Version classiqueVersion mobile

Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

f) Political medievalisms 3

1) Contrast and distance: medieval emotions in twentieth-century Europe

Carla Heelan

Texte intégral

1In The Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919), Johan Huizinga identified medieval Europe as not only a time and a place, but also as a distinct emotional regime. According to his narrative, life during the Middle Ages consisted of intense contrasts—between sickness and health, violence and mercy—that were unknowable to Huizinga’s modern audience. This framework of difference, however, did not originate with the Dutch historian. He contributed to a broader conversation among European scholars and public figures who portrayed the medieval past as a period of profound feelings that were no longer possible to experience. My paper considers the interpretive patterns of this shared discourse from the fin de siècle to the late 1940s. Politicians, scholars, and popular novelists portrayed medieval affective extremes in order to emphasize the distance between the twentieth century and the European past. As I argue, diverse figures, from the author Ricarda Huch to the eminent sociologist Norbert Elias, contrasted the intensity of medieval emotion with the shallowness of modern feeling, positing a linear evolution from the former to the latter. Yet, for some of these elites, the emotionalism of the Middle Ages also had a modern function. Descriptions of medieval Europe were intended to elicit responses of nationalism and belonging. According to Ernst Kantorowicz, this affinity made the Middle Ages especially productive for ideological manipulation, such as with the incorporation of medieval liturgical acclamations into Italian fascist spectacle. As I suggest, the modern history of medieval emotionalism at once provides the source material for cultural history and a history of social practice.


2Huizinga 1919, 1924


Harvard University

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search