Authorial Intention in Medieval Historiography

Since the mid-20th century, scholars have focused increasing attention on the context of medieval historical writing and the intentions of medieval historians. Analyzing the intentions of medieval authors is a delicate task, one that requires attention to questions of genre, language, form, mentality, and intended audience. A central problem is that medieval historians tend to describe their goals in terms of literary commonplaces, or <i>topoi</i>, which can mask as much as they reveal. For this reason, recent scholarship has tended to focus on the political motives of medieval historical writing. While this development has had a largely salutary effect on our understanding of medieval historiography, we should be wary of categorizing medieval histories as ‘propaganda’ or assuming that they were always written as unified statements of purpose. Finally, we should take into account the personal and egoistic motives that historians may have had for writing. The most successful efforts at understanding authorial intentionality to date have combined historical and literary approaches, considering the author both as an agent of the institution on whose behalf he wrote and as an individual with his own personal motivations.