All posts by LIam Cody

ISIS and the ‘Medieval’ Label

Over the last few months I’ve noticed how often news articles, politicians, and other public figures have referred to The Islamic State as ‘medieval.’ Often this word choice comes in reference to ISIS’ use of specific, brutal methods of violence against prisoners. Somewhat in response to this concept, in an article for Slate Magazine, journalist John Terry talks about the problems with this representation of ISIS as  ‘medieval.’ Terry argues “[ISIS is] nostalgic for a make-believe past, and those among them who know plenty about Islam’s first decades have conveniently revised medieval history to fit modern ideological needs.” Terry argues that other scholars of medieval history have responded to this use of the ‘medieval’ and how it provides a skewed understanding not only of early Arab conquests, but also of the ‘medieval’ period more generally. Conversely we might think about how the terms application skews our own 21st-century understanding of what the term ‘medieval’ is, or was. Though this idea doesn’t directly tie in to what we have explicitly been working on in class, it does tie in to ideas about how language is used to shape and reshape both historical narrative and identity.