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Global Middle Ages in Sydney

Exploring the medieval from a non-Eurocentric perspective
Our work centres on Greece and Rome, Byzantium, the Islamicate world, the Mediterranean, Classical China, East and South Asia, the Silk Road, Latin America and the 'New World'.

About us

We're investigating the historical, economic, intellectual and religious interactions between Europe and various medieval and early-modern empires and civilisations through their cultural productions and material conditions. 

Our exploration of the Middle Ages and the pre-modern periods expands the traditional borders of Western Europe to examine different geographic regions. By globalising the medieval and studying the 1000-year period of the Middle Ages (from the 5th to the 15th century) in regions as diverse as Asia, Africa and Oceania, we hope to reconsider historical periodisation and Europe's assumed linear trajectory.

We are also interested in the myriad iterations of the medieval in contemporary cultures. Since the Renaissance, the concept of the Middle Ages has often been used in opposition to modernity – the period is seen either as unspeakably barbaric or organically utopian. We are interested in the ideology of periodisation and how the term 'medieval' is used to serve the privilege of some and marginalise others.

We are also concerned with mapping the cultural iterations of the medieval as it presents in art around the globe. We study the ways in which medieval sources are used and how medieval representations are produced and enjoyed.

Our people

We are an interdisciplinary community of academics and students from several departments within the University of Sydney and from universities across Australia and New Zealand.

  • Professor Peter Anstey, Discipline of Philosophy, The University of Sydney
  • Associate Professor Francesco Borghesi, School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Sydney
  • Professor Carole Cusack, Discipline of Studies in Religion, The University of Sydney
  • Andrew Gillet, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University
  • Dr Huw Griffiths, Discipline of English, The University of Sydney
  • Dr Umberto Grassi, The Medieval and Early Modern Centre, The University of Sydney
  • Professor Antonina Harbus, Department of English, Macquarie University
  • Chris Jones, Medieval History, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Professor Vrasidas Karalis, School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Sydney
  • Professor Constant Mews, Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University
  • Professor Richard Miles, Discipline of Classics and Ancient History, The University of Sydney
  • Dr Lynette Olson, Discipline of History, The University of Sydney
  • Dr Jan Shaw, Discipline of English, The University of Sydney
  • Dr Matthew Stavros, School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Sydney
  • Professor Jonathan Wooding, Celtic Studies, The University of Sydney

Our events

Fear and emptiness in the Mediterranean: Spanish perceptions of space in 16th century North Africa

18 April 2018 

A lecture by Associate Professor Gen Liang, National Taiwan University

Oceania in the Middle Ages: A Connected World

25 October 2017

Dominique Barbe, The University of Noumea, New Caledonia

Linking the European Middle Ages with the history of Oceania requires identification of phenomena common to most island groups. These phenomena suggest a general evolution is found everywhere, with local specificities becoming more marked from the beginning of the Little Ice Age of the early 14th century. The development of archaeology and genealogies, and the history of natural events help in understanding the connections and conflicts in an island world where the ocean is more of a bridge than a barrier.

Mongol Eurasia and Cangrande's Silk Suit

20 September 2017

Professor Anne Dunlop, The University of Melbourne

The medieval ruler of Verona, Cangrande della Scala (ob. 1329), was buried in a lavish outfit made from European, Central Asian, and East Asian silks that testify to the international trade in textiles, from China to Northern Europe, that arose in the wake of the early 13th century Mongol conquests. Cangrande’s suit becomes a starting point for a discussion of contact and exchange in the Mongol age.

Rethinking religious history in global perspective: Songlines, sacred stories and theologies

16 August 2017

Professor Constant Mews, Monash University

Reflecting on the need for religious history to develop a greater global perspective without sacrificing an understanding of local identity. We will consider how various forms of religious history have combined local and global identity in different ways, going back to orally transmitted songlines about spirit ancestors that define the law of the land.

Sanctifying God’s name: The ethos of Jewish martyrdom in medieval Ashkenaz (Germany)

30 August 2017

Dr Michael Abrahams-Sprod, Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, The University of Sydney

The religious fervour that captivated the Crusaders in 1096 as they made their way across Europe laid its toll at the doorstep of the Jewish communities of the Rhineland. The Crusaders fell upon Jewish communities, forcing them to convert to Christianity. While Jewish communities struggled with this new reality, the rabbis redeveloped a known theological concept that sanctioned martyrdom – Al Kiddush HaShem. How did the rabbis justify this position and how was it presented and later represented?

Criminal crusaders? The yellow cross of penance and the punishment of heresy in 13th century Occitania

26 April 2017

Dr James Kane, Department of English, The University of Sydney

Examining the idea and purpose of the yellow-cloth cross of penance, imposed by the armies of the Albigensian Crusade (1208–1229) that marched into the expanse of land between the Rhône and Garonne rivers known as Occitania. The paper analyses how the punitive repurposing of the symbol of the cross exploited conceptual and tangible methods of coercion to create a category of people who were analogous to the notoriously unpopular crusaders, thus generating a deep sense of resentment in the towns and villages of Occitania.

Historical method in 11th century China

29 March 2017

Dr Mark Strange, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

This seminar will examine the major features of eminent historian and statesman Sima Guang’s (1019-86) Examination of Variants, submitted as a corrollary to his vast chronicle, A comprehensive reflection on the past to aid orderly rule (1084). We will explore the role the Variants played in Sima Guang’s larger historiographic project, and touch on issues of authority in 11th-century historical writing.

Conference: Cultures of modernities in the pre-modern and early modern period

15-18 June 2016

Expanding the traditional focus, disciplinary constraints, geographic reach and historical periodisation of the Middle Ages and early-modern period. We will challenge the notion that Western powers were constituted in the 15th century or the Renaissance and gave rise, only then, to a capitalist modernity; and reflect on the technologies, translation projects, intercultural engagements and cultural sophistication of earlier empires. 

Download program (PDF/296KB)

Medieval legacies of human rights in Australasia, Europe and Muslim societies

In 2015, the world commemorated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. But how can a medieval English charter embody fundamental rights in a globalised world? We reconsider the medieval origins of human rights and the legacy of foundational medieval texts today.

Download abstracts (PDF/89.4KB)


Headshot of Dr Helene Sirantoine