New Approaches to Medieval Chronicles

Lane Sobehrad's picture
Call for Publications
October 31, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies, Intellectual History, Social History / Studies, Literature

Title: New Approaches to Medieval Chronicles

Contact: Lane Sobehrad (

The generic term “chronicle” came into regular use with the Church fathers in the fourth century. As the form developed, chronicles came to include cartulary texts with ordered documents interspersed with annalistic entries or narrative passages; diagrammatic structures such as stemmata, tables, and glossed calendars; local texts to commemorate or justify the needs of a particular community; world (or universal) chronicles that recounted the past starting from creation and attempted to reconcile ancient and contemporary traditions. Chronicles were useful for all types of pursuits including reinforcing community identity, legal precedent, establishing tradition, teaching moral lessons, and offering insight into the divine plan. In the Middle Ages, “history” and “chronicle” were often interchangeable. Authors who distinguish between these terms usually separate them as Isidore of Seville does – chronicles are direct, brief, and to the point while histories are longer, more narrative, and rhetorically elegant. Further distinction can be made if chronicles are viewed as sequential chronologically, while histories as sequential causally.

Underlying the issues of genre and terminology are medieval interpretive strategies rooted in the Augustinian notions of signs, classical forms of learning to read and write, and mental exercises that related the pursuit of truth to language (oral or textual). This mode of interpretation was an exercise in rhetoric and oratory, based on Roman models set within an overarching framework of God’s divine plan. Readers bring the past continuously into the present by means of the interpretation of signs (i.e. memoria). This interpretive method applies as much to the genealogical lists of kings and glossed Easter tables of the early annalistic tradition as it does to extensively narrative histories. Coupled with modern shifts across the humanities placing language and linguistics at the forefront of cultural analysis, the transmission and spread of meaning (historical or otherwise) takes place within the “symbolic sphere of expression and communications.” This blurs the boundary between fact and fiction, history and literature. Medieval historians knew they were often working with incomplete information, and filled in the gaps with tools such as rhetorical invention (inventio) and constructed memory (memoria). Their textual constructions require a self-conscious recognition of context and circumstance in order to relate something of the ‘real world’ in their truth-claims, divine or otherwise. Interdisciplinarity, then, is not simply a trendy strategy for modern scholars but also an essential feature of the medieval mindset.

This volume seeks to explore the generic, methodological, and perspectival boundaries of chronicles and chronicle scholarship. All topics are welcome, but we invite especially those scholars that investigate the chronicling of people and cultures underrepresented in English scholarship (e.g. Slavic, Balkan, Jewish, and/or Arabic chronicling traditions), and innovative approaches to medieval historiography. Contributions should range 15,000-20,000 words, and prospective contributors should send a title and abstract to Lane Sobehrad (

Contact Info: 

Lane J. Sobehrad, Ph.D.

Research Associate, College of Education

Affiliated Faculty, Medieval & Renaissance Studies Center

Texas Tech University


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