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  • The Historical Present: Medievalism and Modernity by Walter Kudrycz
  • Helen Young
Kudrycz, Walter, The Historical Present: Medievalism and Modernity, London, Bloomsbury, 2012; paperback; pp. 256; R.R.P. £25.99; ISBN 9781441109491.

The Historical Present: Medievalism and Modernity is an exploration of ways in which the Middle Ages have been written and thought about in modern times, focusing particularly on historical and philosophical thought. By tracing the intellectual history of the idea of the medieval from the early Enlightenment to the present, Kudrycz sheds important light on the ways in which Western society has conceived of its own cultural heritage. Medievalism has emerged as an important interdisciplinary field in the past five to ten years, and, with its account of the changing currents of thought across several centuries, this book makes a significant contribution to it.

The first two chapters argue that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were a single epoch by tracing continuities between the various positions adopted in relation to the central tenets of modernity, notably that of progress. The section demonstrates that this epoch also saw the formation of the foundations of medievalist thought up to the present. Chapter 1 focuses on the Enlightenment, exploring the ‘rediscovery’ of England’s Anglo-Saxon past and Constitution, the impact of Whig history, the French Annalist historians, and closes with Edward Gibbon and David Hume. The second chapter explores the early development of Romantic thought, considering the writings of Immanuel Kant and the English pre-Romantics such as Richard Hurd. The section highlights the role of aesthetics and of increasing interest in philology and history in shaping approaches to and ideas about the medieval past.

Chapters 3 to 5 are concerned with the major cultural and intellectual trends of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. They explore Romanticism and New Hegelian Idealism and argue that modernity’s concepts of the medieval emerge in the tensions and interactions between the two positions. Friedrich Schlegel, Sir Walter Scott, and, of course, Georg Hegel are the key thinkers discussed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 examines the nineteenth-century academy in Germany, France, and England with a focus on professionalisation in the discipline of medieval history, and explores the contribution of Leopold von Ranke to modern historiography. The fifth chapter continues this interest in the academic history writing, tracing its trajectory into the early twentieth century, and focusing particularly on the British and American contexts. [End Page 270]

The final four chapters argue that positions which developed in the nineteenth century continued to inform intellectual and cultural approaches to the medieval in the mid-to-late twentieth century up to and including contemporary times. Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche are the key figures of Chapter 6, which gives an account of the rise of aesthetic thinking and the fall of progressive concepts of history. Chapter 7 focuses on the Annales School and the disciplinary practices of medieval history in the twentieth century. It discusses the writing and influence of Marc Bloch and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, in particular, and demonstrates attention to history-as-structure rather than history-as-progress. The eighth chapter argues for a form of New Romanticism in Anglophone medievalism from the mid-twentieth century, focusing particularly on the works of Richard Southern. Chapter 9 explores recent and current trends in historiography of the Middle Ages, considering post-structuralist influences; Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Caroline Bynum are key figures.

This book argues that tension between progressive and aesthetic thought has shaped modernity’s approaches to the medieval. It is well written and, despite its primary focus on history and philosophy, is accessible to scholars whose primary expertise is not in those disciplines. It displays the author’s wide-ranging knowledge across multiple time periods and is one of the first monographs in the field of medievalism to take a principally diachronic approach.

Helen Young
La Trobe University


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pp. 270-271
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