Around 1400, manuscripts were not just a textual medium for humanists to disseminate their substantive work. Rather, as aesthetic artefacts, they were a tool for visual communication too. Information and knowledge were portrayed in text as well as images because the beneficial learning aid of graphic presentations regained popularity. According to Aristotle, Plato, Quintilian, and other ancient authors, the human memory was predominantly influenced by visual stimuli and was thus dependent to a considerable degree on spatial arrangements in the form of images. Maps thus found their way into humanistic books as an elaboration on the text. But these maps do not just function as visualizations; they create a narrative of their own. In particular, isolarii, or ‘island books’, used the different characteristics of text and maps to shape an alternative history.
Continue reading Studia humanitatis in Text and Image: The Liber insularum Archipelagi by Cristoforo Buondelmonti
Image-making ages always appear to be image-breaking ones as well, as Len Scales (Durham) stressed in his welcome and introduction, referring to current instances of overtly political attacks on images. As such, we would expect the Middle Ages, as a decidedly visual age, to be no different. Yet existing scholarship, Scales continued, suggests that image-breaking was alien to the medieval period. Perhaps because medieval images were so often religious in content and the Middle Ages are so often viewed as an era of faith, the relative (though not absolute) lack of religiously motivated iconoclastic action throughout the Middle Ages is mistaken for proof that there was no noteworthy destruction of visual material, and certainly not for political reasons. Scales thus called for comparative and systematic research to further flesh out the topic.
Continue reading Conference Report: The Politics of Iconoclasm in the Middle Ages, 1–2 September 2022
[A]s though he [Henry III] was infected by fury, being unable to contain his anger, he raised his voice in uproar, and ran furiously away from all who were in his chamber.
Medieval kings such as Henry III (r. 1216–72) are regularly described in chronicles as angry—especially when challenged—and they often expressed their anger in excessive gestures. This particular passage was written by Matthew Paris, a monastic chronicler famous for not holding back his opinion on either kings or popes. Presumably his accounts of these emotional gestures might be shaped by his judgement on the king and a desire for a colourful narrative. But are these the only ways of interpreting such descriptions of royal emotional behaviour? Are they merely a means to an end, removed from reality?
Continue reading Anger, Astonishment, and other Reactions: A Medieval King’s Emotional Behaviour
After many months of online-only conferences, one of the first in-person events to take place at the GHIL saw thirteen scholars gather at the beginning of May 2022 for a densely packed day of discussion dedicated to medieval history. What united participants at this workshop—and its previous iterations—was their special interest in the German-speaking lands of the Middle Ages.
Continue reading Conference Report: Workshop on Medieval Germany, 6 May 2022
Now in its twelfth iteration, the biennial Medieval History Seminar (MHS) has become an established platform for postgraduate students to present and discuss ongoing research projects on the Middle Ages with distinguished medievalists as well as their peers. It has also become a cherished tradition of the German Historical Institute London and the German Historical Institute Washington; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many traditional events to be postponed or adapted, and the Medieval History Seminar was no exception.
Continue reading Conference Report: The Twelfth Medieval History Seminar, 30 September–2 October 2021
From a Euro-Mediterranean perspective, the conquest of Constantinople led by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 not only marked the end of the Byzantine empire that had lasted more than a millennium, but also the end of the European Middle Ages. Rightly considered a ‘moment of great historical significance’ by both contemporaries and modern researchers, the conquest of Constantinople ‘had repercussions that went far beyond its walls’ not only politically and economically, but also culturally and socially.
Continue reading Prophecies and (Hi)Stories: Telling the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453
The newly published anthology Ethiopia Illustrated: Church Paintings, Maps and Drawings is a result of my appointment as Associate Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences in 2017. The suggestion was aired to publish a volume with my research articles on Ethiopian manuscripts and paintings, which had previously appeared in a variety of journals accessible to readerships in Europe and North America, but which were not easily accessible in Ethiopia. Such a project necessitated obtaining permission to republish the articles, which fortunately was quickly forthcoming. But it also necessitated obtaining funding to print not only seven articles, but also no fewer than 146 illustrations in one volume. The Ethiopian Academy Press was keen to do so, but asked if financial assistance was available.
Continue reading Ethiopia Illustrated: Manuscripts and Painting in Ethiopia – Examples from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century
Tensions have been running high in what, by any reckoning, has been a challenging year: a raging pandemic, social instability, and political unrest. And amidst all this, battle cries are heard from every corner of the political spectrum that threaten to exacerbate the situation: Plotters! Betrayers! Traitors!—the world is full of them if you believe what is written in the comment sections of media outlets.
Continue reading Days of Betrayal: Violations of Trust and Loyalty in Late Medieval England
On Monday, 2 November 2020, a video posted on Twitter showed the owner of a soft play centre from Liverpool rejecting COVID-19 regulations, citing Clause 61 of Magna Carta. This historical agreement between the English king and his magnates was first concluded in 1215. In the owner’s opinion, the police had no right to close his business since—he argued—the medieval document showed that government authorities were bound by law and had to be resisted if they encroached on central personal liberties. This claim immediately provoked reactions from historians of the Middle Ages, who rightly pointed out that although parts of Magna Carta are, indeed, still part of English Law today, Clause 61 is no longer in force. In fact, it was removed in 1216, when the agreement was revised after King John’s death.
Continue reading Medieval Notions of Consent and Contemporary Social Cohesion: Impressions from Workshop ‘Law and Consent in Medieval Britain’, 30 October 2020