Why were horses valued above all other beasts in the Byzantine Empire? How did ivory connect Portugal and West Africa? And how did mice betray adulterous lovers during the Aztec era?
Answers to these and other intriguing questions are revealed in the reimagined UCLA journal Viator, founded in 1971. Like almost all journals delving into the Middle Ages, Viator has previously focused almost exclusively on medieval Europe. However, the journal has now taken its explorations worldwide, examining that often-misunderstood era on a global level. It’s an evolution that reflects the pedagogic revolution that, in 2021, saw UCLA’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies transform itself into the UCLA CMRS Center for Early Global Studies. While the reinvented Viator still examines Europe between the decline of Rome and the Renaissance, it’s also now exploring topics as diverse as Shogun-era Japan, the African rulers at Great Zimbabwe, Mogul traders and the 16th-century Mesoamerican illustrations known as the Florentine Codex.
“The very nature of academia is to rethink what we thought we knew,” says Matthew Fisher, associate professor in the UCLA Department of English and the journal’s new editor. Next year, Fisher will oversee a symposium on medieval literature, with books and manuscripts from around the world. “Rethinking medieval history, literature and culture has become urgent because of the racist distortion of European history, such as the right-wing appropriation of imagery from the Crusades as an all-white fantasy, when it was a lot more complex than that.”
The ideological challenge, the internet, and new dialogues among historians have, he says, “brought a new energy to the study of the medieval world.”
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Fall 2022 issue.