||Over the past thirty years, historical anthropology and archaeology have matured into vibrant and dynamic subfields, despite institutional boundaries that continue to hinder communication between historians and anthropologists. Yet some historical periods have received far less anthropological consideration than others, and such is the case of the European Middle Ages (c. AD 500-1500).
Many historical anthropologists may not perceive the medieval as germane to their scholarly endeavors, which tend to focus instead on the varied impacts of “Modernity” (i.e. forces of capitalism, colonialism, and globalization) on communities across the globe. This implicit acceptance of a radical incommensurability between the modern and pre-modern perpetuates an essentialized view of the medieval (feudal, superstitious, and absolutist) that lacks any dynamism or diversity (a temporal “Savage Slot”).
Yet current research in medieval studies reveals a radically different picture of pre-modern Europe. This literature addresses numerous issues central to anthropological inquiry: questions concerning (post)modernity, alterity, sovereignty, temporality, and performance. Perhaps most importantly, medievalists have begun to explode traditional periodizations that obscure the significance and persistence of pre-modern categories and processes long considered superseded by Modernity.
This presentation calls for a more fruitful dialogue between anthropology and medieval studies, exploring the possibility of a “medieval anthropology” that combines the framework and approaches of anthropology, archaeology, and history in order to effectively trace the nonlinear, rhizomatic relationships among the medieval, modern, and postmodern. The author’s current project on the early medieval eastern Alps serves as an illustrative case-study.