Why this site?

by Rita Costa Gomes

To introduce college and university students to the study of the Middle Ages is a complex, uncertain task. One of the main difficulties derives perhaps from our scarce knowledge about how adult students today learn history. For instance, we do not know for certain which modes of communication are successful in exploring and building familiarity with the distant past. Such familiarity can be defined as “an ability to recognize and situate a substantial common store of references about a consensually shared past” (David Rosenthal). Many scholars and teachers have expressed concern about a current erosion of this familiarity. Without it, they argue, the difficulty of learning history increases because a common ground and basic factual or chronological orientation are lacking.

This  site results from a teaching project that wants to create that kind of familiarity by making us look again, all around us, at the places where we live.
‘Buildings’ traces the Middle Ages in the urban landscape and architecture of Baltimore, using a local resource of immediate physical access: the buildings themselves.
‘Objects’ proposes the museum as a place of discovery and learning, simultaneously revealing how the memory of the medieval past was cultivated through collecting.
The ‘People’ section presents the Middle Ages as a lively area of interest, curiosity and scholarship, and a diversified field of professional practice in the city of Baltimore. Each scholar, amateur, or professional medievalist we found working in the metropolitan area —in fields as diverse as music, conservation of manuscripts, academic research in history or art history, costume and jewelry design, cooking, to name but a few — provided guidance to what it takes to cultivate a passion for the Middle Ages.

The emphasis in this project is put on doing: photographing and observing, questioning and listening, researching, writing, but also revising and editing content. This challenges the preconception that studying history in college is merely creating a copy of someone else’s knowledge of the Middle Ages in the student’s head.  The student in this project abandoned a passive role as the mere consumer of the ascribed meaning(s) proposed to him by the heritage monument or the museum object, and discovered how to appropriate himself of those realities by turning them into objects of enquiry. Sharing the result of his work in this website, he is also led to own it more fully, and to experience what is at stake in a person’s claim to authorship.

In truth, the term ‘Middle Ages’ has no more than a humble pedagogical function, as a debatable convenience for school curriculums, or as a label for erudite techniques whose scope is moreover ill-defined by the traditional dates

Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft