44 – Sources of Confusion

Ok... the dark ages. This is going to be a hell of a project, so let’s talk about what we know, what we don’t and why. I want you to be able to trust the stories I’m telling you, and so it’s required that I let you know how unreliable damn near every source we have from this period is. Lately there’s been a rash of people complaining about how this podcast includes speculation. Well, if it bothered you in days of Romano-Britannia, you’re going to lose your minds over what we have coming. So lets talk about our ignorance!

The most important thing for us to know as we enter this period, is that we know very little. Much of the scholarly work of this era involves carefully examining the rare sources we locate and trying to tease out minutae. It’s a situation that’s fraught with peril, and it’s an issue that we’ll be talking about in this episode.

But it isn’t just a scarcity of sources that we are dealing with, which I’ll talk about in a couple minutes, we also have a tremendous amount of bias we need to overcome. What I mean by that, is that we have been retelling stories for generations that we’ve just come to accept as true regardless of whether or not they are factually based. Take the fall of the western Roman Empire as an example. You’re probably assuming that it was a bad thing. And you wouldn’t be alone. Until very recently, the Middle Ages were tainted by the assumption that the fall was a manifestly terrible event for europe. A thought like that makes objectivity pretty hard to maintain. And consequently, much of the focus of study of that period was placed upon national origin myths and cinderella stories rather than examining the cultural differences that occurred and whether or not these dark ages really were all that terrible for the people in the long run.

So before we launch into a discussion of the Dark Ages and its sources, let’s do what we can to exorcise the assumption that this was a cultural decline and come at it with a fresh set of eyes.

Click here to be able to read the full rough transcript.

  6 comments for “44 – Sources of Confusion

  1. Ron Titus
    June 18, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Jamie,

    You made a very good point regarding sources, bias in sources and need to be aware of the same. As a university librarian, I am constantly working on making students aware of these points!

    Ron Titus

    • June 18, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Thank you :)

  2. Marisha
    November 20, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I was going to become a member of this podcast until I heard that it was run by a Liverpool supporter.
    As a true blue Scouse, I could not in good consciousness support a kopite ;-)

    Just kidding–this is a wonderful podcast, and I’m just grateful you don’t support Man U. But so far I haven’t heard anything about my North West Liverpool/Merseyside region, and frankly never have, and was wondering if that was because we don’t have much information on this area pre-Roman occupation?

    Is there any chance you have any good resources I could look into to gain a deeper knowledge into the ancient people of my damp and windy corner of Britain?

    Thanks!
    (Go Everton!)

    • November 21, 2014 at 9:17 am

      The borders aren’t incredibly clear, but chances are that Liverpool was held either by the Cornovii or the Brigante (Cartimandua’s tribe) until Rome came along and took everything over. :)

  3. Lauren
    July 15, 2015 at 8:48 am

    If all historians have an agenda… whats yours?

    • July 15, 2015 at 10:46 am

      Well, my initial agenda is to make history accessible and to teach critical thinking. “Where does this information come from? Should I trust that source? What is the context?” that sort of thing.

      As far as personal biases, which I think is what you’re alluding to… I’m pretty openly critical of out of control wealth inequality. I also find it frustrating that 51% of the population is typically ignored in pop historical accounts, so I try to avoid perpetuating that issue. I also am very much focused on the lives of the people and the cultural aspects of history, since King-focused accounts strike me as myopic and out of date.

      I also like putting music and pop references into history accounts. I don’t know if that’s an “agenda” but it happens a lot. ;)

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