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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On the concept of the Renaissance and Outkast’s Hey Ya

Being a medieval historian means quite a few things.  Among other things, it means you get irrationally irked by the popular usage of medieval as a pejorative, make literally no money at all ever (Haha – I’m not joking, tho. HELP.), and spend a lot of time being frustrated with the concept of the Renaissance. Over this time, I have come to realise that the Renaissance is, in many ways, like the seminal classic Hey Ya by Outkast.

Now the thing about the Renaissance is that, much like Hey Ya, everyone can agree it is cool as hell. We’re out here enjoying that art and damn if it is not amazing.

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There’s no such thing as the ‘Dark Ages’, but OK

As a very serious adult, with a respectable career and life, and a healthy ability to let petty shit slide, I spent much too much time last week arguing with strangers on the internet who believe in the myth of the Dark Ages.

The arguments in question focused on a massively inaccurate meme, which some observers of the group pointed out was originally supposed to be about knowledge loss after the burning of the Library of Alexandria, but which some very cool EDGE LORD had changed to be about ‘The Christian Dark Ages’. Please feast your eyes on it in all it’s massive wrongness:

worst

This is, pretty obviously, a bunch of honkey bullshit and also massively incorrect, as many important scholars have noted. As a result, I spent hours of my life – which I will never get back –  pointing out repeatedly that the ‘graph’ in question has nothing to do with reality, and arguing with non-experts about the medieval period.

Continue reading “There’s no such thing as the ‘Dark Ages’, but OK”