Medieval studies is the academic interdisciplinary study of the Middle Ages.
The term 'medieval studies' began to be adopted by academics in the opening decades of the twentieth century, initially in the titles of books like G. G. Coulton's Ten Medieval Studies (1906), to emphasize a greater interdisciplinary approach to a historical subject. In American and European universities the term provided a coherent identity to centres composed of academics from a variety of disciplines including archaeology, art history, architecture, history, literature and linguistics. The Institute of Mediaeval Studies at St. Michael's College of the University of Toronto became the first centre of this type in 1929; it is now the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (PIMS) and is part of the University of Toronto. It was soon followed by the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which was founded in 1946 but whose roots go back to the establishment of a Program of Medieval Studies in 1933. As with many of the early programs at Roman Catholic institutions, it drew its strengths from the revival of medieval scholastic philosophy by such scholars as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain, both of whom made regular visits to the university in the 1930s and 1940s.
These institutions were preceded in the United Kingdom, in 1927, by the establishment of the idiosyncratic Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, at the University of Cambridge. Although Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic was limited geographically (to the British Isles and Scandinavia) and chronologically (mostly the early Middle Ages), it promoted the interdisciplinarity characteristic of Medieval Studies and many of its graduates were involved in the later development of Medieval Studies programmes elsewhere in the UK.
With university expansion in the late 1960s and early 1970s encouraging interdisciplinary cooperation, similar centres were established in England at University of Reading (1965), at University of Leeds (1967) and the University of York (1968), and in the United States at Fordham University (1971). A more recent wave of foundations, perhaps helped by the rise of interest in things medieval associated with neo-medievalism, include centres at King's College London (1988), the University of Bristol (1994), the University of Sydney (1997) and Bangor University (2005).
Medieval studies is buoyed by a number of annual international conferences which bring together thousands of professional medievalists, including the International Congress on Medieval Studies, at Kalamazoo MI, U.S., and the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. There are a number of journals devoted to medieval studies, including: Mediaevalia, Comitatus, Viator, Traditio, Medieval Worlds, Journal of Medieval History, Journal of Medieval Military History, and Speculum, an organ of the Medieval Academy of America founded in 1925 and based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Another part of the infrastructure of the field is the International Medieval Bibliography.
The term "Middle Ages" first began to be common in English-language history-writing in the early nineteenth century. Henry Hallam's 1818 View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages has been seen as a key stage in the promotion of the term, along with Ruskin's 1853 Lectures on Architecture. The term medievalist was, correspondingly, coined by English-speakers in the mid-nineteenth century.
European study of the medieval past was characterised in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by romantic nationalism, as emergent nation-states sought to legitimise new political formations by claiming that they were rooted in the distant past. The most important example of this use of the Middle Ages was the nation-building that surrounded the unification of Germany. Narratives which presented the nations of Europe as modernizing by building on, yet also developing beyond, their medieval heritage, were also important facets underpinning justifications of European colonialism and imperialism during the New Imperialism era. Scholars of the medieval era in the United States also used these concepts to justify their westward expansion across the North American continent. These colonialist and imperialist connections meant that medieval studies during the 19th and 20th centuries played a role in the emergence of white supremacism.
However, the early twentieth century also saw new approaches associated with the rise of social sciences such as economic history and anthropology, epitomised by the influential Annales School. In place of what the Annalistes called histoire événementielle, this work favoured study of large questions over long periods.
In the wake of the Second World War, the role of medievalism in European nationalism led to greatly diminished enthusiasm for medieval studies within the academy—though nationalist deployments of the Middle Ages still existed and remained powerful. The proportion of medievalists in history and language departments fell, encouraging staff to collaborate across different departments; state funding of and university support for archaeology expanded, bringing new evidence but also new methods, disciplinary perspectives, and research questions forward; and the appeal of interdisciplinarity grew. Accordingly, medieval studies turned increasingly away from producing national histories, towards more complex mosaics of regional approaches that worked towards a European scope, partly correlating with post-War Europeanisation. An example from the apogee of this process was the large European Science Foundation project The Transformation of the Roman World that ran from 1993 to 1998.
Amidst this process, from the 1980s onwards medieval studies increasingly responded to intellectual agendas set by critical theory and cultural studies, with empiricism and philology being challenged by or harnessed to topics like the history of the body.
In the twenty-first century, globalisation led to arguments that post-war Europeanisation had drawn too tight a boundary around medieval studies, this time at the borders of Europe, with Muslim Iberia and the Orthodox Christian east seen in western European historiography as having an ambivalent relevance to medieval studies. Thus a range of medievalists have begun working on writing global histories of the Middle Ages—while, however, navigating, the risk of imposing Eurocentric terminologies and agendas on the rest of the world. By 2020, this movement was being characterised as the 'global turn' in Medieval Studies. Correspondingly, the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, founded in 1963, changed its name in 2021 to UCLA Center for Early Global Studies.
Many Centres / Centers for Medieval Studies exist, usually as part of a university or other research and teaching facility. Umberella organisations for these bodies include the Fédération Internationale des Instituts d’Etudes Médiévales (FIDEM) (founded 1987) and Co-operative for Advancement of Research through Medieval European Network (CARMEN). Some notable ones include: