History rewritten by hateful extremists – Winnipeg Free Press

We often think of the past as being immutable, and that sense of what’s done being done carries over to the way we see history. It’s all in the past.

But as Amy S. Kaufman and Paul B. Sturtevant point out in their new book on how extremists leverage that sensibility to their own ends, it may be true that the past doesn’t change — whereas history, which is the story we tell ourselves about the past, can change a great deal.

And as they argue forcefully with wide-ranging examples, extremist ideologues can play on people’s fuzzy, or stereotypical (and inaccurate) ideas about a particular era to craft dangerous propaganda. These days, that seems to be particularly true for a period that was often looked down upon: the Middle Ages.

Writing in an accessible, engaging style, Kaufman — a scholar of medieval studies and pop culture — and Sturtevant — editor of The Public Medievalist — first explode many myths commonly held about the era, focusing on European history.

As they show, with many examples and sources, medieval Europe was not the sole domain of white Christian men, in which an all-powerful patriarchal Church held sway over everyone’s lives. In fact, over the many centuries dubbed the “Middle Ages” (named after the fact by Renaissance thinkers), European life was a mix of cultures, beliefs, traditions and people.

Women such as Eleanor of Aquitaine wielded formidable political power; Joan of Arc,