The Invention of Medieval Studies

The invention of Medieval studies (its reincarnation with new agendas chiefly from 1957-1963) was marked by conflict and tension between its founders. As Lee Patterson in his book 'Negotiating the Past' mentions, the exegetic of D.W. Robertson in "Preface to Chaucer", 'Critical Approaches to Medieval Literature' and the critical writings of Charles Muscatine were often contested ideas within medieval studies.

During that time the apparent rivalry between the new critics and the exegetics soon was portrayed as "sibling rivalry" rather than genuine disagreement in the selection of critical agendas. As Patterson claimed such sibling rivalry did one good thing by equipping the younger Medievalist to be committed in the field though it proved to be harmful in the institutionalization of medieval studies in the subsequent years.
The young generation included other new agendas borrowed from the European immigrants in the post war era. The ideas and insights borrowed from the Continental philosophers, art-historians, literary historians, anthropologists, sociologists, however, contributed little to the interdisciplinary and academic richness for those ideas and insights were scrutinized for the sake of 'monolithic otherness'. Both Robertson and Muscatine played the role of those different scholars that reduced the intellectual status of medieval studies into a monolithic project for it had nothing new to offer to the scholars. Though such knowledge from Europeans added newness in the medieval studies and though it offered new agendas for the young scholars to break-away from the past, it offered no unanimity in interpreting results. Its intellectual boundary was yet to be radically redrawn for the return to the mainstream.
The apparent debate continued and affected the new literary history of the middle ages. The use of art historicism of the continent introduced allegory, symbolism and other rhetorical devices in the study of Medieval texts. The purpose was to grasp the "spirit of the age", understand the history and culture of the Middle Ages through the rhetorical devices applied in the texts. Despite the difference in interpretive mechanism, both new critics and the exegetics depicted man as "determined by the forces of nature rather than man reflecting the real" which in turn changed its academic status by making it plural and flexible than it was.
Such changes in the field of medieval studies introduced a new synthesis between two apparently diverse inventors between the"spiritual blessing" (the bearing of the devices) and the "literary article" (as emphasized by the Exegetics and New Critics respectively). Such synthesis finally led to the critical analysis of the medieval writings by use of modernist agendas to discover the 'Modernity' of the Middle Ages.
In developing the new literary history as Middleton claims two distinct ideas –analytic and critical- heralded the renewed identity of the middle ages. But in both of these senses, Medieval studies preserved it’s Monolithic otherness even in the revision of prevailing values and cultural assumptions for in practice critical agendas were dominated by the analytical one.
Though with these new awareness and insights Medieval studies developed its pedagogy, the desire of its founders to 'other' and to transfer an "illuminating cultural war" in the form of Medieval studies to the young Medievalists, led towards its rapid deflation and unexpected marginalization in the field of literary studies.