Fresh Voices From the Medieval Past

Beer, queens and code-breaking are just some of the topics that the new volume “Past Perfect – Five Years of Interviews with CEU Medieval Radio” explores. Based on the radio’s popular talk show, the book contains fascinating dialogues with 16 exceptional medieval scholars, which prove that the Middle Ages are not an inaccessible other world.

CEU Medieval Radio was launched with the mission of bridging the disconnect between the general public and the academic world, which often appears to be closed off and inaccessible either due to paywalls or jargon. “Past Perfect – Five Years of Interviews with CEU Medieval Radio”, edited by Christopher Mielke, Stephen Pow and Tamás Kiss celebrates a long-running and successful radio program that brought the scholarship of leading experts to a wider audience through a friendly and approachable format. Thanks to many a volunteer’s generous donation of period music, the radio also acquired a vast selection of melodies from the Turkic steppes, Gregorian chants, and flowery madrigals.

“We did something unique when we launched our program in 2012. Our talk show ‘Past Perfect!’ worked because it centered on an informal conversation rather than an imposing lecture or heavy tome. The idea was that internationally acclaimed researchers could join us as colleagues and friends and share what they were passionate about in a friendly manner. In one word, I think our passion is what made CEU Medieval Radio so successful,” the program’s long-time host Christopher Mielke explained.

“We figured that there were three groups our guests tended to fall into: international ‘superstar’ scholars who were gracious enough to accept invitations to be on our show, CEU faculty members who had made significant contributions to their field, and our own personal favorites: interviews that were just incredibly fun to do, or topics that were neat and interesting in their own right.”

To highlight what he meant by this, Mielke recommended some of his favorites: “Benedek Lang’s interview on medieval magic and code-breaking is sensational! He delves into the history of things like crystallomancy (reading crystal balls) as well as how and why people wrote in codes during the 15th and 16th centuries. Natalie Zemon Davis’s personal touch to her research behind the history of Martin Guerre’s return is also a fascinating story – which revolves around a French peasant who went off to war only for another man to return and claim his identity, that is until the real Martin Guerre returned! And personally, since I research the queens of medieval Hungary, getting to interview Orsolya Rethelyi about her work on Mary – the wife of Louis II – was amazing. She mentions a very romantic story in regards to a locket the queen owned that had been given to her by her husband, and how on her death she ordered it to be melted down, since it was a token of love between two people who were now joined in death. A very touching story,” Mielke adds.

“We always strove to remind our audience that the Middle Ages are not some inaccessible other world. We tried to cross over into their eras and show the continuity – reminding listeners and now readers – of the many ways that our medieval past is still alive and well in the modern world. There is a need for online and digital content now more than ever. This way the many people all over the world who don’t have medieval buildings or relics in their backyard can still access the sounds of the Middle Ages as well as the knowledge gained from our programs. Our new book simply continues this mission in a new format,” Mielke concluded.