Everyday life and elites in the later middle ages

The civilised and the barbarian

Authored by: Gábor Klaniczay

The Medieval World

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138848689
eBook ISBN: 9781315102511
Adobe ISBN:


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Historians of medieval and early modern Europe have been struggling for a long time to find the best way to characterise most appropriately the vivid variety they encounter in the documents that reveal the texture of life in those periods. If they want to go beyond nineteenth-century romanticism or antiquarianism, historians have to construct broad concepts to frame and analyse without anachronism the manifestations of originality and diversity they rightly perceive in their evidence. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, some historians have eschewed the political, legal, institutional and philological approaches that prevailed earlier and still command allegiance in many quarters, and have turned instead to the concept of everyday life (French la vie quotidienne; German Alltagsgeschichte). With this, a whole series of scholars have set out to examine a wider and deeper sphere of experienced realities. Their aim has been to unveil the material structures defining the conditions in which life was lived during the period concerned (Schultz 1889/1965, 1892; Langlois 1926–8; Coulton 1928; Faral 1942; Delort 1972; Le Goff 1977; Borst 1983; Kühnel 1986; Jaritz 1989; Medium Aevum Quotidianum). Especially in recent decades, on the basis of fruitful exchanges with anthropological theory, a similar all-embracing concept has been put forward, the histoire des mentalités (Le Goff 1977; Martin 1996) which approaches everyday realities from the opposite side, that is, from the abstractions used by historical subjects in a given period, and the ways in which those subjects perceived time, space, nature, gender and the norms regulating behaviour in those fields. The history of material culture (German Realienkunde) (Braudel 1979; Veröffentlichungen 1977–98) and the various branches of historical anthropology have inherited the goals of the exponents of these two conceptual approaches, and tried to combine and nuance them in various ways by drawing on the resources of an ever-widening field of interdisciplinary methodology. All these approaches have one thing in common: the assumption that the underlying structural features – material, social, and mental – of life in a given period and place could be characterised within a single explanatory framework, which could then be subdivided further into sociological, regional and chronological categories, such as norms and modes of conduct (Lebensformen) (Huizinga 1924/1996; Borst 1973).

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