What new footage from "Game Of Thrones" can teach us about the real Middle Ages


EXCERPT: HBO just reminded us that Winter is here. In its new trailer for 2019, fans of Game of Thrones were only offered a few seconds of what will happen in the coming season, the show’s final one. [...] Although none of us fans can know for certain what’s to come, it’s probably fair to guess that the season ... will be filled with violence, that there will be tragedy. ... For one, we’ve watched the show. But for another, the show plays off a popular conception of the medieval world as dark, treacherous, and violent. In other words, it uses our assumptions about the Middle Ages to help tell its story. And as a medievalist, and having taught a course on Game of Thrones at Virginia Tech since Winter 2015, I fight against these preconceptions whenever I teach.

How - and even if - to teach the relationship between a fantasy world such as "Game of Throne"s and the historical European Middle Ages has admittedly caused controversy among scholars. But to my mind, the fact that the show both reinforces and at the same time challenges our assumptions about the period is precisely what makes "Game of Thrones" so interesting.

The Middle Ages are known as the “Dark Ages” for a reason. [...] During the Enlightenment, the medieval came to be known as the antithesis of the modern, a repository for whatever we considered “bad.” These thinkers built themselves up by tearing their medieval predecessors down. Basically, what they created was nostalgia, which can take 1 of 2 forms. First, it can believe that an ideal past has been lost and needs to be reclaimed. Second, it can says the past has no value and should be wholly discarded. The first is the friend of authoritarianism, while the second excuses modernity by placing all its sins in the past.

"Game of Thrones" relies upon that second kind of nostalgia, the one that my students so often bring with them to my courses. They have a set of preconceptions about what they’ll find in the Middle Ages. They know that culture, politics, and society “disappeared” after Rome, only suddenly to reappear a thousand years later (once again in Italy).

[...] I make my students read Joan Kelly. In her 1977 essay (since challenged, revised, and expanded upon by other scholars), Kelly argued ... that as we emerge ... out of the Middle Ages, European women’s access to political power decreased, they had less say in cultural production, were portrayed more negatively in ideology, and lost control of their sexuality. In other words, women did not have a “renaissance.” Things, in fact, got worse for them. It’s not a perfect essay but it is a brilliant one. It troubles our ready-made narratives about progress, particularly when paired with sources from the actual Middle Ages themselves....

MORE (details): https://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewgabr...ddle-ages/

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