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15 May, 2018

Sturtevant, The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination

I.B.Tauris is pleased to announce the publication of The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination: Memory, Film and Medievalism by Paul B. Sturtevant; £75, $110; UK release date: 30/05/18, US release date 30/05/18; ISBN: 9781788311397.

It is often assumed that those outside of academia know very little about the Middle Ages. But the truth is not so simple. Non-specialists in fact learn a great deal from the myriad medievalisms – post-medieval imaginings of the medieval world – that pervade our everyday culture. These, like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, offer compelling, if not necessarily accurate, visions of the medieval world. And more, they have an impact on the popular imagination, particularly since there are new medievalisms constantly being developed, synthesised and remade. 

But what does the public really know? How do the conflicting medievalisms they consume contribute to their knowledge? And why is this important?
In this book, the first evidence-based exploration of the wider public’s understanding of the Middle Ages, Paul B. Sturtevant adapts sociological methods to answer these important questions. Based on extensive focus groups, the book details the ways – both formal and informal – that people learn about the medieval past and the many other ways that this informs, and even distorts, our present. In the process, Sturtevant also sheds light, in more general terms, onto the ways non-specialists learn about the past, and why understanding this is so important. The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination will be of interest to anyone working on medieval studies, medievalism, memory studies, medieval film studies, informal learning or public history.

Praise for The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination

Traditional medievalists have only scratched the surface of the broad and influential cultural phenomenon of medievalism. Paul Sturtevant’s case study, instead of asking questions mainly important to professional historians, harnesses social-sciences theories and methodologies to help us comprehend how and why groups and individuals engage with representations of medieval culture around them. His book is an essential step toward providing scientifically valid information about the public’s understanding of the medieval past.    

Richard Utz, Chair & Professor, School of Literature, Media and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology

Carefully researched and written in a lively and engaging style, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the use—and abuse—of the medieval past in contemporary popular culture. Sturtevant skillfully integrates cutting-edge quantitative methods for studying audience reception with insights from culturally-informed medievalism studies. This book demonstrates not only the broad significance of “the Middle Ages” for a wide public but also confronts its urgency in shaping present-day understandings of race, gender, religion, histories of violence, and geopolitics. Chapters examine how audience perceptions of the medieval past are influenced by Game of Thrones and fantasy fiction, Arthurian myths, Crusade themes in video games and films, and the varied afterlives of Beowulf and Robin Hood. This book is an invaluable resource for enthusiasts, educators, journalists, students, historians, and anyone who cares about what the medieval past means for us today.

Jonathan Hsy, Associate Professor of English at George Washington University and blogger at In The Middle

The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination reveals the preconceptions today’s students have about the Middle Ages thanks to their representation in popular film. Sturtevant takes a fresh approach to studying medievalism in a book that crosses disciplinary boundaries and interrogates the divide between academic and public medievalism.

Amy Kaufman, Director of Conferences, International Society for the Study of Medievalism


About the Author

Paul B. Sturtevant is an audience research specialist at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC. He completed his PhD at the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds. He is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the very popular collaborative history blog 'The Public Medievalist' (http://www.publicmedievalist.com/).