Author Barbara Hanawalt begins The European World: 400-1450 (the spine of the Beautiful Feet Middle Ages course) by dispelling some long-disproved but persistent myths about the Middle Ages and the people who lived during them. One of the most false but simultaneously most prevalent of these myths is their name—the term "middle ages" was a construct invented by Renaissance thinkers who saw their Medieval forebears as transitional between the Classical (or ancient) and modern worlds, and as benighted, ignorant, and superstitious.
It is this Renaissance prejudice that has led people to think of the Medieval period as the "Dark Ages." Hanawalt assures us Europe at that time was no more dark than any other time, and that along with glaring problems and difficulties there were also advantages to living back then. One of these was a clear sense of personal social status based on cultural hierarchy and authority; another was the strong sense of communalism and interrelatedness.
This is more than just a textbook about Middle Ages Europe, and far more than an exercise in historical debunking. Hanawalt takesa fairly lighthearted approach, presenting at the outset a cast of characters (both individuals and groups), and describing the events, people, regions, and ideas of the Middle Ages with fluid style and wit. The European World: 400-1450 is exceptionally educational, as well as being exceptionally entertaining. Kids are likely to wait eagerly for history if this is the assigned text (as opposed to the more common kicking and wailing that accompanies history class).
As much as any author is capable of even handedness, Hanawalt is objective and fair. Christianity plays a major role in her narrative, and she never misrepresents its essential aspects or paints it as an evil or oppressive institution. The book is as much cultural history as political history, and the text is supplemented throughout with eyewitness accounts and other source text excerpts that put a face and texture to the more asbstract elements of historical study.
While recommended for middle school students, this book is just as useful (and engaging) for high school students, for college students, and for adults whose knowledge of the Medieval period is lacking or incomplete. Not that Hanawalt covers all the bases, but she offers a portrait that has the benefit of narrative flow and coherence, showing how events are integrated and why people and their actions were significant. This is an excellent introduction, and should be on every family's shelf.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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