The Past and Future of Medieval Studies

By Olsen, Glenn W. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 1996 | Go to article overview

The Past and Future of Medieval Studies


Olsen, Glenn W., The Catholic Historical Review


Medieval

The Past and Future of Medieval Studies. Edited by John Van Engen. [Notre Dame Conferences in Medieval Studies, Number IV ] (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 1994. Pp. xi, 431. $52.95.)

This book is the result of a 1992 conference during which a group of scholars from across North America were asked to reflect on the past and future of medieval studies. The late Michael Sheehan provides introductory remarks. Kathleen Biddick gives a dense presentation of which one must frequently guess meanings: her proposal is that the medievalist act as a cultural construct go-between. Patrick J. Geary asks what makes North American medieval scholarship different from that of Europe and offers suggestive answers. In giving an apologia for Byzantium as a field of medieval studies, Michael McCormick supplements Geary by noting how traditional nationalist and micro-regional research on Europe by Europeans has increasingly been complemented by macro-regional and comparative research. Jeremy Cohen gives an intelligent overview of the study of high medieval Judaism, showing how this has been linked to the goals and worries of Jewish emancipation. Particularly Biddick's contribution had already made useful observations about orientalism, which, in connection with the development of medieval Islamic studies, is the subject of a lucid exposition by Richard W Bulliet.

Sabine MacCormack's argument, using the history of the reception of Virgil's Aeneid into the seventeenth century as example in an essay of broad vision, is that by study of how tradition changes in transmission, the medievalist is well placed to address many current cultural issues. Randolph Starn very intelligently explores the bond between medieval and Renaissance studies, proposing that a genealogical history composed of simultaneous narratives replace "the old conventions of periodization." In an elegant, amusing, essay, Mark D. Jordan turns his attention to the institutional motives behind the study of medieval philosophy, exposing the often unhistorical, unreflective, view many philosophy departments have of their motives for study of the history of philosophy. …

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