Book of the Month: Inventing the Middle Ages – The Lives, Works and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century by Norman F. Cantor.
In this unique historiographical study, Cantor explores the extent to which our understanding of the medieval world is almost entirely shaped by the subjective, even hallucinogenic, visions of twentieth-century historians. Plagues, wars, kings, saints, knights and tournaments….such crowd our consciousness where the Middle Ages are concerned. Yet, Cantor argues, such versions of medievalism were variously ‘invented’ by historians to serve their own emphatically political endeavours in the latter century. This ‘invented’ medieval sphere continues to be perpetuated into the twenty-first, with recent drama productions of the Arthur myth attesting our enduring lust for this fictionalised epoch.
Cantor’s anthology revels in the prolific personalities who have engaged with the Middle Ages and the uniquely subjective outcomes of their studies. ‘The Oxford Fantasists,’ C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, constructed seemingly ordered Medieval worlds within their fiction, as ideological antidotes to the social chaos of the World Wars. While a variant of the medieval discourse was used simultaneously by Nazi-sympathisers Percy Schramm and Ernst Kantorowicz, whose studies in medieval kingship underpinned their fascist leanings. Across the Atlantic, Joseph Strayer, in office at the CIA, extolled the skills of the medieval bureaucrats. Cantor is attentive throughout to the contributions of twentieth-century historians to the field of studies, from F. W. Maitland’s plotting of the emerging English Common Law to Marc Bloch’s founding of the ‘Annales’ historic methodology.
Ultimately Cantor’s volume tests the complex binary between history and literature, asking whether history can ever be objectively conceived or should it rather be understood as a deceptive exercise within fiction?
For more information and to purchase click here.
For more special offers from Lutterworth Press click here, or for related titles click on the following:
Praise for Inventing the Middle Ages:
“Fascinating, acerbic, funny and deeply personal … Cantor does not stop at an examination of the social and political circumstances of the time in which historians write; he is concerned with their inner condition. It is the analysis of personality which does much to make his book so readable …”
Michael Prestwich, in The Times Literary Supplement
“Anyone who reads this remarkable book with attention will not only enjoy a tour of some of the academic centres of the twentieth century but also be presented, in a distilled and summary form, with a dozen debates or interpretations that have preoccupied scholarly thinking about the Middle Ages.”
Robert Bartlett, in The New York Review of Books