Middle Ages

The Middle Ages is a blanket term for the period between classical antiquity and the Renaissance,* and may therefore be said to extend from ca. 410 to ca. 1400. Petrarch* (1304–1374) is credited with imposing such a tripartite periodization on history, when he identified the more recent past as ‘‘our shadows’’ (tenebrae nostrae) and the distant past of classical Rome as a golden age now reborn. The Middle Ages, particularly in Italy, is a heterogenous and dynamic period, which cannot be adequately characterized with the usual markers of feudalism, economic stagnation, defensive immobility, the age of faith, barbarian invasions, scholasticism, and artistic backwardness. The thousand years of political, intellectual, social, spiritual, economic, and aesthetic history are inextricably bound up with their ‘‘matrix’’ in classical Rome and their ‘‘outcome’’ in Renaissance Florence; in Italy it is especially difficult to establish meaningful boundaries between the periods in question. Feminist research, with its attention to the roles of unconscious assumptions and unacknowledged goals in intellectual work, is well positioned to challenge the ideologically freighted bracketing-off of the ‘‘Middle Ages,’’ and to redefine the terms according to which we make these distinctions.

Bibliography: Fergusson, W. K. The Renaissance in Historical Thought. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948; White, Hayden. ‘‘The Historical Text as Literary Artifact.’’ In The Writing of History. Ed. Robert H. Canary and Henry Kozicki. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978. 41–62; Kelly, Joan. ‘‘Did Women Have a Renaissance?’’ In Women, History, and Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. 19–50.


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30 April 2014. Author: Criticism