‘The revolt of the medievalists’: Directions in recent research on the twelfth-century renaissance
By Leidulf Melve
Journal of Medieval History, Vol.32:3 (2006)
Abstract: This historiographical article contains two basic parts. First, it discusses recent approaches to the twelfth-century renaissance in the last two decades by focusing on some selected themes. These themes basically derive from Charles Homer Haskins’ notion of the renaissance and include individualism, rationality, secularisation, and the question of the emergence of a ‘critical mentality.’ From this point of departure, the article addresses the question of thematic innovation with regard to the twelfth-century renaissance. The second part of the article discusses the effect of the so-called linguistic turn on renaissance studies in general and on the twelfth-century renaissance in particular. In conclusion, some suggestions for further research are singled out.
Introduction: Ever since Wallace K. Ferguson contributed to making ‘the revolt of the medievalists’ a slogan for the medievalists’ attack on the modernity of Jacob Burckhardt’s Italian renaissance, the question of ‘renaissance’ or ‘renaissances’ has been much discussed. Needless to say, Charles Homer Haskins and his The renaissance of the twelfth century played a leading part in Ferguson’s presentation of the revolt. Between Ferguson’s historiographical outline of ‘five centuries of interpretation’ from 1948 and the present stress on ‘alterity’ in medieval research, approaches to the twelfth-century renaissance have developed immensely. The half century which has passed since Ferguson’s much-quoted characterisation has not only seen a virtual explosion of research into the twelfth-century renaissance, but also felt the methodological implications of the so-called ‘linguistic turn’.