Monday, September 20, 2010

How did They Perceive the World?

Randall Stephens

A recent BBC documentary explores the world of Medieval Europe. Among other things the program asks: How did they live, think, and behave?

Watching it, I wondered why more history documentaries don't explore the day-to-day lives of regular people in the past. It would be terrific to have a film on 17th-century colonial America, which looked at the mindset of Puritans and Native Americans. (The first installment of We Shall Remain was ok on this. PBS's Colonial House had a fun take on daily life in the 1600s.) A similar program on what it was like to live poor and destitute in mid 19th-century New York City would be illuminating. In fact, one could think of a number of eras that could do with a "lived history" documentary.

Of course, the BBC program embedded here, Inside the Medieval Mind, is not without its baroque hyperboles. (New BBC docs make heavy use of lighting effects and deep contrast/saturation tricks.) But, I'd take that over our History Channel's parade of ancient aliens, Nostradamus, and Mayan apocalypse any day. Here's part of the description of Inside the Medieval Mind.

Robert Bartlett of St Andrew's University, investigates the intellectual landscape of the medieval world.

In the first programme, Knowledge, he explores the way medieval man understood the world - as a place of mystery, even enchantment. The world was a book written by God. But as the Middle Ages grew to a close, it became a place to be mastered, even exploited.


hcr said...

Funny you would post this today... I was just procrastinating by reading the article in Historically Speaking of Sept/Oct 2005: "Reflections on a Possessed Apple," by Darren Oldridge, which talks about perceptions of the world.

That would be on Project Muse, now, right?

Randall said...

Heather: I remember that essay. We're working on getting all those back issues on up on the Project Muse site.