Friday, May 23, 2014

The age of the monks

This fall I will be teaching, for the first time in a very long time, part of our second-year survey of the Middle Ages. I will be teaching the first half of the course, up to about 1100.

I feel very capable when it comes to the period up to about 600, and after 1100 would not be difficult for me either. But I have to say that I am looking at the period in between is a certain amount of trepidation.

My guide for the Carolingian period and the period just before and after is going to be my textbook, Rosenwein's Short History of the Middle Ages. Dr. Rosenwein's first fame was as a student of the prominent Burgundian monastery at Cluny, so of course she emphasizes the monastic aspect of the early Middle Ages. The thing is, both the textbook and her other works convince me that I have to come to grips with this age of monks and somehow get across to my students that the real politics of the era are the ecclesiastical and especially the monastic ones. Her brief but well-written discussion of the iconoclastic movement and how it affected the entire Western world – well, it was convincing. That experience has also made me think that minimizing my discussion of and the investiture controversy would not  necessarily be very honest.

I can hear my colleagues who specialize in the Carolingian and post-Carolingian period laughing at my "predicament." Making this era comprehensible is their meat and drink and I have to say I don't envy them.

I am fortunate to have as my partner in this enterprise someone who knows much more about the monks that I do and she can logically take the investiture controversy at the beginning of the second term.

Image:  An Armenian monastery.

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