As another academic year turns, so do I. This time, to emerge from the provinces and from behind my charters and museum objects, and join in London’s medieval scene. This evening’s first seminar of the European History 1150-1500 series was a discussion led by David Carpenter and Miri Rubin entitled What Makes a Medieval Topic Important? A very keenly attended seminar, we all squeezed in anticipation into the modest Low Countries Room at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, in Bloomsbury.
Prof. Miri Rubin began with the most deft and breathless exposé of intellectual movements that have had great impacts on medieval history writing. From the Annales School establishment of social and economic histories of the longue durée to the Marxian approaches of late Prof. Rodney Hilton and the history of peasantry, to radical gender historians of North America, historians of ethnicity, identity and the mandala of fields and sub-fields which have resulted from these, we were reminded that it was this question, what is important? that has been asked over and over by historians who have wanted to change our thinking of the past, and by extension, of us today. All of this was gold-threaded with the idea that historians in the last century began to want to know more about European ‘peoples’ than its institutions. In other words, those affected by big decisions, rather than the decision makers. In in a current climate of political activity on ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeans’ (and the prospect of a President Blair–Il presidente del popolo, presumably) this point was made even more apposite.