Introducing the ‘Global Middle Ages’
When most people think about the Middle Ages, they will not be thinking of pottery in Ghana or Nubian embassies to Europe. Closer to home, they probably won’t know that the first archbishop of Canterbury was a Greek monk from modern-day Turkey, or the medieval legend that Britain was discovered by thirty-three Syrian sisters. They would be more familiar with knights, Vikings, and the occasional dragon, and this image’s reach has only grown in recent years, if Game of Thrones’ popularity is anything to go by.
The medieval world was, of course, much more than that. It was in fact a surprisingly interconnected one and in many ways very similar to the world of today. One historian, for instance, has suggested that there were ‘a maximum of eight links separating a milkmaid in Uppland from a shepherd in Tuscany’, not in the twenty-first century, but in the ninth. This was certainly not what I expected when I first read that article! The same surprise (and interest, I hope) was what my students displayed when I introduced them to the Middle Ages last semester. Amongst other things, we looked at an Anglo-Saxon royal seal, which oddly enough featured a Greek word, and thought about why an elephant was sent from Baghdad to Aachen – which ended with a discussion of whether a Carolingian cow would have similarly impressed the court of the caliph; we concluded that this was unlikely.
I have been fascinated with similar examples of the mobility of people and ideas since I was an undergraduate student, which was why I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share these stories. The same was true for my partners-in-crime, and it is our shared interest in what happened beyond (Western) Europe that motivated us to organise a new seminar series this year, to invite speakers from across the country to come to Manchester and speak about their research into the ‘global Middle Ages’.
Over the next few months, academics and postgraduate researchers will speak on topics as diverse as transnational trade, urban history, and the tricky matter of defining the ‘global Middle Ages’, which raises the difficult question of what we actually mean by ‘medieval’. Through this series, we will highlight the innovative research of medievalists everywhere to a wider audience. The connections and parallels highlighted in the seminars will no doubt be fascinating enough, but we hope that it will also encourage others to continue to explore the past through a global lens. How did people throughout history think about the world beyond their homes? How should we study these connections? These are universal questions not only for medievalists, but also relevant for everyone interested in the humanities and the world today.
For all this and more, come along to our seminars, the schedule for which you can access here. We look forward to seeing everyone there!