„Typisch Mittelalter?“

Begriffe, Gegenstände, Perspektiven

  • Stephan Dusil (Autor/in)
  • Katrin Kogman-Appel (Autor/in)
  • Isabelle Mandrella (Autor/in)
  • Kathrin Müller (Autor/in)
  • Ulrich Müller (Autor/in)


Coined by Italian humanists in an attempt to bridge the gap between the Greco-Roman (‘classical’) and the early modern periods (the ‘Renaissance’), the ‘Middle Ages’ have suffered from a bad press and often appear in colloquial language as a synonym of anything dark, backward,and genuinely negative. More significantly, the definition of the term ‘Middle Ages’ is rooted in a Eurocentric and Christianity-centric approach to history, even though it is also commonly used in the context of some non-Christian cultures. The first section of this paper discusses the term in general, some aspects of its history, and some of its pitfalls. Amongst these are: derogatory depictions of the Middle Ages being grounded in positivist approaches to the development of civilizations; historical watersheds often perceived as suitable starting or ending points for periodization shed light on the period as a whole, especially if the watershed is a catastrophe; material evidence does not always support common notions of the Middle Ages, especially when looked at from a global perspective. Approaching the term therefore as some sort of misnomer for an entire period, in the second section we shed light on some of the political, cultural and educational consequences of the connotations attached to the notion of the Middle Ages. The task of future medievalist research, we maintain, is not only to deconstruct misconceptions and clichés, but, more importantly, to critically revise the period between the sixth and the sixteenth century from a global perspective, relying on multi-disciplinary and transcultural approaches.