The present delegitimization of History, and particularly of medieval History, is linked to the decline of the nation state, which ensured its own justification by referring to its own age and tradition. Nowaydays, economics, with its ahistorical logic, has become the ideology of a system in which multinational companies and transnational institutions have come to dominate. Seen in a broader perspective, the delegitimization of (medieval) History constitutes only one example of the loss of legitimacy that fundamental disciplines in general have suffered and that results from the fact that currently only monetary values are recognized as core values: advanced capitalism has succeeded in blending its ideology (i. e. its values), which is what enables it to reproduce itself, with the very mechanisms that form its core. As a corollary, the elite curriculum has shifted from fundamental to applied disciplines, leading to a qualitative increase in the recruitment of the latter; in addition, these applied disciplines have also been the main beneficiaries of the massification of higher education. This bifold increase, both qualitative and quantitative, has profoundly modified the relation of forces within the academic field and reversed it in favour of applied disciplines and the resulting social delegitimization has been translated into the academic delegitimization of the fundamental disciplines, of which the contemporary delegitimization of (medieval) History is only an illustration.
The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, combined with a severely stalled discovery pipeline for new antibiotics being developed, has the potential to undo the advances in infection control achieved in the last century. One way around this impasse might be to re-explore the medicinal practices of the medieval world. Why? This is because although the medieval world was ignorant of so much of modern theory, it seems that centuries of practice by medieval doctors could have produced some treatments for infections that were effective. These could contain antimicrobial compounds suitable for development into antibiotics. Our interdisciplinary team, initially based at the University of Nottingham, tested an eyesalve described in the tenth century Anglo-Saxon ‘Bald’s Leechbook’ with startling results. By following the recipe as closely as possible, we created a cocktail that can kill one of the most common causes of eye infections, the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. More significantly, Bald’s eyesalve can kill a range of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This chapter details our team’s initial findings and places them in the context of an interdisciplinary analysis of how medieval doctors used the materia medica available to them. We present novel results confirming the reliability of Bald’s eyesalve as an anti-Staphylococcal agent. Further, we demonstrate the potential of ‘big data’ approaches to turn medical texts into predictive databases for selecting natural materials for antibiotic testing. Finally, we present our work as an example of how interdisciplinary dialogue can significantly advance scholarship.
As the cult of saints became increasingly important to the Christian religion during the latter stages of the Roman Empire, so too the veneration of relics became a central element of Christian piety. The urge to physically touch, kiss, or just be in the presence of saintly remains survives to this day. The estimated 250,000 British and Irish visitors to the relics of St Anthony of Padua in 2013, and the millions that attended the tours of St Thérèse’s relics to Ireland, in 2001, 2009, and 2012, offers us an insight into the enduring power with which saintly remains have been invested in Ireland.1 Indeed, the widespread media coverage of the discovery by Irish police in April 2018 of the heart of St Laurence O’Toole, stolen from Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral six years earlier, indicates an ongoing fascination with the cult of relics. This chapter explores how and why the cult of relics became a key element in the functioning of the Christian church in early medieval Ireland, as elsewhere, and in the Church’s interaction with society. Furthermore, it will question whether it was the Church’s control of the cult that ensures its longevity or whether the Church simply tapped into an essential part of human existence. Through an examination of the veneration of relics in Ireland, this study will shed light on the lasting appeal of the cult and what implications this has for our perceptions of religion in our modern, secular, global society.
Eoin MACNEILL (1867-1945) was the first academic historian of early medieval Ireland; he is frequently considered to be the founder of the discipline of early Irish history. He was also a prominent nationalist activist, a revolutionary, and a minister in the first Irish Free State government. This paper will consider the shared inspirations for MACNEILL the politician and MACNEILL the scholar. In particular, it will focus on MACNEILL’s belief that the medieval past of Ireland was the making of its national character and the foundation of its right to independence from the British Empire. This brought him into conflict with the great unionist historian of Norman Ireland, Goddard Henry ORPEN. Their debate, revolving around contested pasts, proved to be troublesome for later generations of historians who were concerned to write an Irish history free of political bias. But MACNEILL was no mere propagandist. He was passionately devoted to the writing of source-driven history, one reliant upon core research skills in language and palaeography. He believed history should be scientific but not necessarily, or even ideally, value-free. This paper will examine these issues, primarily through the lens of MACNEILL’s career up to the formation of the Irish Free State (1922) and subsequent Civil War (1922-1923). It will show the extent to which his disagreements with ORPEN, as well as MACNEILL’s efforts to accurately delineate the early Irish past for scholars and, crucially, the wider public, were tied to his conviction that understanding the medieval was always relevant for contemporary societies.
In taking action, or rather in making the decision to act, humans are inevitably confronted with a fundamental dilemma: actions taken in the present seek to bring about consequences in an immediate or distant future, but that future is, by definition, unknown and unknowable. That even the present is characterized by a high degree of complexity can lead to the establishment of a particular group: experts or expert advisers. Experts are individuals credited with specific knowledge and who are relied upon in order to make informed decisions or solve particular problems. While many authors consider the development of cultures of expertise to be a uniquely modern phenomenon that responds to the increasing complexity of social organisation, this chapter argues that late medieval astrologers can be described as ‘experts’, and that their activities can be analysed fruitfully as being part of an ‘expert culture’. In order to appreciate fully the characteristics and workings of this culture, medievalists have to rely upon insights and findings derived from the Social Sciences. While an interdisciplinary dialogue benefits research on medieval subjects, I argue that the analysis of premodern ‘expert culture’ can (and must) inform reflexions on the role of experts in modern societies. Based on drawing a comparison between modern financial experts and late medieval astrologers, I argue that analysis of the latter enables us to better understand our reliance on experts as an act of belief rather than as an outcome of supposedly rational calculation.