By Felinah Memo Hazara Khan-ad-Din
Published Online (2003)
Introduction: Just as introspection enriches our life experience and our personal relationships, examining history enriches our understanding of society and how people have responded to common challenges under many different circumstances. Expanding historical study to visualize the everyday lives of the individuals involved enhances these benefits greatly, but reveals the complexity of such study. Understanding any complex subject requires simplification, and medieval history is no exception. Therefore, it is natural to use personal experience to help create a mental model of medieval everyday life. The relative dearth of written records in medieval England, especially prior to the 14th century, only strengthens the tendency to fill out the medieval life experience by analogy to the better-documented 18th and 19th centuries, or even to our modern experience.
While generalization and analogy provide a necessary starting point for any student of medieval history, recourse to the actual records provides an essential “reality check”. For contrary to a common subconscious bias, historical trends do not progress steadily over time, and many correlations valid during the better-documented periods cannot be accurately projected back into the medieval period. Such study of the medieval record often reveals fascinating misconceptions concerning the medieval experience, and this paper explores three such misconceptions.