Friday, June 22, 2007

Other medieval blogs

There are a number of medievalists who write weblogs. Some of those blogs are devoted to tales of survival in the academic life; others are more focused on medieval subject matter; a few are quite substantial, and include some of the fruits of the author's scholarly efforts. Let me draw your attention to a couple of the latter, and then two more resources worth knowing.

Matthew Gabriele teaches at Virginia Tech and writes a blog called Modern Medieval. I'll bet he's a good teacher by my own personal standards, because he clearly does not believe that the Middle Ages are dead and gone, or impossibly remote. Two posts illustrate this, the first being Tony, meet Chuck, wherein he draws an interesting and I think non-trivial parallel between Tony Soprano and Charlemagne: people now aren't sure that Tony Soprano is dead, and people then weren't sure Charlemagne was. You may say that Tony Soprano is a fictional character, while Charlemagne was a real person, but then I'd ask you to reread The Song of Roland and explain your position in light of that.

A second post is more somber: Gabriele teaches at that same Virginia Tech where the shootings took place, and this eventually inspired him to write a short essay called The New Relevance of the Middle Ages at Virginia Tech. He made two major points in it: first, the motivations of the killer were not all that different than the motivations from those that inspired the First Crusade; second, in looking for hope Gabriele says:

If nothing else, the Middle Ages show us how the intellectual path we’re on isn’t the only one available. In 1095, 100,000 people thought that violence could bring peace. In 2007, Seung Cho believed the same and the world cried out in horror. Cho took one path from 1095 and the vast majority took the other. In and of itself, and in the middle of all this sadness, this is a reason for hope.

Here I have to say that it's easier to say what "the world" says or thinks than to prove it. We don't know what the majority thought or did in 1095. Certainly we know what a dynamic and influential minority did and were able to do. But the rest? Did they agree or were they just ignored, or steamrollered? And it's pretty sure that no Yakutians or Incans were involved at all.
Now, of course, we hear lots of cries of horror, but also lots of influential calls for more bombings and more secret prisons.

Nonetheless I look forward to more reading at Modern Medieval.

Modern Medieval has already made me aware through its blogroll of A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. This blog, which seems to be anonymous, has lots of scholarly comment on things I find interesting, including an essay on whether material motivations influenced the Crusaders. The 10th century blogger rightly says that recent scholars have downplayed the idea that members of the First Crusade enlisted to get rich quick, for the reason that it was appallingly dangerous and expensive to go. A good point, but our blogger wonders if the First Crusaders knew it was such a bad bet (a point also made by others).
Having studied the motives behind warriors taking part in dangerous "deeds of arms" I ask, didn't they use a different calculus of risk back then. There were plenty of cautious and conservative people in 1095, but weren't active warriors expected to be risk takers beyond what was normal? They sure were expected to be stronger and braver.

I've mentioned this blog before, but I'll mention it here again for new readers: is a compilation of a lot of valuable material, especially the section called News for Medievalists. And I should mention, too, the section of devoted to the Middle Ages. It is edited by Melissa Snell, who has a fine, light touch and shows a lot of imagination in her compiling of good material from the Web.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Steve. I take your point on the latter post (about events @ VT) and I'll accept that I was probably overgeneralizing about saying "the world" objected to the events of April 16. But, I stand by my point that violence is not normative anymore, as it may have been (or "likely was") previously, such as in the Middle Ages. The reason those secret prisons are secret is that so many got upset once they were found out.

  2. Thanks for the link on the Crusader Motives article. Perfect fodder for my late medieval survey this fall!

  3. Thankyou very much for the appreciative review, Professor. That Crusades page gets much more attention than the rest of the blog and of everything I've put forth it may be the most useful bit. I'd be very grateful for knowing who the other scholars who've wondered about the Crusaders' knowledge of their prospects are, also: I had great trouble escaping Riley-Smith's students when trying to find that sort of criticism.

    The blog isn't supposed to be anonymous as such, but I seem to have unconsciously begun with an affectation of only making my identity obvious through links to my work or projects at my job, and this seems to have stuck. I hadn't noticed it myself until you mentioned it however...