Schmieder, Felicitas (FernUniversität Hagen) - Representations of global history in the later Middle Ages - and what we can learn from it today
The “Global Middle Ages” are a not so clearly defined concept that has been intensively discussed lately: Between the blaming for eurocentrism because people insist that the Middle Ages were a specific period of time in Europe that cannot be found elsewhere, and the blaming for eurocentrism because people insist that Europeans are not supposed to keep the Middle Ages all for themselves quite a few attempts have been made: If we want to work comparatively, there may have been “Middle Ages” everywhere, albeit at different times – but how do we, then, define “Middle Ages” in order to find the, say, Chinese or Inka Middle Ages? If we want to work along the lines of “entangled history”, can we simply suppose either that during the European Middle Ages everywhere else in the “Old World” the “Middle Ages” happened chronologically parallel? Or do we stand to eurocentrism and study cultural entanglements of medieval Europe with the rest of the then-known world? While the second approach is obviously Eurocentric in the way that it leaves all the defining power with European history, the first approach threatens to become culturalistic quite quickly. This paper is going to argue for the third option, not the least because the very concept of entanglement challenges the notion of Europe itself. Parallel to the question of the Global Middle Ages, and often interwoven with it, attempts to define Europe have become debated heatedly as well: The definitions of modern Europe obviously are a politically difficult as well as a necessary and very actual problem of our present. Since the approaches of the historians are always created in their present more and more attempts have been made to define and legitimate the modern borders and essence of Europe by the medieval past (in a very similar way the national borders and essences have been legitimized at least from the 19th c. onwards). The paper is trying to give an example of medieval global entangled history – what is actually exchanged, between whom, who is influencing what and is it one-sided or mutual etc. – by looking at medieval European representations of the globe and, as a side benefit, find out more about medieval notions if not of Europe then of we and the other that might disturb the conviction that we know what Europe is.
Felicitas Schmieder earned her PhD degree in 1991 at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt. She is professor of medieval history at Fernuniversität in Hagen, and member of the „Historisches Kolleg bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften“ in Munich. Her research interest covers German medieval urban history, medieval history of perception, intercultural contacts, as well as medieval eschatology and political prophecies. She has worked as visiting faculty at CEU, as well as at other prestigious institutions, such as the École pratique des Hautes Études (Paris), the Waseda University (Tokyo), or the Institute for Advanced Studies Hebrew University (Jerusalem). She has published extensively on medieval German towns and medieval European intellectual history.