Norman Cohn: Historian who explored archaic millenarian fantasies

Historians in the News

[Professor Norman Cohn, historian, was born on January 12, 1915. He died on July 31, 2007, aged 92]

The historian Professor Norman Cohn achieved great international popularity by linking his profound knowledge of the medieval and earlier past to the most contemporary concerns of his 20th-century audience.

His chief interest, most memorably described in his book The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957), was how “in situations of mass disorientation and anxiety, traditional beliefs about a future golden age or messianic kingdom came to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities”. He traced the emergence of these millenarian beliefs in different parts of Europe from the 11th to the 16th centuries – and he hinted at the way in which Nazism and revolutionary Soviet communism could also be understood, at least in part, as modern versions of such phenomena.

Cohn’s subsequent research looked more directly at the origins of modern anti-Semitism. And he also looked further back, beyond the medieval period, to examine the deepest roots of such beliefs as Noah’s Flood and the Creation story and also the origins of a belief in a perfect future in which evil will be overcome. In all his work Cohn was aided by his mastery of sources in many languages and by his willingness to cross boundaries between disciplines and periods in a way that defied the increasing specialisation of historical research....

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Randll Reese Besch - 8/29/2007

Woul like to find copies of his books. Very usefull now with the same kinds of mindset in operation now in our gov't and fanatical Muslims each in search,through force for their own Golden Age.