22nd – 28th March

Let’s Get Medieval:
Parallels Between Medieval and Modern Culture

This project explores the intersections of medieval and modern culture. It comprises eight online, interactive digital projects compiled by Queen’s University Belfast students. Each presentation outlines the surprising parallels between the past and present. The topics researched are diverse and include astrology, pandemics and politics, among others. They demonstrate that a knowledge of medieval culture can help us better understand the present and plan more effectively for the future.

Asked to think about the middle ages, our minds might wander to images of mud, peasantry, or even plague. Our understanding of the middle ages has been shaped by modern films, like the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where peasants deal in mud as a currency. So too, the 2010 computer game Dante’s Inferno features armoured knights who battle against monsters in a dark and hellish landscape.

We often assume that the middle ages (circa 600-1500) was an era of backwardness, a thousand-year period in history when culture and innovative thinking receded, an era of ‘darkness’ from which we have fortunately escaped. We take comfort in the assumed superiority of the present, safe in the knowledge that history is not cyclical but an inexorable march toward progress.

Such stereotypes are, however, misleading and fool us into thinking that there is an unbridgeable gap between modernity and the middle ages. They also prevent us from seeing the broader picture; ignorant of our own histories, we are unable to see parallels between past and present events and anticipate the future.

The presentations below aim to change such blinkered thinking and open our horizons to the past. Compiled by Queen’s University English Literature students, each interactive presentation uses Microsoft Sway to reflect on the intersections and surprising continuities between medieval and modern cultures.

These fascinating presentations comprise a broad range of topics, including medieval astrology, politics, pandemics and even aphrodisiacs! Not only do they make for a compelling read, they also demonstrate how and why medieval studies are important in the modern era. From public responses to the Black Death of 1348, to the present Covid-19 pandemic, the need for a well-rounded understanding of the past is more important now than ever if we are to effectively plan for a better future. It is by reading the past that we can interpret the present.

For maximum enjoyment, please select the fullscreen option when viewing each project.

‘Black Death 2020?’ by Rachel Burke

This project explores the relationship between responses to the medieval Black Death of 1348 and the modern day Covid-19 pandemic. Despite modern advances in technology and medicine, this presentation demonstrates that medieval responses to the Black Death are surprisingly similar to recent responses to Coronavirus.

‘Monster’, ‘Mobs’ and ‘Mindless Hooligans’ by Ruby Thornton

This sway project explores the portrayal of the working class during the 1381 poll tax riots in comparison to the riots experienced in Brixton and London in 1990, after the introduction of a new domestic poll tax. Despite being over 600 years apart, this sway will highlight the unfortunate similarities between the two events and the presentation of the working class rioters by those of a higher social standing.

‘Aphrodisiacs: Middle Ages & Today’ by Lucy Cinnamond

This Sway project researches herbal aphrodisiacs in medieval and modern culture. Exploring Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, I demonstrate how and why medieval men used herbs and spices as sex aids or ‘love potions’. I consider modern parallels and argue that, while we tend to think that a lot has changed in 600 years, men’s use of aphrodisiacs today is similar to that of the middle ages.

‘Revolt on Repeat: 1381 & 1990’ by Simon Goligher

This project explores the striking similarities between the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and the London riots of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both scenarios were ignited by poll taxes and both occurred in England, some six centuries apart.

‘Affluenza: Reactions of the Rich’ by Emily Kerrigan

This Sway project explores responses to plague outbreaks, particularly those of high social standing. The ten young nobles of Boccaccio’s fourteenth century text, The Decameron, respond to the 1348 plague of Florence in a similar way that the “nobles” of this era have responded to Covid-19. I demonstrate how the mega-rich Kardashian family mimic the privileged actions of Boccaccio’s medieval characters as they flee to large villas during the pandemic.

‘Sign of the Times’ by Caitlyn Walker

This project explores medieval and modern thinking about cosmology.
I research medieval depictions of the ‘Zodiac Man’ alongside Geoffrey Chaucer’s use of astrology in his Canterbury Tales. I demonstrate that modern society’s interest in horoscopes stems from medieval astrological beliefs and continues to shape how we live today.

‘Black Plague-Covid 19. What’s the difference?’ by Bethan Pollard

This Sway explores the responses to the Black Plague and Covid-19. It examines the striking similarities between past and present as it asks: Does history repeat itself?

Astrology in Medieval and Modern Culture by Alisha Goudie

This presentation considers how astrology has fascinated past and present cultures. While modern society may seem far removed from the middle ages, current interest in horoscopes stems partly from medieval thinking. By studying the past, we are therefore able to understand our current approach to astrology.

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