The end of medieval history?

July 10, 1998

Imagine if the government decided to cut the study of mammals from a biology degree or Shakespeare from an English degree. The equivalent has already happened in history. Fewer students are taking the subject at A level, and the number of those who do medieval history has declined drastically. In turn, universities are cutting medieval courses and degree syllabuses and concentrating on the 20th century: it seems sometimes that all undergraduates know about is Hitler's Germany.

Leave aside the intrinsic worth of the period, as the cradle of western civilisation and the era of the great flowering of Islamic scholarship; studying the medieval period is a crucial way in which we can learn about difference. Students engaging with the mind-set and value-systems of this period are learning to engage with people and experiences outside their cultural and social milieu. Medieval history is not only fascinating, it is relevant to our multicultural world.

An impoverished university history, that lacks a medieval dimension, is created by defeatist perceptions of the market and student demand. Such perceptions are undermining one of the great treasures of British scholarship and destroying history as a meaningful discipline at university level.

Brian Brivati is reader in history at the University of Kingston.

The end of medieval history?

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