Let’s Rename the Middle Ages

You all are aware of the problems with the term “dark ages.” Scholars prefer the term “Middle Ages,” but is that really much better? It seems to imply that the medieval period is an insignificant one between others of importance. If we were to come up with another name for the Middle Ages, what name would we use?

The Catholic Period

This one comes to mind first for several reasons. For many studies, a people’s conversion to Christianity marks the beginning of the Middle Ages; the Protestant Reformation, likewise, marks the end. During the Middle Ages, the vast majority of Western Europe was Catholic. When studies refer to cultures which are not Catholic, they often use a term relevant to that culture’s time reckoning rather than “medieval.” Whenever we give an age a name, we tend to give it something suited to the largest groups or ideas.

The problems: The exceptions to the above. I’m not learned enough to know whether or not the exceptions are few enough to justify this term, nor do I want to show disrespect for any group that would not be appropriately defined by this term.

The Age of the Cathedrals

This term comes from Régine Pernoud’s works. This could be a good term because the Middle Ages were the heyday of cathedral-building, and cathedrals are among the most recognizable architecture of the Middle Ages. This could be an appropriate term despite the fact that cathedrals were still built after the Middle Ages. After all, we have no problems when speaking of “the Romans” or a “Roman period” despite the fact that the city of Rome has never stopped existing.

The problems: Same as for The Catholic Period.

The Feudal Age

Perhaps a form of legal custom or societal structure would be a good way to define the Middle Ages. Feudalism dominated; absolute monarchy did not exist until after the Middle Ages. This term would give us a clear starting point—the fall of Rome with its government—and an ending point that is flexible for various circumstances.

The problems: I’m really only familiar with England and France, so I don’t know how much of Europe this definition applies to. The word “feud” also makes this seem like a particularly violent age, which is part of the image that we’re still battling. I gather from various sources that feudalism was the norm through all of Western Europe, but scholars are still debating as to whether or not feudalism is an appropriate way to look at the Middle Ages.

It will be impossible to find a term that is equally applicable to all of Europe. Few definitions of any age are. Of all the above terms, my favorite is “The Age of the Cathedrals” since it brings with it a sense of dignity and knowledge that has been squashed by popular imagination. Even if we found a perfectly suited name, I doubt it would ever catch on save among scholarly circles. The term “Middle Ages” has been with us for too long. Then again, if we were able to move from BC/AD to BCE/CE, I suppose other changes of terminology are possible.


Comments

Let’s Rename the Middle Ages — 7 Comments

  1. Fuck BCE/CE. They’re just Leftist revisionism to try to remove Christianity from the public discourse, trying to control thought by controlling language, like all their attempts at political correctness are. We measure our years from the birth of Jesus, and it is dishonest sophistry to claim anything else.

    I’d be perfectly fine with calling the Middle Ages by another name, though, and all of your suggestions are very well thought-out. Maybe you should write a paper and submit it to a journal for publication, in the hopes of getting the ball rolling and starting a discussion on renaming the Middle Ages to something more suitable? I doubt it’ll succeed, given the Left’s control of academia, and their biases towards thinking themselves as being superior to the poor, uneducated, religious masses, but if you don’t try, you can’t find out.

    • Submitting to journals is a most excellent idea! At the very least, I could give a presentation at next year’s TEMA conference (too late for this year). I’ll start checking the journal databases for an appropriate cfp; do let me know if you should come across anything appropriate. All of the academics I have met would be very open to discussing such an idea. It would be interesting to see what comes of it.

      • >do let me know if you should come across anything appropriate.

        LOL. I’m not an academic, let alone a historian! I’m just a nerdy apprentice Aircraft Maintenance Engineer who finds these sorts of things sort of interesting.

        • Hey, just ’cause you’re not paid to do research doesn’t mean I should assume you don’t read journals. :) Plus, this could be a lecture that would be just as appropriate (and just as interesting to attendees) at a fantasy/RPG/comic book convention as it would be at an academic conference. My nerd dream is to give lectures on medieval history and literature for tabletop gamers.

  2. I like Catholic Age. It fits the fact that when people say “the Middle Ages” they usually mean “the Middle Ages in Europe.” Highlighting Christianization and Reformation as the bookends emphasizes how religion probably distinguishes this from the periods that preceded and followed better than, say, technological changes.

    Granted, the term “catholic” has a rather different meaning post-Reformation. I can see that producing a lot of quibble.

  3. I think my problem with the first two is that they are Occidental in nature. If you want to speak of the post-Romam period as a whole, it is difficult to ignore Byzantium and the various Arab Caliphates, all of which had influence on the West in different areas. Also, there was a sizeable and influential Muslim kingdom in Spain for seven centuries. The last one seems to work, even when considering Muslim Caliphates of the period, though I am uncertain with the structure of government in Byzantium. I am uncertain how absolute the imperial power was. What you seem to have run into is the great bane of the historian, naming a period If history when the period has no definite or agreed upon beginning, ending, or geographical location.

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