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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

b) Medieval women in the modern world

3) Trothe and truth: “truthiness” and women’s bodies

Usha Vishnuvajjala

Texte intégral

1The late medieval shift in the English word trothe from something like fidelity or integrity to something closer to the modern “truth” has been well documented, most comprehensively by Richard Firth Green in his 1999 book A Crisis of Truth. My paper will trace how the long history of truth can help illuminate its varying uses in the political discourse of twenty-first century U.S. politics. I focus on two main ways the idea of truth has been central to our politics: the idea of “truthiness” that pervaded discussions about the George W. Bush administration and the accusations and public perception of Hillary Clinton’s dishonesty—or untruthfulness—in 2016, despite studies (by The Washington Post, Politifact, and others) that found she was more honest than all other leading candidates in both major parties. I argue that both of these conflicts around the idea of truth have their roots in the ideas of the late Middle Ages and their early modern reception. My paper will show how late medieval and early modern ideas that women were biologically incapable of fidelity adhered to the word “truth” even when that word’s meaning shifted significantly, transforming the idea that women could not be loyal or faithful into the idea that women are prone to telling factual untruths. At the same time, debates about the difference between “truthiness” and “truth” have their roots in shifting conceptions of trothe in the fourteenth century. As we attempt to navigate problems of “fake news,” false social media accounts, and concerted disinformation campaigns in the twenty-first century, my paper demonstrates that these conflicts have a much longer history than most of the material conditions that seem to produce them.


2Firth Green 1999


Temple University

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