Re-learning the Middle Ages

This post is short, because I’m busy learning…

One of the odd side effects of the strange times in which we live is the number of conferences that have been transferred online. I’m using some of them to update old knowledge and understand subjects better. I’ve done best in this respect in learning about the Middle Ages. I’m on all the right lists, you see, because of my curious career.

My ethnohistory began as Medieval. I research modern culture right now, but I began trying to understand human beings by looking at who we were hundreds of years ago. This and the conferences open many doors to knowledge, for there is an amazing meeting of archaeology and history right now, and it’s changing what we know about the past.

Last year I attended a conference in Dublin that turned what I knew about houses in the Early Middle Ages upside down and inside out. Thatched houses without chimneys are, it turns out, neither full of smoke nor riddled with infestations. They breathe, through the thatch, and the air is clear and comfortable. From the outside, the smoke comes through the thatch, like a mist rising.

Right now, I’m attending workshops on Medieval Jewish craftspeople. One can’t avoid hearing about the effects of pogroms and mass murders (in Cologne after the Black Death, for example), but the focus is on what people did with their lives. I’m learning about bakers and goldsmiths, silk workers and bookbinders.

I’m going to do as much learning as I can, while things are online, for normally I’m the other side of the world and can only dream of these events.

3 thoughts on “Re-learning the Middle Ages

  1. That sounds so wonderful. And it’s fascinating about thatching and the venting of smoke.

    1. The thatching and venting reminded me of the current social media discussion on radiators and open windows. I suspect the engineers back in the day figured out that thatch provided the necessary air to keep things healthy while still keeping them warm. (Nobody called them engineers back then, but I bet there were people who were good at figuring things like this out and who passed it on to others.) It is apparently true that upping the heat on radiator systems so that people would open their windows to moderate the temperature was, in fact, done on purpose to help people bring in fresh air to keep them healthy. Which is to say in both cases, ventilation is important, a fact we are learning once again.

      1. That’s part of why I keep the history side of me connected. It makes it harder to denude everyone in the past of intelligence when I use history in my fiction. In other words, I give my characters about the same level of intelligence as the people I see around me today.

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