So when I was at work today, I heard two customers chatting about the past and an author that one of their children was studying. They mentioned the ridiculous refrain that people in the Middle Ages were all uneducated unthinking idiots (not my word by the way.) As part of the discussion that these two individuals were having, they discussed both the idea that the medieval people thought the world was flat and that Chaucer is a bore. I don't know if my studies have truly given me a unique perspective on this time in history or if I simply take that knowledge for granted and assume that other people know it as well. But, I soon found myself holding a pile of prescriptions in my hand, standing behind the corner of the wall and avidly listening to the conversation while pretending to rearrange toothpaste – that must have been pretty silly to watch. :)
When these to men shook hands and appeared to go their separate ways to finish their errands, I found myself really thoughtful. It is so clear looking at older maps and studying the early scientists that well before the Middle Ages- the time frame that is generally accepted is 500 AD- 1500 AD and this time frame may be considered to include the Dark Ages and is also known as the Medieval Period. Depending on how you look at this time and what has been documented of its history truly colors how you see it and judge its people and history. I don't think that addressing whether people at the time thought the world was flat is useful- there is so much evidence that has been collected over the years that strongly suggest that we moderns who believe these ideas about the people/past are really 'culturally snobbish' and ignorant of our ancestors and our collective past. I did think I would take the time to talk a little bit about Chaucer and his work as well as the rise of education and universities during the Middle Ages... because the idea of higher education/degrees and a college/university themselves were developed during the Middle Ages and are not products or children of the Renaissance or later modern times.
This was also the time of the rise of the Humanists. The Humanists were individuals who thought that humanity itself was a grand miracle and to study humanity and its culture and accomplishments would help you to be a better person in your life and society around you. If you went to a university at that time, there was very little difference in the few degree programs that were offered in the beginning because the classes that you would take were the 'humanities'- language and grammar, history and law, poetry and classical writing as well as philosophy. (When you get a liberal studies degree today, you are getting many of the same kind of ideas that you would have received in the past... with updates of course :) It was thought that well rounded educated people would be better equipped and able to participate in their communities and civil obligations. It was also thought that the more educated and capable you were, the more likely you were to not only live a good life, but to influence those around you to do go as well and to help people around you to become better. I don't disagree with them at all really. I think that sometimes we can get too focused on a small part of education and lose our 'humanity' in that, but otherwise I think that education only helps us to help ourselves and others.
So, far from boring, I guess I tend to find this time in history fascinating. So much or our modern world was shaped by this time period and those who helped develop it. I speak a language that began to be developed during this time, attend colleges that came to exist because of the fights and challenges and hopes of past generations, and I am even getting a degree based on the medieval ideal... although I will say that the degree has changed a bit over the centuries. :) Can you imagine a world without these changes... a world where we all write mostly in Latin with Greek and French as secondary languages... a world where only those of more privilege birth are able to afford education at all and a world where you are very must limited by your birth and place. While our modern world still has some of these limitations, our ancestors have managed to remove some of the barriers that would have restricted us. I f you have attended a university in your life, would you be willing to comment on how it has benefited you, what it means to you in your life, etc....? I would love to hear your experiences! :)