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Roots, Replica, Replay: European Medievalisms after 1945

Roots, Replica, Replay: European Medievalisms after 1945

By Valentin Groebner

Práticas da História: Journal on Theory, Historiography and Uses of the Past, Vol.4 (2017)

Abstract: Since the end of the 18th century, the Middle Ages were, in the learned culture of European elites, much more than simply a historical period. Rather, they came to serve as the focal point for a complex set of desires. From the early 19th to the mid-20th-century, the Middle Ages were understood as the lost realm of collective identity, “truth”, “authenticity” and “moral unity”. All over Europe, the timespan from the 10th to the early 16th century provided texts, images and artefacts for national foundation narratives and idealized and heavily moralized political fables. How can be describe and analyse these phenomena, and what followed their decline after 1945?

Introduction: Two or three times a year, the phone in my office rings, and a journalist asks my expert opinion on the ongoing, no: surging popularity of the Middle Ages in the 21st century. “Why so many medieval spectacles, living medieval history-markets and re-enactments, re-staged tournaments and battles?”, he asks. Why the apparently deeply popular and irresistible funky fascination with a long-gone period with a reputation of darkness, superstition and violence, five, seven or nine centuries ago? I teach medieval history, but the journalists call me because I have written, a couple of years ago, a book with a bold statement in its title: “Das Mittelalter hört nicht auf” – The Middle Ages never stop.

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Top Image: Medieval festival – photo by Gary / Flickr

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