The Devil’s Historians: How Modern Extremists Abuse the Medieval Past

By Amy S. Kaufman and Paul B. Sturtevant

© 2020

Amy S. Kaufman and Paul B. Sturtevant examine the many ways in which the medieval past has been manipulated to promote discrimination, oppression, and murder. Tracing the fetish for “medieval times” behind toxic ideologies like nationalism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and white supremacy, Kaufman and Sturtevant show us how the Middle Ages have been twisted for political purposes in every century that followed. The Devil’s Historians casts aside the myth of an oppressive, patriarchal medieval monoculture and reveals a medieval world not often shown in popular culture: one that is diverse, thriving, courageous, compelling, and complex.

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  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 208 pages
  • Illustrations: 4
  • Dimensions: 5.8in x 0.8in x 8.9in
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Quick Overview

The Devil’s Historians offers a passionate corrective to common – and very dangerous – myths about the medieval world.

The Devil’s Historians: How Modern Extremists Abuse the Medieval Past

By Amy S. Kaufman and Paul B. Sturtevant

© 2020

Amy S. Kaufman and Paul B. Sturtevant examine the many ways in which the medieval past has been manipulated to promote discrimination, oppression, and murder. Tracing the fetish for “medieval times” behind toxic ideologies like nationalism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and white supremacy, Kaufman and Sturtevant show us how the Middle Ages have been twisted for political purposes in every century that followed. The Devil’s Historians casts aside the myth of an oppressive, patriarchal medieval monoculture and reveals a medieval world not often shown in popular culture: one that is diverse, thriving, courageous, compelling, and complex.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 208 pages
  • Illustrations: 4
  • Dimensions: 5.8in x 0.8in x 8.9in
  • Reviews

    "The Devil’s Historians is a book that should be read by every teacher and student of medieval studies. Timely and hard-hitting, the book is unapologetic in its condemnation of modern groups who use a whitewashed version of the Middle Ages to promote their own agendas of hatred and discrimination. Kaufman and Sturtevant skillfully balance a frank acknowledgment of medieval atrocities and bigotries with an enthusiastic exploration of the diversity and complexity of the medieval period. This is a well-researched and highly scholarly book written with journalistic ease and pageturning appeal."


    Kathy Cawsey, Dalhousie University, President of the Canadian Society of Medievalists

    "Amy Kaufman and Paul Sturtevant show that the Middle Ages have never been more relevant than they are today or more worth exploring for what they really were: a messy millennium of human diversity. They explain just how much popular memory gets wrong about what was not a dark age, but an incredibly complicated, creative, and globally-connected era. Kaufman and Sturtevant explode the myths of medieval social, political, and cultural stagnation, showing a wide range of creative, disorderly, and insightful individuals of the era. More than that, however, The Devil's Historians takes aim at modern misuses of the medieval past, whether it's nationalist myths promising a return to a sanitized vision of medieval glories or the purity culture of balls, vows, and promises that lays extremely shaky claims to the medieval past. Kaufman and Sturtevant, collaborators at The Public Medievalist, show how an age synonymous with autocratic kings, religious uniformity, and placid peasantry was far more varied and challenging than popular claims would lead you to believe.

    These myths about the Middle Ages aren't just academic. For more than a century, claims about medieval Europe have been used to justify white supremacy, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and women's subordination. Attacks on Muslims are justified by modern extremists who call themselves crusaders, arguing that they will solve the contemporary world's problems by retreating to an imagined past. Kaufman and Sturtevant introduce readers to a range of bawdy, audacious, and argumentative medieval people that utterly overthrow stereotypes of the Middle Ages. We are treated to snippets of European medieval life where people of colour were celebrated as saints and women were far from subservient even if brutality and abuse were also part of the story. Rather than an age of unthinking obedience and uniformity, the Middle Ages we meet in their work is vibrant, variable, resilient, and deeply human.

    Importantly, The Devil's Historians unflinchingly shows that misuses of the Middle Ages are a serious, urgent threat. Nowadays, many politicians and pundits seek validation in what they claim are the natural, unsullied, and pure practices of the medieval past. The history that Kaufman and Sturtevant share challenges these assurances with a wealth of fascinating evidence drawn from medieval texts and modern medievalism. The authors uncover how myths of the Middle Ages have spread over the last century: sometimes benignly, sometimes with frightening implications. From the German nationalism driving the fairy-tale collections of the Brothers Grimm or the knightly respectability cloaking the Klan's racism and onto the social media claims of extremists across the globe, the Middle Ages have and continue to be misrepresented. It's not all doom and gloom, however. Series like The Witcher or Vikings are popular in no small part because of their medievalism. Yes, their gritty grimness and dark palettes might do the heights of joy and vivid colour of medieval life some injustice, but Kaufman and Sturtevant encourage readers to take heart. Instead of perpetuating ignorance, we can learn from the real Middle Ages and the era's enduring appeal. Games, role-playing societies, and especially maker culture, they argue, offer promise for a more thoughtful use of the medieval past, avoiding nostalgic extremism by basing our next steps on the clear-eyed history that The Devil's Historians offers. Better understanding of history inoculates us against populist lies about the past and this book should be part of any thoughtful reader's prescription."


    Janice Liedl, Laurentian University

    "Kaufman and Sturtevant have produced a book that is equal parts familiar, terrifying, and hopeful. With great expertise, they uncover the complexities of how medieval history has been weaponized as a tool to promote racist, sexist, and homophobic agendas while simultaneously highlighting the nuances and contradictions of the medieval past. This book is essential reading for all who love history―academic historians, university students, and the broader public. It will make you think deeply about our engagement with the medieval world and why it is crucial that we challenge its misrepresentations forcefully in order to create hope for a better future."


    Dana Wessell Lightfoot, University of Northern British Columbia

    "This is a passionate, accessible, and timely intervention into the deliberate misuse of the Middle Ages to promote hatred and fear. The authors meet the challenges of these misuses head on and expose them as such in a style as clear to general readers as it is enlightening for academics. The Devil's Historians is necessary reading for our times."
    Douglas Hayes, Lakehead University

    "The Devil’s Historians is a learned study that manages to be both lucid and incisive. The book does necessary, ground-clearing work in looking at how the past has been constructed. Kaufman and Sturtevant demonstrate their characteristic desire to make the political and historiographical issues behind medieval studies intelligible to the widest possible audience. Perhaps the most impressive part of the book is the seamless way the authors move between multiple timeframes (not simply the medieval period and the present day) to chart the complex, paradoxical, baffling and, at times, dangerous repurposing of the past. It is a timely and timeless book."


    Matthew Vernon, University of California, Davis
  • Author Information

    Amy S. Kaufman is a scholar of medieval studies and popular culture.


    Paul B. Sturtevant is Editor in Chief of The Public Medievalist and a Visitor Research Specialist at The Smithsonian Institution.
  • Table of contents

    Acknowledgments

    Introduction: Weaponizing History

    1. The Middle Ages: Foundational Myths
    2. Nationalism and Nostalgia
    3. The “Clash of Civilizations”
    4. White (Supremacist) Knights
    5. Knights in Shining Armor and Damsels in Distress
    6. Medievalism and Religious Extremism

    Epilogue: The Future of the Medieval Past

    Notes
    Further Reading

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