Taking the muddle out of the Middle Ages

by Sophia Nugent-Siegal ©

As the pervasiveness of fantasy and speculative fiction in popular culture attests, the Middle Ages, represented either historically or “re-imagined” (as in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones), is all the rage nowadays. Yet for a period so embraced by pop-culture, what do we really know about it? Less than we think, it seems to me (as a student of history and long time SpecFic nerd), and certainly less than such a significant period in history deserves. The “ facts” –or rather the stereotypes—seem clear. Well, there were lords and peasants, women were downtrodden and the church was all-powerful. However, while there is a grain of truth in all these statements, it can’t be said to be a terribly large one, and the pejorative associations with the term “ medieval” reflect both our misconceptions and the cultural imperative of modernism (and its bastard child, postmodernism) to equate the past with everything bad and the present with everything good.

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