Fitting Medieval Europe into the World: Patterns of Integration, Migration, and Uniqueness
By Bernd Schneidmüller
Journal of Transcultural Studies, Vol.5:2 (2014)
Abstract: This essay explains different patterns demonstrating how medieval Europe was situated in global visions of the world. Concerning medieval concepts of integration, entanglements, and migrations, three different perspectives are highlighted: (1) Europe was considered, together with Asia and Africa, to be an integral part of the whole world and covered a quarter of its surface. (2) Medieval sources contributed to Europe becoming a destination of immigration of peoples, cultures, and religions of Asian roots. (3) In the second half of the fifteenth century, previous memories of origin changed. The article outlines conflicting opinions about whether European peoples were shaped by migrations or by remaining on their own patch of soil. Just when Europeans began to conquer the world, they realised the geographical limitations of their continent. At the same time, however, they stylised Europe as an exceptional queen ruling the world.
Introduction: In these times of globalisation, history above all becomes a history of entanglements. The complexity of today’s processes of change and exchange can no longer be explained by unchanging entities, but instead by transcultural connectivities. Our current experiences with worldwide flows of migration reveal the dynamics underlying the instability of political systems and the enduring power of cultural hybridisations.
The present article aims to provide some critical input to the history of entanglements and migrations from the perspective of medieval history. It came into being through various research forays into the constant swings between integration and disintegration in the cultures of medieval Europe. A priority programme conducted by Michael Borgolte and myself for the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Council) provided the opportunity to work with a team of junior and experienced scholars and to do away with the traditional framings presented by national histories and the established disciplinary cultures. In the end we recognised the necessity of no longer explaining European history in terms of the integration of European factors, but of placing Europe into the nexus of the world.
Top Image: Diagrammatic T-O map. The world is portrayed as a circle divided by a ‘T’ shape into three continents; Asia, Europe, and Africa. British Library MS Royal 12 F. IV f. 135v