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Why Study Medieval History?

Why study medieval history? That's a question that most people have probably pondered at least a few times as they sat through their middle school history lecture. Obscure names, places, dates and facts don't make for the most thrilling of entertainments. Medieval history well taught, though, can bring the period to life and help the student glean a wealth of knowledge applicable to the world today.

A map of the national lines that had emerged by the late 12th century.

A map of the national lines that had emerged by the late 12th century.

Medieval History as Development

One important reason for studying medieval history is that it was during the medieval period that the early outline of Europe was being drawn. Rome had once held the whole of Europe in its iron grasp, but the influx of barbarians from the east toppled the mighty empire in the 5th century. For several hundred years, Europe experienced a constant state of change. By the 10th century, the shifting sand that was Europe gradually began to solidify along the national lines that we see today. A study of the nationalistic development that took place during the medieval period can go a long way toward helping us to understand national issues to this day.

What differentiates traditions in various countries? Why do certain regions operate with a seemingly different mindset or outlook? How did an individual country originate and become established? All of these questions can be answered, either in full or in part through a study of medieval history.

A 12th century illustration of an abbot practicing simony, a common practice in the Middle Ages.

A 12th century illustration of an abbot practicing simony, a common practice in the Middle Ages.

Medieval History as a Critique of Religion

Another reason to study medieval history is to gain an appreciation for the fine line between religion and government. The Roman Church in the Middle Ages crossed the line, without doubt. By studying the circumstances and specific tensions in play between the church and state we can learn much about what is acceptable today and what is not. We can also apply the lessons of government in the medieval period to the governments of today, discerning what works in each situation and place.

The excesses of the Roman Church in the medieval period are well documented, and a thorough study of them can teach us much about the human condition as well. The temptation of power holds the same sway in every period of history, but by seeing the results of poor education in the Middle Ages and how the church exploited that condition, we should better appreciate the value of education today.

A 14th century copy of the Magna Carta.

A 14th century copy of the Magna Carta.

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Medieval History as Political Theory

A third cause for studying medieval history is to discover the early basis for many of the political theories that exist today. It is remarkable to learn how the creation of Magna Carta in 1215 set the British governmental structure on a decidedly different course than many of the governments on mainland Europe. By tracing the practice of law as is existed in both the Roman world and in the Germanic world, we can see the basis of the different law systems of today and how they came to be. Understanding the origin of a law system is integral to the proper interpretation of the laws as they exist today, therefore, a study of medieval history can be of great usefulness both to the student of law or of political theory.

See for Yourself!

Though I have only highlighted three of the more important applications of medieval history, there are an endless number of practices where a study of medieval history could be beneficial. Art, science and philosophy all sprout from seeds that have deep roots in medieval history, and much can be gleaned from even a cursory study. See for yourself how medieval history can be well worth the study!


klanguedoc on May 13, 2012:

I am voting up your hub as it provides some very interesting aspects of medieval life which I find very fascinating.

A Anders from Buffalo, New York. on May 12, 2012:

While I think you have a great hub and points here, it might be self-serving as I primarily write about medieval history. While there were very clear excesses perpetrated by the Church during the late medieval period many of the hierarchical issues were caused by the expanding power of the state.

Voted up and shared!

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