Periodization is the attempt to categorize or divide historical time into discrete - and best, non-overlapping - named blocks.
- Origins of Period Names
Some periods are luckier than others and choose their own names. The word Renaissance, though in English commonly known by its French name, was created by an Italian poet still perceived as belonging to the period, Petrarch. The Middle Ages were less lucky at Petrarch's hands - he was comparing his own period to the classical world, seeing his time as a time of rebirth after a dark intermediate period, the Middle Ages. The Gothic and the Baroque were both named during subsequent stylistic periods when the parent was unpopular. The word "Gothic" was applied as a pejorative term to all things Northern European and, hence, barbarian, by Italian writers during the 15th and 16th centuries. The word "baroque" (probably) was used first in late 18th century French about the irregular natural pearl shape and later about an architectural style perceived to be "irregular" in comparison to the highly regular Neoclassical architecture of that time.
This process is parallel to a pheonomenon anecdotally familiar in the early 21st century because of 'Blockbuster' art shows of Impressionist painting at major museums. The term "impressionism" was, notoriously, first applied by a hostile critic, Louis Leroy, to a Claude Monet painting in 1874, by which time the people we call the Impressionists had been painting in the style we call Impressionism for more than 5 years.
- Fashion in Periodization
Most professional historians (defined as paying members of organizations devoted to the propagation of history in higher education, like the American Historical Association now refer to the 'period' commonly known as The Renaissance as The Early Modern Period. There has been no substantive change in the courses taught or books published to corrrespond to the change in period nomenclature.
See also: cultural movement