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Simon Doubleday

Why the Middle Ages Matter

This collection traces back to the medieval period some of the most pressing questions of today, showing why the distant past matters now. While the word ‘medieval’ is often used in a negative sense, the essays in this co-edited volume suggest counterintuitively that the Middle Ages often provide a useful stimulus to rethinking contemporary social and political themes including torture, marriage, sexuality, imprisonment, refugees, poverty, work, the status of women, disability, race, political leadership and end of life care. The authors focus on a variety of regions, from North Africa and the Middle East, through Western and Central Europe to the British Isles.

The book challenges many negative stereotypes of medieval people, revealing a world from which, for instance, much could be learned about looking after the spiritual needs of the dying, and about integrating prisoners into the wider community through an emphasis on reconciliation between victim and criminal. It represents a new level of engagement with issues of social justice by medievalists and provides a highly engaging way into studying the middle ages. All the essays are written so as to be accessible to students, and each is accompanied by a list of further readings.


  • The "lessons of history" cannot be reduced to some specious argument that knowledge of the past provides a privileged insight into the present. Nevertheless these essays show that a deep understanding of the otherness of the medieval past and of the myriad possibilities of belief, thought, and behavior of this distant and yet creative period, can help us to understand both how the medieval past has shaped our present as well as how this same past offers models for thinking and acting differently. One need not agree with all of the authors represented in this volume either in their reading of the Middle Ages or in their recommendations for the present in order to applaud them for being what everyone should be: a thoughtful, engaged and critical participant in the great adventure of life. These learned and committed essays challenge the notion that the deep past is somehow irrelevant to the present and compel contemporary society to recognize that the human condition is essentially historical and that dialogue with the past is a necessity to build a different and better future.

    Patrick J. Geary Distinguished Professor of History UCLA
  • "Recommended. All levels/libraries."

    K. F. Drew, Rice University, USA
  • "…Why the Middle Ages…show[s] how even the distant medieval past can be made relevant to the present through a sensitive integration of modern concerns with considered historical analysis. It offers a provocative starting point for those medieval historians who wish to engage in self-reflection or who are considering begging an ethical turn of their own."

    Yvonne Seale
    Hortulus Journal
  • "excellent examples of the ways in which scholars of the medieval world can make crucial contributions to ongoing conversations in a number of fields".

    Andrew Fleming, University of Oxford
    Rethinking History
  • "relevant for students and scholars alike. Secondary school students might come to appreciate how people in the past faced similar obstacles to what they face presently. Post-secondary students will appreciate the sense of purpose that the collection projects. Scholars will come to think of their own studies in a new, more practical light. For those who wish to pursue solutions to problems in the area of social justice, this collection of essays offers a guide so that, indeed, we do not repeat the mistakes of the past".

    Gregory S. Beirich, California State University, Long Beach
    The History Teacher
  • Chazelle, Celia M., Simon R. Doubleday, Felice Lifshitz, and Amy Remesnyder, Why the Middle Ages Matter: Medieval Light on Modern Injustice. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.

  • ISBN 10: 0415780659
  • ISBN 13: 9780415780650
  • English
  • $44.95
  • Buy