Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Going medieval. Not really.

Dear sir on this History Channel Program:

 No, you are not “going medieval.”

 You are not doing things just as the regular folks did in the Middle Ages.

 You are wearing Polar Fleece.

 As for that authentic recreation of a medieval castle... Yes, the workmen are using historically accurate materials. They are using historically accurate procedures. They are also using triangular steel bladed mason's trowels, and modern spades with wooden handles and formed steel blades. Not too many of those in the thirteenth century.

 The huge wheel you are walking in has its outer side covered with wire mesh. This is clearly a safety measure, but still... You do not have to worry about falling to your death. Men in the 13th century would have.

 I have no problem with “recreations” for teaching purposes, I don't. But there is no way for anyone living today to completely relive what the medievals did, for one important reason: for us, living that way is a choice. For some people it's a job. If it gets to be too much, there are options.

 For the people in the Middle Ages this way of life was all they had. Living this way knowing no other way to live is a very different mindset.

 We have vaccines, and antibiotics. Re-enactors do not, as far as I know, have to worry that if they get a cut they will develop tetanus or gangrene.* Women who get pregnant do not generally have to contend with often fatal puerperal fever. The medievals lived with a fear of death around the corner that for many of us is almost incomprehensible emotionally.

 Role-playing is all well and good, as long as you don't try to pretend it is more than it is.

*In 2008, as part of a family trip to Europe, we visited the reenactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury, from the Wars of the Roses.  "Okay, so they're all dressed up, armor and everything," I said.  "They have a paramedic," stated the Red-Headed Menace. "That's not authentic."  "So how is he dressed?" "In a blue uniform with a yellow vest that says 'Paramedic' on the back.  He's standing by the ambulance."


  1. Have you ever seen The 1900 House ( and The 1940s House (

    The US shows of this ilk were less useful (my kind way of saying they kinda sucked).

    I particularly liked the 1940s house because of the growth of the mother of the family, who originally was not too keen on the whole idea. She had somewhat of a "growth/learning experience" out of the whole thing.

    While the history had to be fudged a bit (IIRC), it did make the attempt at authenticity.

    1. I think 1900 House is the best historical reenactment I've seen. It felt really authentic (and convinced me I would never have wanted to live in that era, upstairs or down). I agree that the US ones were pretty bad.

      I never saw 1940s house -- I am going to have to hunt it down, now. I'm curious.

    2. There was another that I caught a few minutes of on the Military Channel that simulated the trenches in either WWI or WWII. I never got to see all of it but would like to see what they did with it. Similar concept to the " House" series it looked of historians putting people through their paces.

    3. That's one series I would not want to be part of. From what I have read, those conditions were brutal.