About This Blog

This is for those of you bored enough to want to know a bit more than is posted on the home page. It’s sort of a “why this blog exists” with a sprinkling of this being my virtual man-cave.

Like many others, I first became interested in the Middle Ages because I wanted to write fiction set in the period (you can blame that desire on LOTR – Tolkien opened the concept of creating a wonderful, fascinating, complex world a reader could lose him or herself in). So I started to read. The first book on the Middle Ages I opened, in 1996, was Norman Cantor’s The Civilization of the Middle Ages. I followed with several other overviews such as LeGoff’s Medieval Civilization, Goetz’ Life in the Middle Ages, Rosener’s Peasants in the Middle Ages and Contamine’s War in the Middle Ages. I couldn’t swear to the order I read them after Cantor, but I know these make up the first 5. There are newer overviews out there but I still think you could do a lot worse than reading these to get started.

My next step was to start reading a little bit about everything – I was the ultimate amateur generalist. I read a bunch of books by Gies and Gies, read Geary and Wood for early Western Europe, read Runciman as a Crusades starter (later filled in with Riley-Smith), books on Carolingians, Ottonians, Plantagenet England, and so on. Somewhere in this whole process my dream of writing fiction was crushed by the reality that I lacked talent for it – I could come up with a good story, but my ability with characterizations was bad – I’d re-read something I wrote a few months later and the story was entertaining except I didn’t care what happened to the characters in it.

Around 2000 I realized that the whole process of civilization crumbling with the Fall of Rome (a concept I believed at the time) and then reconstituting itself under the successor kingdoms was absolutely the most fascinating aspect of the Middle Ages for me. I started gobbling up books, translated source materials, etc. about this period (in the process learning that the Fall wasn’t a Fall at all but a staggering, lurching transition – a much more complex – and fun, for learning purposes – process). This is where I am now though Eastern Europe and the Eastern Empire during the same time period interest me quite a bit. Heresy also fascinates me for several reasons, probably most of all for exploring the reasons behind the formation of what, from contemporary societal standards, must be considered deviant behavior as well as how society responded to those behaviors.

So why this blog? The short and probably essential reason is because I want to. Also because I’m pretentious enough to think I might have something of value to offer. I am continuing in the process of both learning about history and learning how historians (I am not one) go about “doing history.” I think sharing what I find out about these two areas (and about the past) will be fun and a way to meet others who share my interests. I initially thought this blog would consist largely of book reviews but instead it’s become something where I mostly discuss what’s in various books (and sources) rather than the books themselves. Thanks for reading this and I hope you find something enjoyable and/or useful in this blog.


26 responses to “About This Blog

  1. Anonymous

    March 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I’m a third year history student reading for a module we have called ‘historical reflections’. It’s all about the reasons for studying history, with no set reading list and as much free reign on our reading as we like. I came across your blog and the post on popular culture and medieval movies – thought it was great and have subsequently spent a good few hours reading through your posts. I just thought I’d let you know that if a relevant question surfaced on our take away exam paper I am definitely quoting you (if this is ok of course!).

    I guess I just wanted to let you know that I’ve really enjoyed your blog!

  2. Curt Emanuel

    March 30, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Thanks very much! Unfortunately I’ve been a bit delinquent in my blogging recently but hopefully I’ll improve on that before too long. No problems with quoting me. Take care.

  3. Anonymous

    May 1, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Hi Curt. I am a complete amateur when it comes to Medieval history. My interest started when I wrote a paper about whether or not Rome’s fall was due to internal or external strife. From there I realized I was fascinated with ancient and early medieval history (ancient can be a very vague term here). I spent most of my youth reading military history with an emphasis on WWII (more the battles and campaigns and less on everything else really). For me.. it’s all a great mystery waiting to be uncovered. Your blog is one of those clues you find that you know is important. Thanks for being pretentious ;)

  4. Curt Emanuel

    May 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Thanks for your comment. My amateur status is pretty complete too so welcome to the fold, or at least welcome from the perspective of my knowing you exist! Its always fun to find people interested in this particular slice of history. It doesn’t seem to draw amateurs like some other periods do though maybe most of us have been in hiding?

    • Anonymous

      May 2, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      No problem! And it’s good to be known haha. And probably, but who knows! By the way, I’m not sure if you’ve come across it before but I figured you’d like to see this (or others who haven’t).

  5. Curt Emanuel

    May 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    That’s pretty good – when I was in school we had to fight to get audiotapes from reserve in the library – if the course was taped. I’m wondering what kind of in-class attendance he has though maybe this isn’t put up until following completion of the regular class.

  6. E.J.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I am a fellow history enthusiast and amatuer historian. I have an interest in many periods of history (including the middle ages). Just came across your blog and thought I’d say hello. Looks like an interesting site and I look forward to reading the post here.

  7. Curt Emanuel

    June 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm


    Thanks for the comment. It’s interesting how I went from generalist to being primarily focused on one slice of history. It’s not that I’m disinterested in other periods and regions (I’ve read a little on Japan and China and both have a ton of cool developments) but at some point I decided I wanted to dive as deeply as I could into a smaller segment.

  8. Lady of Winchester

    October 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Just discovered your blog. I am a Medieval History Student who has my own (not amazing) blog about Medieval books.

    • Curt Emanuel

      October 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks. Not that this blog is amazing or anything. I’m afraid I’ve fallen off on my reviews lately. I’ve been reading about areas I’m not that familiar with so I’m less willing to offer opinions on books.

      • Lady of Winchester

        October 17, 2012 at 8:40 am

        That said, it does seem more detailed than mine.

  9. Vann Turner

    February 11, 2013 at 1:01 am


    I’ve followed your blog for some time, but just today looked at the about page. Since you aspire to write a novel set in Late Antiquity (I’m doing the same now, set in Verona, 589 AD), let me suggest a stunningly fine novel:

    Raptor by Gary Jennings

    The research he did is extensive and informative, without every reading like a text. It is a long book, over 900 pages, but the story is engaging, the settings varied and vivid, the characters real and the prose positively beautiful. It is everything a novel should be, and is among the handful of novels I’ll cherish in my heart till I die. Yeah, it is that good, that human in the best sense of the word ‘human’. It throbs with vitality.

    Okay, every review needs to point out the downside: There are about 3 pages toward the end of the book that don’t add anything to it and are a frightful bore. Not too bad, though: 3 pages out of 978 pages. My hat is off to Mr. Jennings for being able to keep the forward momentum with nary a misstep. The other downside: I encountered a questionable fact: He mentions burlap. I don’t think burlap was around in 500 AD. Didn’t that arrive from India around the time of the industrial revolution? That’s about it for con side of it.

    Amazon has it, but don’t buy a paperback copy, for the Bantam edition has type too small to read. Instead get a used hardback copy. It’ll cost about $4.00 plus about the same shipping. It was the best $8 I ever spent. “Read these runes!” — the opening line.

  10. Curt Emanuel

    February 11, 2013 at 5:21 am

    I’ve read it. It’s not bad though I’m not as high on it as you are. I’m not planning any novel writing though. I gave that idea up a long time ago as I mention on this page.

  11. Amicus

    July 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I discovered your blog a few mounths ago, but I am interesting history Europe from 1st century AD (only Barbarians, not the Rome Empire) to 15th century. Your blog is interesting.

  12. Curt Emanuel

    July 7, 2013 at 10:04 am


    Thank you for your comment and I hope you continue to enjoy this blog. I’m not certain you’ll be able to study barbarians, at least from the 1st through 8th centuries in the West and through the 15th in the East without considering the impacts of the Empire on them. You may be aware of this and I’m misreading your comment. Take care.

  13. trueandreasonable

    January 6, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I just found this blog. I too have often wondered what I am doing reading so much history.

    The bottom line for me is that history is amazing. I can either decide to spend an hour reading history or listening to the news. If I spend it listening to the news I will probably learn some things that are neither very surprising or interesting. That’s not the case if I read history instead.

    I am mainly interested in Christian history but I will read other things as well. I’m not particularly serious about it though and almost exclusively “read” through It allows me to read in the car and when i am doing yard work.

    Anyway its great to find other like-minded people. I will read through some of your blogs – I hope you don’t mind getting comments on old blogs. I guess I assume since we are talking about events that happened centuries ago a comment on a year old blog might be considered recent.

  14. Fr Olsen

    March 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Dear Curt,
    I like your style. You have a thirsty, roving intellect, and the discipline to indulge it, and a great talent for clarity and approachability in your writing. My name is Fr. Olsen, I’m a Catholic priest. I ran across your blog while trying to finally settle the question of why Catholics abstain from meat (and put the rest the accusations about popes who tried to support the fishing industry or cronies in it). I have seen references that Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian talked about it, and even the Didache (tho that seemed to refer to meat sacrificed to idols). Have you come across any insights as to the when and why of it?
    Fr Olsen

    • Curt Emanuel

      March 30, 2014 at 11:23 am

      Thanks for the comment. I have a feeling the Lenten/Friday meat abstention came later than the period I am primarily interested in. Clement of Alexandria seems to advocate for this (see note 16 for references). Various other authors seemed to feel that eating meat was an indulgence and at least close to gluttony. However some of the heretical groups such as the Valentinians espoused a vegetarian diet (or at least heresiologists say they did) and this was often pointed out by early authors as one of their errors.

      I’d start looking at the 10th-13th centuries and see what some of the Canonical legalists such as Gratian had to say about it. I have Aquinas’ Summa and Part II-II, Question 147 addresses fasts including those of the Church, including the 40 days’ fast which must refer to Lent. Based on this, it seems that fasting as official Church practice originated before his time.

      On the other side of things, Gregory the Great in Pastoral Care III.19 addresses gluttony but doesn’t advocate abstaining from eating meat, but advises that gluttony is determined by an unseemly desire for it, which is consistent with what I’ve read from earlier authors. I’m not sure that narrowing things down for the origin of structured, Church-wide fasts to between the 7th and 13th centuries helps much but it seems likely to me that this advanced from custom to Catholic Church practice when authors started to codify things. That would take me to the 10th-13th centuries.

  15. Kate

    May 13, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Hi Curt,

    I’ve just found your blog and the variety of topics you’ve explored is vast! I just wanted to let you know that we’re currently offering a huge variety of articles for free until the end of the year, in our free access Medieval Studies collection:

    The collection highlights a varied array of research exploring the richness of the medieval world: Vikings and vampires, Grendel and glosses, pirates, peasants and philosophers.

    I hope you find it interesting!

    Kate, Routledge History

  16. Curt Emanuel

    July 2, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Kate, Thank you for posting this information. I already have access through my job at Purdue University but I’m sure this will be of interest to others.

  17. persnicketythecat

    August 28, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Neat! I like your articles on early Christianity! They were very detailed and informative! I have my own blog called History is Interesting. (

  18. persnicketythecat

    August 28, 2014 at 8:46 pm

  19. Erik Von Norden

    August 30, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I very much enjoyed your blog, Medieval History Geek. I am working on a book-blog of my own, which can be seen at [one word], then clicking on either the “sample chapter” or “blog” buttons at the top. My Rube Goldberg contraption of a brain processes the world with an odd, well-caffeinated kind of logic: Why is there an inverse proportion between the size of the print and the importance of the message? History. Literature. Art. Science. Religion. I call this eccentric thinking the Theory of Irony and if your busy schedule permits, give a read, leave a comment or create a link. In any event, best of luck with your own endeavor.

  20. lunademasi

    April 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    There is so much care put into this blog; it’s so lovingly cited and full of great information…it’s wonderful.

    I’m a researcher (specialized in it with my MLIS), and I want to do historical research. I AM interested in Medieval history, though, I’m more interested in digging up the information…the ‘hunt’ is what it’s about for me, haha. And I’m proud to say that Western Michigan University is my alma mater (bachelor’s, 2005)…and I had NO CLUE about Medieval Congress until 2004; I graduate in the winter, so I couldn’t make it to any of them while residing there, but always wanted to go. I found out because I was hanging out at the pavilion by the Vallies one night, and a whole bunch of Medievalists descended upon me, dressed in period clothing, lit a fire in the pit, and started playing instruments; it was probably the COOLEST thing that’d ever happened to me at college, if not, the most pleasantly surprising, haha. They were so sweet and smart; we talked late into the night…I had fun!

    I love your posts on Kalamazoo, as I consider it where I ‘grew up’ (as in truly became an adult), and I hope to attend Medieval Congress one day…maybe we’ll run into each other, if I do, but until then, I am hoping to vicariously experience it through your blogs :)

    By the way…the Vallies were my home for my first month in Kalamazoo, and what a mistake I made in selecting them (before moving to Ernest Burnham); it’s (as you know) LITERALLY uphill in both directions to go to campus and back, ugh! :)

    • Curt Emanuel

      April 26, 2015 at 8:19 am


      Thank you for your comment and I’m glad you enjoy the blog. Unfortunately, over the past year life has gotten in the way of my posting regularly. I hope that changes in the near future but no guarantees. I’m originally from NY too though in my case it’s from the state, not the city.

      I enjoy Congress. For me it’s close and very affordable, once you get past the book purchases. Plus it’s a lot of fun if you can call sitting in classrooms listening to people talk fun. I like WMU too. Attractive campus – I like Purdue as a University and they’ve tried to plant trees and landscape but campus is pretty much flat with streets laid out in a grid. Nice to have a little topography though I’m sure students occasionally have a different opinion of walking up and down hills (at least we sure did at Cornell). Take care.


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