Friday, August 14, 2015

The Terms "Dark Ages" And "Renaissance"

In this post, and on this blog in general, I use (and fully intend to continue to use) the term "Dark Ages" to denote the period between AD 476 and 800 in Western, Latin-Speaking Europe -- the period between the abdication of the Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus and the crowning of the Western Emperor Charlemagne. I use the term "Middle Ages" to designate the entire period between the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the (for lack of a better term. See below) "Renaissance."

But apparently, if I were taking an exam or writing a dissertation, my grade might suffer if I were to use the term "Dark Ages" instead of "Early Middle Ages," and I might be accused of Eurocentrism.

PC academic fashion be damned, I think it's ridiculous to call the term "Dark Ages" Eurocentric. The term isn't used to refer to any region except Latin Europe, and doesn't imply that darkness had sunk upon any other parts of the world.

Now the term "Renaissance" is quite Eurocentric, and centered not even on all of Europe but only Western Europe. Saying that Classical Greek culture was "reborn" because it was noticed again in Western Europe ignores the fact that it was never forgotten by the Greeks themselves, and also flourished in parts of the Islamic world. That's the height of Eurocentricism, which one also sees whenever someone says "Christendom" and is referring only to the Catholic/Protestant part of Christendom, as if Orthodox and Coptic and Armenian and Syriac and Ethiopic and other branches of Christianity had never existed.

Typically, Western historians somehow manage to continue to ignore the direct impetus given to the Western re-discovery of Greece by Greek scholars fleeing to Italy from the Ottoman conquest of Byzantium. Reading histories of Renaissance Europe, it seems as if Greek were somehow revived entirely by Westerners from Petrarch and Boccaccio to Erasmus, and the contributions of Greeks like Demetrius Chalcondyles and John Argyropoulos are rarely mentioned. It's utterly (Western-)Eurocentric, and downright rude.

One doesn't frequently encounter an outcry, here at the Western world, against such usage of terms like "Renaissance" and "Christendom," unless one reads top-notch stuff like the works of Runciman, and this blog.

So far I haven't heard of any trends toward abolishing or improving upon the term "Renaissance" in academia.

But then, I haven't attended grad school since 1992. (There are times when I'm very glad I haven't.)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I plan to pursue study on these 2 terms in the future.