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Dating the Middle Ages

Press release issued: 26 November 2003

Experts from Bristol University will be debating the question 'When did the Middle Ages begin and end?' at a special conference today.

Experts from Bristol University will be debating the question 'When did the Middle Ages begin and end?' at a special conference today [Wednesday 26 November] which brings together scholars from the departments of Classics and Ancient History, Archaeology, Historical Studies, History of Art, Music, English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Modern scholars have become increasingly dissatisfied with the traditional periodisation of the European past and many of them are now engaged in re-drawing the boundaries. For example, the curators of the current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum have created a storm by daring to suggest that England could still be described as 'Gothic' even in the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47). With this conference, Bristol's medievalists will enter the debate, offering their own views as to when, if ever, there was a European Middle Ages.

Dr Elizabeth Archibald, one of the conference organizers, said: "This is a unique opportunity for Bristol experts to offer their various points of view - one has even entitled his contribution 'The Middle Ages never existed' - and to show how much variation there can be in views of the extent of the Middle Ages.

"We'll be raising such questions as whether the Middle Ages began in the late fourth century when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, or in 410 when the Goths sacked Rome.

"Scholars who work on Italian art and literature will argue that the Middle Ages ended and the Renaissance began with Giotto (1266-1336) and Petrarch (1304-1374); historians of the book may feel that the crucial date is the mid-fifteenth-century, when Gutenberg began printing with movable type; others will argue for the discovery of the New World in the late fifteenth century, and the Protestant Reformation in the second quarter of the sixteenth century.

"We can't expect to settle the question of when the Middle Ages began and ended, but we do hope to show how many exciting ways there are in which the question can be discussed."

The conference 'The Beginning and End of the Middle Ages', run by the University's Centre for Medieval Studies, will take place in Lecture Theatre 1, 3/5 Woodland Road at 2.15pm. Professor Ronald Hutton of the Department of Historical Studies will respond to the debate, and the conference will end at 5pm. Anyone interested is welcome to attend.

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