The following essay is by Alfred J. Andrea, the former president of the World History Association and a noted medieval historian. In it, he provides his insights on the development, and challenges, of studying the Global Middle Ages.
Most historians who specialize in medieval Europe are ambivalent about the term “the Middle Ages.” While proudly calling themselves “medievalists” (from the Latin medium aevum—middle age), they insist that the millennium or more separating late Roman antiquity from the so-called early modern period was not a middle period in any meaningful way. And it certainly was not a valley of darkness between two lofty golden ages.
Even more problematical or worse in the eyes of many medievalists is the term “the Global Middle Ages.” How, they ask, can one apply such a questionable label as Middle Ages, itself the misbegotten product of out-of-date historical thinking, to the rest of the world? What did India’s Gupta Empire (ca. 320-ca. 550) have in common with the roughly contemporaneous Visigothic Kingdom or China’s Tang dynasty (618-907) with the Carolingian dynasty? What possible connection was there between the twelfth-century Toltecs of central Mesoamerica and the Hohenstaufens of central Europe, or between Mali’s Epic of Sundiata and the Nibelungenlied? Although historians who promote study of the Global Middle Ages might claim that finally medieval history has been shorn of its Eurocentrism, conceivably their critics could counter that applying an obviously Eurocentric label to non-Western cultures is another example of Western academic imperialism. Continue reading