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Was Middle Ages in Europe A Dark Age!


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#1 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 09 December 2004 - 08:13 AM

I have been teaching to the under graduate classes that Renaissance succeeded Dark Ages. For some time, my understanding was that the Gothic Art was not of high class. The Middle Ages in European History was a period of intellectual stagnation. I have read Hayes who had started history of Europe by declaring that Middle Ages was period of Christendom. I gathered that it was a period of religious fundamentalism. The Roman Church swayed the intellectual world. It regulated the flight of intellectual endeavours and as a result, restricted the world of free thought. I had also read that it was Flavio Biondo an Apostolic secretary in Rome who had given this view in his book titled "Decades of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire" first published in 1483.

However, recently I was reading on Middle Ages. I read about the achievements of the Scholasticism. The university of Bologna initiated the work of translation of book of Medicines from Arabic world. It is also a fact that it was the 12 th century which ushered into the world of high philosophical achievements in the western world. It was the period when the Gothic and Romanesque Art and Architecture developed and flourished. It was the period when troubadour lyrics and courtly romance were written and sung and immortalized in literature of Europe. I think that it was a civilization which had made tremendous achievements in the field of human endeavours. The above achievements can not be called the achievements of Dark Period or a period of Stagnation. The whole world of Philosophy in politics is result of the High Middle Ages. The coming of Vikings did not prove a drag. For me, they had taken the world forward. The Feudalistic structures which developed along with the spread of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church were a progress in which some social structures of human existences developed which were the best answer for the period. The Europe stabilized. All those factors which we consider as the cause of the Renaissance and Reformation, were mainly appeared during the Middle Ages.

All the above factors have forced me to think that it is wrong to call the Middle Ages as a Dark Age. It is not the right expression to term a period. The facts were more bright but when you call it a Dark Age, and do not try to learn about actually what was the Dark Age, because you intend to read only from Renaissance period, you carry wrong impression about the Middle Ages in European History. This is the feeling from which I suffer now.

I may have limited knowledge on this field but I had carried the impression on the period in Pre-Renaissance period for a long time that Dark Age was a period of stagnation which was changed by Renaissance. This is how it is written in most of the books available for the university courses written by Indian authors. This is what I had been teaching to my students. Now, after reading about the achievements of Middle Ages I am left with a feeling that it is not the right expression for the Middle Ages in Europe.

Hence, I want that you help me to understand that whether it is right to call Middle Ages of European history as a Dark Age. Is it true that it was a Dark Age?
sumir

#2 UlrikeSchuhFricke

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Posted 13 December 2004 - 05:10 PM

I have been teaching to the under graduate classes that Renaissance succeeded Dark Ages. For some time, my understanding was that the Gothic Art was not of high class. The Middle Ages in European History was a period of intellectual stagnation. I have read Hayes who had started history of Europe by declaring that Middle Ages was period of Christendom. I gathered that it was a period of religious fundamentalism. The Roman Church swayed the intellectual world. It regulated the flight of intellectual endeavours and as a result, restricted the world of free thought. I had also read that it was Flavio Biondo an Apostolic secretary in Rome who had given this view in his book titled "Decades of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire" first published in 1483.

However, recently I was reading on Middle Ages. I read about the achievements of the Scholasticism. The university of Bologna initiated the work of translation of book of Medicines from Arabic world. It is also a fact that it was the 12 th century which ushered into the world of high philosophical achievements in the western world. It was the period when the Gothic and Romanesque Art and Architecture developed and flourished. It was the period when troubadour lyrics and courtly romance were written and sung and immortalized in literature of Europe. I think that it was a civilization which had made tremendous achievements in the field of human endeavours. The above achievements can not be called the achievements of Dark Period or a period of Stagnation. The whole world of Philosophy in politics is result of the High Middle Ages. The coming of Vikings did not prove a drag. For me, they had taken the world forward. The Feudalistic structures which developed along with the spread of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church were a progress in which some social structures of human existences developed which were the best answer for the period. The Europe stabilized. All those factors which we consider as the cause of the Renaissance and Reformation, were mainly appeared during the Middle Ages.

All the above factors have forced me to think that it is wrong to call the Middle Ages as a Dark Age. It is not the right expression to term a period. The facts were more bright but when you call it a Dark Age, and do not try to learn about actually what was the Dark Age, because you intend to read only from Renaissance period, you carry wrong impression about the Middle Ages in European History. This is the feeling from which I suffer now.

I may have limited knowledge on this field but I had carried the impression on the period in Pre-Renaissance period for a long time that Dark Age was a period of stagnation which was changed by Renaissance. This is how it is written in most of the books available for the university courses written by Indian authors. This is what I had been teaching to my students. Now, after reading about the achievements of Middle Ages I am left with a feeling that it is not the right expression for the Middle Ages in Europe.

Hence, I want that you help me to understand that whether it is right to call Middle Ages of European history as a Dark Age. Is it true that it was a Dark Age?
sumir

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The perception of the Middle Ages as a period of stagnation was created by the Reniassance and has survived in scientific research and discourse till more or less today. Only slowly is the image of this period changing and I think that most teachers share your feelings. What has been going on fro some time now is a process of re-thinking and re-writing the history of the Middle Ages leaving behind the biased interpretation of Reanissance philosophers and historians and concnetrating on the things which already began in the "Dark Ages" (you mentioned some examples yourself). Actually many things which we associate with the "Dark Ages" like witch-hunts had their high time after the Middle Ages had come to an end.
The longer I study and teach the Middle Ages the more complex the subject becomes. What makes the Middle Ages so fascinating and so difficult at the same time that on the one hand the Roman Empire really and truly had come to an end; knowledge was lost but on the other hand new political and social structures developed and of the scientific discoveries we associate with the Renaissance have their roots in the Middle Ages: even people in the Middle Ages saw and knew that the world was round because the could see that the horizon was and is no straight line but a slightly curved one; the famous medieval maps with Jerusalem in the centre of the world were not meant to be geographically correct but were mirrors of a specific philosophical view of the world with Jerusalem as its spiritual centre.

#3 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 05:45 PM

Dear UlrikeSchuhFricke,
Two posers:
First, in the book "The Idea of HIsoty by R. G. Collingwood edited by Jan Van Der Dussen, 1994, Great Britain", Chapter II page 46 to 85, I have gathered that a very qualified answer has been given to the attitude of the Enlightened period historians towards the Middle Ages as a Dark Age. In there, I think, it has been given in a very restrained manner. We may discuss over it. In my next letter after reading the appropriate lines and giving there reference, I will like to start with philosophical and historiographic explanation of such a perception. If it suits you, then kindly give your views on that.

Secondly, I am actually trying to write a book for the World History syllabus of Punjab University, Chandigarh, India. All books which are available in the market are very assertive in declaring Middle Agesas Dark Age. Even a new book which I recently bought written by Irving L Gordon for American history, has also given this concept. On the other hand, Frank Conlon of Washington University has similar view like us. Now the problem is that my coauthor say that I should go along with the general perception and should not try to present a research paper in the book. Well, monetary consideration may change my insistence on presenting this view that Middle ages were Dark ages. I have re-written the chapter with quotation from Collingwood. Now your answer is also giving support to my argument. I seek your permission, to quote your name in my write up in the new manuscript which I may take to my coauthor most probably by this sunday. Kindly revert back at the earliest. I have made a copy of your view and going to add to an appendix which I am presenting along with the chapter in order to convice my author that this view could be published in this manner.
Sumir.

I have been teaching to the under graduate classes that Renaissance succeeded Dark Ages. For some time, my understanding was that the Gothic Art was not of high class. The Middle Ages in European History was a period of intellectual stagnation. I have read Hayes who had started history of Europe by declaring that Middle Ages was period of Christendom. I gathered that it was a period of religious fundamentalism. The Roman Church swayed the intellectual world. It regulated the flight of intellectual endeavours and as a result, restricted the world of free thought. I had also read that it was Flavio Biondo an Apostolic secretary in Rome who had given this view in his book titled "Decades of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire" first published in 1483.

However, recently I was reading on Middle Ages. I read about the achievements of the Scholasticism. The university of Bologna initiated the work of translation of book of Medicines from Arabic world. It is also a fact that it was the 12 th century which ushered into the world of high philosophical achievements in the western world. It was the period when the Gothic and Romanesque Art and Architecture developed and flourished. It was the period when troubadour lyrics and courtly romance were written and sung and immortalized in literature of Europe. I think that it was a civilization which had made tremendous achievements in the field of human endeavours. The above achievements can not be called the achievements of Dark Period or a period of Stagnation. The whole world of Philosophy in politics is result of the High Middle Ages. The coming of Vikings did not prove a drag. For me, they had taken the world forward. The Feudalistic structures which developed along with the spread of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church were a progress in which some social structures of human existences developed which were the best answer for the period. The Europe stabilized. All those factors which we consider as the cause of the Renaissance and Reformation, were mainly appeared during the Middle Ages.

All the above factors have forced me to think that it is wrong to call the Middle Ages as a Dark Age. It is not the right expression to term a period. The facts were more bright but when you call it a Dark Age, and do not try to learn about actually what was the Dark Age, because you intend to read only from Renaissance period, you carry wrong impression about the Middle Ages in European History. This is the feeling from which I suffer now.

I may have limited knowledge on this field but I had carried the impression on the period in Pre-Renaissance period for a long time that Dark Age was a period of stagnation which was changed by Renaissance. This is how it is written in most of the books available for the university courses written by Indian authors. This is what I had been teaching to my students. Now, after reading about the achievements of Middle Ages I am left with a feeling that it is not the right expression for the Middle Ages in Europe.

Hence, I want that you help me to understand that whether it is right to call Middle Ages of European history as a Dark Age. Is it true that it was a Dark Age?
sumir

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The perception of the Middle Ages as a period of stagnation was created by the Reniassance and has survived in scientific research and discourse till more or less today. Only slowly is the image of this period changing and I think that most teachers share your feelings. What has been going on fro some time now is a process of re-thinking and re-writing the history of the Middle Ages leaving behind the biased interpretation of Reanissance philosophers and historians and concnetrating on the things which already began in the "Dark Ages" (you mentioned some examples yourself). Actually many things which we associate with the "Dark Ages" like witch-hunts had their high time after the Middle Ages had come to an end.
The longer I study and teach the Middle Ages the more complex the subject becomes. What makes the Middle Ages so fascinating and so difficult at the same time that on the one hand the Roman Empire really and truly had come to an end; knowledge was lost but on the other hand new political and social structures developed and of the scientific discoveries we associate with the Renaissance have their roots in the Middle Ages: even people in the Middle Ages saw and knew that the world was round because the could see that the horizon was and is no straight line but a slightly curved one; the famous medieval maps with Jerusalem in the centre of the world were not meant to be geographically correct but were mirrors of a specific philosophical view of the world with Jerusalem as its spiritual centre.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



#4 Graham Davies

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 07:30 PM

Surely the term "Dark Ages" refers to the period immediately preceding what we now call the Middle Ages, doesn't it? I was always under the impression that the term Dark Ages (as taught in UK schools) refers to the period immediately following the Roman Occupation of Britain, when facts about our history became a bit obscure, i.e. from around the end of the 5th century and up until the beginning of what we now refer to as the Middle Ages, i.e. around the middle of the 11th century. The term "dark" is used to refer mainly to the lack of historical evidence and the absence of surviving literature from this period. From around 1050 onwards the historical evidence is abundant (v. the Domesday Book of 1086), and great poets such as Chrétien de Troyes (writing in Medieval French) and Hartmann von Aue (writing in Medieval German) appeared in the 12th century. The Middle Ages gave us Chaucer in the 14th century (writing in Middle English). The Middle Ages in the History of German Literature, for example, are referred to as its first "Golden Age", the second "Golden Age" being the Age of Goethe 1749-1832.

My PhD thesis focused on Medieval German Literature, covering the period from 1150 to 1450, which is often described as the Age of Chivalry. The topic of my thesis was the terminology used in Medieval German to describe the tournament and heraldry - two closely associated products of the Age of Chivalry. I gathered evidence from numerous literary works, e.g by 12th century authors such as Gottfried von Strassburg, Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach and a rather eccentric Austrian knight of the 13th century, Ulrich von Lichtenstein, who wrote a series of poems called "Frauendienst" (In the Service of a Lady) describing his exploits as a jouster and participant in tournaments.

#5 Graham Davies

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 07:59 PM

Just checking my facts....

A search for the terms Dark Ages and Middle Ages in Google reveals that the term Dark Ages is - as I thought - mainly used to cover the period from from the fall of the Roman Empire to around 1000 AD. The period from around 1000 AD onwards to 1500 AD is usually described as the Middle Ages - though, of course, these dates are by no means set in stone.

The period to which I referred in my early email, the Age of Chivalry, can be described as a period of flowering of European culture, and far from dark.

The term "dark" - again, as I thought - often refers to the scarcity of historical and literary evidence in comparison with the preceding period of Roman rule and the period post-1000 AD, but it is also associated with a breakdown in law that was maintained under Roman rule and brought about by the Vikings invasions in the North and by the Anglo-Saxons in the South. The Vikings destroyed a good deal of the art and records of the early Christian Church: for example, the Viking raid of 793 on Lindisfarne (Holy Island). If you ever get a chance do visit Lindisfarne. It's a fascinating place, oozing atmosphere and history. It's located just of the coast of Northumberland and connected to the mainland by a causeway which is only accessible at low tide.

#6 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 24 December 2004 - 02:23 PM

Graham Davis,

Accept my Christmas greetings.

“The term "dark" - again, as I thought - often refers to the scarcity of historical and literary evidence in comparison …”
You are quite right. A Dark Age in history refers to the scarcity of historical and literary evidences.

This is what happens when the words are not used with seriousness and correct perception. Being a teacher, it was quite embarrassing for me when I realized that what I had been explaining to my students was not correct.

I am facing another dilemma. In India, the world history period syllabus starts from Renaissance. There are questions like decline of Feudalism; the features of Renaissance and causes of Renaissance. There is no place for teaching the earlier period. Secondly, in all the books which are popular with students, (Question answer forms which in India are called ‘Kunjis’, there are Kunjis even for MD entrance test based on Harrison’s book on Pathology), it is very strongly written that the period preceding Renaissance was a dark age and what had followed was all Renaissance and Enlightenment. Well, I myself had been teaching this. Now, when I am expanding the horizon of my reading, I realize that what I am reading from authorities is something else.

The realization has become more painful. I had written a book along with another friend for a different class. Now we had planned to write the book for the world history which is being taught in the third year of Bachelor of Arts Courses. I wrote the chapter and showed it to my friend. I explained him that we have to correct this misconception about the period. He is more practical than me. Suggested that we should present this aspect as it will be different from other books and other teachers would declare our book as a wrong book.

Well, I have tried to convince him. He had kept my manuscript and told me that he would make the necessary changes but would also incorporate the facts in the manner in which I am presenting. Let us see, what he would do.

I have been trying to figure out the cause of such a perception about the age preceding Renaissance period. What I have been able to make out is that the historians of Enlightened period are the cause. The scholars/historians like Locke, Hume, Brekley etc who wrote during the Enlightened period, projected the preceding period as an irrational, unscientific and crude period. In the words of Collingwood, “the Enlightenment had treated it as unenlightened or barbaric and left in obscurity…” (Idea of History). Same perception was carried to the field of literature and arts which flourished during the Renaissance period. I had presented this view to one of my colleague who is with Political Science Department. He is teaching Political Thought. He also concurred with me. He commented that even they are teaching with the same perspective while all the thinkers which they teach or project as the pioneers of different political thought belonged to thirteenth century of before that. He also desires to recheck his facts after completing his present assignment on which he is working for his doctorate thesis. You have mentioned that your thesis concerned the pre-Renaissance period. Will you give some thought over my contention in light of your own thesis?
Regarding Dark Age and Middle Age periodizaiton, which you have mentioned, I again want to differ with you. What I have been able to learn as per the new essays, (Read on the basis of leads given in Encyclopedia Encarta 2003), the period between 500 to 1500 is Middle Ages. The Middle ages was divided into three phases viz Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages.

I am reproducing a portion of my manuscript based on the leads mentioned above. If you find time, just go through it.

Middle Ages is a term used for the period in history of Europe from the fifth century to the fifteenth century. The fifth century in the history of Europe marks the end of the Roman Empire. The fifteenth century in European history is identified with the active period of the Renaissance which had started in the fourteenth century. Hence, it is difficult to say that when the Middle Ages ended and Renaissance started. It is a perfect case of continuity and change in history wherein something of Middle ages continued into Renaissance and new changes also came up which ended the Middle ages.
The term “Middle Ages” was first used by Flavio Biondo an Apostolic secretary in Rome. He was an historian also. He used this term in his book “Decades of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire” first published in 1483. In his book, he tried to show that during this period, a stagnation in cultural development had set in. it is not be concluded that there was period in which cultural activity did not take place. It had its own culture. But there was strong binding of Christian church on each and every aspect of human affair. The paintings were made but they did not depict the natural forms of human beings. They could only be made as per the standards allowed and permitted by the Church. The poetry was written but it had to adhere to the rules permitted by the church. The political activity was there but it had to follow the whims of the bishops of the Church. Each and every aspect of the life in Europe was ordered by the Church. As a result, the development in the human activities was regulated by the Church. Church could ban any thing. It could excommunicate the king. Hayes had therefore called the period of Europe in fourteenth century as the Christendom.
The scholars had divided the Middle ages into three phases. Each phase had its unique cultural traits which later became the cause of Renaissance and Reformation.
The first stage of Middle ages is called the Early Middle Age. This period extended over three hundred years. It started somewhere at the decline of the Roman Empire (the last Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus was removed in 476 A. D.). It was also marked by the end of the raids of Germanic races and their final settlement within the boarders of Western Europe. It also marked the coming of the stability of economic condition which suffered dislocation that had started at the decline of the Roman Empire. Therefore, there is no fixed date from which it can be marked as the starting date of the Middle Ages in European History. However, it for from 5th century onwards that the Middle Ages is considered to have started. However, it was a period in which the well established and elaborate system of Roman Empire period tried to coexist with the multiple primitive cultural patterns which were being brought by the Germanic races to the Western Europe.
The Early Middle Ages was marked with localized social and economic arrangements. The Germanic races which had arrived in the Western Europe, came in form of Confederacy of tribes. Where they settled down, they tried to establish some thing near to a kingdom. Overall, no central authority existed in Western Europe during this period. The local pattern of social and economic systems also created local political centers. A new pattern of local political authorities emerged in form of seignories. The peasants themselves had come under the protection of the senior landlords which afforded them security. They retained their private right to property in their estates but they got bound to continuous dependence on them. The senior land lords which gave birth to seigniors system, received from them free labour in return of the protection which they provided. The peasants were not allowed to sell off their lands and go away but they retained their right on the land which they tilled. In absence of any central authority, this submission provided them the security from other senior landlords. This was relation between the peasant and local dominant property holders. Among the leading warrior aristocracy, there were social ties based on kinship. However, gradually another relation developed among them based on land grants and with military obligations attached to them. Such relations along with already existing seignorian relations evolved in to Feudalism which became the major political, economic and social feature of the European history during the High Middle Ages and Later Middle Ages. Thus Feudal relations developed when the land was traded for military and other services. The scholars find different sources of the development of such a land based relations to the Roman period and to the traditional relations between the Germanic tribes which had come to the western Europe. The major effect of the development of this relation was that for a long time which spread over whole of the Middle ages, a consolidated or central political authority did not develop. The political authority remained fragmented among the feudal leaders. As long as, the factors which had promoted the development of the feudal system remained the Middle ages continued. With the passage of time, when new factors emerged which effected those factors on which feudal relations based on land based obligation loosened the ties based on such obligations, the feudal system declined.

It is not surprising that there was no central political authority in Europe during the Middle Ages. There were no nations which had developed so prominently on during the later stage of the Middle Ages. However, there was another unity in Europe. This unity was imparted to Europe by the Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church was the only institution in Europe which had its influence over the whole Western Europe during the Early Middle Ages. The Church reached every corner of the western Europe by spreading its authority through the churches to the whole Western Europe. But it was under the common central control of the Bishops. The Bishops and Cardinals selected the Bishop to the throne of St. Peter. The Bishop on the throne of St. Peter was called the Pope and he was on the top of the authority structure. Thus, a universal organization with a central authority existed in Europe in Early Middle Ages. This was the only institution which united the whole of Western Europe.

Such were the main features of the Early Middle Age in Western Europe. This Europe lived with the memory of being in a territory which was once under the central control of the Roman Empire. However, this was the world which had come up on the decline of the Roman Empire. No attempt was made to revive the central authority about which this world had the memory. But this world tried to save that memory of that world by saving the knowledge of that past. The work of the past scholars were copied and systematized. St. Isidore of Seville compiled the encyclopedic work called Etymologies (623). Another main inheritance was the Bible. They preserved Bible in form of hand written copies. In the intellectual field all the worldly achievements and activities in the field of study were the preparation for the understanding of the Bible.

High Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages ended in the tenth century when new invaders came to the Western Europe. They were Vikings from the North and Magyars from east from Asian Steppes. They displaced the people. The agricultural activity stopped due to the raids. The population declined. The unity in Europe ended. However, the monasteries which had come up in different parts of the Western Europe remained the pockets of the civilization in Europe. The memory of past was safe because it was made safe in the monasteries during the Early Middle Ages.
However, the process of disintegration stopped by 1050. The different areas again became the centers of aggressive human activities. The migration which took place with the invaders created many pockets of settled population. Town life was revived. The Town life started its earlier activity of trade and commerce with more vigour. The Vikings were not such invaders who came only to destroy. The modern scholars have proved they were basically traders. They brought the activity of trade and commerce back to life after spreading out into Europe. They created a complex, dynamic and innovative society. The modern European scholars are more attracted to this period and even have termed it as the twelfth century Renaissance that is different from the Renaissance of the fourteenth century.
The High Middle Ages is marked by the end of the controversies about the succession of the Pope. It was followed by fully developed administration of the Roman Catholic Church. It became the most sophisticated governing institution in the Western Europe. It followed by the spread of the political influence of the Pope throughout the Western Europe through diplomacy and the administration of Justice through the extensive spread of the churches throughout the Western Europe. On the spread of political influence of the Pope, the monastic order also grew and flourished. It was monastic order that got involved in the secular world in more elaborate manner. Among the various monastic orders which flourished under the patronage of the Pope, a feudalistic order developed. More new monastic orders developed. The new monastic order like the Cistercians and Franciscans performed many social welfare activities and penetrated the urban life through their pious works. It was through their activities that the Roman Catholic Churches became the center of human existence in the Western Europe. Hayes had rightly said that the Western Europe had become the Christendom. The various rites of the Christian world which came to identify as the outer symbols of the spirituality of the Christianity became the force which joined the whole Western Europe.
By bringing the unity in life of the Western Europe, the Roman Catholic world also started a very vigorous world of intellectual activity. It was this intellectual activity which laid the ground in which new changes brought out the Renaissance changes. The monastic order established schools and universities. New degrees were constituted in the field of medicine, law and theology were constituted in the universities established and run by the various monastic orders. The University of Bologna undertook highly commendable work in the field of ecclesiastic and civil law. Similarly, the medicine work preserved in Arabic works were translated into European languages in different universities. It was such inquiries and activities which developed new methodologies in the field of study and inquiry which brought major changes in the field of studies. Scholasticism brought new philosophies which commented on every aspect of writings in the Church. It was under such activities that the High Middle Ages became a great age of philosophy in the history of Western Europe.
After the field of philosophy, this Age is also contributed to the field of art by schools of Romanesque and Gothic Art and Architecture. In the field of study, the activity of study did not remain the preserve of monks only. Apart from Latin, the literature was also produced in the vernacular language. The writing in the vernacular language addressed to issue like love poetry, courtly affairs and history for which there was now an educated class to read them.
Under the unity imparted by the Church administration which grew in the twelfth century, the thirteen century Europe made tremendous achievement in human affairs. “During the 13th century the achievements of the 12th century were codified and synthesized. Now the human settlements existed for centuries. The trade and commerce bound the Europe in more closely into an economic unity. The commercial activity was carried by the merchant bankers of Italy. They carried their activities to France, England, other countries of Europe, German areas and North Africa. The Europe saw extensive travelling population moving out for a pilgrimage, or to universities for education, or to undertake some trade.
The High Middle Ages was also a period of Crusades. Crusades provided an example of the unity of Europe during the Middle Ages which was brought by a central church. It was during the period that works of art in the school of Gothic Architecture and art appeared. It was period of great philosophic works identified with people like St. Thomas Aquinas. In the field of literature, the best example is Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was a period of conflict and dissolution. High Middle Ages was a period of institutional unity and intellectual synthesis. During this period the Secular states emerged. It was in such states, the seeds of national feeling started germinating. No doubt, the national feelings did not grow to the level in which it appeared in later period but the change started in Late Middle Ages. For next few centuries, a conflict between Church and State started. The Towns and cities came alive with full of human activities. They grew in size and prosperity. The cities started a struggle to acquire self-political control. With in the urban centers, different classes, guilds and interests started a struggle for achieving control over the urban centers.

In the urban centers of Italy, the seignorial corporations started giving importance to the political and social thinking. They developed a vision of a state which had its own right and powers independent of Church and its followers. The people of Europe in urban centers realized that their knowledge and experience could not be synthesized with the divine talks. They learnt that the human affairs on this earth and divinity of the other world work in their own spheres and could not join. It started a period of a new field of knowledge which later was called the political science.

However, this stress on political philosophy did not end the faith of the European world in the spiritual world. The European world developed a new vision of spiritual quest. They tried to establish the direct link with the God through personal endeavours. In this quest for the spiritual questions, they did not find any place for the directions from the organized Church of that period. They felt that they could do without the established administration of Roman Catholic Church. They sought the spiritual links in the words of Bible on their own. The mystical experiences became more spiritual than the dependence on the Roman Catholic Church. Mystical experiences were open to all classes of people. They came to be regarded as the personal gift from God. The social rank or cultural attainments were not immaterial for receiving such a gift from the God. The devotional reading of Bible showed a new world to the people of Europe. It did not require the medieval institution of Church. It gave them a different experience from what the Church administration made them to live with. New brotherhood of believers in Bible started emerging. It gave birth to Brethren of the Common Life sect, Franciscan sect etc. They raised the issue of reforming the church. Many of them just thought of living with the guidance of the organized Church of Medieval ages. The Black Deaths brought a situation of crises in which such sects flourished and became more meaningful and attractive to the survived humanity. It were such spiritual novelties which brought the Protestant Reformation. It was during this age the new national identities were established which became the foundation stone of the modern nation states. The robust trade and finance activities laid the foundation of the equally strong European economy which later made it the active civilization in the modern period. Thus, in the dissolution of the medieval world, in its social and cultural turmoil the seeds of the modern age may be found.


#7 Graham Davies

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Posted 24 December 2004 - 05:49 PM

I am not a historian, so I would not like to comment on a history book. I am a linguist / literary historian. Historians seem to be at variance regarding the term "Dark Ages". I have always used it as an alternative term for the Early Middle Ages, and many historians use it this way.

The Viking invasions of Britain were earlier than the 10th century. They began to take place in the second half of the 8th century and they have left their mark on the dialects spoken in the North East of England and Scotland, which preserve many Viking words - as do the place names.

The Magyars (a branch of the Finno-Ugric nations) moved into Central Europe in the 7th-9th centuries. The other main branch of the Finno-Ugric nations headed northwards to Finland. The Hungarian and Finnish languages have very little in common with the other languages that surround them, a testimony to to the distant origins of the Finno-Ugric nations who hail from East of the Urals - where related languages such as Mari are still spoken

One of my local pubs dates from the late Middle Ages: The Bell, Waltham St Lawrence. The building is 15th century. I was there yesterday evening!

White Waltham church - just a couple of miles from where I live - has substantial parts dating back to the 12th century.

#8 UlrikeSchuhFricke

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Posted 01 January 2005 - 05:56 PM

Dear Sumir Shamar,
I apologize for not having posted a response to your own postings earlier, but unfortunately I have not been informed that there were more postings in this section.
Of course you can use my name if necessary.
I would like to add some thoughts to your manuscript, which I personally belive is a very good description of the Middle Ages in Europe. I agree that the Roman Catholic Church was one of the most influential forces and its teachings and ideas gave Europe a unity it is at the moment trying to regain. But of course the position of the Church and its understanding of being the superior spiritual and political power in Europe and the kings, princes, emperors being its subjects only was not uncontested. Think of Henry II of England and Thomas Beckett; another example: the German Emperor Henry IV who tried to interfere with the right of the Pope to install new bishops; he had to give in eventually but the idea that the Emperor was the political "top dog" in his realm was never given up by the German Emperors and quite some managed to influence Rome to their advantage. The French king even managed to "kidnap" the Pope and force him to reside in France for quite some time.

#9 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 12 January 2005 - 11:56 AM

I am not a historian, so I would not  like to comment on a history book. I am a linguist / literary historian. Historians seem to be at variance regarding the term "Dark Ages". I have always used it as an alternative term for the Early Middle Ages, and many historians use it this way.

The Viking invasions of Britain were earlier than the 10th century. They began to take place in the second half of the 8th century and they have left their mark on the dialects spoken in the North East of England and Scotland, which preserve many Viking words - as do the place names.

The Magyars (a branch of the Finno-Ugric nations) moved into Central Europe in  the 7th-9th centuries. The other main branch of the Finno-Ugric nations headed northwards to Finland. The Hungarian and Finnish languages have very little in common with the other languages that surround them, a testimony to to the distant origins of the Finno-Ugric nations who hail from East of the Urals - where related languages such as Mari are still spoken

One of my local pubs dates from the late Middle Ages: The Bell, Waltham St Lawrence. The building is 15th century. I was there yesterday evening!

White Waltham church - just a couple of miles from where I live - has substantial parts dating back to the 12th century.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I have followed your suggestion about googles given elsewhere on the forum. I had been earlier using some other search engines and found them satisfying. I prefer to read books till this day.

I am here to say that it seems that my query is just a discovery for my own self. This view is already prevalent among the scholars and there is some serious and major research already going on Middle Ages starting from 5th century.

I had felt this inclination when I had directed this query to Frank Conlon. He had remarked that he had been teaching this thing somewhere in 1960 and he remembered that at that time they had dropped that concept.

Frank introduced me to two other professors who directed me to FICINO, (University of Toronto) who are undertaking this discussion under Discussion- Renaissance and Reformation Studies

They seem to be locating sources from the 5th century B.C. onwards. Similarly, there were many sites wherein this discussion had been made. The thesis which I had been giving that it was tag forged on history by the historians of Enlightened period was already discussed by one Free lancer writer. The only difference was that she had identified the Romantic philosophers whereas I identify it with the period of Enlightenment.

Actually all this had started long before when I was highly impressed by the achievements of 19th century. IN between, my attention was diverted by Indian history. When I started teaching History of USA, I felt the need of reading the European history. I am really excited by a query on the forum about the difference among the first thirteen colonies. Anyhow, by this time, I have been studying the philosophers and research methodology. Now this has imparted me a more decisive perception about the subject. I have become bold in doubting the claim of this period. Finally this question was first directed to H-Net somewhere in October 2004. I got the response. In the meantime I bought Encyclopaedia Encarta. That CD direct me to some more effective sites. That made me more certain about my thesis.

Now, there are some questions.

Firstly, somewhere I was wondering that whether I was directed towards this conclusion by recent writings which I have read while studying the history of America. Is it not that the scholars of sixteenth and seventeenth century had intentionally projected their period as a more blessed period than the preceding period. No doubt, somewhere Europe knew that they were on threshold of an epoch making changes. Undoubtedly, Herder’s Matrix theory became quite popular before the rise of Totalitarism in Europe. Here I seek the attention of Ulrike, John Simkin and Andy Walker.

Secondly, Is not 19th century the first milestone in the development of man. To quote some examples:

Birth of sociology, psychology, psycho analysis, economics, steam engine, railways, aeroplane, wireless, Charles Darwin and his Origin of Spices and its effect on the Christian world;

Rise of Napoleon, Vienna conference, Matternich period and revolution period in Europe, Unification of Germany, Unification of Italy, Rise of Bismark, Treaty Systems, Civil War of America and Rise of National feeling and political policies of America, Rise of Big Business in America, Rise of American Imperialism, Opium Wars of China, Opening of Japan, Division of Africa, Meji Restoration, 1857 in India, I can continue and go on.


I understand, someone can also find a list for the eighteenth century but above changes need no pleader to show that which are more revolutionary changes.

Thirdly, If history is a continuous dialogue between present and past (hopefully it will only be history which will also tell which was the marginal subject in twenty first century) then what will be the perception of the people in Twenty Second or Twenty Third Century about the preceding centuries. No doubt, in literature, I hope you will give consent to my view that scholars of nineteenth century knew during their period itself that their century is a milestone in the development of humanity.

I just hope if history is really a collective consciousness and this very definition of history is not merely a zingoist expression but a more balanced and mature view of the subject, then is not true that it is nineteenth century which is the starting of modern age.

I hope that I am not amusing you people and presenting a picture of being less qualified to make such big assertion.

I seek to thank you for the analytic version of Dark Age. I really admire the people from Language field. They know to understand the word. Rest of the people just know the meaning, they know the understanding that has to be perceived by learning a word. My colleagues of Punjabi department are really a very enjoyable company.


Accept my Regards

#10 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 14 January 2005 - 07:26 AM

The following is a useful link for study on Renaissance and Reformation. The people there are doing some real work. It is related to my query and my postings made here.

http://www.crrs.ca/p...onic/ficino.htm

I am indebted to Frank Conlon and Prof Fritz Levy from University of Washington for directing me to this site.

#11 Shanet Clark

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 02:15 AM

The Mediaeval Period was a middle period between the Classic and Early Modern
Periods. It is no longer approved usage to call it the Dark Ages, and the
distinction between the High Middle Ages and the previous period is well put.
I think that the term Dark Ages has some usefulness in describing the
"trough" in learning between the third and twelfth century. The use of Greek
was lost, Latin decayed, and scientific philosophies, engineering and learning
all fell far behind the classical model.

The Angles and Saxons (and Jutes and Geats) were a feral bunch, they lived
in holes in the ground in SE England and were utterly depraved compared to
the Romans or the Normans which bracketed them.

cartography, geography, naatural science, astronomy, languages...all these
were nearly lost, and the Indian Ocean trade Empire, the Sung dynasty, and the
Arab centers far exceded Europe in physical standards of living and learning levels
between the third and eleventh century.

#12 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 11:18 AM

some usefulness in describing the
"trough" in learning between the third and twelfth century. The use of Greek
was lost, Latin decayed, and scientific philosophies, engineering and learning
all fell far behind the classical model. 

The Angles and Saxons (and Jutes and Geats) were a feral bunch, they lived
in holes in the ground in SE England and were utterly depraved compared to
the Romans or the Normans which bracketed them.

cartography, geography, naatural science, astronomy, languages...all these
were nearly lost, and the Indian Ocean trade Empire, the Sung dynasty, and the
Arab centers far exceded Europe in physical standards of living and learning levels
between the third and eleventh century.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



The period of fourth to eighth century on Indian continent was producing work on medicine in form of Ayurveda like Charak Sutra, on different aspect of hygiene, art of making love, sex life and moral standards in form of Kamsutra of Vatsyana, in form of various treatises which influenced the political and legal thoughts of later years in form of commentaries of Vishnu, Narada, Brihadratha and Yajgvalakya. In education field, the university of Nalanda and Vikramshila had attained the level of world centers of education and learning. They influenced Tibet and China with Vajrayana view of Buddhism. This feature of the identified period is well covered by D. P. Singhal in his book ‘India and World Civilization’ 1972, Pan Macmillan Limited, London. (The Part II is not that well researched which covers the period from coming of Islam upto the end of the rule of Britain in India.)

However, this question (Dark Age) was not a result of any research work but a feeling of a teacher who tried to learn something more about the topic which he had been teaching for nearly seven years with three years gap in between. When you start a new topic you begin with one or two books and they draw the contours of your knowledge. The books which were available in India was written by Indian authors and they belonged to a generation who had lived the Indian Freedom Struggle. Other books like history of Europe by Gooch, Hayes etc were Euro centric, trying to hide what was not so bright in Europe of their study. However, in the book of Gooch, there are four pages on the history of Frank rule under Charlesmagne. It has adopted the theme that the period of Middle Ages was a Dark age but the way it has discussed the period of Charlesmagne, it makes a statement in contradiction.


My main query was result of following views which had developed during teaching.
a. Are we teachers of history delivering the right thing to our generation? (Every teacher is teaching to a nation.)
b. What is the authenticity of the knowledge or information which we are disseminating to our pupils.
c. Most of the history works are Euro-centric. The history should be re-written in light of the changed geo-political scenario. The history writing is not coming out of the Euro-centric mold. It was the European scholars who had started the trend of writing the history as it is presently being followed. It is not they, who are first to do that. In China, they had been writing history since second century B. C. as a religious duty. In India, it was always written in form of Puranas but they do not qualify for being the history literature as per the definition and methodology being adopted by the western world. My feeling has become my conviction when I started reading American history. You pick any book, whether the author is American or a European, he invariably begins with evaluation of European civilization as the mother of the rise of America. While doing that, somewhere, it leaves you with a feeling that America was a by-product of Europe. There is a question in this forum on the difference between different colonies which created America. Now if you try to trace the history of America, you find that it was not America which was the core of the game plan in their surge towards West. It was some other factors which was pushing Europe to West ward sailing. But, the historic reality in form of America is not the result of that push. It was a human endeavour which was played on American continent and not because Europe desired it. Europe was just watching. Rather Europe was not concerned at all. Europe was more interested in India and Indonesia. Now, this is the case of American history. Now if you try to study the history of other continents, even there, Europe tends to cloud your perception. I am not putting any case against Europe. I am taking it an issue in history writing and then in teaching.
d. The use of terms: Graham Deavis had made a categorical statement. If we call a period as a Dark period, then we mean to say that we do not have the historic sources on that period. It is not mere a word for history, it is a terminology in history. But the real word is “Dark Age” not the Dark period. Again, the use of terms in history is again Euro-centric. It is not taken as per the requirement of a trained historian but it is work of European scholars. I have identified that it was an intentional use of the term by the scholars of the Enlightened period. IN one of the article on a web site, the author has insisted that it was the work of the period of Romanticist historians, means that of eighteenth century or before that of Postivists of Nineteenth century.

On the whole, it gives prominence to Europe over whole of the intellectual world. For me, there is no doubt, that Europe had dominated the period and it is the Europe from where the human life started glorifying itself by its own efforts. The human beings may be living a nomadic life in the eleventh century in one part of Europe as you have pointed out but one may be merely refusing to accept the fact if he tries to contradict it.

However, after developing the Essay on Middle Ages, I had placed this query with Frank Conlon of University of Washington. He also approved what I was saying but he directed me to Prof Strachey. He also stated that it is strongly contended and such a version is now demolished. They directed my attention to a university in Canada which is undertaking research on Renaissance and Reformation. They are discussing the Latin and Grecian literature which belong to the period of Early Middle ages. It seems that they are talking about such sources which are available from that period and therefore, that period does not belong to Dark period of history of Europe as such. I later corrected the essay with the help of the latest versions of three encyclopaedias. Somewhere, I was made to feel that even this version is being engineered by some other scholars and from different readings I am made to develop this version. However, I think, there is a truth if we say that it is wrong way of presenting it when we will say that it was a Dark Age.

On the whole, it is desired that a view or a debate should come up which should debate on the contents of history that should be adopted as a course of teaching history. There has been a discussion on the issue of Teaching British Empire. For me, it is also another example which should rather discuss the Idea of History that should be taken up for teaching history. But, this concept or perception that there can be history of a nation but not a history which can guide us on a wider scale of human achievements and problems, is not allowing to break us away from the trend set by European scholars. The collective consciousness approach in history always tends to acquire a jingoistic meaning only. Now when, technology is making it possible to compile and classify the data from past, such an effort should be made in the realm of history to rewrite history and decide the courses to be taught to the next generation. But, history is a mistress of politicians. They are not ready to accept that such a course is possible. They will question that if such an issue has to be taken on diplomatic level wherein one country will be asking other to teach such and such thing about them then it would not be feasible and term this idea as ridiculous. But they do such things. India kept on asking China to include the map of Sikkim in the map of India. India objected to Oxford Press when they showed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (Azad Kashmir as per Pakistan) as not the part of the map of Republic of India. How many of us know about the history of the various countries of African continent when we are so agitated to talk about civil rights or take for that the issues of the Eastern Europe as they are in present. American President is ready to fight anywhere if it will establish a government on democratic principles. History as a subject is not the solution of all such issues but it is definitely the first step towards the solution of such problems which the whole world is facing. It is more humane to do then get your soldiers killed on foreign land in service of democracy. I am saying as a person interested in and motivated by scholarly pursuit. I am not criticizing any country. Kindly do not take it otherwise.

But Alas, we are more concerned by our immediate concerns, our pay scale, taxes, insurance, our immediate management and my and my life. But if something wrong happens we raise memorials. We are more concerned about applied sciences and neglecting pure sciences and then seek answers to human miseries. When we find that we do not find solutions, we use escapist thoughts. This is what we are doing. (Allow me to be personal and philosophical in the end.)



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