excellent addition to the Polity 'What is History?' series ... Arnold introduces a huge topic in a way that will capture the attention of those who are new to medieval studies, while also engaging the interest of those who are more expert in the field."
English Historical Review

"One of the great joys of What is Medieval History? is its consistently optimistic treatment of the challenges of practising, and indeed, justifying, medieval history. If you need to be reminded why you do what you do, why you love it and why it matters, look no further."
Parergon, Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

"A stimulating and very readable little book."
Medieval Archaeology

"As Arnold argues in this very readable little book, the subject/ period is one of vitality and movement. Like many of us, he appears optimistic about its future."

"A lively and thorough introduction for students embarking on the study of the period."
Year's Work in English Studies

"Acute and wide-ranging, engaging and up-to-the-minute. It will be essential reading for students of medieval history at all levels, and a stimulating challenge to their teachers, medievalist and non-medievalist alike."
Chris Wickham, University of Oxford

"Explains what every would-be medievalist needs to know and is seldom told. With matter-of-fact prose and a bundle of good stories, John Arnold gently walks his readers through the basics of the field--development, sources, methods, debates, and relevance. For both students and their teachers, every page of this book will enlighten, inform, and amuse."
Judith Bennett, University of Southern California

"Strong on content and structure, and both original and challenging, while remaining accessible to its readership. The main points, about concepts and debates, are all very well illustrated."
Dame Janet Nelson, King's College London

  • Introductory guide to the study of medieval history, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Reformation
  • Written to be accessible for students from first year undergraduates onwards
  • Gives an overarching account of the discipline, taking in the kinds of sources medieval historians use, their intellectual tools and key areas of thematic importance
  • Written by a scholar of international renown, and the author of the Very Short Introduction to History
  • Will be required reading on introductory medieval history courses