Our understanding of the medieval period has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Although one occasionally still hears a self-important scientist speak of the Dark Ages, modern views have long since overthrown such simplicities. An age that was once thought to be static, brutal and benighted is now understood as dynamic and swiftly changing: and age where knowledge was sought and valued; where great universities were born, and learning fostered; where technology was enthusiastically advanced; where social relations were in flux; where trade was international; where the general level of violence was often less deadly than it is today. As for the old reputation of medieval times as a dark time of parochialism, religious prejudice and mass slaughter, the record of the twentieth century must lead any thoughtful observer to conclude that we are in no way superior.
In fact, the conception of a brutal medieval period was an invention of the Renaissance, whose proponents were at pains to emphasize a new spirit, even at the expense of the facts. If a benighted medieval world has proven a durable misconception, it may be because it confirms a cherished contemporary belief - that our species always moves forward to even better and more enlightened ways of life. This belief is utter fantasy, but it dies hard. It is especially difficult for modern people to conceive that our modern, scientific age might not be an improvement over the prescientific period.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Re-thinking the Dark Ages
~Daniel has this citation by Michael Crichton about the Medieval Period