On colonialism, imperialism, and ignoring medieval history

We have a lot of fun, don’t we, when we talk about how people argue that the medieval period was the Dark Ages based on the fact that the feel some type of way about it? Now, can I call people who think this ridiculously incredulous and basic? Yes. And I do. Thanks for asking. Having said that, the general ignorance of the medieval period is not from nothing.

On the one hand, you could argue that the idea that the middle ages was a bad time where people were generally stupid, unwashed, and rolling about in the muck on medieval people’s own conceptions of knowledge. As Sara has pointed out to us before, medieval people considered themselves to be attempting to access a perfect knowledge which had been deteriorating since the fall of man. As a result, they attempted to emulate the knowledge of the people who came before them – i.e. Roman and Hellenic thinkers. They thought that past systems of knowledge were inherently better than their own, and, well, it’s hard not to take people at their word, you know?

But let’s be real, that is absolutely not the main reason people think the medieval period was a stupid time. That idea comes squarely from the way we tend to uphold the (frankly, misapplied) idea of the Renaissance, and also the fact that people simply aren’t taught about the medieval period other than as a contrast to said Renaissance.

Now here is the thing, there are a lot of reasons why this has happened. Part of it is down to the fact that the medieval period is hard to teach because everywhere is so different. Part of it is because if people aren’t taught about something, then odds are they can’t teach about it later. And part of it is that if you are taught over and over again that the medieval period was Very Bad and that the Renaissance saved us all from its darkness, then you believe that.

Today we are talking about why it is that this particular narrative is the one taught in classes all across the white world, and I regret to inform you that the answer is colonial imperialism. Yay.

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