Time is a bastard

5 04 2010

I can’t think big without thinking small.

Okay, so not strictly true—I can aggrandize with the best of ’em—but I do have to gather enough nails before I can be confident of a structure holding.

So in attempting to come to terms with medieval thought-modernity-post-modernity, I want to make sure I get the timelines right, even if, in the end, it’s really not about the dates at all.

It’s a litt. . . a lot embarrassing how poor is my knowledge of any pre-twentieth century history. I picked up bits here and there as a background to understanding certain contemporary conflicts, but I had no sense of how this tied into that—hell, I had only the thinnest sense of this and near-none of that, much less of any ties.

I am therefore now engaged in the process of infilling 500 or so years of European history, beginning around 1200 and heading into the 1700s.

Lotta shit happened; who knew?

I don’t want to go too far back into medieval times, because, again, I’m interested in the transition, but the 13th century seems a reasonable spot into which I can row my boat: It’s  in this century that the  papacy achieves its greatest power (only to see it begin to decline as kings begin to accrue and guard their increasing territorial power), as well as the century of the Inquisition.

Perhaps I could have begun with the First Crusade (Pope Urban II, 1095), or even further back with the split between the eastern and western Christianity (1054). Or I could have gone the other way, and begun with the first Black Death pandemic in 1347.

But the 13th century seems right: that monarchs began to assert themselves against the claims of the Vatican augured the beginnings of the nation-state (not to arrive fully until the dissolution of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires in the early 1900s), which carries its own moral and political claims. It was also during the 1200s that the earlier re-discovery by Christians of classical texts became integrated into various university curricula; Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, published late in the century, is the apotheosis of Aristotelian Christianity.

Can I tell you that before I began this project I knew almost none of this?

I swore after I took my prelims, and then again after I finished my dissertation, that I was done learning.

Hah. And I thought I was so smart. . . .