Historical Writing, Historical Thinking and Historical Consciousness in the Middle Ages


  • Hans-Werner Goetz Universität Hamburg




medieval historiography, historical consciousness, past and present


The article tries to give an overview over some prominent aspects and recent approaches on historical thinking and writing in the early and high Middle Ages. Being based on the recognition that historiography is not just narration of facts, but reflects the author’s concepts and perceptions, it is first of all a mirror of the author’s concept of history and expression of his historical consciousness. Under these premises, the article examines (1) the medieval meaning of history, (2) the relevance of the past, and (3) the function of remembering the past. Particular emphasis is laid on an analysis of what „past“ actually meant for medieval writers. There was no clear „border-line“ between „past“ and „present“, both being not only strongly related to each other, but the past had also a strong relevance for the present. Thus, on the one hand, there was an enormous interest in history and a deep trust that history could be (and should be) interpreted, because it was divine revelation. The medieval historical consciousness was completely orientated towards the past (as a model), which, however, was perceived and measured by modern standards: the medieval interest in the past was rooted in the present and inspired by current interests and intentions: historiography was a “search” for the past for the sake of the present. Thus, chronologically, the past was clearly embedded in a sequence of time, and it was considered to be important to refer to the remote or even mythical origins of one’s historical subject, whereas, by its contents, the past acquired the character of a „timeless edification“ and was used (and abused) for present purposes. The result was a constant “presence of the past” and, even more, a “topicality of the past”. This is not a contradiction: a reference to the past for present purposes was only possible because the past had acquired a respected and legitimizing character, not least for the purpose of criticising the present – and chronicles were often enough written in times of crisis.

Biografia do Autor

Hans-Werner Goetz, Universität Hamburg

  • Jg. 1947. Studium der Geschichte und Anglistik an der Ruhr-Universität Bochum 1969-1974 (1. Staatsexamen). Promotion 1976. Habilitation 1981.
  • Wissenschaftlicher Assistent an der Ruhr-Universität Bochum 1976-1986. Zeitprofessur in Bochum 1986-1990. Professur für mittelalterliche Geschichte an der Universität Hamburg seit 1990.




Como Citar

Goetz, H.-W. (2012). Historical Writing, Historical Thinking and Historical Consciousness in the Middle Ages. Revista Diálogos Mediterrânicos, (2), 110–128. https://doi.org/10.24858/27