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Session 1: An Archaeology of Global Medieval Life

Format: Standard

Organisers: David Petts

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Historians and archaeologists have begun increasingly to engage with the notion of a ‘global middle ages’. By reframing current European perspectives on the ‘medieval’ to embrace wider Eurasia and beyond, this move towards a globalising perspective has developed two main approaches. One has emphasised the importance of networks and connectivity – highlighting the threads and connections that linked Western Europe by land and sea with Africa, the Middle East and Central, Southern and Eastern Asia. Encompassing the silk roads and the maritime links across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, such perspectives have emphasised the complex streams of materials, people and idea that ebbed and flowed in this period. Such approaches serve to decentre European exceptionalism and contextualise the wider social landscapes and networks that operated in the ‘middle Millennium’ (AD500-1500). An alternative approach to global medievalism has been a more avowedly comparative method, comparing and contrasting different domains of past cultures, such as religious change and conversion, kingship, agricultural intensification or the spread of coin use. This approach identifies similarities and contrasts to draw out how similar social processes or patterns might be articulated in very different ways. This session aims to critically interrogate the notion of the ‘global middle ages’  – does the notion present a refreshing perspective on medieval Europe or is the very notion of a ‘middle ages’ one that is profoundly in the specific trajectory of social development in Europe? Can the emphasis on materiality that characterises archaeology bring a different perspective to the debate to that provided by text and document? It is anticipated that these issues will be explored through a range of theoretical discussions, wider syntheses and detailed case studies.


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