The Middle Ages is present and alive in popular culture, for instance, in movies or other forms of entertainment such as theme parks, reenactments, or computer games. Nevertheless, teaching its history at college level increasingly requires an exercise of the imagination.
The research on history learning in American contexts clearly suggests it: we need to find ways to make the study of the medieval past more locally rooted in order to create a necessary level of familiarity and recognition. At the same time, we need to keep it intellectually engaging and open to visions of diversity.
The prevailing forms of historical thinking among adults living in the United States pose specific obstacles to the perception of the distant past, those eras prior to the recollection of family trajectories, national narratives, and vernacular memories. It is from such elements that adult Americans seem to gain a sense of familiarity with the past – that is, with a relatively recent past. The Middle Ages, for instance, might be all around us in American cities, yet it remains difficult to recognize for most young adults.
At the origin of the content posted in this site are student projects about the city of Baltimore – its buildings, monuments, museums, and the medievalists working and residing in the area. The students use the city as a way to familiarize themselves with the Middle Ages and to study its history.
Students submit their content to an editorial board of their peers, and their contributions go through a collaborative editing and review process. The website serves as a repository of the knowledge they have acquired about the urban landscape, about Baltimore as a distinctive place. At the same time, they learn history, but they also learn how the Middle Ages can be the object of cultivated memory, creative inspiration, and esthetic appreciation in contemporary America.
Rita Costa-Gomes (Towson University)
If you want to know more about this project, click here.