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Inventing the Middle Ages

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  394 ratings  ·  34 reviews
The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century

In this ground-breaking work, Norman Cantor explains how our current notion of the Middle Ages-with its vivid images of wars, tournaments, plagues, saints and kings, knights and ladies-was born in the twentieth century. The medieval world was not simply excavated through systematic research. It h
Paperback, 480 pages
Published February 26th 1993 by Harper Perennial (first published 1991)
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3.75  · 
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The Middle Ages as we perceive them are the creation of an interactive process in which accumulated learning, the resources and structures of the academic profession, the speculative comparing of medieval and modern worlds, and intellectualization through appropriation of modern theory of society, personality, language, and art have been molded together in the lives, work, and ideas of medievalists and the school and traditions they founded.

Whew! Thank goodness we don’t find too many sentences l
Having finished this book, I've sat and pondered for a while how best to describe Norman Cantor. Bitter? Egotistical? Historiographically wrongheaded? A raging douchebag? All those terms alone seem somewhat inadequate—perhaps some combination of all of them, with maybe a couple more thrown in.

When I came across this book in a secondhand bookstore, I knew I'd heard of it vaguely before, and the premise sounded very interesting—an exploration of the lives of some key twentieth century historians
The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)
Ah-HAH! Now I understand why this is important to lover's of fantasy. Cantor's discussion of C.S. "Jack" Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien (Ronald) ....(could that be as in "Weasly?").

I dare say Cantor probably would not appriciate or invite as close an inspection of his personal life as he gives C.S. Lewis, accurate or not. I don't disagree with a thing he said, but he has difficulty loosing the snobbish tone he picks others apart with and I wonder if his inclusion of these two is more for noteriety, s
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is probably the most gossipy 'academic' book I have ever read. Cantor takes as his purpose the outlining of the birth and growth of medieval studies as an academic field and discussing how the main players in each of the phases of its development that he has identified shaped our perception of the middle ages by incorporating their own generational, societal, and personal concerns into what was ostensibly an impartial research of the facts. Thus we have the specific interests and preconcept ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a phenomenal book, a kind of parallel history of the Middle Ages and the twentieth century combined with biographical sketches and book reviews of the great twentieth-century medievalists and their work. Every single chapter in this book was endlessly fascinating. For me, a major highlight was the chapter on "the Oxford fantasists" notably CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. I had never before read a serious assessment of the Inklings from an academic historian's perspective even though they were ...more
Jacob Aitken
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Norman Cantor (1991) takes the various approaches to medieval historiography and uses them to illustrate scholarship in general, and from there draws a number of interesting conclusions about modern politics, religion, and social life (Cantor, 410-414). Cantor got in trouble for writing this work. While 80% of this work is brilliant scholarship, the other 20% make the tabloids look like peer-reviewed journals! The subtitle of the book should read “Professor Guilty of Sex Scandal: Cantor Tells Al ...more
Mar 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: medieval, history
In Inventing the Middle Ages, Cantor manages to pull off what I'd imagine is quite a tricky task - writing a informative, fun, and lively book about historiography. He jumps around through the 20th century, touching on English, French, German, and American medievalists who studied art, literature, kingship, law, and social relations. It's an ambitious book, and it's impressive that it doesn't feel more arbitrary or scatter-shot than it does.

Any work like this is going to be heavily subjective, a
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culturalhistory
Cantor ablely lays out the various schools of thought in 20th century Middle Ages Studies. This book was close to a god send for me. I've been reading almost exclusively out of the Annales school, like a blind man, having no idea that there were other areas to explore (more accurately, what those avenues might be).

Cantor uses the personalities and backgrounds of the major midievialists to explain their works. Along the way he offers excellent summations and critiques of the various works. He in
Tim Weakley
An examination of prominent historians since 1905. The author makes the point that the work done before this date has very little impact and no validity as history according to the modern definition of the term.
The introduction is a well done overview of the medieval time period, what we know about it, and how we know it. In the following chapters he breaks up the various schools of thought by their best hist and gives us a little biography.
While I think this is a book meant for those interested
Fred R
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't share Norman Cantor's taste for psychoanalysis, but otherwise this is a fantastic, witty, even profound history of how our knowledge of the middle ages was produced over the last century and a half. There should be one like it for every academic discipline.
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medieval, humanities
Inventing the Middle Ages is a history of history, as well as a raised glass to one's colleagues and ancestors. Norman Cantor surveys the works of the most influential, and even some of the marginal, medievalists of the 20th century. He shows that the mental picture that contemporary people (or at least medievalists) have of the Middle Ages was painstakingly crafted by the meticulous and imaginative yet highly personal labors of a handful of intellectuals.

Cantor's approach to his subjects is hi
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I realize that this book is not very highly regarded by professional medievalists, but I found it extremely interesting, even though at times the style was rather OMG and I had serious ideological differences with the author, who is quite conservative. But his writing is incredibly engaging, and a picture emerges of the tremendous revolution in medieval studies between 1890 and 1965 that I found extremely compelling and helpful.

A few notes on the Goodreads headnote: obviously the romantic idea o
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Though I've no intention of concentrating on Medieval studies, I found this book very interesting. It was also very easy to understand, though perhaps the author had intended for the book to be understood easily. The concepts in the book, I think, aren't only exclusively applicable to Medieval history (and the invention of its image) but also to other Historical disciplines as well (for example, I think, Orientalism and how 'Othering' creates an image or a "type" for both the 'Othered' and the o ...more
Aug 31, 2011 rated it really liked it

I liked it. The book looks at the different schools of thought and scholarship on the middle ages in each chapter and I felt my enjoyment of the book waxed and waned depending on the chapter and personalities of the scholars being presented. Also, I felt that Cantor's personal opinions got in the way a lot. I'd recommend it to someone who wants a more scholarly and snobbish look at the actually writing of the history on the middle ages but not for someone looking for a book on middle ages.
Brady Clemens
Jul 17, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is certainly interesting in places, but Cantor's presentation of the topic is too heavy on gossip and ultimately too meandering to be of interest to more than a few who are already knowledgeable about the historiography of the Middle Ages.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
The first time I heard this book referred about was in graduate school, when I took a class on Spanish medieval literature. Our professor mentioned it in class and also included it in her suggested readings. I did not have time to read it then. But, as it’s said in Spanish, nunca es tarde cuando la dicha es buena [it’s never late when the enjoyment is this good]. It is a highly subjective, brash, sharp-tongued and cynical, “brilliant” and “immensely satisfying” (using his own adjectivation) boo ...more
May 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting more analysis of the medieval period, but this could easily have been entitled "Medieval Historians I Have Known". Lots of detail of the individual historians ratherthan of the history. That being said I still learned a few things from this book about the medieval period and the early 20th century.
Lucas Rizoli
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Sporadically intriguing but not enough to really make me feel it worth my while. Way more biographical and psychoanalytical than I expected; definitely locked into the late 80’s in its attitudes—toward Marxism and feminism especially. Perhaps that’s not the only reason Cantor seems so dismissive? It seems like arrogance at times.
Joseph Hamilton
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
The only thing I didn't like was that he denigrated Barbara Tuchman's book in passing but included J. R. R. Tolkien's as worthy of a chapter. Probably a simple case of writer's envy.
Al Biggerstaff
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I found the armchair Freudianism, typical of Cantor’s time, to be annoying.
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Thank God I'm finished. A very rude and unkind author.
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Amazing and entertaining account of the ideas, lives and personalities of the great 20th century medievalists who created our idea of the Middle Ages.

Cantor writes in an enagaging, if scattershot, style. The book is at its best when Cantor is talking about the scholars he knew personally, like Stayer, Powicke, Southern and Mommsen. We are also indirectly introduced to Cantor himself and his views on the issues in question.

It does have its flaws though, like the disorganized way most of the chapt
Nov 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the random books I picked while browsing audiobook sale selection. Seemed like an interesting topic and "the back cover" or more like the short description peaked my interest. I envisioned an overall all-encompassing description of the medieval history and how the view and understanding of the medieval times evolved, but that was only the first chapter of this book. Somewhat.
Actually most of this book is what I would call "metahistory" - history of the historians res
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
The European Middle Ages have intrigued me since my youth - an interest I think is shared by many young people who become captivated by books and films that delve into the myths and tales of this very rich period in our Western memory. This is not a "history" of the period, it is rather, a thoughtful and sometimes very opinionated collection of essays that take us into the academic research of significant Medievalists Cantor (who is one of my favorite Historians to read) has himself studied and ...more
Jul 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Informative and eye-opening about how manmade our visions of the past truly are and how alive historical study truly is. I have little background in medievalist studies so much of this flew over my head. However, I can pick up on the over use of outdated Freudian psychoanalysis when the author describes and contemplates the actions of these historians. It's annoying and makes me question much of what is written, however there is no doubt that the insider knowledge the author provides is invaluab ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The book is infuriating and at the same time, indispensable. I completely understand reviewers who detested it, but it seems to me that people who work in the field (I started out in it and departed many moons ago) owe it to themselves to read this and take a stand. For myself, I can only speak knowledgeably about his description of people like Knowles and Gilson, who operated within Catholic boundaries, and I have to say, he is right on the money about the advantages and disadvantages of being ...more
David R.
Jun 19, 2014 rated it did not like it
Sorry to say this book failed me in several respects. For one, it's dry as dust and evoked little interest in the various (I think there were 20) academics who supposedly did so much to shape the modern view of the Middle Ages. For another, I wasn't persuaded that these academics, many of whom were colleagues and teachers of the editor, made that much impact even on later generations of academics. Finally, this book demonstrated the mighty disconnect by elite scholastics whose personal agendas t ...more
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
A tell-all gossip book about...medievalists? Weird concept, but actually very illuminating of the field and engaging too, since everything is going on against the backdrop of 20th century upheavals. Who knew that the groundbreaking scholar of Frederick II assassinated communists in Berlin during the 1930s and would later become the darling of the American left for refusing to sign California's oath of loyalty to democracy in the 1950s?
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyable, informative and fun reading. I especially like his footnotes and suggested Core Bibliography in Medieval Studies and suggested films. Great total immersion and preparation for the next part of his exciting reading journey. Love to know who he trained to carry on his work. Any suggestions?
Jennifer Dustin
Jul 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is great. Its a basic, sweeping work for the evolution of Medievalism. It covers everything from Henri Pierenne to Bloch. Read this if you want an introduction to Medievalist theory and evolution in the 20th Century.
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Born in Winnipeg, Canada, Cantor received his B.A. at the University of Manitoba in 1951. He went on to get his master's degree in 1953 from Princeton University and spent a year as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. He received his doctorate from Princeton in 1957 under the direction of the eminent medievalist Joseph R. Strayer.

After teaching at Princeton, Cantor moved to Columbia Univ
“Maitland noticed in the mid-thirteenth century the rise of what today is called jury nullification of the law. Juries were reluctant to convict the very young, women, the senile, or first offenders with good reputations. A 1980 study shows a conviction level of indicted people—not much higher than in New York City today—of only 35 percent in about the year 1320. In response, judges did what criminal justice officials in New York do today. They began to resort to plea bargaining.” 0 likes
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