On 9 July 2015, Eric Christiansen's "Two Cheers for the Middle Ages!" appeared in the online New York Review of Books. (Find it here.) In the piece, Christiansen reviews three substantial publications that treat the medieval, giving context for each before assessing their comparative quality. To do so, he situates them in a prevailing and long-standing discourse of aspersion upon the medieval, citing condemnation of the period by intellectuals and public figures alike--but he also figures the condemnation as farcical in vivid simile. The piece comes off as an excellent review of three texts, of which two are singled out as particularly useful--but that is not all it does.
As noted above, in providing context for his review, Christiansen points to prevailing attitudes of derision towards the medieval. The use of the term to indicate the backwardness or idiocy of a thing is, as Christiansen notes, entirely too prevalent and bespeaks an all-too-common ignorance of what the medieval, variously defined, actually offers. Christiansen's review is useful as an argument against that ignorance, and one in a wide-reaching venue that may actually do some sort of good. He is correct that current culture maintains many medieval holdings, as this webspace and the scholarship promulgated by the Society and many of its members as individuals hold, and his writing in so prominent a publication as the New York Review of Books works to spread that message further than the currently-limited reach of the Society allows. (We are working on it.)
There is some hope that the kind of rethinking called for by Christiansen (less explicitly), the Society, and other organizations of similar scope (more so), is underway, both within academia and without. Discussions not too long ago within the Modern Language Association of America resisted the collapsing of Middle English sections into a single discussion forum (although how long the resistance will continue to be successful is far from certain, admittedly), and the increasing presence of medievalism studies at academic conferences suggests that there is increasing recognition of the continuing influence of the medieval on what has followed it. Little of it that I have heard or read interprets that influence as a negative quality; rather the opposite is true, and those treatments that deride works for their use of the medieval do so because the works use the medieval badly. The focus is on the misuse, which suggests that "getting it right" is as important as Helen Young avows in an earlier post to this blog. And that suggests that the medieval is valued by the academy as much as the kinds of things this blog has treated suggest the medieval continues to be valued outside academia.
There is more to do, of course. Again, Christiansen is correct in identifying a prevailing disparagement of the medieval--and while it can be argued that the medievals did have some bad ideas and performed wrong actions, they are not worse off in those respects than we who sit in judgment over them by much if at all. It ought to be kept more in mind, and "Two Cheers for the Middle Ages!" helps to place it there.