Exploring Myths of the Middle Ages

To start the school year, Dr. Zavitz posed a challenge to her 10th-grade history students: to explore, debunk, and demystify the heteronormative, racial, and Eurocentric myths of the Middle Ages. 

The time period is typically portrayed very narrowly—often only associated with European knights, castles, kings, and queens—leaving out many stories, perspectives, and realities of what was happening in the world from 500 to 1500. Medieval historians are currently rethinking how to study and teach the Middle Ages. They are developing the idea of the “Global Middle Ages” to better capture the diverse societies across the globe, and the exchanges between these societies.

To help students understand the Middle Ages on a more global level, Dr. Zavitz provided a selection of blog articles with different perspectives and research subjects. Students chose a topic to focus on, selected one or more articles to read, and presented what they learned to the class. 

“This assignment frames our approach to the history of the Middle Ages,” explained Dr. Zavitz. The blogs help introduce students to ideas in a more understandable way. They often draw on misconceptions in popular culture and link them to the actual history—dispelling the myths of a white, European, and heterosexual Middle Ages.

A few examples of topics that students explored included:
  • The gender-bending mythology of the Norse God of Mischief, Loki.
  • Comparing modern-day feminist movements, like the #MeToo movement, with women’s roles and activism in medieval society.
  • The idea that the Middle Ages is more of a concept than a specific time period—it’s less about when the Middle Ages took place and more about where the Middle Ages took place.
  • Understanding the importance of perspective through learning about medieval Africa and how language “separated” Africa from medieval history.

Dr. Zavitz shared, “Our goal is to develop a more inclusive approach to this time period that unveils the complexities, amazing connections, and diverse experiences of people during this time.”