Friday, May 18, 2007

Reframing history as life in a small town - the Peasant's Revolt

As I drive to work I'm listening to Melvyn Bragg's guests speak of the 14th century "Peasants Revolt". It's a fascinating story and period, and Melvyn is on game. He gets anxious and confused with modern physics, but history and culture are his home field advantage.

His professors are discussing the march on London, when, incidentally, a guest happens to mention that London at that time held perhaps 40,000 people. (This was 20 years after a spot of trouble known to us as the Black Death and around the time of the onset of the "Little Ice Age". London was a bit shrunken.)

Huh? So a few thousands (not 60,000 as was once reported) people march on a small town and history is made?

It's a framing problem. It's hard for us to imagine that almost all of human history occurred in what we now consider small communities. Boston was a village during most of the American Revolution -- everyone must have met Franklin personally.

In a town of 40,000 the "movers and shakers" all know one another, and the wealthy community can pretty much fit in an auditorium.

It's so hard for us to get our heads into this work that historians don't even bother to take much note of it themselves ...

PS. Liberate In Our Time!

No comments: