IN EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE
There are those who believe that history exists for the benefit of itself, that historians exist for the sole purpose of describing what actually happened a long time ago, and that any attempt to break free from the bonds of specific historical periods and fields of research by way of models, typologies, theories and broad comparisons are scholarly failures as such. According to these persons, not only can historians dispense with apologies for spending their lives digging in dusty archives and writing big, unreadable books on obscure subjects, they may also be proud of the fact that they, in their capacity as specialists in a particular historical field (like the early Middle Ages in Western Europe), know next to nothing of other historical fields (like South-East Asia in the eighteenth century). According to this line of thinking, a good historian should also be careful not to introduce any modern concepts to the study in question; for instance, any attempt to understand the development of early medieval kingdoms by using sociological and anthropological theories would be bound to fail. The only real way of doing good research would be the old-fashioned historicist way—to try to understand the period on its own terms and shut out the twentieth century as much as possible in order to avoid anachronistic patterns of thought.
When confronted by these traditionalist ways of thinking, whether explicit (as is seldom the case today) or implicit (as is still often the case in various books and articles), I have a tendency to react with anger. In my view, history should not be studied as I'art pour I'art. We need history in order to view our contemporary world in a new light, to attain new perspectives on contemporary society as well as on the past. In my view, bringing twentieth-century concepts and theories into the early Middle Ages is not only fruitful—it is necessary. More than that, we should use interdisciplinary models, particularly from related disciplines within the social sciences (like sociology and anthropology), both because this helps us to see the past in a new perspective and because it helps us to use our results in order to throw more light on the present.