Actual medieval history – and the inescapability of the topicality

I’ve planned this semi-professional blog for a while, and like all projects, the start is always the most difficult part. To be honest, I’ve written already two drafts for the first blog post, only to decide that I was not pleased. So finally I made up my mind and picked up an actual topic.

In Turku, my current home, we had during the last week the opportunity to enjoy the oldest, the biggest and the most beautiful of Finnish history re-enactment events and fairs, Turku Medieval Market. Well, I’m a bit partial in judging the festival, because during my student years I spent several summers working in the production office and I’m currently a vice member in the board of the organizing association. But indisputably the Medieval Market, with its ca. 112 000 visitors in four days, is the most remarkable event of its kind in Finland.  The public interest in medieval history, historical crafts and re-enactment is far from declining.

The Medieval Market in Turku has every year a different medieval theme year. This time it was 1418, with news about the conclusion of the Council of Constance and the end of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417). Although I was one of those who brainstormed the theme year, its topicality and parallels to current political situation in Europe stroke me only during the actual festival. When choosing the theme, we in the board only wanted to suggest a year with some known historical context, around which the scriptwriters and directors could create the Market theatre and other events.

But as Bishop Magnus Olai (1412-1450) opened the Market and celebrated the renewed unity and strength of Christendom after years of division, I wonder if I was alone seeing the connections to the hopes and anxieties over the solutions of the ongoing economic crisis, which threatens to become the European schism of our times. Yet I, at least, didn’t intend this association when pondering over the theme.

This was a kind of revelation. The notion that we study history from the perspective and interests of our own times belongs to the first-year courses in the university. Still, experiencing on a personal level that the decision of a topic can be in many respects unconscious was something new.

It left me somewhat troubled. That re-enactment of medieval history comments implicitly some current issues in an event like Medieval Market is in my opinion only a positive thing. But on the level of academic research – my study interests being the cultural history of both control and reform in the disturbed years of 1390s – I can’t help but wonder, if I’m very profoundly and inescapably a child of my own times.

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Loppuun vielä vinkki suomenkielisille lukijoille. Tapahtuman merkitystä Turulle, sen kulttuurille ja taloudelle on pohdittu täällä

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