Next Saturday, Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum will open its newest exhibition, Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling. The exhibit highlights a common medieval practice that isn’t frequently discussed—medieval repurposing of artifacts and manuscripts from earlier eras. As curator Lynley Anne Herbert explains to the Baltimore Sun, “Well, people have been recycling for thousands of years.”
After the Roman Empire collapsed, connections to Asia and North Africa facilitated by the empire’s trade routes broke down, essentially making medieval Europe a smaller, more self-contained place, with less access to new goods and materials. As historian Robin Fleming explained in a 2010 lecture, the decline of the empire was particularly keenly felt in Britain, which was left without industry, trade, or craft when Roman forces abandoned the island in the fifth century.