Bad Research

While I haven’t been feeling like doing much else, I’ve been doing research reading for preliminary input for some worldbuilding I want to do. In other words, reading history and calling it “work.” I guess I’ve steeped myself in the subject pretty well, since I was reading a book, thought its assertions sounded off, looked it up online, and found that historians were screaming about this book and how wrong it was.

The book is A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester, and it’s a pretty inaccurate depiction of the medieval era. I have no problem with “pop” history — written for ordinary people rather than academics — but this is just bad. He’s using secondary sources (when he even cites a source), and they’re outdated Victorian sources that have been debunked. He’s looking at things from an era in which they thought the “classical” world (ancient Greece and Rome) were the pinnacle of civilization, with the conceit that the current (Victorian) era was a revival of that. But this book was published in in the 1990s.

Here’s the bit that had me jumping online to look it up: he asserts that medieval peasants had no sense of time, I guess because they didn’t have watches. But as historians have pointed out, that doesn’t mean there was no sense of time. The churches rang their bells for the offices of the day, and just about everyone would have lived in earshot of a church since they’d have to be in walking distance. They’d have had more awareness of time than a modern person who doesn’t wear a watch.

Not to mention, in an agrarian society they’d have been tending to animals, and anyone who’s ever dealt with animals knows that animals are very routine-oriented. You don’t have to have a watch for your animals to let you know that it’s time to eat, time to return home, or time to sleep.

It seems this author got all his info about how peasants lived from writings by noblemen who were trying to justify treating their peasants like animals.

From a history standpoint, I want to throw the book against the wall, but since I’m getting ideas for creating a fictional world, I may as well read his fictional version of the world. It’s basically a fantasy world. Fortunately, I bought it used, so I didn’t send any money to this bad research.

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