The Green Ages

Medieval Innovations in Sustainability

Annette Kehnel


In this fascinating meld of history and ecological economics, the author uncovers the medieval precedents for modern concepts of sustainable living.

Communities that operated a barter trade system on the Monte Subiaco in Italy. Sustainable fishing at Lake Constance. Common lands in the UK. Transient grazing among Alpine shepherds in the south of France. Crowdfunding to finance bridges in Avignon.

These are just some of the sustainability initiatives from the Middle Ages that Annette Kehnel illuminates in The Green Ages. From the mythical-sounding City of Ladies and their garden economy to early microcredit banks, Kehnel uncovers a world at odds with what we think of as the typical medieval existence. Pre-modern history is full of inspiring examples and concepts that are ripe for rediscovery. And we urgently need them as today’s challenges—finite resources, the twilight of consumerism, growing inequality—threaten what we have come to think of as a modern way of living sustainably. This is a stimulating and revelatory look at a past that has the power to change our future.


Cloth: $35 | E-book: $34.95
ISBN-13: 9781684582433
Pages: 352 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: September 23, 2024

Book Trailer


  • “Bold and exciting—a must-read! [Annette Kehnel] offers surprisingly practical examples and introduces remarkable individuals from the last two thousand years.”

    Lyndal Roper, Regius Professor of History, Oriel College, Oxford
  • “Finally, a historically enlightening approach to the sustainability debate ... A wonderful and much needed

    Harald Welzer, author and editor, Futurzwei magazine
  • “A committed and thought provoking book, rich in engaging examples and surprising alternatives, that makes it clear we need the past for our future.”

    Bernd Schneidmüller, Professor of Medieval History, Heidelberg University
  • “Brilliant … Sustainability is the only survival strategy we have, and medieval society in many ways practised it … We can learn a lot from life in the Middle Ages.”

    Tim Gorringe, Emeritus Professor of Theological Studies, University of Exeter
  • "We don't need or want to relive the past--but we do need to mine it for ideas and practices that can help solve some of the dilemmas of the present. This fascinating book does just that--and in the process represents the zenith of recycling!"

    Bill McKibben
    author of The End of Nature
  • Erudite and engaging, The Green Ages presents a powerful critique of the ideologies of the ‘modern age’ by historicizing their guiding image of the human as the self-interested Homo economicus. Excavating times when sharing, recycling, cooperation, and frugality were some of the reigning values in Europe, Kehnel makes a point crucial to any imagination of change: another world is possible. An important book for all students of sustainable futures.

    Dipesh Chakrabarty
    author of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age and One Planet, Many Worlds
  • "A clarion call from the past to guide us through a troubled future ... and to consider how to live more harmoniously and in partnership both with each other, with the seasons and the rhythm of the natural world."

    Henrietta Leyser
    author of Medieval Women
  • "A fascinating journey over several hundred years of history to prove beyond doubt that a different kind of world really is possible ... Human beings are as capable of cooperation and mutualism as they are of competition and individualism - and reconnecting with these basic human instincts is the key to our survival."

    Grace Blakeley
    author of Vulture Capitalism

About the Author

Annette Kehnel

Professor Annette Kehnel studied History and Biology at the University of Freiburg, Somerville College, Oxford, and LMU in Munich. She received her doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin for her research on Irish convent communities and taught at the TU Dresden, where she received her post-doctorate in 2004. Since 2005 she has held a chair in Medieval History at the University of Mannheim. She has published numerous works on her main topics of research: cultural and economic history and historical anthropology.

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