Medieval and Early Modern history has become one of the most dynamic and stimulating fields of historical study. A great deal of innovative work in social and cultural history has taken place in this area, and has transformed the way history is conceived of and written. To a large extent, this dynamism is based on the premise that no radical separation should be established between the “Renaissance” and the “Middle Ages,” since no fundamental break with the “medieval“ past had in fact occurred. Thus, it makes much more sense to study these two periods together.
But what best defines Medieval and Early Modern history at the University of Maryland is that our program expands the field beyond its traditional Eurocentrism to comprise a more global perspective. Taking the study of Medieval and Early Modern history beyond the narrow and constrained borders of the modern European nation-states and the traditional European/African/Asian/American divide helps illuminate fundamental aspects and processes of the pre-modern past that are usually obscured by traditional national histories. In that regard, the study of Medieval and Early Modern history at Maryland is eminently comparative and transnational. The program is flexible enough to accommodate the differences in scope and method appropriate to different approaches (transnational, transregional, comparative) while providing depth of study to develop expertise both within and beyond the traditional national/geographic field.
The faculty brings a broad range of expertise to the field. Areas of research range from queenship in medieval Spain to female slavery in the Ottoman Empire, from sainthood and popular piety in the German lands to martyrdom in the Spanish Empire, from governance and historical writing in the Early Muslim world to the transmission of knowledge and the development of communal institutions in Jewish society both East and West. The program is especially strong in cultural history and the study of the imperial polities that developed in the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds from Antiquity to the Early Modern period, in particular the Roman empire, the Islamic empires (including the Ottoman empire), and the Early Modern Spanish and British empires. The program is also very strong in the study of religion and gender, two of the most dynamic and innovative areas of research in the field.
The Medieval and Early Modern program also works closely with the faculty of the Ancient Mediterranean field. This collaboration is a reflection of recent historiographical developments that tend to blur the traditional separation between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Thus, historians have introduced the terms Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages to convey the sense that there was no radical divide between the two epochs. Likewise, studying Antiquity and the Early Modern period in conjunction can lead to illuminating connections. After all, the culture of Classical Antiquity was still very much alive in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The program’s particular emphasis on a global, transnational, and comparative perspective is reflected on its signature seminar on The Medieval and Early Modern World, a requirement for all students entering the field. This seminar lays the foundations for the study of medieval and early modern history on a comparative and transregional vein. The seminar is taught by various members of the History faculty, thus enabling students to get acquainted with a variety of theoretical, methodological, regional, and thematic approaches that greatly enrich their understanding of the period.