‘Tyrannous Constructs’ or Tools of the Trade? The Use and Abuse of Concepts in Medieval History

Jackson Armstrong, Peter Crooks, Andrea Ruddick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Concepts are indispensable. It is through concepts that humans seek intellectually to control and understand the disposition of the world they experience. But conceptual history and conceptual analysis also have their attendant risks. Concepts conjured up in an effort to bring order to the infinite complexity of the past have a bad habit of taking on a life of their own. As Peggy Brown and Susan Reynolds famously demonstrated in the case of that tyrannous construct, ‘feudalism’, a tool of the historian’s trade can easily turn tyrant. This introductory chapter examines the metahistorical and methodological questions concerning the use and abuse of concepts in medieval history. We explore the creative friction between historical ideas and analytical categories, and the potential for fresh and meaningful understandings to emerge from a dialogue fostered between the two planes of conceptualisation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUsing Concepts in Medieval History
Subtitle of host publicationPerspectives on Britain and Ireland, 1100–1500
EditorsJackson Armstrong, Peter Crooks, Andrea Ruddick
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9783030772802
ISBN (Print)9783030772796
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Concepts
  • methods of historical research
  • historiography
  • Late medieval
  • middle ages
  • Britain and Ireland
  • conceptual history


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