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Inventing the Middle Ages: Lives, Works and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the 20th Century [Hardcover]

Norman F. Cantor
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct 1992 Stories of Faith & Fame
This work focuses on the lives and works of 20 of the great medievalists of this century, demonstrating how the events of their lives, and their emotional and spiritual outlooks influenced their interpretations of the Middle Ages.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Lutterworth Press; 1st Edition edition (Oct 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0718828739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718828738
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 915,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Born in Canada, the son of a Winnipeg rancher, Norman F. Cantor graduated from the University of Manitoba, and studies as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and at Princeton. The author of numerous books, he was Fulbright Professor at Tel Aviv University from 1987-88, and is currently Professor of History and Sociology at New York University.

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In France, Germany, and Italy they still call it the Middle Age. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Simplified statements 13 April 2012
Format:Hardcover
I am very disappointed with this book: expected some serious scholarship but it's full of simplified statements and generalizations. Author's description of the medieval Christianity is OVER-simplified, and the chapter on Tolkien and Lewis really miserable.
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Format:Hardcover
This is a fascinating, opinionated romp through the lives, works and influences of some of the key medievalists of the twentieth century. It's insightful, acerbic, and often based on personal knowledge as well as reading. Unfortunately, it's also deeply idiosyncratic, crazily biased, and wildly out of date. Towards the end, it degenerates into bizarre political polemic.

If you enjoy thinking about different movements of historical thought, or want to know a little more about your historical heroes, or to understand a little better what shapes the way we do history, then it is in places great - often for the simple reason that this is the only place to find a potted biography of these historians. It includes a huge variety of characters - from well known, famous historians like Maitland, Powicke and Bloch, to other medievalists like Panofsky and C.S. Lewis who aren't included in your average historiography course - but who are fascinating and influential nonetheless.

Further, Cantor knew many of the people he writes about. He lived through a lot of the more important changes in historical fashion, and studied with a remarkable number of these historians. He has genuine, and unusual insight into the way their personal lives and beliefs shaped their work. He finishes with a splendid little bibliography of 125 crucial and influential books on the middle ages.

But it really does come with strong caveats. Cantor's acerbic opinions may be fascinating and funny, but this is opinionated after-dinner talk, not serious academic discussion. Imagine sitting in the Senior Common Room with Cantor as he mouths off about famous historians he dislikes. As the wikipedia page on Cantor will tell you, he was famous as an opinionated populariser.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
105 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creative Non-Fiction and a little Historiography 9 Mar 2002
By Mark D Burgh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you were a history major like me at the University of Delaware in the late 70's, you discovered that your love of the subject is soon yanked away and replaced by something called historiography. This is dismaying, because instead of reading history, you are sent to the library to look up historians. You have to write long papers about who said what and why, which makes you drink Schmidt's beer to excess. You start writing bad poems, because you can't stand to read poorly-written analyses of other people's writing. If you wanted to do that, you could have been an English major.
I only wish this book had been out in 1978. Cantor writes well, has encyclopedic knowledge of his subject, has a sense of humor (which some people are mistaking for bitterness) and is not afraid to take a stand. His chapter on the Oxford Fantastists is excellent, informative, and something anyone interested in our current culture ought to read, since Tolkein and Lewis did much to form it.
Cantor's book is really creative non-fiction; the use of novelistic techniques in a non-fiction narrative, which to me, makes the book more readable, interesting, and more accurate. If you've spent no time around universities, then you can't understand how their internal politics shape thought and education, which Cantor shows perfectly well here.
I suppose some people bought this book expecting a history of the Middle Ages; shame on them for not reading the title, or looking inside the book. Cantor's Civilazation of the Middle Ages is a good place to start if you're looking for that. If you want to read about the historians who formed the current view of those strange times (less strange than our own) this is a good place to start.
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Historiography 7 April 2002
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Entertaining historiography should be an oxymoron but this book is an exception. Cantor's point of departure is the fact that historical understanding of the Middle Ages is essentially a 20th century phenomenon. According to Cantor, and this is creditable, very little written on this topic prior to 1900 is useful. In this book, Cantor is concerned with exposing the connections between 20th century concerns and ideas and study of Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. This is not a systematic historiography. Cantor reviews the lives and works of a substantial number of prominent scholars on a case by case basis and doesn't attempt to develop any general scheme or description of the evolution of scholarship in this area. Cantor shows how the personal and ideological preoccupations of these scholars colored or directed their work. The pioneering German students of medieval kingship, Schramm and Kantorowicz, were members of the radical right who detested the Weimar Republic. Their longing for a charismatic leader who would restore German hegemony was reflected in their groundbreaking biographies of important German emperors. Their wishes for a modern charismatic leader were granted, but in a form they came to regret. Cantor does not view these scholars and the other individuals he discusses as simply imposing reflections of their contemporary preoccupations on the past. Rather, the contemporary preoccupations often lead to important insights. The great student of medieval monastic life, David Knowles, was himself a monk with significant personal conflicts over his vocation and strained relationships with his ecclesiastical superiors. These conflicts appear to have equipped Knowles with a unique ability to penetrate the psychology of medieval religous life. Implict in Cantor's descriptions is the idea that no single scholar or group of scholars is able to describe the medieval world wholly. The existence of contemporary preoccupations, conflicts, and ideologies leads to multiple different ideas of the past,ultimately generating complementary truths. Cantor is not a relativist and clearly believes that some approximation of historical truth is obtainable and in fact, has been obtained to some extent.
In terms of the fairness of Cantor's individual portraits, only someone with Cantor's knowledge of the literature and the personalities involved can really judge the accuracy of his analyses. I have enough knowledge to make a reasonable judgement about some of his portraits. His discussions of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien are insightful. His description of the remarkably competent American scholars Charles Haskins and Joseph Strayer as functioning within the Progessive tradition seems to me to be right on the mark. On the other hand, some of the discussion of the Annalist School of French social historians is less evenhanded and at times is more of a denunciation than an analysis. Cantor knew a fair number of these individuals and is not above indulging in gossip. He is also a very good writer and this book reads very easily. An additional good feature is that Cantor includes an appendix with a list of essential books about the Medieval World.
69 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars God is in the details....... 15 Sep 2000
By Dianne Foster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a Catholic growing up in the predominantly WASP world of 1950s American South, I was taught that the era in which my church played a major role in European History was called the "Dark Ages" -- and that it was marked with ignorance, filth, idolatry, and barbarity that was only overcome with the rise of rational thought, commercialism, and neoclassicism. A few years ago, I set out to learn the truth--to study the period now known as the Middle Ages.
Medievalist scholars pretty much agree the Middle Ages include the thousand or so years following the fall of Rome (c.500 A.D.) to the revival of rationalism, Roman law, bureaucracies, and neoclassical art known as the Italian Renaissance. In his book, Norman Cantor distills the work of many leading scholars in Europe and America writing during the latter part of the 19th Century and through the 20th. He organizes their work into various schools of thought including legalists, propagandists, revolutionaries, fantasists, formalists, outriders and others.
He says the task these scholars undertook was to conceptually and operationally define or "invent" the Middle Ages by addressing several questions: What sources lead to the rise and dominance of Western society; How did a legal system that still exists today emerge (i.e. in the Commonwealth of Virginia and other U.S. states as well as England); How did kings govern without bureaucracies; How did the labor and aspirations of peasants and the ambitions and bellicosity of aristocrats lead to the respect for the authenticity of comman man; How did the various structures of the Roman Empire precondition Medieval philosophy; How did the shift from God the Father to God the Loving Son lead to humanism; How did the church function with hierarchical authority on one side and evangelical groups and individual piety on the other?
The scholarly study of the Middle Ages acquired it's impetus from the Romantic Movement of the 19th Century, which manifested itself as Gothic Revival architecture, Art Deco, PreRaphalite painting, the writing of authors from Bronte to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, the enfranchisement of the comman man, and the emancipation of slaves and women. The Romantics reacted to the atrocities of industrialization, the exploitation of labor, the corruption of the environment and the spread of disease, malnourishment and poverty by a utilitarian and unthinking society.
Cantor provides a good overview of the thinking of the past 120 years or so. He covers many well known historians, such as Maitland, Kantorowitz, Panofsky, C.S. Lewis, and his own mentor the Professor R. W. Southern. He includes the followers of Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim in the section the "French Jews" which includes essays on Braudel and Bloch. Cantor says the book "Feudal Society" by Mark Bloch is one of the best ever written about the Middle Ages. He has many negative comments about "The Waning of the Middle Ages" by the Dutch writer Huizinga, but Cantor undoubtedly read the older less accurate translation. A new translation of Huizinga's work is titled "Autumn in the Middle Ages" and it's thesis is somewhat different from that found in the older translation.
Cantor's book provides a good overview of the subject of the Middle Ages, and I recommend it for anyone starting out on this subject. (You have to start somewhere!!) And, it contains a wonderful bibliography for further reading.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How and Why History is Written and Who Writes It 8 Jun 2000
By mholesh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Inventing the Middle Ages is a behind the scenes view of the development of an academic discipline over the course of a century, the 20th Century.
The author,Norman Cantor, is a distinguished participant and observer, who unquestionably loves his subject, the Middle Ages, to which he has devoted his life and career. He makes no claim of objectivity. He is passionate about the men and women who created and shaped our beliefs and images of the Middle Ages during the 20th Century. He knew and knows many of them intimately as people and portrays them as very fallible human beings.
The great names of medievalists known to all of us, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, and those known to those of us who studied the subject in college, such as Maitland, Panofsky, Huizinga, Southern and Bloch, to name only a few, are brought to life, warts and all. Their thoughts, their methods, their habits, their appearances, their prejudices, their heroic and cowardly acts in the face of war and persection and all the other aspects of their lives and works are vividly painted.
Many of these professors turn out to be unforgettable personalities, such as the Jewish Nazi sympathizer, right wing assassin and dandy, Ernst Kantorowicz, who managed to tear himself away from the protection of his friend Hermann Goering and leave Germany at the last opportune moment in order to make a comfortable career for himself in the US under the color of refugeedom. As odious as his political views and behavior might seem, his genuine and lasting contribution to our understanding of the medieval monarchy is explained and respected by Cantor. It is a tribute to Cantor that even after reading about Kantorowicz's great and good friend Percy Ernst Schramm's participation in the Nazi regime and his chillingly smug memoir of Hitler published long after the war (and still in print), that one still can see the value of Schramm's earlier Utopian analysis of the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III and regret that there is no English translation of this classic after more than 70 years.
Academic warfare and empire-building are indelibly described. Yet through it all we never lose sight of the actual contributions to their discipline and our world of these distinctive and distinguished individuals.
Most touching of all is the brief, eloquent and sad memoir of Cantor's mentor Theodor Mommsen, the only major non Jewish German medievalist to reject Nazi Germany.
It would help to have some knowledge of things medieval. Some of the more abstruse underpinnings of genres of historiography such as Panofsky's formalism remain murky, at least to this reader. Sometimes Cantor's bile gets spilled a little too bitingly as in his snide remarks on the work of John Boswell, the late Yale historian of gay medieval life. Nevertheless this is a major work that should be read by anyone interested in the uses of history and how is it that our understanding of the past depends in large part on how we view the present. Its defects are far outweighed by its virtues. This is one of those books that make you want to go forth and read more deeply and that is what counts the most.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a history of the Middle Ages 28 Oct 2001
By Historian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is important to realize that, as the title implies, this is not a history of the Middle Ages; it IS a history of the history of the Middle Ages. That is to say this book is a description of about 20 historians of the twentieth century in Medieval studies, and how they interpreted the Middle Ages of Europe. Despite what the dust jacket comments say, it is certainly not an accessible book for the general public, as a firm understanding of historiographical and interpretive methods and jargon is required as background in order to make sense of this study. I also point out that Cantor is very opinionated!
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