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Assembling the archaeology of the global Middle Ages

Assembling the archaeology of the global Middle Ages

By Ben Jervis

World Archaeology, published online, 2018

The 1513 map by Piri Reis, Topkapi Museum, Istanbul

Abstract: Responding to recent developments in archaeological theory and growing interest in the ‘global Middle Ages’, an approach to exploring relations between local and global processes in the medieval world is proposed. The World-systems approach, applied by some historians to these kinds of macro-paradigms and questions, can expose significant challenges regarding social and economic development at a global scale.

However, here it is suggested that the ‘assemblage thought’ of Deleuze and Guattari, developed by DeLanda, might offer a more productive approach for assessing the multi-scalar interactions that defined the lives of communities in the Middle Ages. Here consideration is given to the character of the Middle Ages and its relation to modernity; the implications of the multi-scalar approach are also exemplified using a brief discussion of the Anglo-Italian wool trade in the Late Middle Ages.

Introduction: Medievalists working across a range of disciplines have increasingly sought to engage with the concept of a ‘global’ Middle Ages. This concept is necessarily broad. It has emerged out of concerns with the practice of medieval studies in the modern world, and the need to overcome the Euro-centric focus of scholarship, to explore the medieval past in relation to contemporary global concerns such as climate change and economic globalization, and the realization that understanding long-distance connections is critical to building a rounded picture of medieval societies.


Three strategic reasons for pursuing a global perspective on medieval archaeology can be proposed: analysis of regions which have been neglected in scholarship; comparative analysis of the Middle Ages in different regions; and consideration of the connections and relationships which transcend the local. It is this last concern which is the main focus of this paper. By transcending the local and understanding the multi-scalar nature of medieval existence, we can explore the interconnected yet larger questions, for example, how climatic systems affected developments in Europe and North America, or how a macro-view of flows of goods and money can reveal the dispersed nature of the medieval economy.

Click here to read this article from Taylor & Francis Online

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