Albrecht Classen: The Middle Ages: 1. Geography and Time Frame (Article copied from: The Literary Encyclopedia, online at: http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=1354). Only the first 600 words are open access. The rest of the text can now be found in my book Medieval Answers to Modern Problems (2012)
The European Middle Ages, despite its foreignness (alterity) and chronological distance to us today, exert tremendous fascination on people in the modern and postmodern world. In fact, the medieval world seems to be more alive and important for us today than ever before. There are movies with medieval themes (Crusades, Excalibur, Courtly Love, and the Nibelungen), movies focusing especially on the characters King Arthur, Robin Hood, Tristan, Saladin, Gawain, Merlin, and Joan of Arc; movie parodies such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail ); furthermore, novels inspired by (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 1954) or situated in the Middle Ages (Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, 1980 [also as a movie, 1986]); popular medieval festivals; and the recreation of medieval knighthood through groups such as the international Society for Creative Anachronism which organizes tournaments worldwide, but especially in the United States (http://www.sca.org). All this excitement, however, has also blinded us to the actual history and culture of the Middle Ages. The following essay will attempt to outline and discuss some of the basic features, forces, figures, intellectual movements, poets, and philosophers from that long time period (roughly 1000 years from ca. 500 through ca. 1500), though this survey can only provide a sketch of a past world that continues to have a huge impact on our own with respect to our fantasies, imaginations, but also our self-awareness, religious orientation, and, most important, our self-identity. Many areas that also would deserve to be discussed in greater detail are art history, the history of technology, the history of architecture, the history of agriculture and commerce, the history of gender relations, the history of foodstuff, clothing, and medicine, and the history of warfare.