History is a discipline, not a virtue

 

There has been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the past few days on the part of white supremacists who suddenly have a heart-felt attachment to the ‘history’ of Confederate monuments in the United States. The monuments, they argue, must be preserved because they honour the legacy of a bunch of guys who lost a war to enslave other people and participation trophies are important. Never mind that the majority of Confederate monuments have not survived to us from the American Civil War, and were erected during the Jim Crow era of the twentieth century. No no! They must be preserved, in situ, because they are a part of history.

I regret to inform you that this thinking makes no sense to actual historians.

The sudden cri de coeur about the importance of preserving ‘history’ is absurd because history isn’t the act of simply remembering a series of events. It is the act of combing through documents and artefacts from another era and analysing them. We then use this analysis to inform our view of how society functioned at that particular time, and how people lived within it. A statue is not, therefore, in and of itself, valuable because it recounts a particular time. It is valuable because it tells us about the values of the people who erected it.

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On medieval healthcare and American barbarism

As I’ve noted several times, I generally try to ignore whatever is currently passing for ‘governance’ in America at the moment, cuz I just ain’t got the patience, or ability to do all that emotional labour. However, they will keep on doing things that call back to the medieval period, so we’re gonna have to talk about it.

So currently in America, which is defo a first world country and for sure very prosperous and a good place to live, there is some debate about whether or not sick people should be driven into bankruptcy, given the audacity of their instance on being ill. (Have they tried not getting ill? IDK.)

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On chronicles versus journalism, and ruling versus governing

Ohhhh there is a lot to say, is there not? You think that you have starred fully into the depths of the dumpster fire and fully appreciated its heat, its dazzle, its stench, but it just. keeps. burning.

As a medieval historian, one aspect of said dumpster fire that has interested me of late is the concept of ‘fake news’ and what Trump feels the purpose of the press is. More specifically, it is of interest that apparently Trump feels that the press should be taking on the same function during his presidency as commissioned chroniclers did during the medieval period.

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On the medieval separation of Church and state, or, putting the ‘holy’ in Holy Roman Empire

Sooooooooooooooooooo, current governments enacting laws based on religious ideology, amiright? Here in the modern Western world, we’ve grown accustomed to governments largely agreeing that we have freedom from and of religion, by and large.  Obviously, at some points (*ahem*), this doesn’t work out and particular individuals push for religiously motivated legislation. This usually doesn’t go well for us women. Funny that.

Often, people who want to do my head in will refer to this kind of religious influenced legislation (or, you know, executive order (*cough*)) as being ‘medieval’, which as I have pointed out several times, is not helpful. More to the point, in this case it’s not even accurate, because there sort of kinda was separation of Church and State in the medieval period, at least in the Holy Roman Empire, but it worked in the exact opposite way.

So the Holy Roman Empire was essentially established on Christmas Day 800 when Charlemagne was crowned by Pope Leo III. Charlemagne was a total bad ass, as many important historians have noted, and had essentially united all of Western Europe under his rule, for the first time since the fall of Rome. Boy had his shit on lock, unlike Leo. Leo was, shall we say, not that popular. He showed up in Aachen because he got his ass beat down while on procession through Rome, and almost got his eyes and tongue cut out.

His beat ass showed up at Charlemagne’s court, looking for protection and Charlemagne was like, ‘Hey home boy while I’m here keeping you alive, why don’t you crown me Emperor?’ Leo was like, ‘Say no more, fam’. That’s where the trouble started.

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On the American election, teaching history, and why it matters

This election should not surprise anyone who teaches history. I teach medieval and early modern history at several unis in London.

The study of history in these eras shows us very clearly that Western society is built for white male protestant property owners.

This same society has been built over the bodies of black and brown people, and kept whites without property deliberately marginalised. Within it, the role of women has always been to be scapegoats for the worst of male excess, and vessels for sexual gratification/the getting of heirs.

You should not, therefore, be surprised to see a misogynist racist ruling what has always been a white supremacist society.

As historians, it is our job to show our students the roots of this society – SHOW them the thought processes that have built our world.

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Such a nasty woman – on Eleanor of Aquitaine, femininity, reputation, and power

As the world collectively crawls, gibbering and raving toward the end of the American presidential election, the medieval roots of society’s expectations of women are once again very firmly on display.

Case in point – the life and times of one of the three medieval women you have heard of – Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Eleanor was, by all accounts, an absolute bad ass.  She lead armies both in Europe and on the Second Crusade. She was a highly skilled ruler who reigned in her husband’s absence from the country. She was also a total babe.

For all these reasons, the modern imagination loves Eleanor.  She won Katherine Hepburn an Oscar, and pops up in most Robin Hood movies. (Yes, even that really bad Russel Crowe one.)  This is why you know her name.

Whilst we appreciate Eleanor, her mind, influence, and general kick-arsery now, everything we love about her now meant she was often reviled in her own time, and for decades after her death.

Eleanor managed to run herself into trouble because she was intent on exercising power in the public sphere.

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