Andrew B.R. Elliott’s abstract

Historical Authority in Political Medievalism: Who Owns the Medieval Past?

The recent study of political and online medievalism has placed a range of new ideas under scrutiny about the ways in which the Middle Ages (in particular) and history (as a whole) can be used outside of scholarship as powerful modes of supporting almost any given ideology. Perhaps the most powerful tool in all of this has been the rise of so-called Web 2.0 technologies, which aggregate User-Generated Content into public and social media sites. Early apologists for Web 2.0 argued that these are democratising and revolutionary technologies, which allow for an increasingly fluid and demotic mode of participatory culture;[1] much recent scholarship, however, suggests otherwise, noting that the structural inequalities of the internet merely replicate—or even amplify—the structural inequalities of the offline world.[2]

This talk explores these two issues to explore what they mean for online and ‘participatory medievalism’. If it is true that the process of historical appropriation has been opened up to the crowd, what happens to historical authority? In an online environment in which a blog post can rank higher than a journal article on Google, how can Public History, and Medievalism explore pastness? In other words, who owns the medieval past?

[1] Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, New Ed edition (Cambridge, MA: Basic Books, 2003); Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Reprint edition (New York, NY Toronto London: Penguin Books, 2009).

[2] Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: NYU Press, 2006); Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (London and New York: Penguin, 2012); James Curran, Natalie Fenton, and Des Freedman, Misunderstanding the Internet (London: Routledge, 2012).