IMG_18881Paul B. Sturtevant is an expert in the way that medieval history is presented to the public through popular culture, heritage, museums and education. His PhD at the University of Leeds covered how big-budget feature films influence popular ideas about the medieval past. He has since gone on to do research at Cambridge University, at the Smithsonian Museums, and for a major EU-funded research project in Spain. He also is the owner of a consultancy company, History for the People LLC, through which he does museum evaluations and training courses on public engagement and public speaking skills for universities.

You can reach Dr. Sturtevant at publicmedievalist[at]

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About me and my work as a Public Medievalist

My first dream was to be an actor. I know this seems like a diversion, but go with me for just a second. Unlike a lot of actors I knew, who drank up the adoration of their audiences like the water of life, I was always far more interested in telling stories. Particularly, I was happiest when these stories really affected people. I didn’t mind much if they clapped until their hands fell off. I wanted to make them gasp, laugh, cry.

When I left the theatre for good, I was drawn to history– but not the type of history that entails a meticulous search through archives and manuscripts for chasing an ephemeral ideal of “truth” (which many historians would argue is not what they do at all, but let’s leave that to one side). Rather, I was far more interested in history as a storytelling medium– as a way that people make sense of their lives, view the world around them, and come to hope and fear for the future. So, the research that I did during my Master’s at the University of York and my PhD at the University of Leeds focused on the ways in which we tell historical stories today, and how they affect our perceptions of the medieval past.

The most popular communicator of these stories internationally today remains the cinema– and so that is where I focused my efforts. As such, in addition to being trained as a medievalist I have also researched, written about and taught film studies. Some historians think that these interests mean I’m not really an historian. I’ve become okay with that.

What I am is a Public Historian– a Public Medievalist. That title is a bit vague (even– especially amongst public historians), but what it means to me is that I am most interested in how people learn about and use history in their lives. This has traditionally only encompassed historical institutions for public education– archives, historical-heritage sites, museums or universities. I conceive of it being broader than that: anywhere that people engage with and learn about the past is a part of public history. For example, my focus is on the Middle Ages. But while contemporary Europeans have a more-or-less monopoly on medieval historical sites and archive material, Americans (such as myself) consume a huge amount about the medieval world in other ways. We do this either through the media, popular culture or the internet, and play with it through hugely-popular re-enactment societies and renaissance faires.

  • Christopher Monk

    I wonder what the emotional connection is with the medieval world (or projections thereof). I’ve noticed that sometimes even medievalist scholars hold a kind of nostalgia for the distant pass, and somehow manage to place their own anxieties regarding the present world into the medieval matrix, perhaps hoping to alleviate them in dome way. Or maybe I had too much whisky tonight. Nice site!

    • I think you’re right. And I’ve said this before a number of times, scholars are people too– and while we (they? we?) do our best to remain objective about the subject that we study, when you get right down to the heart of it it’s not really possible to do that completely.

      I don’t think projecting current concerns onto the medieval matrix, as you call it, is always wrong, as that is one way that we can make the past meaningful. But it is dangerous to do so without due care and thought (and probably even with due care and thought), so we should tread with care. It’s a complex subject, one that I’m hoping to get into more as time goes along.

      Thanks for your interest!