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Why were the Middle Ages ‘The Dark Ages’? The Middle Ages as a Mirror for Modernity

Far from being the Dark or Middle Ages, the Medieval Period (c.500-1400 AD) was a vibrant and culturally exciting time that changed dramatically from the post-Roman world of Germanic migrations to the later romance culture in the Norman period and beyond. It was an age in which the majority of people were illiterate and so learned aurally and visually. For that reason, it is important to consider the paintings, frescoes, sculpture, drama and music in addition to the written legacy of the period. The issue remains, then, as to why this period was ever characterized as 'The Dark Ages', and a time of ignorance and barbarity.

In this distinctive "In Conversation" event, Dr Chris Jones and Professor Graham Caie contend that the very concept of 'The Middle Ages'says as much about the present as it does about the past. They will discuss and illustrate a wide variety of ways in which 'the medieval'has been consistently used and misused as a 'mirror' for the self-fashioning images of modernity, from the end of The Middle Ages to the present day, and ranging from the fine arts to the political response of the West to 9/11.

About the Speakers:
Professor Graham Caie, FRSE, is Vice Principal, Clerk of Senate and Professor of English Language at the University of Glasgow. He specialises in Old and Middle English language and literature, has edited medieval texts and written extensively on topics such as Old English eschatology, Beowulf, medieval drama, Chaucer, manuscript studies and electronic editing.

Dr Chris Jones is Senior Lecturer in English Poetry at the University of St Andrews. He received his BA from King's College London and an MA in Old English and Old Norse from the Queen's University of Belfast before moving to St Andrews, originally to research his PhD on the role and influence of Old English in 19th and 20th century poetry. He was awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship from 2007 to 2010 to write a History of Lineation in English Verse.

This "In Conversation" event was originally held in Edinburgh as part of the British Academy's Medieval Week in November 2010.