Indicating the way out of slack waters

The medieval History Journal
August 11, 2000

Recent decades have witnessed a so-called "interpretive turn" in the study of history, inspired in part by the theoretical maelstrom of post-structuralism and in part by the related critique of modernity. While the full effects of this "turn" continue to be debated, it is clear that as the smoke has cleared, a new terrain has emerged for historians. Interdisciplinary approaches, often drawing on textual analysis, have gained widespread acceptance and have given rise to new topics of inquiry such as the body, space and identity. Of equal significance for historians has been the revaluation of what have been called the "grand narratives" of modernist history.

These latter criticisms have had momentous implications for the study of the medieval world because modernist historical narratives have in various ways relied on some image of the medieval as the backdrop or "other" of their own histories and self-perceptions. Indeed, the medieval's very temporal definition as the "middle time" is only possible within the framework erected to somehow displace it. What is more, images of the medieval have played an important part in the defeat of the pre-bourgeois social order both in Europe and elswhere. Given this history, the rethinking of modernity has had the salubrious effect of potentially liberating the medieval from its role as an imperfect "middle term".

The Medieval History Journal, an attractively packaged, high-quality publication with an international advisory board, is the first academic venue for medieval historians that has embraced and welcomed the challenges that these recent historiographical developments have thrown up.In the journal's mission statement, the editors have declared a strong commitment to both interdisciplinary and comparative approaches. In its first few issues, the journal has delivered richly on this promise.

Articles have appeared specialising in Europe, the Middle East, India, China, Japan and Eurasia, covering subjects as diverse as markets, monetary history, gender, architecture, religion, children's names and the Inquisition. These contributions are united by a certain theoretical reflexiveness, methodological awareness and comparative vision quite rare among medievalists, who have too often been content to paddle in the slack waters of larger currents in the field.

A special issue, "Contextualising the Medieval", looks at the vicissitudes of the periodisation of history in six world regions. Contributions question the viability, utility and potential of the concept of the medieval as a historical category, particularly in the non-European world where this periodisation was introduced in the context of colonialism and consolidated under the auspices of nationalist history. The journal's historiographical emphasis can be seen in notable articles on the notion of frontier in medieval history, the periodisation of Muslim history, Russian studies of medieval India and recent work on the crisis of the late Middle Ages.

The Medieval History Journal , graced by luminaries such as Jacques Le Goff on Europe, Irfan Habib on India, and Aziz al-Azmeh and Tarif Khalidi on the Islamic world, will be essential reading for individuals and institutions with an interest in general medieval studies, medieval and early-modern history in Europe, the Middle East and Asia and world history.If medieval studies has in of recent been newly vitalised, then this journal is the best evidence of it.

Daud Ali is lecturer in Indian history, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

The medieval History Journal: (Two times a year)

Editor - Harbans Mukhia
ISBN - 0971 9458
Publisher - Sage
Price - £ 26.00 (indivs); £67.00 (instits)

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