First Response Week 1 Middle Ages

In the article Race, racism and the middle ages, Amy Kaufman focuses on white supremacy, hate crimes and violent acts in the Middle Ages. Amy compares modern ‘alt right’ movements with the grand titles and aggressive military regimes to that of medieval times. She also argues how modern notions about medievalism are shaped through the contemporary ideas about the Middle Ages which have been shaped over time through public perception and depicted through film and other media. She states that the popular sentiment for many of those who discuss the middle ages is based around myths which feed their imagination, and based less around factual history. Amy argues that there are many white men who fantasize about medievalism in order to cope with their changing status in society, from dominant and powerful to a more equal position with women and people of all races. She then argues how these kinds of sentiments contributed to the creation of violent and hateful organizations such as the KKK.  The KKK, which was formed after the Civil War in the US, was a cult which worked to re-establish and maintain the supremacy of the white male in society. One of my concerns with this article is the way the author sometimes uses the term ‘alt right’ very generally, or in direct connection or relation to violent organization such as the KKK. Amy does not exactly define what she means by ‘alt right’ and although the organizations she talks about could be considered ‘alt right’, when she uses the term on its own it blurs the lines between ‘alt right’ movements which are socially acceptable and those which are hateful and violent.

Sweeper: What is Nationalism?

This week we looked at the idea of Nationalism and how different groups will use medieval examples as symbols for their cause. Dr. Marc Saurette lent us his wisdom on medieval examples of chivalry, and how the context of the middle ages has made them a heroic symbol. One of our readings for this week paid particular attention to the extremist group the Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK. The KKK is known for seeing themselves as heroes and have adopted the idea of being ‘New Crusaders’, like those from the medieval past.

The first responders this week dedicated a lot of attention to the KKK reading, most likely because it was both the shortest, most comprehensible, and the most relevant reading assigned for the week. With the rise of Donald Trump, white nationalism groups such as this have made a profound return to the public eye. This made us begin to think about our own national identity, as the majority of our class is or most likely identifies as white. In Canada, however, we have a very large multicultural population to consider, many of whom are throughly Canadian. This has lead us to wonder what Canadian nationalism is and if we have one like other countries do. This transformed into our questioning of what nationalism is and how it develops in countries, and what the difference is between a constructed nationalism and a natural nationalism. Our questions kept leading to more questions and our group realized that like our questions, nationalism too has many branches which splinter. There is no one answer to the question of nationalism, but we would love to open this discussion to the class and hear your opinion.

Sweeper: reflection on the impact of the Middle Ages on Populism/Fascism today

In today’s session we talked about our perception of the Middle Ages and its place in history. We recognised, through the help of guest speaker Marc Saurette, that the Middle Ages is either romanticised in literature and art, or it is referred to as a Dark Age, during which nothing good managed to occurr. Marc drew up a number of interesting comparative propaganda posters from different totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, each of which used the crusades or medieval times as a beacon of inspiration. This is something that I had not come across previously, so I found it particularly interesting.

In our group discussion, we started by discussing the clear continuity that exists between the Middle Ages and the modern era. This is rarely drawn upon but clearly evident. There existed equal problems of inequality and religious persecution that occur today, which is often overlooked when historians reflect on this period as a whole. However, white supremacy did not mean harmony; there were numerous other problems that destabilised society, unbalancing this idealised perception of the period. From here, we discussed the role of nostalgia in creating this skewed interpretation of the Middle Ages. We concluded that countries try to selectively forget history that portrays them in a negative light in order to see themselves as superior to other troubled countries.

At this point we turned to look at the impact of nationhood and tradition on our society. People forget that tradition and Nation-hood was created only in the 19th century, at a time when most countries consisted a numerous different cultures and even languages. Today, those rejecting immigrants argue that they are disrupting there traditions and culture. However, it is a modern idea to believe that traditions stay the same and one nation should speak the same language. This was not the case in medieval times nor in the early modern period. This highlights how people idealise the past to legitimise the past, often incorrectly.

Lastly, what I found most interesting was our discussion on Federico Finchelstein’s idea, that Populism and Fascism should not be defined or confined to any parameters in the modern age. Parties or people often use both words as a weapon to denounce the opposition, rather to portray any substantiative meaning. One should be more hesitant when using such divisive words, as through such blasphemy we lose the meaning and relevance of phrases that have had a place in history.