Diving into the medieval world
A group of Stanford humanities professors and their students have been analyzing medieval manuscripts and artifacts to better understand how current societies and cultures developed.
For some people, the Middle Ages conjures up grotesque images of deadly plague and constant wars.
But for several Stanford scholars, this period, which lasted between roughly the 5th and 15th centuries, represents a vibrant time in humanity’s history that is still shrouded in mystery.
At Stanford, a group of humanities professors and their students have been analyzing ancient manuscripts, poring over old texts and examining resurfaced artifacts to better understand how current societies and cultures developed. They have also been making the Middle Ages come alive today by recreating medieval music and testing old food recipes.
In order to make this research possible, the Stanford Libraries’ staff has developed a growing trove of medieval artifacts and documents, many of which have also been digitized and are now available online to the public and other scholars around the world.
Examining ancient texts
Stanford medievalists have made unexpected discoveries about people and their practices during the Middle Ages by analyzing medieval documents and artifacts.
For example, historian Rowan Dorin’s research of unusual 14th-century texts showed that there was a lot more sharing of knowledge going on among the medieval societies around the Mediterranean Sea than was previously thought.
Bringing medieval feasts to life
Understanding how people lived during the Middle Ages also involves recreating some of the daily practices they have written about, according to Stanford scholars Marisa Galvez and Jesse Rodin.
For example, students in a class led by Galvez and Rodin recreated medieval meals, including the recipe for wood pigeon on toast that is being prepared in this photo. Other Stanford professors have also provided hands-on experiences for their students, like translating ancient texts from their original languages.
“Interpreting the senses of the Middle Ages by experiencing the multi-sensory feast – cooking, tasting and smelling food, listening to music and making banquet table theatricals – captivates the students and entices their curiosity about that historical period.”
Associate Professor of French and Italian
Making artifacts accessible
Researching the Middle Ages can be challenging because many of the original medieval documents and objects are hard to access.
But, through various partnerships, Stanford Libraries staff has digitized hundreds of medieval materials and artifacts, some housed at Stanford and others at libraries around the world.
One recent effort included the creation of a new online exhibition, “Medieval Collections at Stanford.” The exhibition features photos of a handful of objects and manuscripts from the Stanford Libraries and the Cantor Arts Center dating from 300 to 1600 CE.