The Middle Ages Unlocked: A Guide to Medieval England, 1050-1300, a comprehensive guide to life in Medieval England, is now available in North America! Written by historian Dr. Gillian Polack and archaeologist Dr. Katrin Kania The Middle Ages Unlocked explores all aspects of medieval life law, religion and education as well as the tools and materials used.
Read the interview, then grab a copy and enjoy life in the Middle Ages!
How/When did you get the idea for the book?
The first idea for the book happened when a few novelists and history buffs got together online and said “we need a book about the Middle Ages to help with our writing”. That was over fifteen years ago – this book has been really long in the making!
Can you give a brief description of the book, what can readers expect to learn?
The book provides an introduction to the Middle Ages in England, with a focus on the many interconnections between different aspects of life, such as government, religion, crafts, folklore, and so on. Readers can expect to get an overview about things and a general introduction to many different topics so they can go on to read more about things and place their new knowledge into a wider context.
What is one myth about the Middle Ages you busted?
There are many myths that we addressed in our book! To list a few of the myths: making a fire was tedious and took a long time, clothes were drab and grey, food was spiced heavily to cover when it went bad, people went around dirty and unwashed. The biggest pitfall when trying to learn about the Middle Ages, however, is a different one. We have limited sources left from this era, and not everybody has access to all of the sources, or the tools and background to work with them. Thus a handful of finds, stories and images tend to get referred to again and again, even though there might be other examples that could lead to different conclusions. The Middle Ages were not uniform, nor were its people – there was an incredible amount of variety, and it’s important to remember that we only get tiny spotlights into that time.
What areas of Medieval life are covered in the book?
All the areas we could write about – that is the point of our book: to give an overview about medieval life. Whether you are looking to read about the people, life phases, taxes and government, religion, military, crafts, food, travel, agriculture, leisure, houses and homes, science, magic, medicine, education, language, clothing, or economy, we talk about it all. Of course it is impossible to tell everything research has discovered about each topic, so there are further reading recommendations in the back of the book.
How did you pick the topics for the book?
We looked at what people needed to know to understand medieval life. Gillian used writers as a kind of focus group, and some of them even test-read drafts. Gillian also teaches those subjects at places like the NSW Writers’ Centre, so she has a good grasp of what people usually already knew, what needed explaining, and where possible misunderstandings could rear their heads. Katrin has been teaching crafts, so she has a similar understanding of what people want and need, and where the difficulties are, related to that topic.
What sources did you use for your research?
All the sources we could get a hold of! We used books and articles from a variety of disciplines. We used primary sources and secondary sources. We used English language books, French language books and German language books. History and archaeology with all their many aspects were obviously the two most important ones, but there was also geography, archaeobiology, material science, codicology and art history involved. We also took experiences and results from experimental archaeology and crafts research into account, as well as insights gleaned from Living History. Looking at so many sources across all these disciplines and seeing how their results came together, or sometimes contradicted each other, was one of the things that made our work on The Middle Ages Unlocked so much fun, but also such a huge task.
Dr Katrin Kania is a freelance textile archaeologist and teacher as well as a published academic who writes in both German and English. She specialises in reconstructing historical garments and offering tools, materials and instructions for historical textile techniques. Find her website at www.pallia.net and her blog at togs-from-bogs.blogspot.com. She also tweets under @katrinkania.
Dr Gillian Polack is a novelist, editor and medieval historian as well as a lecturer. She has been published in both the academic world and the world of historical fiction. Her most recent novels include Langue[dot]doc 1305 and The Time of the Ghosts (both Satalyte publishing). Find her webpage at www.gillianpolack.com and her tweets under @GillianPolack.