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The History of History

3. Medieval History

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the kinds of history that were written in late antiquity and medieval Europe, focusing in particular on: (i) the continued sense in this period that history was a kind of rhetorical exercise, written to persuade people of a certain truth about the world; (ii) the influence of ancient historians on the writers of this period; (iii) the differences between how historians of the ancient world perceived time and how Christian writers perceived it, and the impact this on the kind of history that was produced in each period; (iv) medieval historians’ views on the ‘purpose’ of history, and the impact of this on the kind of history that was produced in this period; (v) the predominance of monks in the writing of history in this period, and the kinds of sources they used; (vi) the (apparent) credulity of medieval historians, e.g. William Newburgh, but also their intellectual humility; (vii) the emergence of non-monastic writers in the later middle ages, especially in the cities of northern Italy, and the kind of histories that were produced by these writers; and (viii) the emergence of histories written in the vernacular, not Latin, and the implication of this change for how the readership of history was changing in this period.


In this course, Professor John Arnold (University of Cambridge) explores the history of history – the ways in which the writing of history has changed from Herodotus (c. 484-25 BC) to Hayden White (1928-2018). In the first module, we think about the question ‘What is history?’, focusing in particular on some of fundamental challenges that historians of all ages have had to grapple with, as well as on the idea of the ‘purpose’ of history – why do we bother to study the past at all? In the following six modules, we think about the development of history in six key periods – the ancient world, the medieval world, post-Reformation Europe, post-Enlightenment Europe, the 19th century, and the 20th century. In the final two modules, we consider three approaches to history that have proved highly influential from the second half of the 20th century to the present day – Marxist history, Feminist history, and Postmodernism.


John Arnold studied at the University of York, gaining a BA in History, and a D.Phil. in Medieval Studies. He worked at the University of East Anglia, then moved to Birkbeck, University of London, in 2001, until his election to the professorship of medieval history at Cambridge in 2016. He has been lead editor of the journal Cultural and Social History, is on the editorial board of the journal Past & Present, and co-edits several publication series: Genders and Sexualities in History (Palgrave Macmillan), Heresy and Inquisition in the Middle Ages (York Medieval Press), and Oxford Studies in Medieval European History (OUP).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Arnold, J. (2020, September 07). The History of History - Medieval History [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Arnold, J. "The History of History – Medieval History." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 07 Sep 2020,