- Worked from 9:15 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
- Blog post regarding Wisconsin Republicans' hostile Freedom of Information Act request for access to Professor William Cronon's email archives (includes a link to Cronon's excellent and thorough response)
- Striking photos of Japan two weeks after the disaster
- Amusing blog post by Roger Ebert regarding his brief adventure promoting Amazon.com merchandise on his website in order to earn commissions
In my previous post, I mention that one of the things I'm interested in -- at least now, knowing very little about it -- is medieval history. On a whim, I've decided to pursue this interest, starting with this promising introductory book. Unlike most of the books I've bought over the past few years, I expect to start reading this one right away, even though it pales in comparison to the masterpieces I have yet to tackle. (Confession: I haven't read Anna Karenina, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Crime and Punishment, The Grapes of Wrath, or Ulysses. I could go on, but I think I've done enough damage.) Why am I so interested in learning about the Middle Ages, of all things? A few reasons come to mind.
To begin with, I am intrigued by the harshness of the Middle Ages. There's this popular notion that the Middle Ages were a time of intellectual regression, religious fanaticism, and devastating disease. These things are still with us today, but fortunately they no longer dominate our lives. I cannot help but wonder, a bit morbidly perhaps, what it was like to live in a time when they did. Such forces shape the entire character of an age. Some of the things I've heard about medieval life blow my mind and make me question whether our casual conception of the Middle Ages is really any better than a Hollywood film's. For instance, I've heard that medieval people:
- would mostly be considered mentally ill and/or retarded by our standards, primarily due to malnutrition, disease, and undereducation;
- were on average about half a foot shorter than their modern descendants;
- were constantly inebriated to some extent due to the scarcity of clean water and the antimicrobial properties of beer and wine;
- and were so intensely religious and concerned with the supernatural that what we would consider mild psychoactive experiences, such as unknowingly ingesting a tiny amount of a naturally-occurring LSD precursor, would freak them out so much (with worries about satanic influence and the like) that they would experience psychosomatic trauma and even death.