IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 727: Memories of Nation, Medieval and Modern, III: 19th-Century Nationalism and the Middle Ages

Tuesday 3 July 2018, 14.15-15.45

Sponsor:Richard Bland College of William & Mary, Virginia
Organiser:Daniel Franke, Department of History, Richard Bland College of William & Mary, Virginia
Moderator/Chair:Helen Birkett, Department of History, University of Exeter
Paper 727-aCreating a Golden Age for Italy: Medieval Histories and Historians in the Age of Nationalism
(Language: English)
Laura K. Morreale, Center for Medieval Studies, Fordham University, New York
Index terms: Historiography - Medieval, Historiography - Modern Scholarship, Local History
Paper 727-bFrom the Golden Horns to Gunnar Hámundarson: Medievalism in the Danish and Icelandic Nationalist Movements
(Language: English)
Vanessa Iacocca, Department of English, Purdue University
Index terms: Language and Literature - Scandinavian, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 727-cAnti-Enlightenment, Nationalism, and Medieval Studies
(Language: English)
Daniel Wollenberg, Department of English & Writing, University of Tampa, Florida
Index terms: Historiography - Modern Scholarship, Medievalism and Antiquarianism

How people collectively remember their past creates or reshapes the political realities of the present, and nowhere perhaps is this better displayed than in the contentious question of ‘the nation’ and its origins. This thread gathers leading and emerging scholars, from across disciplines and geographic areas, to interrogate, in a focused way, the connections and divergences between medieval nationalisms and national medievalisms. The panels are arranged from the modern to the medieval, to foreground the ways in which current realities influence our study of the past, and particularly how searching for pre-modern nationalisms is particularly susceptible to teleology.

This third session examines the ways in which 19th-century scholars and politicians engaged with medieval sources to produce and bolster national identity, remaking medieval realities to suit present needs.

Paper -a: Scholarly approaches to medieval Italy often characterize the peninsula as politically and culturally fractured, yet many Italianists ignore the historiographic trends that shaped such an orientation. During the period of history-writing that tracked the progression of nation-state building, Italy was cast as a non-participant because it lacked a ‘feudal’ Middle Ages similar to those in lands to the north. Italian apologists aimed to counter Italy’s late arrival to 19th-century unification by designating medieval Italian communes as examples of self-governing republics that pre-figured the modern state. Based on a close examination of over forty medieval texts, this paper will argue for a view of medieval Italy that allowed for both local and supra-regional identities and notions of place.

Paper -b: Reusing and reinterpreting Old Norse myth and legend in the context of their own day, Danish literary figures such as Adam Oehlenschläger helped shape a Danish national identity and engender the ideals which prompted Denmark’s political shift from absolute to constitutional monarchy. However,19th-century Danish medievalism had a cultural and political impact beyond Danish borders. Inspired by their Danish predecessors, Icelandic revivalist poets such as Jónas Hallgrímsson similarly recontextualized Old Norse myth and legend in order to foster national consciousness. This in turn advanced the Icelandic nationalist movement by ultimately creating cultural justifications for increased Icelandic independence from Denmark, which not only enjoyed popularity with Icelandic populations, but found sympathy with Danish populations as well.

Paper -c: The centrality of the Middle Ages to explanations of the rise and dominance of nations and nationalism since the late-18th century must be attributed to more than the period simply having happened prior to the modern era. The medieval was actively produced by modern scholars and intellectuals seeking, on the one hand, to locate a social, political, and cultural idyll or, on the other hand, to tell a narrative of continual social progress. Drawing on the work of Burke, Herder, Carylye, and Renan, this paper will study the thought of certain anti-Enlightenment thinkers’ characterizations of the Middle Ages, whose writings on the medieval played a formative role in their conceptions of nationalism and national identity. I will also discuss how the development of the field of medieval studies overlapped and intersected with nationalism.