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The medieval and early modern periods were witness to many beginnings. The English language, for instance, traces its origins to the early medieval period, and would be very different today if Continental Germanic tribes had not migrated to Britain in the fifth century, or if the French-speaking Normans had not invaded England in the mid-eleventh. Not only English, but many of the commonly-spoken European languages, and their literatures, began in the Middle Ages and flowered in the Renaissance, greatly aided by the invention of print in the fifteenth century. Just as our own understanding of literacy and communication has been radically changed by the introduction of the computer and the internet, print was a technological revolution of historic proportion that allowed, for the first time, written material to be mass produced.

Forms of social and cultural organization were also undergoing radical changes at this time. Christianity came to dominate the religion and culture of the West during the medieval period and, within a few centuries, its hold on society was so strong that thousands of Europeans set off on the crusades. These religious wars targeted the recovery of Jerusalem for Christianity, but also were possibly aimed at the conversion of Jews and Muslims. The medieval period also witnessed the rise and spread of Islam, and the encounter between Muslims and Christians extended beyond the conflict of the crusades into the often-peaceful realms of trade and cultural cooperation in the Mediterranean area. The nation state, the dominant political formation of the modern age, also saw its beginning during the Middle Ages, as political authority became more centralized and bureaucratic. Medieval people were the first to attend universities as well, as government administrations became more complex and thus needed highly-trained officials. Controlled systems of currency and an emerging middle class allowed for burgeoning capitalism and the production and consumption of excess goods, many of which were imported from the Middle East and as far away as China. Although a global economy and urban culture therefore increased exponentially during this time, the countryside was still very present in the lives of medieval and early modern people. Sustainability was therefore a necessity, rather than a new trend, during this period.

So, why study the medieval and early modern periods? Because there is something in these periods that speaks to every interest—globalization, environmentalism, individuality, ethnicity, religion, orientalism, new media ... the list is endless. The minor in Medieval & Early Modern Studies at UT Arlington encourages students to think across traditional disciplinary boundaries and to make connections between events and concepts perhaps widely separated in time and space.

 

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