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4. The Folklore of Cornwall: The Oral Tradition of a Celtic Nation

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The Folklore of Cornwall: The Oral Tradition of a Celtic Nation
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u/itsallfolklore · 12 pointsr/AskHistorians

Stock phrases, including "Once upon a time," were used by storytellers to let the audience know that they were about to hear a folktale, a matter of fiction. In general, western and northern Europeans told two types of stories - folktales and legends. Legends were to be believed, and folktales were the oral novels of the folk. Boundaries were often blurred so definitions are challenged by specifics, but the dichotomy is useful in classification.

The "once upon a time" open phrase indicated that there was no insistence that the story "actually happened" at any time. Similarly, these stories would end with a device to let people know the fictional story was at a close. "And they lived happily every after" is most familiar to modern audiences. I always liked the common Irish close: “Tá sé go máith, agus níl sé go dona” - "It is good and it isn't bad."

The following is text I used for my folklore classes, excerpted from my teaching manual, Introduction to Folklore:

>European folklorists, following the lead of the folk themselves, have long recognized two forms of oral tradition, Sagen and Märchen, legends and folktales. While there are many other forms of oral tradition, legends and folktales stand in opposition to one another, yet share a great deal. In reality, lines can blur.

>Legends – or Sagen as the profession often prefers – are generally short, single-episodic stories told chiefly in the daytime. More importantly, the teller intended the listener to believe the story. Legends often have horrible ending to underscore the story’s important message. A large number of them are, after all, typically meant to be instructive, to serve as warnings in some way. These types of stories are not necessarily long-lived. Their point is to reinforce and prove the legitimacy of a particular belief. Nonetheless, some legends take on a traditional character, can become multi-episodic, and migrate over considerable spans of time and space.

>Folktales – or Märchen, again using the German, technical term – are longer stories with more than one episode. They are restricted, in theory at least, to evening presentation. A folktale is not to be believed, taking place in a fantastic setting. The European folktale also requires a happy ending, the cliché of “happily ever after.” Any given folktale can be told with considerable variation, but they are traditional in basic form, and folklorists have spent decades tracing the history and distribution of these stories.

>A word here about the term “fairytale” is appropriate. At the end of the eighteenth century, various writers, most prominently the Grimm brothers, began publishing children’s stories based on folktales. These collections became extremely popular, particularly among the urban and increasingly literate emerging middle class as it found itself removed from the peasant soil that served as home to the stories. Fairytales often cause misunderstandings. In a culture that knows more about fairytales than Märchen, people assume that the folktale was intended for children. This is certainly not the case since the stories were often violent or sexual in ways thought inappropriate for children. Indeed, the telling of a folktale was usually delayed until the children had gone to bed. While fairytales provide the modern reader with the easiest access to the many stories that were once told internationally, one should always realize that they are removed from the primary inspiration. The original stories and their content provided serious entertainment for adults and they were part of an oral tradition, not something that was fossilized in writing.

>The evolution of published fairytales had a profound effect on the subject of fairies, elves, trolls, and similar entities. Because fairytales became the literary domain of children, many people – including later writers – assumed the same was true of the supernatural beings. In their original context, nothing could be further from the truth. These were not cute, diminutive creatures whose sole purpose was to delight children. They were powerful, dangerous, and capable of great harm. The European peasantry feared and respected them, and their stories underscore this, conveying in uncompromising terms the code of ethics and behavior that one must employ to survive an encounter with the dangerous world of magic and power.

>The definition proposed here for “fairytale” does not necessarily coincide with how people – and even some folklorists – use the term. Some scholars regard “fairytale” as appropriate for the more fantastic expressions of folktales as they were told by the folk. The reason why the term is not used in that capacity here is because the folk did not refer to these stories as fairytales and because the term implies a degree of innocence that is inappropriate; again, “fairytale” is most suitably reserved for the published children stories that gave literary expression to the adult oral fictions of the folk.

>Besides the legend and the folktale, there is also the folk ballad, a specialized form of oral tradition that, like the others, incorporated a wide range of beliefs. The ballad had roots in medieval Europe, combining narrative and song. The ballad usually focused on a single incident, and it almost always emphasizes action.

>Something also needs to be said here about myth. People use this term awkwardly. In a European context, myths tend to be the artificial constructs of ancient and Classical-era priests or literate people who sought to weave folk traditions into a comprehensive whole. The exercise often had political purposes, designed to provide diverse people with a single set of beliefs and stories. By reconciling similar traditions, the shared culture of these groups could be seen as more important than the differences, justifying the central rule of the king and his priests. Myth is also a way of organizing and reconciling folk traditions, which by their nature can be contradictory and highly localized. Myth tends, however, to make gods of supernatural beings, giving those powerful entities a status – for modern readers – similar to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, even when this comparison is not justified. Of course, it is also important to point out that myths were stories that were told – and then written down – and they were different from religion itself. Many myths were simply the shared cultural inheritance of a group of people.

>In general, the word myth is best set aside when discussing more recent folk traditions, recognizing its proper status as a literary genre. Nonetheless, ancient documents recording myths can assist in understanding the history of various stories and beliefs. The authors of these texts were, after all, the first folklorists, and they were the only ones coming close to practicing the craft at the time.

>Some folklorists carelessly use the term myth to denote those legends that deal with a fantastic, remote time. This primal era saw the creation of many familiar things such as day and night, fire, animals, people, mountains, and all other aspects of the present world. Folklorists properly refer to these stories as etiological legends explaining the origin of things. Sometimes, however, people interchange etiological legends with the word myth. The problem with this is that “myth” can imply something that is inherently wrong, linked to “primitive” superstitious beliefs. When the term “myth” is used for the folklore of existing cultures or for the traditions that were viable only a generation or more ago, it can take on an insulting, derogatory tone. It is best to reserve the word “myth” for ancient and Classical-era texts.

u/wee_little_puppetman · 18 pointsr/AskHistorians

Since I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the questions right now, I'm going to copy and paste two answers I've given to similar question in earlier threads. (One of which is a copy-and-paste job itself.)

1. General books:

I'm going to copy and paste an answer I once gave to someone who asked me for book recommendations via private message.

>Hi there!

>No Problem! Always glad to help. If you need a quick overview over the topic or are rather unfamiliar with it The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings gives a good first impression. Else Roesdahl's The Vikings is a bit more in depth but with less pictures. There's also Peter Sawyer's Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. All three of those are slightly outdated but they give a great first impression of the Age. If money's thight, start with Sawyer, then Roesdahl, then the atlas.

>If you want to go more in depth there's The Viking World by Stefan Brink and Neil Price. Do not confuse it with the book of the same name by Graham-Campbell and Wilson, which is rather outdated. This "Viking World" is a collection of essays by the world's leading experts on the period an the de facto standard of the discipline at the moment. It's well worth the price.

>If you are (or at least read) German (which is possible from your username) try to get the current catalogue of the Haithabu museum. It gives a good overview over that important trading settlement. Or even better: visit there! (Or any of the large Scandinavian National Museums (Moesgård, Statens Historiska museet, or the Viking ship museums in Roskilde and Oslo, respectively).

>If you are interested in the world of the sagas you can't go wrong with Jesse Byock's Viking Age Iceland.

>If you are looking for a quick ressource or if you have a specific question there's the site of The Viking Answer Lady. She appears to be a reenactor not a scholar but her answers are very well sourced and I have yet to find a major error on her site. Or you can always ask me/post to AskHistorians...

>cheers, wee_little_puppetman

Also, you might want to check out this huge annotated Viking movie list.

There's also a rather good three part BBC series on the Vikings on Youtube.

And for some quick Viking fun there's the animated short The Saga of Biorn.

Oh, one more thing: You might also enjoy Viking Empires by Angelo Forte, Richard Oram and Frederik Pedersen. It goes beyond the traditional end of the Viking Age into the Middle Ages and should therefore tie in nicely to your main interest in the crusades.

2. Sagas

Egils saga and Njáls saga are usually the ones that are recomennded for first time readers. They feel very modern in their narrative structures. Grettis saga is also quite good for a start. And then maybe Laxdæla saga. If you aren't specifically interested in Iceland and want to start with something that conforms more to the public picture of "Vikings" try Eiriks saga rauða, Jómsvíkinga saga or Sverris saga. But afterwards you have to read at least one Icelander saga (i.e. one of the ones I mentioned first)!

Icelandic sagas are fascinating but you have to commit to them. Don't be disappointed if a chapter begins with two pages of the family tree of a minor character! And always keep in mind that this is medieval literature: although it might look like it it is not history. These things were written in the 12th to 14th centuries, even if the take place much earlier!

u/wedgeomatic · 6 pointsr/AskHistorians

If you only read one book on the subject it should be Robert Grant's Augustus to Constantine. It's a tremendous piece of scholarship, in-depth without being overwhelming or boring, and Grant does an excellent job of situating the rise of Christianity against the background of the larger Roman Empire.

Other suggestions:
Henry Chadwick's The Early Church is a classic survey, but it's a bit dated now. Still a very accessible introduction, cheaper and shorter than the Grant.

Peter Brown is, in my opinion, one of the greatest historians who's ever lived and he has written extensively on Late Antique Christianity. For this specific topic, I'd suggest The World of Late Antiquity or The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity. The advantage of Brown is that he's also a fantastic writer.

Another interesting source is Robert Louis Wilken's *Christians as the Romans Saw Them. While it won't give you a full survey of Christianity's rise, it provides the perspective of pagan thinkers reacting to the strange, barbarous, troubling religion that is Christianity. This one is more of a supplement to the other listed works, but I think it helps really understand Christianity against the religio-cultural background of the Roman Empire.

Finally, the great primary source on the subject is Eusebius's *History of the Church. Obviously Eusebius, the 4th century bishop, doesn't match up to modern standards of historical accuracy, but you still get a comprehensive picture of the rise of Christianity that's pretty darn fun to read. Read with a critical eye, it's a terrific source. Also, it's available for free online. (also Eusebius basically invented documentary history, so that's kinda neat)

If you want more recommendations, or want more specific suggestions, I'd be glad to help out. My strongest recommendation are the Grant and the Brown.

u/Robert_Bork · 5 pointsr/AskHistorians

I'm not a historian, but I used to be a history teacher and I think I got a few things right in terms of keeping people interested. A few books I used that are fun and relatively easy:

  • The Cartoon History of the Universe is good for kids and grown-ups, although there might be some sections for which there has been much new research.

  • You may also enjoy Guns, Germs, and Steel which gives an interesting theory of history up to about 1535. A book which tackles the same questions from a much more "cultural" (rather than geographical) angle is The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. They're a fun read together.

  • I know the professional historians might disagree, but starting with the broad sweep of European history and working your way outward can be fun. I liked From Dawn to Decadence which is a bit of a luxuriating read and very detailed. Less detailed but also good popular introductions are Norman Davies' Antiquity and Europe books and Norman Cantor's Civilization of the Middle Ages.

  • For a total timeline (big bang to now), Cosmos (the series or the book) is an awesome way to slot human history and science into the whole universe.

  • Also, novels that cover crazy spans of time are great. One I liked was Bridge over the River Drina which helps you understand both Europe and the Ottoman Empire over the course of 400 years. Others can recommend novels in the super-epic (in terms of timespan) genre as well.
u/lord_mayor_of_reddit · 19 pointsr/AskHistorians

This information is outdated and does a real disservice to the legacy of Allen Walker Read, who was a professor at Columbia and served as president of the International Linguistic Association.

Allen Walker Read spent a considerable amount of his professional life studying the etymological history of the term "O.K." and he came to refute his own earlier 1940s writings on it that are cited above.

In fact, he is the person who first advanced the "oll korrect" explanation. The Greco/Degges article from the 1970s you cited is built upon Allen Walker Read's work in the 1960s.

Allen Walker Read first advanced the "oll korrect" explanation in his 1963 article "The First Stage In The History of O.K.".

Read discovered that the true origins came from Boston in the summer of 1838. There, a trend emerged in which people began to use initialisms, often with intentionally misspelled words. "O.K." as "oll korrect" was only one of them. The other most popular such phrases were "N.G." and later "K.G." ("no go"/"know go"), "K.Y." ("know yuse"), and "O.F.M." ("our first men", a derogatory way of referring to self-important young upper class males, something like "yuppy" today). "O.W." ("oll wright") was occasionally used as a synonym for O.K. in the early years.

Newspaper writers joined in with the fad through their writing, offering up their own ridiculous initialisms that were never actually used in oral conversation. One example from the New York Evening Tattler being "W.O.O.O.F.C." ("with one of our first citizens").

Read tracked down what still remains the first written record of the use of "O.K." It appeared in the March 23, 1839, edition of the Boston Morning Post (emphasis mine):

>"The Chairman of the Commerce Committee on Charity Lecture Bells is one of deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the [Providence] Journal, and his train-band, would have the 'contribution box', et ceteras, o.k.all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward."

Three days later, the Boston Morning Post used the initialism again, and did so with increasing frequency throughout the period 1839-40 and ever after. On July 27, 1839, just a few months after its first appearance in print in Boston, the New York Evening Tattler wrote an article entitled "The Initial Language" that was about the linguistic fad up in Boston at that time, citing a couple examples such as "O.F.M." and "K.Y." but not yet "O.K." A few months later, in September, the Evening Tattler was responsible for the first printed use of "O.K." outside Boston, in New York City (again with the explanation "all correct").

It evidently spread quickly, because in the dozens of examples that Read found in the period of 1839-40, it appeared in print in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and most other major U.S. cities of the time, as far west as Chicago and as far south as New Orleans. By 1848, it had appeared in print in Jamaica, and by 1870, it had appeared in print in England.

It is from a New Orleans Daily Picayune article that Robert G. Gunderson, who Greco and Degges cited, that helped point Allen Walker Read in the right direction. Gunderson's book, The Log-Cabin Campaign, isn't about the word "O.K.", but it's about the 1840 presidential campaign. In that 1957 book, Gunderson wrote a little about how the phrase was used as a campaign slogan for Martin Van Buren ("Old Kinderhook") but didn't originate it. As evidence, he cited this article that appeared in the Daily Picayune on page 2 of the October 6, 1840, edition. It makes the "oll korrect" suggestion, but alongside several other possible explanations.

This helped Read find the true origins of the word and he wrote about the word's history over many articles throughout his life. These include the aforementioned "The First Stage In The History of O.K." as well as "The Second Stage In The History of O.K.", "The Folklore of O.K.", "Later Stages In the History of O.K.", "Successive Revisions In the Explanation of O.K.", and "Sticking to the Facts".

One of the interesting things that Read also helped establish (as also suggested in that Daily Picayune article above) is that the phrase was commonplace throughout the United States despite the fact that most people who used it even in its earliest days probably never had any idea of what it stood for. "The Folklore of O.K." is dedicated to the subject of how the origin was lost as soon as it was usurped by the Martin Van Buren campaign in 1840. That year and the years following, all sorts of explanations for "O.K." began to appear. Not only "oll korrect" and "Old Kinderhook", but also such oddities as "Oarhound Kandy", "oll this kontinent" and "oysters kome" among many others.

If the subject of the word "OK" interests you, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Allen Walker Read's [Milestones in the History of English in America]
( which includes all of these scholarly articles, amounting to about fifty pages on the word's etymological history. It can be pretty dry since these are scholarly articles, but as an added bonus, he also wrote about the origins of the word "fuck" and his articles on that subject are included in the book as well.

I only bring this up because the above response greatly misrepresents the legacy of Allen Walker Read, who dedicated much of his life to the subject of "O.K.", and was the first person to get the story right through solid evidence. When he died, his New York Times obituary called him "the O.K. expert".

EDIT: Just to be clear, while Greco and Degges's article does make some interesting, though entirely unsubstantiated, points in that "OK" could have had other possible non-English origins, the widely accepted explanation remains Read's "oll korrect" explanation. This is because there are absolutely zero instances of anything appearing in the English language before March of 1839 in Boston, and all of the earliest explanations in 1839 and the first half of 1840 before the Van Buren campaign later that year, all use the "all correct" explanation. The Scottish and Irish immigrants may have been an influence, but it's highly speculative in the face of ample concrete evidence of the word's spread to many different cities throughout the United States in 1839-40.

u/dokh · 3 pointsr/AskHistorians

Few things focus on just that period, so far as I can tell. Fewer if you want it written for popular audiences; lives of Charlemagne are thick on the ground, but before him, there's not much. Bachrach's Early Carolingian Warfare is good for the military side of things, mostly focused on Martel's army. It's dense, and written primarily for academics, but if you're interested in how a Roman-style military worked in post-Roman Europe (and in particular the military that brought about a lot of the consolidation of what would become the Holy Roman Empire), I know of nothing better.

More layman-oriented, The Carolingians: A Family who Forged Europe by Riche is a broad history of the entire Carolingian dynasty, focused mostly later but has some relevant bits. And I hear good things about The Age of Charles Martel, but haven't read it myself.

Also, The Inheritance of Rome is excellent; it's broad in geographic scope, so not limited to the Frankish-ruled realms, but it starts with a Western Roman Empire in decline and continues until two centuries after Charlemagne was given his Imperial title. It's pretty much the best introduction to early medieval European history I know of.

I wish I knew a good biography of Charles Martel to recommend. (For that matter, if anyone else knows one, I'd love to read it!) The Franks had already expanded a bit before he became Mayor of the Palace, and continued to do so after his death, but it was during his tenure that the largest, fastest period of expansion and consolidation of Frankish power occurred; he's also of course known for the battle of Tours, which helped make the Pyrenees the northern border of an otherwise-expansionist al-Andalus. (I am not a fan of great man history for the most part, but Charles Martel was at the center of a lot of big events.)

u/TenMinuteHistory · 10 pointsr/AskHistorians

I think that's part of it, but Great Man theory isn't the only historical framework that puts an emphasis on characters, even singular important characters. One example that comes to mind is Shiela Fitzpatrick's Commissariat of Enlightenment ( It is very much based in social history, but also focuses on the importance of Anatole Lunacharsky throughout. It is not only his story, but it is a story to which he is central and someone who is interested in stories could certainly find an interest in that book.

Another example is microhistory - something that really hasn't proven to be very popular at all outside of academia. This is a kind of history that focuses intensely on something very small, sometimes a single person. Gizberg's The Cheese and the Worms is the prototypical example of the genre in this case (

There is something kind of easy about it though. Our popular media is filled with stories of archetypal heroes and villains and the Great Man theory does, perhaps, lend itself to writing stories about characters that can slide into that particular kind of narrative.

That being said, Great Man history isn't the only thing that sells well. Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History has been very popular and is about as far from a narrative about a single person as you can get (especially if you don't count salt as a person!!)

u/antonbe · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

I've immersed myself in science and history my whole life and quite possibly the best book I've ever come across that condenses everything in a sequential order is "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson.

> In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trail—well, most of it. In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, traveling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

The book is simply amazing. I learn something new from it everytime I read it and I highly recommend it to everyone from an uneducated teenager to a PhD carrying senior!

While you're at it, I would also recommend the rest of his books. Bryson is an amazing nonfiction writer (I daresay one of the best in the world) and his penmanship will captivate you. Just search for him on Amazon and pick another one of his books up in a category that interests you as he writer about a very broad range of topics.

Edit: Also, I highly recommend "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared M. Diamond. and Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt

u/Mddcat04 · 5 pointsr/AskHistorians

Where this discussion generally breaks down is in the definition of 'Christian Nation.' Generally those who oppose the term will state that America is not officially Christian, and will point to the Treaty of Tripoli or to the Establishment Clause, to which opponents will retort that America was founded on so-called 'Christian Values,' and that makes it a Christian nation. This much at least is hard to deny, many of the earliest settlers were very devout Christians (the puritans especially) and at least some of their beliefs are still important today (the so-called 'Protestant Work Ethic' being the most famous). Additionally, every US President has been (at least nominally) Christian, along with the vast majority of legislators in Congress, going all the way back to 1789. This is generally reflective of population, as a significant majority of Americans have identified as Christian for the entire life of the Republic.

Overall, its hard to deny the influence of Christianity and Christian thought over colonial and revolutionary America, but its also important to point out that the founders took steps to demonstrate that Christianity was not the only faith that could be practiced in the new country.

  • The Constitution states clearly that the authority of the government rests with the people, rather than an appeal to any higher power. While it is often claimed that the Constitution claims no reference to God, this is not entirely accurate, the date in article 7 is referred to this way:

    > done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven

    However, this is not any more of an endorsement than using A.D. would be today.

  • Natural Rights: At the debate over the Bill of Rights, Theodore Sedgwick sarcastically wondered why not include 'a man should have a right to wear his hat if he pleased; that he might get up when he pleased, and go to bed when he thought proper?' While he was being facetious, his observation gets at an underlying principal of the Bill of Rights, that it is not supposed to grant rights, merely reflect a few of the rights that every free person should possess automatically. This is made clear by the 9th Amendment which stipulates 'The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.' i.e. just because we didn't write it down, doesn't mean that you don't have it as a right. Going by this logical framework, the First Amendment is not establishing merely that Congress isn't allowed to limit free expression of religion, but that 'free exercise' of Religion is a basic and fundamental natural right of all free peoples.


  • Federalist 84 Hamilton argues against those claiming that the Bill of Rights is not necessary. Although he does note that the rights have their basis in English Common Law.

  • Letter from Jefferson to Madison 1789 Jefferson expresses his view of why abill of rights is important, though stating that it would be 'A positive declaration of some essential rights.' Rather than the source of said rights.

  • Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes - Influential on the Founders, makes the distinction between Civil and Natural laws. Civil laws being those created by organizations, while Natural Laws are general rules discovered by reason.

  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

  • Madison, a life Reconsidered by Lynn Cheney

  • Ben Franklin, an American Life Not the most relevant, but Franklin was an advocate for Natural Rights and Natural Law.
u/MiffedMouse · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

Not books, but I recommend CGPGrey's videos on topics such as the formation of the commonwealth for some anecdotal discussion of how modern states are structured. Crash Course World History is another good series that gives extremely quick (~10-15 minutes) overviews of a variety of topics historians like to discuss.

As for books - many of the more interesting books are on specific topics. Guns, Germs, and Steel is an interesting discussion on why some societies do better than others. Stuff matters is a neat discussion of how modern materials came to be. Honestly, I think it is more fun to pick a topic that interests you and dig into that topic specifically. You will probably learn about other things as necessary along the way. One of Dan Carlin's Common Sense podcasts, Controlling the Past, discusses this very idea.

Some of my favorite "history" books aren't even sold as "history" books. The Emperor of all Maladies is a fascinating look at the history of cancer. As a kid I loved David Macaulay's Building Big, which discusses large structures in America. And an embarrassing amount of my knowledge on other countries comes from folktale anthologies.

If you are interested in international politics specifically, I would suggest looking for books on the UN and NATO (two of the biggest international organizations right now).

u/caffarelli · 26 pointsr/AskHistorians

How to Judge a Book Without Even Reading It

Do you think librarians read all those books they buy?? Heck no. Yes, collection development librarians rely heavily on library review journals, but you can pretty successfully judge a book before you even read the intro. And how!

1. Try a Little Intellectual Snobbery

Basically with this you need to try to smell out the people who are saying “I’m not a historian but…” when they start their books. Who wrote this thing and why? Is this a historian going for tenure, is this maybe a historian trying to write more popular history, is this a historian at the end of their life putting out a magnum opus, is this a journalist? Who published it, academic press or regular press? Does this person have Something to Prove with this history book?

Now, I’m a little leery of recommending this method first, because I’ve seen some pretty shitty books published by big academic houses from heavily degreed people, and I’ve seen some very nice historical work put out by tiny publishers you’ve never heard of or self-published, and written by people who just decided to write a book because they cared deeply about the history of something that few others cared about. Good work absolutely stands on its own merits, and independent scholars are important animals in the academic ecosystem. But there is a correlation here, and not necessarily a causation, between academics working with academic publishing houses and the production of rigorous history, and you can lean on it a little.

2. Give it the Vulcan Citations Pinch

Flip to the back of the book. Where does the actual book stop and the endmatter start? Basically the more endmatter the better. You want maybe a good solid half centimeter of paper between your fingers, preferably more. If you start seeing appendices in addition to citations and index that’s very good.

3. Scope-to-Cred Ratio

This one’s hard to quantify but basically, the more modest the book’s scope the more modest of arguments and credentials the author needs to pull it off. So a book about say the importance of paperback books for soldiers in WWII, this is a pretty modest scope, and it’s not making any very bold claims, there’s no real reason to be suspicious about the arguments made in this book, although it’s absolutely a popular history work. A book trying to explain the history of everything, get suspicious.

4. Read the Intro

Okay after the first three bits you’ve decided this book has merited your attention enough to open the thing. The intro to a book should give you the outline of the major argument and you can decide whether the argument passes a basic smell test of not being total bullshit. If you find the argument compelling and you want to see how they are going to argue it in the knitty gritty, it’s time to commit to checking out/buying the book and seeing what’s up. (Intros are usually available for new books on Google Books or Amazon previews.)

4b. Read the Acknowledgments

You can tell a lot about a person from their acknowledgments section. I’ve seen books where the author specifically thanked the ILL staff of their local library. They should ideally be thanking an archives or two if it’s a modern history book, because that means they’ve done Real Research.

5. Have a Good Idea of How One Does History

This one takes a little time investment, but having a basic idea of what makes a good historical argument and what makes a bad one will serve you well for judging any history book, from any topic. Maybe just spend some time on the logical fallacies section of Wikipedia. Just knowing to run away when you hear someone start yammering about glorious progress or indulging in extended hero-worship will serve you remarkably well in the history section at Barnes and Noble.

6. Nothing Wrong with Reading a Bad Book

Okay, so you did all this pre-judgement and you still managed to read a real turd. Ah well. You always can learn a lot from something done poorly. They’re a certain grim joy in hating a bad book, especially if you get to feel smarter than an author, so just treat yourself to a really firm critical dismissal of the work. Maybe leave a real stinker of a review here on a Saturday or /r/badhistory.

u/andrewwm · 6 pointsr/AskHistorians

Coffee appeared in Europe around the late 16th century and early 17th century. Of course, like many liquids, there were all kinds of opinions about its purported health benefits.

However, the main benefit was the fact that it lead to a decline in the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol had previously been the best way to consume uncontaminated water, so it was common for much of the population of Europe to be mildly intoxicated for much of the day. Coffee offered a better way to consume uncontaminated water without getting drunk, and the mild amount of caffeine was purported to encourage clear thinking.

Coffee was hailed as part of the age of rationalism. Coffee shops became centers of intellectual engagement as part of an increase in interest in philosophy and sciences more generally in Western Europe. While coffee was later surpassed by tea in popularity in the UK, it continued to be popular in continental Europe.

One of the better written sources on the subject is

u/Mediaevumed · 26 pointsr/AskHistorians

Bear with me here, I swear I will get to the food stuff, but first a bit of background.

The sources we have for these voyages (a collection of sagas and two other works known as "The Book of the Icelanders" and "The Book of Settlement") are all at least 2-4 centuries later than the supposed dates of exploration. This is a fairly typical problem in Scandinavian history. These are oral tales handed down for several generations and then written. The info in them is thus problematic. All that being said, archaeological evidence and our understanding that just because something is "fantastic" doesn't make it "fantastical" all point to a Scandinavian presence at the very northernmost areas of Canada.

North Atlantic travel and exploration consists of four major locations: Iceland, Greenland, Helluland (likely the island of Baffin in far northern Canada) and Vinland (modern Newfoundland).

Travelers to North America would have been coming from Iceland (the major North Atlantic settlement area) and Greenland (much less well settled and abandoned by the 14th century).

And now on to the food. Fish, fish, and fish would have been a primary food source. Some fresh, much of it salted and preserved. Blubber and whale meat are a possibility as well (though they probably would not have actively whaled during their voyages). Meat (seal and caribou especially if coming from Greenland), salted or even fresh. Also sea-birds. For a particularly amusing glimpse of what things might have looked like, check out this (admittedly very blurry) video of a reenactment of a voyage from Ireland to America, in which a fellow is picked up solely for his ability to catch birds and fish.

They would also have had livestock, pigs, sheep, and perhaps even cattle, that could be fresh slaughtered but would ideally have been kept for secondary production (cheese, milk, wool etc.). We know from archaeological remains and from patterns of settlement westward that these voyages would have included both men and women and thus probably were supplied with the necessary goods (including farm animals) to at least begin settlement. This means that they might also have had cereal for planting and cultivation.

It is best to think of the voyagers to America and the North Atlantic as rather distinct from the "Vikings" most famous for raiding England, Ireland and Francia in the 9th century. These are not bands of warriors looking to make money and head back home to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They are explorers and above all settlers, looking for new lands and new opportunities.

Sources: The first and best place to go is The absurdly large edited volume, The Viking World which has several articles on North Atlantic settlement and travel, all of which have bibliographies.

Happy reading!

u/eternalkerri · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

So, with Pirates, I would start with a good introductory book like:

Under the Black Flag. It's a good general overview book that allows you to separate some of the myths from the reality of pirates. It's a good easy read and very factual. A great beach holiday book.

After that, I would suggest moving up a step to:

The Republic of Pirates, which is a fantastic book that reads like an adventure novel about the late "Golden Age" of pirates, including Blackbeard. This book is fun, full of facts, and reads like a modern reporter for Slate, Salon, or Rolling Stone would tell it (because it is written by a reporter).

Then finally, to get into the nuts a bolts, the why and how of Pirates I recommend anything by Benerson Little. He conducted an AMA earlier this year and blew it out of the water.

For his books The Searovers Practice is bar none one of the finest books I've read. Buccaneers Realm is great when talking about the very specific group of pirates known as Buccaneers.

u/Gaimar · 6 pointsr/AskHistorians

Peasants were the largest demographic group in Latin Christendom, comprising somewhere around ninety percent of the population or more. Most of these people were tenant farmers who leased a portion of a larger slice of land in return for a rent of service, kind, or money (although the latter is more rare and often only found in the later Middle Ages). These people could theoretically support themselves and their family off their own land. Some of these peasants were not free—serfs—meaning, depending on when and where they lived, they may be bound to the land that they worked and could not seek legal redress outside of their primary lord (the kings justice, for example, would have been beyond the reach of these people). All of this is to say that medieval peasants, even if serfs, were not slaves—a misconception that comes from the continued use in some medieval sources of the Roman word for slave, servus, and should not be taken as a indicator of shared meaning. I've seen documents that use servus, rusticus, and—in the vernacular Old French—vilain. Outside of what they needed to pay as part of their obligation, they were free to sell, trade, or work elsewhere in the hamlet or town for wage or kind.

The details for the sort of trade you are asking about is difficult to trace since the economic lives of most peasants only appear in the records of lords and local courts when they have some sort of legal problem or reach a certain level of wealth. The community in which most medieval peasants would have interacted and traded was the Parish, which—besides the family—is the basic unit for understanding peasant society. The Parish community would have operated as a sort of social nexus for the rural peasantry, through which small transactions would have been negotiated. Work/Trade for wage and work for kind probably occurred simultaneously based on need, although certain economic historians believe quite strongly that the latter wouldn't have occurred at certain points of economic crisis.

Most farming hamlets were largely self sufficient in respect to their daily needs, so the average peasant had no need to access the sort of long distance trade I think you might be imagining. This is easier to understand when you consider what we know about their eating habits. For most, diet was simple and with the exception of certain feast days fish or meat was largely a luxury most peasants could not afford. The bulk of peasant diet probably came from cereals, supplemented by whatever local herbs and vegetables that they grew in their personal garden, of which every farm was sure to have at least one. On the plus side, beer was plentiful, although it was usually not brewed at a high ABV. A quirky and active market in late medieval England was in beer, which often was brewed by women and sold ad-hoc as a means to supplement income.

I should add that the definition of peasantry is something of a thorny topic for medieval economic historians, particularly in England where they have a wealth of sources that give them a wide range of local practice to squabble about. For your purposes, I would recommend avoiding most of these debates and read Judith Bennett's A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1295-1344, a slender volume that will give you a good general overview of medieval peasant life rich with economic detail. For a contemporary, non-economic view of French peasant life I would recommend Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, that chronicles life in a small southern French town through inquisitional records and provides small details about how peasants moved through the world, made friendships, and even weird things like their perception of time. A wonderful view of life peasant life a few centuries later is presented in the first few chapters of Eamon Duffy's The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (2003), a book that, although about religious change, gives insight into the everyday.

edit: spelling words.

u/Georgy_K_Zhukov · 31 pointsr/AskHistorians

So I'm going to plug for some books that I loved when I was a kid.

The Cartoon History of the Universe / Cartoon History of the Modern World, by Larry Gonick. I'd caution that it isn't for very young children, as they decidedly don't censor the sex and violence, but I probably started reading them around age ten, and the tattered copy of volume one I still have - and occasionally peruse - attests to just how much I read and reread them. The books are thoroughly enjoyable, and just the kind of thing to get a kid to really enjoy reading history. The only real word of caution Ii would offer is that yes, they are at the core pop history, and especially the earlier volumes - the first one was published in 1990 I believe - can reflect some outdated scholarship - but especially for young, budding historians, I don't feel this is all that much of a drawback. The goal at this point in time is to make history fun and exciting, and these books absolutely do that - and they prime the pump for enjoying dry academic tomes ten years later to get the necessary corrections!

On the topic of cartoons, I'll also plug Asterix and Obelix, which we'll be charitable and call 'historical fiction'. You shouldn't be taking anything from these to be accurate and teaching tools, but looking back, they are another set of works that I was reading as a kid that decidedly made me enjoy reading about the past.

u/WhiteRastaJ · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

That's not wholly fair--several of us have provided good information, not faux scholarship or atheist reactionary rants!

I do want to throw in a few extra points to go with yours. I agree that pre-Islamic Arabia was not as barbarous as is sometimes assumed, however the reforms that Muhammad ushered in were often welcome and needed--giving women rights for example, and forbidding female infanticide.

It is true that we have no proof of Muhammad's illiteracy. Indeed, the first word of the first Qur'anic verse (in terms of chronology), 'iqra (أقرا) can be translated either 'read' or 'recite' so it sheds little light on that (source--Dr. Jamal Badawi's writings and classes).

The Qur'an was written down and compiled under the aegis of Uthman ibn Affan, as we've discussed elsewhere in this thread.

I also agree that many joined the early ummah out of a desire to improve their lot. This wasn't limited to Arabia; when Islam began to spread out from there it was originally meant to be an Arab religion and conversion was discouraged, however many converted in order to enjoy the same benefits as the Muslims did.

A lot of this is made very clear in the best seerah (bio of Muhammad) available in English, which is Martin Lings' Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. A caveat on this book: Lings was a faithful Muslim and wrote from a faith-based position, so it does lose some scholarly objectivity. However its a great read and its easy to maintain your own objectivity as you read it.

Also, Ira Lapidus' A History of Islamic Societies has a good section on pre-Islamic Arabia, as does Albert Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples IIRC.

I recommend all three books to anyone wanting to pursue this subject further.

u/Guckfuchs · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

The Constitutio Antoniniana which granted Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire was issued in 212 AD and there is quite a lot of Roman history after that. Soon follows the so called “crisis of the 3rd century” between 235 and 284 AD throughout which the empire was shaken by internal as well as external problems. Next comes Late Antiquity, a period which has attracted a lot of scholarly attention in recent decades. It saw some huge changes like Christianity’s rise to dominance or the final partition of the empire into a western and eastern half that you mentioned. And while the western part already disappeared throughout the 5th century the Eastern Roman Empire would survive for a long time further. The rise of the first Islamic caliphate in the 7th century AD cost it much of its territory and caused further transformations. This surviving remnant of the Roman Empire, now centred around Constantinople, is usually called the Byzantine Empire. Its eventful history would continue through the entire Middle Ages until 1453 AD when it was finally conquered by the Ottomans. So all in all there is more than a millennium of further Roman history to cover.

u/Janvs · 29 pointsr/AskHistorians

Other posters have touched on the heart of it, but here is a little elaboration if you want to know more:

The only recorded instance of pirates burying treasure anywhere is when Captain William Kidd buried a portion of his ship's cargo on Long Island before meeting with Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont and Governor of New York. It bears mentioning that he didn't bury this treasure specifically to dig it up later, but because he was facing charges of murder and piracy and his goods were likely to be seized.

He buried the treasure to use as a bargaining chip with Bellomont, hoping it would give him leverage and help him avoid going to trial (Bellomont was one of his benefactors and had even financed a previous voyage). This tactic failed completely, and Kidd's treasure was simply dug up. There are rumors that portions of it remain buried, but this is almost certainly nonsense.

I'd also like to point out that Kidd, in terms of what we usually refer to as 'pirates', hardly qualifies at all. He was well known and respected among the colonial nobility, went to sea with the funds and blessings of many high-ranking people, and happened to end up on the wrong end of a political scandal and with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. His trial was rushed, and he may have even had a legitimate letter of marque, making him a privateer, not a pirate.

Robert Louis Stevenson used Kidd (or rather, the fictionalized Kidd-as-pirate that had persisted to the late 19th century) as a prototype for Long John Silver, and embellished the part about burying his treasure. Treasure Island is really the root of so many of the pirate icons we know and love (peg legs, parrots, buried treasure, etc.).

If you're interested in learning more, I recommend you take a look at Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates, The Pirate Hunter, and Under the Black Flag.

Edit: It's actually Gardiner's Island, as one of the above posters mentioned, which is near Long Island, but is separate.

u/textandtrowel · 7 pointsr/AskHistorians

There's lots! Of course, that means it's sometimes hard to pick out highly specialized articles from more general updates on the state of the field, which I suspect is what you're going for. Don't get daunted if this seems too dense; sometimes it's just good to know a bit about what's out there.

As a starting point, I'd recommend taking a look at Brink and Price, eds., The Viking World (2008) [Amazon link so you can preview the table of contents]. I'd start with the introduction (it's short), then technology and trade, and then urbanism or any other sections that seem necessary for you.

An older book, but one that's still very influential is Hodges and Whitehouse's Muhammad, Charlemagne, and the Origins of Europe (1983). It will give you a good idea of what scholars think was happening, but there's been a lot of research and updates to it over the last 30 years. Before you cite Hodges and Whitehouse, I'd cross reference it with a more recent work, using the table of contents or index to focus your reading. In particular, I'd look at Skre's Means of Exchange (2007) (see especially Skre's intro and conclusion as well as Kilger's "Kaupang from Afar") and McCormick's Origins of the European Economy (2001). They're both great works, but based on how you described your project, I wouldn't risk getting stuck in a quagmire trying to read them both all the way through.

Finally, there's a few terrific articles that should be read if you can:

u/Celebreth · 36 pointsr/AskHistorians

Sure! I'm really glad you asked, I don't get enough people asking :D

Much of what I wrote was from Adrian Goldsworthy's Caesar: Life of a Colossus, seeing as that's the only source I have on hand (and on my kindle, which is on my phone <.<) at the moment. However, I DO (obviously) have the Internet as well, which is WONDERFUL for grabbing stuff from Plutarch (Search for p481 for the quote I used from him!), and even the excerpt that I snagged from Caesar's Gallic Wars is there :D

Hope that helps!

u/xRathke · 7 pointsr/AskHistorians

A very good, easy to read book about this whole story of the late republic is Tom Holland's Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Now, I've read quite a bit on the period, and this might not be THE most complete or precise book, but it's very entretaining, and does a good job on telling the whole story (that, as you can see, is quite complex!).

The already mentioned Dan Carlin's podcast, Hardcore History, has a great series on this, "Death Throes of the Republic" is what got me hooked on the subject, and I wholeheartedly recommend it (also, it's free!), the 6 episodes combined are almost 13hs long, and worth every minute.

u/Vzlashiryu · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

You seem to be interested in "microhistory". Believe it or not, since the 1970's, some academics have been asking big questions out of small places, and this has progressed into "New Historicism" and the history of ideologies.

For microhistory, see:

u/ClovisSangrail · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

A History of the World in 6 Glasses talks about coffee houses being the places for information sharing. Mostly for traders and thinkers and to accommodate people with international interests, they started carrying wide selections of periodicals. I like imagining them like a really proto-reddit. :)

Honestly, I think we call them thinkers mostly because maybe two dozen of them were great thinkers. I imagine it would be safe to assume a lot of dilettantes.

u/Whoosier · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

I’m recommending books meant for general readers here. If you want something more in-depth, I’ll be happy to supply it.

For military matters, a very approachable overview by a historian of medieval military matters is Michael Prestwich’s [Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual] ( (2010).

For urban life, there is a heavily illustrated survey by Chiara Frigoni, [A Day in a Medieval City] ( (2005).

For the life of common people, a brief but very informative look is Judith Bennett’s [A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1295-1344] ( (1998), which explains what life in an English village would be like. Much older (1937), outdated in many respects, but still very readable is H. S. Bennett’s (no relation) [Life on an English Manor] ( here in a free e-book link but also available second hand.

u/kalimashookdeday · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

There are lots of different theories out there, some stronger than others. One that you may find interesting and that I enjoyed reading and getting more insight on is that of Jared Diamond. He has a book called, Guns, Germs, and Steel I would recommend as a good read for a theory about this. There are some criticisms of Diamond, but most theories have a few.

Diamond's book discusses plenty of reasonings and ideas for why societies in Europe/Asia developed. He starts by explaining ideas of a hunter gathering society's limitations on technological advancement as well as the society/cultural connotations versus those of agrarian societies (who invented farming). A huge difference being farming societies had more time to develop other areas and skills (technology, art, etc.).

Another one of his compelling ideas is that horizontally oriented societies benefited more from similiar plants, animals, and trade versus societies who were oriented vertically. Due to climate and simliarities in culture (in horizontally oriented societies) the spread of technology, domestication, and availability of different animals and resources aided man's ability to develop faster than Native cultures on North America for instance.

u/hjrdmh · 3 pointsr/AskHistorians

I just got finished reading Rubicon, by Tom Holland, which was great. It goes into quite a bit of detail on the Roman constitution, and how political life worked before the breakdown of the Republic. A few minutes ago I just needed to double check which assemblies voted for which offices, so I popped over to wikipedia. The articles on the Century Assembly and the Tribal Assembly are fantastic. I'm half way through reading about the Century Assembly now, and there's a tonne of stuff in there I didn't know.

I'm always on the lookout for a book about just about the Roman Republic's constitution, or basically the legal mechanics behind its political system. I have yet to find one, so if anybody out there has any recommendations I'd love to hear them. Most books on the period supply a chapter or two on the subject, which I always gobble up with enthusiasm.

u/100002152 · 6 pointsr/AskHistorians

One of the best books I've read on the history of the late (Western) Roman Empire was Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. He provides a great deal of the latest research on the origins and movements of the different "barbarian" tribes and their relationships with the Roman Empire, including the Visigoths. The book is excellently written and accessible to someone (like myself when I first read it) who is new to the topic.

For more information on the Visigoths after the official end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, Chris Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 provides a very detailed chapter on the Iberian peninsula under the Visigothic kingdom.

If you do decide to check these books out, I'd recommend reading Heather first for both the obvious reason of chronology and because Wickham is a much more daunting read.

u/mp96 · 5 pointsr/AskHistorians

Uhm... Where have you read that? Strictly speaking, Caesar was a war criminal in more than one aspect, but I can't recall ever reading about him doing that. Crassus did, however.

Caesar is remembered today in large parts because of Shakespeare, who took a liking to him. But more to the point, because he was an outstanding general, a decent politician and a major figure in the turbulent years of 1st century BCE Rome. I wouldn't say that he's one of the only rulers who is remembered either, but he's without doubt one of the most well-known.

If you're interested in learning more about the man I'd suggest you pick up Adrian Goldsworthy's Caesar: Life of a Colossus, as well as a have a read through of Caesar's own De Bello Gallico, available online.

u/FoeHammer99099 · 5 pointsr/AskHistorians

If you're looking for something that covers everything in a pretty entertaining format, I would suggest the Cartoon History of the Universe. It's a thoroughly cited series of comic books that inject a good deal of humor and narrative into history. The format leads it a little too heavily into great man history at times, but overall it's fantastic, and features a lot of Chinese and other Asian history that I don't see a lot of in Western books for a general audience.

u/Shovelbum26 · 4 pointsr/AskHistorians

Especially considering the major population centers were, depending on the time period, mostly in Central America and the North American Mid-west. All of those cultures were definitely sedentary.

For good information on this I'd check out Mann's flawed but interesting 1491. I (and many archaeologists) feel he overestimates the size of pre-Columbian populations, but it's as exhaustive a look at demographics in the Americas just before contact as you will find, and it's very approachable for the layperson.

The upshot is, per capita, by European Contact, absolutely most Native Americans lived in sedentary, agriculture based state or chiefdom level societies. Maybe by geographic area nomadic hunter-gatherers might win out, but certainly not by population.

u/archaeofieldtech · 5 pointsr/AskHistorians

1491 by Charles Mann is a good read, and it gives some great population stats for the Americas.

I would also recommend searching out some peer-reviewed articles using Google Scholar and search terms like "Cahokia prehistoric population" or something. I don't have specific articles off the top of my head.

u/pipocaQuemada · 4 pointsr/AskHistorians

> Armchair generals can argue over and over about what the English 'should have done', but the fact remains that the decline in archery training led to the downfall of the longbow.

To be honest, half the reason for my asking this question was because I've been reading 1491, rather than trying to be an armchair general for the English. The book mentioned that guns weren't all that much better than bows (in terms of accuracy, etc.), so I was wondering how long that would have been true for.

u/[deleted] · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

Here are some useful books on what I study;
Ebrey - East Asia
Lapidus - A History of Islamic Societies
Iliffe - Africans: The History of a Continent
Lane - Genghis Khan and Mongol Rule
Which are very good introductions based on contemporary discourse. With an interest in Ancient History of the regions you're looking at, I'd most recommend Lapidus's book. It'll give you a different perspective on the Middle East which may have some influence on how you look those ancient empires. But I don't know, I've never studied them tbh.

u/The_YoungWolf · 64 pointsr/AskHistorians

Because by the time of Constantine's conversion, Christianity was no longer an obscure cult made up of subversive elements from the lower classes, but was firmly entrenched among the class of urban professionals and rising new military and bureaucratic officials that made up a very influential chunk of the Empire's demographics.

The Crisis of the Third Century brought substantial social and cultural changes to the Roman Empire. Most notably, it brought a rising tide of "new men" from outside the traditional upper classes of the empire to prominence. Their avenue to power was primarily through the military, for the Crisis was a series of divisive and devastating civil wars between self-proclaimed emperors:

> For the Roman Empire was saved by a military revolution. Seldom has a society set about cutting out the dead wood in its upper classes with such determination. The senatorial aristocracy was excluded from military commands in about 260. The aristocrats had to make way for professional soldiers who had risen from the ranks. These professionals recast the Roman army.

> ...

> The soldiers and officers [who fought in the Danubian campaigns], who had seemed so raw to the Mediterranean aristocrats of a previous age, emerged as heroes of the imperial recovery of the late third and early fourth centuries...The army was an artesian well of talent. By the end of the third century, its officers and administrators had ousted the traditional aristocracy from control of the empire.

These "new men" formed the basis of a new imperial bureaucratic and military administration that would preside over a recovery that spanned the fourth century. Their rise heralded the dawn of a new system of advancement that relied more on merit than birth. As a result, men from disparate regions, cultures, ethnic groups, and religions could rise to high positions with the administration.

This new culture and influx of talent allowed for men with Christian beliefs to quickly entrench themselves into the highest levels of Roman governance once Constantine converted to Christianity.

> The reign of Constantine, especially the period from 324-337, saw the final establishment of a new "aristocracy of service" at the top of Roman society...After the conversion of Constantine in 312, the emperors and the majority of their courtiers were Christians. The ease with which Christianity gained control of the upper classes of the Roman empire in the fourth century was due to the revolution that had placed the imperial court at the centre of a society of "new" men, who found it comparatively easy to abandon conservative beliefs in favour of the new faith of their masters.

So now the question is how Christianity was so appealing to this wave of "new men" (outside of how conversion allowed them to rise more quickly in the court of a Christian emperor).

Christianity offered a few distinct advantages compared to other religions at the time, chiefly its culture of community, exclusivity, and egalitarianism. Anyone could become a Christian no matter their ethnic, economic, or former religious background. And once you were a Christian, you were part of an exclusive community, of which many were men from well-off economic backgrounds and invested their wealth in improving that community. Thus, Christianity appealed to men who felt they lacked a social identity, and/or were trying to carve out a new niche for themselves in post-Crisis Roman society; and since the turmoil of the Crisis uprooted many people and produced a new group of ambitious, talented social risers, Christianity found itself with a wealth of new converts.

> The Church was also professedly egalitarian. A group in which there was 'neither slave nor free' might strike an aristocrat as utopian, or subversive. Yet in an age when the barriers separating the successful freedman from the declasse senator were increasingly unreal, a religious group could take the final step of ignoring them. In Rome the Christian community of the early third century was a p[lace where just such anomalies were gathered and tolerated: the Church included a powerful freedman chamberlain of the emperor; its bishop was the former slave of that freedman; it was protected by the emperor's mistress, and patronized by noble ladies.

> For men whose confusions came partly from no longer feeling embedded in their home environment, the Christian Church offered a drastic experiment in social living...


> The Christian Church suddenly came to appeal to men who felt deserted. At a time of inflation, the Christians invested large sums of liquid capital in people; at a time of increased brutality, the courage of Christian martyrs was impressive; during public emergencies, such as plague or rioting, the Christian clergy were shown to be the only united group in town, able to look after the burial of the dead and to organize food-supplies...Plainly, to be a Christian in 250 brought more protection from one's fellows than to be a civis romanus.

> ...

> What marked the Christian Church off, and added to its appeal, was the ferociously inward-looking quality of life...the wealth of the community returned to the members of the community alone, as part of the "loving-kindness of God to His special people.

> ...

> The appeal of Christianity still lay in its radical sense of community: it absorbed people because the individual could drop from a wide impersonal world into a miniature community, whose demands and relations were explicit.

Once Christians gained access to the highest levels of government via the "new men", and those "new men" carved out their own position among the elite classes of the Roman Empire, Christianity continued the process of adapting to the new culture of the classical world. The Crisis of the Third Century had brought more than civil war - foreign powers hostile to the Empire, such as Sassanid Persia and the Germanic tribes along the Rhine, had taken advantage of the weakness of Roman borders and launched raids and invasions into imperial territory. The mood of the apparent collapse of the "civilized", classical world took deep hold across the Roman Empire, and the narrative of Christianity was well-suited to adapt to this new mood:

> Hence the most crucial development of these centuries: the definitive splitting-off of the "demons" as active forces of evil, against whom men had to pit themselves. The sharp smell of an invisible battle hung over the religious and intellectual life of the Late Antique man...To men increasingly pre-occupied with the problem of evil, the Christian attitude to the demons offered an answer designed to relieve nameless anxiety: they focused this anxiety on the demons and at the same time offered a remedy for it. The devil was given vast but strictly-mapped powers. He was an all-embracing agent of evil in the human race; but he had been defeated by Christ and could be held in check by Christ's human agents.


> The early fourth century was the great age of the Christian Apologists...They claimed that Christianity was the sole guarantee of [classical] civilization - that the best traditions of classical philosophy and the high standards of classical ethics could be steeled against barbarism only through being confirmed by the Christian revelation; and that the beleaguered Roman empire was saved from destruction only by the protection of the Christian God.

When Constantine very publicly converted to Christianity, he was inundated by a flood of Christian "new men" who desired his patronage either for their own advancement within the government or for the advancement of their community's interests under his rule. By surrounding himself with Christians, Constantine surrounded himself with Christian propaganda, and allowed that propaganda to spread throughout the empire. And because Christianity was already entrenched among the urban middle class, combined with the eastern empire (the focus of Constantine's power and attention) being considerably more urbanized and developed than the western empire, this led to the majority of the entire empire becoming firmly Christian from the bottom up, despite the resistance of the traditionalist pagan aristocracy:

> This prolonged exposure to Christian propaganda was the true "conversion" of Constantine. It began on a modest scale when he controlled only the under-Christianized western provinces; but it reached its peak after 324, when the densely Christianized Christianized territories of Asia Minor were united to his empire.

Constantine's nephew, Julian the Apostate, who became emperor after the death of Constantine's son Constantius II, was a firm pagan who sought to roll back Christian infiltration within the upper levels of Roman government. But his premature death on the battlefield in 363, only three years into his reign, smothered those plans in the crib. The new Christian domination of the Roman world was here to stay.

Source: The World of Late Antiquity, by Peter Brown (pub. 1971)

I encourage you to seek out further replies and sources to this question. My sole source is a secondary one, and an old one, despite being an extremely influential work in the historiography of the late Roman Empire.

u/sunagainstgold · 8 pointsr/AskHistorians

We have a lot of excellent (material book) already-published authors (Mike Dash, Roel Konijnendijk, Cassidy Percoco come immediately to mind, that is, /u/mikedash, /u/Iphikrates, and /u/mimicofmodes!), and a lot of brilliant flairs with books coming in the next year or two.

But I am confident I speak for every single AH community member when I say the place to start is:

u/wtengtio · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

Tom Standage does a great job writing books which are thematically ordered, meaning he goes through history focusing on certain cultural phenomonam which influenced the time. His History of thr World in 6 Glasses" book is a great one. I'm currently reading his one on the first 2000 years of social media called Writing on the Wall.


Links! - 6 Glasses

Social Media

u/DrKarenDempsey · 76 pointsr/AskHistorians

Feminism as it currently exists today was not present in the medieval period. What we can talk about is female agency. In other words how women acted within the constraints of a patriarchal society either as individuals or as a group. Acts of subversion can be seen in a number of ways. I have mentioned a few times on here about how women could not participate fully in the church- they were forbidden to touch the alter. However, many women donated their clothes, or made personalised alter clothes for the church or priests. This meant that clothes that has touched them, that they had owned or made and perhaps worn on their body eventually came to wrap the alter - one of the most sacred parts of the church. Or touched the body of the clergyman they donated it too. While we cannot say that this was a feminist act it was certainly a way of cleverly avoiding the ban on touching (even if by proxy!).

Another, perhaps more obvious way, was that many women who were married once and became widows chose to stay that way. They elected not to remarry. Widows had a special place in society - they almost operated as men, especially in relation to property and wealth.

There are of course unmarried or single women who equally chose to live that way (a wonderful book on Cecila Penifader by Judith Bennettt shows one such (well off) peasant woman. This is a super book! I return to it again and again. Also, work by Dr Cordelia Beattie discusses single women Beattie, C. (2007) Medieval Single Women: The Politics of Social Classification in Late Medieval England. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dr Beattie has a range of really informative publications on medieval women!

u/yo2sense · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

The general resource for this is Thomas Slaughter's The Whiskey Rebellion. The central insight of that work is that the resistance was hardly confined to Western Pennsylvania but encompassed the entire frontier area of the United States. People living in backcountry areas basically hadn't been paying taxes since the Revolution began and didn't intend to start with such a heavy tax laid on by a distant government. What made Western Pennsylvania unique is the presence of someone actually willing to attempt to enforce the law in the person of General John Neville.

This is what we need to remember when looking into why the this tax was chosen. Eastern elites such as Alexander Hamilton looked upon frontier people much as Parliament looked upon the colonists when picking the Stamp Act tax or Mitt Romney looked upon the 47%. The whiskey tax would fall harder on freeloaders than on the productive people in eastern counties. For a more nuanced look at the politics see William Hogeland's The Whiskey Rebellion. Ron Chernow in Alexander Hamilton argues that the whiskey tax was the only real option for funding after federal assumption of state debts but doesn't explore the structure of the law designed to fall harder on small producers than on large.

The result was the strengthening of the government of the United States. It demonstrated to its states and foreign governments that it could enforce an unpopular tax and field large military forces to subdue its hinterlands. On the flip side, a lot of frontier farmers lost their land. Despite the prejudices of rich people, poor people really are poor. The situation became less bleak for western farmers after the opening of the Mississippi but agrarian unrest didn't subside until easy money and credit reached them in the wake of the demise of the First Bank of the United States ( See Gordon Wood Empire of Liberty page 298.

u/no-tea · 70 pointsr/AskHistorians

Hamilton, as an artistic work, is really deep into using present references to illustrate how the past works, and this is no exception. Tl;dr: it's a joke made at the expense of people from New Jersey, nothing more, nothing less.

People from New York City, especially from Manhattan Island, have a long history of looking down their noses at the so-called "bridge and tunnel crowd," that is, people from outside Manhattan. This is because Manhattan has been the cultural, commercial, and transportation hub of the region for the last few hundred years. Witness the distinctions made in this New York Times article from 1904, in which the reporter notes who's riding the subway on its first day:

>The crowds varied from hour to hour. At first, the down-town trains were sparsely filled and the up-town trains crowded. The explanation was simple; the good folk of Brooklyn and Jersey had come over early to try the subway and get home to bed. Later on the down-town trains began to bear the preponderance; the up-town New Yorkers were trying the new experiment, and the Brooklynites and Jerseyites had gone home.

>And it was amusing to note the difference. The up-bound Brooklynites and Jerseyites and Richmondites had boarded the trains with the stolid air of an African chief suddenly admitted into civilization and unwilling to admit that anything surprised him. The Manhattanites boarded the trains with the sneaking air of men who were ashamed to admit that they were doing something new, and attempting to cover up the disgraceful fact. They tried to cover it up with gibes and jokes.

Or, if you want to look at something more recent, check out the famous New Yorker cover from 1976 that illustrates the stereotypical Manhattan attitude towards New Jersey.

This attitude is because, as Ben Franklin put it, New Jersey is a "keg tapped at both ends"-- Jersey is in the shadow of both Philadelphia and New York. In the modern era, this hasn't changed much, despite New Jersey's emergence as one of the wealthiest states in the Union. New Yorkers tend to treat Jerseyites as an indistinct mass, partially because New Jersey local government is extraordinarily Balkanized due to poor planning decisions in the late 19th century. The six densely-populated counties closest to Manhattan have 4.1 million people between them as of the last census -- nearly half the population of New York City itself-- but they're so splintered that the largest city, Newark, has less than 300,000 residents.

Now, to bring this into the context of Hamilton: dueling was illegal but tolerated in New Jersey at the time, which is why the actual duel happened in Weehawken. I suspect Miranda, like any good New Yorker, couldn't pass up the opportunity to throw shade.

u/Sevrenloreat · 3 pointsr/AskHistorians

My understanding is it partially started when the church of England split from the Catholic church. Coffee was strongly associated with the Catholic church at time, and to distance themselves, people in England began to stop drinking it, and instead started drinking tea. There is actually a theory that tea helped out the industrial revolution, because it has minor antibiotic properties. Right when people started really bunching up in cities, is when tea got popular. It also may have contributed to British naval superiority, due to it's vitamin C. This helped fight off scurvy, and major problem at the time.

I would check out this book If you are interested in more information. It goes too far to the side of "this caused this" but as long as you keep in mind things are rarely as cut and dry as he implies, it has some great information.

u/methinks2015 · 5 pointsr/AskHistorians

Have you read Fall of Roman Empire by Peter Heather (not to be confused with more famous book by Gibbon)? If so, what's your opinion on it?

From that book, I got an impression that in principle Rome could have held it together if it had clear succession of strong rulers. Every once in a while a strong general like Stilicho or Aëtius would emerge, consolidate power, drive back the barbarians, and start reconquering land. Then they'd face a setback, be deposed, and a period of chaos would follow when Visigoths, or other Germans, or whoever else, would reclaim the territory and then some.

u/gaardyn · 3 pointsr/AskHistorians

You might be interested in reading Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates. I haven't gotten very far into it myself, but I've enjoyed the bit that I have read.

I think it was this NPR review that originally introduced me to the book.

u/grashnak · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

If you're looking for a broad survey book of the time period 400-1000, I would recommend Chris Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome (2009)

Great book. Goes a little beyond (a lot beyond) Italy to basically talk about every part of the Roman Empire, plus some stuff in Ireland and Scandinavia for comparative purposes, but really gives you a good broad sense of everything going on in the post-Roman world.

u/phunky_monk · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C. Mann Discusses a portion of your question.

> Was that statistically inevitable for a plague to be introduced?

Basically, yes. Most of 1491 is Mann tracing the history of and translating the results of years of academic research. He also explains various schools of thoughts on various issues. I don't have the book with me here at school, so excuse my foggy memory and paraphrasing.

First off, the number one killer of Indigenous peoples of the Americas was Small Pox. There were other diseased introduced, like the flu and the plague, but small pox was the most devastating.
Initial accounts of the new world by the spanish describe bustling civilizations. Only a few years later, entire civilizations had collapsed. Mann covers this in great detail.

Okay, back to statistical inevitability. Basically, not only did the indians have no immunity to diseases that europeans had been building resistance to for generations, but there is a school of academic research that believes indigenous peoples were more susceptible to diseases because of something called "haplogroups." . I don't fully understand the science behind it, but basically there are scholars who argue that the natives, because of their genetics, were more susceptible to these diseases. Mann describes the entire process which led to the experiments which support this belief.

Anyways, I hope this helps. I highly highly recommend 1491 if you are interested in the history of Native Americans. It is easily my favorite book I have read in my college career thus far.

u/soapdealer · 4 pointsr/AskHistorians

The Cheese and the Worms is awesome. Glad you mentioned it, it's an even-better example of what I was trying to explain.

u/gshenck · 23 pointsr/AskHistorians

I'd reccommend reading A Medieval Life, which uses both outside research and a very fortunate abundance of local court records to piece together the life of a single villain from England.

The book makes it very clear several times that she isn't representative of all peasants simply because they were so diverse across Europe, but one thing I recall it pointing out is that there were indeed a substantial number of 'holidays', all based around the church calendar. Several large feasts around christmas and easter, as well as a long succession in the summer, along with a multitude of single day feasts throughout the year, plus you would have the sabbath.

It makes it clear that while she had hardships, it wasn't as bad as commonly imagined for many, if not most, in the lower class. If you made it past childhood you would likely live a fairly decent life (average lifespans are heavily skewed by the huge infant mortality rate), and the work itself wasn't for many as bad as commonly portrayed in modern fiction.

u/ProUsqueTandem · 6 pointsr/AskHistorians

Rubicon, by Tom Holland is a great book if you want to learn more about Roman history.
It is mainly about Caesar and his contemporaries, but almost every famous Roman of the Republic era passes the revue.

In my opinion it focuses on the most interesting century of Roman history, and is my favourite book about the Romans

u/Sebatinsky · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

Not sure if it counts as a "firsthand account," but the inquisition records of Domenico Scandella (AKA Menocchio), a heresiarch in 16th C northern Italy, are fascinating.

The guy was fearless in articulating his heretical interpretations of Christian theology to the inquisitors who were interrogating him. You can read about this in The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg.

u/CptBuck · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

FYI: in the /r/askhistorians booklist, the Byzantine recommendations are (of course) split between several different sections, so some are in Europe and some are in Middle East.

The word "Byzantium" or "Byzantine" isn't even necessarily mentioned in some of them, so for instance one of the standard introductory texts about the transition from "Rome" to "Byzantium," namely, Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity (which is excellent, read it!) might not appear at first glance.

Anyways, the point being that the book list is in general quite extensive, even if it's not always especially searchable : )

u/buddhafig · -5 pointsr/AskHistorians

Sorry I don't have the short answer, but Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared M. Diamond is a good source for crop development over history and how it affected various cultures.

u/GeneralLeeFrank · 5 pointsr/AskHistorians

It's a good read for historiographies, but I'm sure ancient historians have gone past some of his theories. Nevertheless, it's still regarded as a classic.

If you want more modern books, check out: Peter Brown's World of Late Antiquity and Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire

There are different theories on the fall, you could probably go through an entire library of them. I just picked selections I had from class, as I think these were more readable.

u/alfonsoelsabio · 8 pointsr/AskHistorians

I'd recommend two books that, while in contention historiographically, together do a good job of describing the length of Roman decline and the immediate effects on its citizens: Bryan Ward-Perkins' The Fall of Rome and Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity.

u/Poor-Richard · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

Yes there are numerous sources and I think you would be intrigued by just how much both of their public perceptions have changed over time. Hamilton was originally castigated, almost demonized, by many upon his death due to the harsh political lines that existed between him and his opponents (Jefferson, Burr, and really any anti-Federalist), and his extraordinary/imperfect personal life. Jefferson on the other hand was pretty ubiquitously lauded for a long time and it wasn't until historians began viewing his life later on that his legacy began to be questioned, when it has been revealed just how much Jefferson was a man of great contradiction.

Both were undoubtedly great men with perhaps even greater character flaws.

Really any book written during the Revolutionary period would expand on this in great detail, but specifically biographies of the two men or any of the Founding Fathers. You cannot research the men who typically are associated as the Founding Fathers or Framers without talking about the political discord that developed between the two sides.

Some of my favorites are below:

But this is by no means limiting and I didn't even link any Jefferson-centric biographies.

u/krisak02 · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

The Cartoon History of the Universe is surprisingly good in this regard.

u/10z20Luka · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

Have you ever heard of this book called A History of the World in Six Glasses?

If not, then never mind I suppose. If so, would you mind giving me a quick rundown of your impression? Mostly dealing with accuracy and overall legitimacy, if you don't mind.

u/BookQueen13 · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

You might like The Inheritance of Rome for more information about that. It was one of my textbooks for my early middle ages course. The author makes some really good points about the collapse, or rather "unwinding", of the Western Roman Empire and the deteriorating relationship between East and West. If I remember correctly, there were some chapters solely on the Byzantine Empire as well.

u/prehensilefoot · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

You may want to check out "A History of the World in Six Glasses," which looks at the history of some of the most ancient and popular drinks and the way they were used within different cultures:

u/sarasmirks · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

Distilled spirits were not widely known in Europe during the Middle Ages. And, from what I can tell, they were not considered a high class beverage even once they did become widespread. See, for instance, the Gin Craze in 18th century Britain. It's actually difficult to find the early history of some distilled spirits because they were popularized among the sort of people who wouldn't have been writing a lot of things down.

So that leaves beer and wine.

To an extent, the cultural prestige of beer vs. wine is geographic. Some parts of Europe are conducive to growing wine grapes and aging wine. Some are not.

So in places like Britain, where wine is not made locally, wine becomes a high-class beverage because it has to be imported from elsewhere. It's a valuable commodity, not your basic everyday beverage for the average joe. The everyday drink would have been beer, in wine-less places. And thus you get lots of paintings of nobles drinking wine and peasants drinking beer.

In the literature, too, beer is seen as a more local thing in non-winemaking places, whereas wine is an imported luxury. The average wife would have brewed her own beer, for example.

You can sort of think of it like the difference between tap water and Perrier, in the modern US.

But of course if we're talking about, for example, Italy, wine is made all over the country, and the everyday drink of choice is going to also be wine. (But probably rough plonk, not the fine wines reserved for the nobility and export to the ultra-rich in colder countries.) Southern Europe never really developed a strong beer culture, because there was plenty of wine to go around.

I unfortunately have no idea whether beer was imported to Southern Europe or whether it ever had the kind of cultural prestige that wine has had in Northern Europe, though my experience drinking beer in Italy in the present day implies that beer has never been a sought after luxury there. Peroni, ick.

The cocktail is a 19th century invention, by the way.

You might want to read A History Of The World In Six Glasses, if you like this sort of thing. It doesn't really answer your question about class and prestige, though, but it does touch on what drinks were invented when and what people would have been drinking at different points in time.

u/Vampire_Seraphin · 4 pointsr/AskHistorians

Ira Lapidus wrote a formidable but excellent tome called A History of Islamic Societies that deals with this. I have not finished it myself, but I know it would answer your question. Among other factors, Islam was originally a religion of the elites that was deliberately kept from the lower classes for a time.

u/VetMichael · 4 pointsr/AskHistorians

If I may jump in here, /u/Mycd is making a similar argument to Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel. Though I am not sure about the claim that livestock were a significant source of disease. I know that they were a significant source of vaccination in the 18th century, but disease? Zoonotic diseases aren't usually small pox level variants (except for exotic ones which emerge well after the Columbian exchange).

There is a history of continual exposure to the major, and quite deadly, pathogens in Eurasian history that were the subject of medical inquiry from about 1000 CE onward; Chinese and Indian physicians, for example, experimented with blowing the dust from dried scabs of plague victims into the noses of people who had not gotten sick yet in order to inoculate them. It didn't work as well as modern science would have liked - the Black Death claimed tens of thousands of lives in Cairo alone - but it was better than nothing.

In Diamond's book, he makes the argument that since Eurasian trade routes were roughly east-west, the pathogens had similar enough environs - and continual human hosts - to survive and even mutate. On the other hand, Diamond points out, there was no equivalent to the Silk Road in the Western Hemisphere, thus preventing continual human-to-human transmission necessary for viral or bacterial mutation to the degree in Eurasia. Also, the fact that different latitudes often brought wildly varying environments, hampered potentially deadly plagues from emerging on such a vast scale in the Americas. He doesn't say, though, that Mesoamericans or other major empires didn't have plagues - they did - but compared to Eurasian ones, they were relatively weak or mild.

Other sources: Bernard Lewis Islam: From the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople

Arthur Silverstein A History of Immunology

Jared Diamond Guns, Germs, and Steel

u/spedmonkey · 7 pointsr/AskHistorians

While I agree that your question is quite subjective, I'd suggest taking a look at Guns, Germs, & Steel, the ubiquitous recommendation when dealing with this question. I'm not sure I agree with all of Diamond's ideas, but it's a thought-provoking book, and he makes some excellent arguments within.

u/xbayuldrd · -1 pointsr/AskHistorians

This book talks a lot about that stuff. I recommend it.

u/snaresamn · 25 pointsr/AskHistorians

Well, they did have a technological advantage in the form of viking longships. These ships were long, shallow bottomed, flexible ships that were both graceful as well as being some of the fastest ships in the viking's geological sphere of influence. They were highly efficient in the sea as well as in the small rivers and fjords of Scandinavia and their shallow hulls allowed them to travel up mainland rivers, even reaching as far as Paris, France before the end of the viking age. The ships also allowed for long, fast voyages along coasts carrying vikings as far from Scandinavia as Italy, Turkey, Russia, North Africa and Canada.

Another piece of the reason they were so successful was that they often targeted under-manned monasteries, churches and small villages. 8th to 12th century England was not united by any means; you had North Umbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex and all the smaller states within those areas that were not always at peace with each other, requiring fighting forces that were not seen to be as needed on the north and northeast coasts of England and modern Scotland.

Now we come to combining these two factors in viking tactics. Vikings were raiders, at least in the beginning, and were not setting out to conquer lands and steal fortifications as in your typical medieval battle. They use a hit-and-run style of raiding that left their victims little to no time to call for aid. They would spend their winters at home preparing their ships, weapons and bodies for the summer raids and after the spring crops had been planted they were off in search of the most plunder they could bring back with the smallest amount of risk involved. To a viking, it didn't matter if you were a soldier or a monk, if they engaged you in a fight and you lost, they were entitled to what you owned as they considered this a fair fight. So, in that way, they may have also had a psychological advantage as well. Other monks and god-fearing men heard account of these ruthless demons (some letters from monks who escaped the vikings survive these encounters) and fear and infamy about them spread through the British isles.

If you’re interested in further reading I highly recommend “The Viking World”

If you’re interested in reading a letter written about the vikings by a monk whose monastery was attacked by vikings, Yale has an online transcription available here:

u/ChermsMcTerbin · 8 pointsr/AskHistorians

I have and idea for a paper that would connect caffeinated beverages to increased industrialization. Anecdotally, you have tea/coffee (Industrialization)->soda(19th/20th century)->hyper caffeinated beverages (the 21st century and a 24 hour world). But that's another story.

I would suggest looking at A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage for a look at the impact of coffee on the modern world.

u/ocKyal · 744 pointsr/AskHistorians

By the time the Burr-Hamilton duel occurred, Jefferson and Burr were barely speaking even though Burr was the Vice-President. This is due to the fact that during the Election of 1800, there was a serious movement to place Burr as the President over Jefferson when the election went to the House of Representatives. Burr alienated Republicans by taking the position that he would not defer to Jefferson, the party leader, if he was selected as President.

Part of the hostility that ultimately led up to the duel between Hamilton and Burr was in fact b/c Hamilton actively endorsed Jefferson, whom Hamilton thought was mistaken in many areas, he at least had principles that he adhered to, over Burr, whom Hamilton viewed as having no principle but personal ambition, and his fellow Federalist Adams. Hamilton's endorsement was particularly powerful b/c even though he was on the downslope of his influence and power, he still controlled enough of the Federalist party to have the potential to swing a vote in the House and some have argued that Hamilton's influence was what swung the eventual deciding vote, Federalist James Bayard of Delaware, to pick Jefferson over Burr.

Jefferson never forgave Burr after this election and basically cast Burr out of the Democratic-Republican party. Jefferson so distrusted Burr that he shut Burr out of the administration, only meeting Burr for dinner once every two weeks and only allowing Burr to meet with his Cabinet once a year. Burr further broke with Jefferson when he sided with the Federalists over the repeal of the Judiciary Act. Burr was also distrusted by the Federalists, whom he courted to try and get back to power, and after his fateful duel with Hamilton he lost all influence with the remnants of that party.

Source: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

u/MarcusDohrelius · 4 pointsr/AskHistorians

The Viking World is about as comprehensive of a volume as you could need. There are plenty of sections dealing with women in the Viking world. The work is scholarly but not unapproachable.

u/depanneur · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

The Viking World edited by Stefan Brink is a great source, filled with up-to-date papers written by some of the best scholars in Viking Age history and archaeology. It has chapters detailing everything from Norse-Sami relations, Scandinavian coinage to a few chapters regarding the impact by Scandinavians on the people they interacted with. I definitely recommend it.

The impact of the Scandinavian Invasions on Celtic Speaking Peoples is a bit dated, but is cool to have as a historiographical piece because so many of their interpretations have been proven wrong by new archaeological evidence and less narrow/literal readings of cherry picked primary sources (Binchy, for example, was a genius in the field of early Irish law tracts, however only reading law tracts will give you a very skewed view of how Irish society functioned). I only bought it because it's on sale and because it includes D A Binchy's classic "Changing of the old order" paper, even though new research has shown his theory of the vikings dragging the Irish out of an "old order" to be wrong.

u/AmesCG · 2 pointsr/AskHistorians

On a related topic, how reliable is the popular Charles Mann book, 1491? It speaks to this issue, but I'm not sure how it's regarded.

u/LegalAction · 3 pointsr/AskHistorians

Syme's The Roman Revolution is in my opinion still the orthodox text almost 100 years after it was written (1939 I think). There's several biographies of Caesar that come to mind, most powerfully Meier's and Goldsworthy's. Of these two I prefer Meier's, but I think Badian had a fairly scathing review of it published somewhere. The most recent thing I'm aware of (although I haven't read it) is Goodman's Rome's Last Citizen.

And of course there's always Plutarch, Appian, Cicero's letters (which contain some written by and to Cato). I don't think there's any substitute for starting with the ancient sources.

u/adlerchen · 10 pointsr/AskHistorians

Of course. The Carolingian kingdom even used roman law, and as a direct result so did Charlemagne's 3 successor states and thus so did medieval France and the Holy Roman Empire.

And it's not like there wasn't a roman empire during the medieval period. While western Rome collapsed in the 5th century, eastern Rome did not, and the indigenous inhabitants of what we now in English call the Byzantine Empire considered themselves Romans and were considered as such by their contemporaries. When Odoacer took the crown of Rome he himself didn't claim the title of imperitor, he sent the crown to the eastern Emperor as he felt it was his rightful property. And furthermore hundreds of years after that both the Arabs and Turks called eastern Rome "Rum" and the inhabitants of the eastern Roman empire "Romans".

  • Wickham 2009 - The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000.
  • Gabriele 2011 - An Empire of Memory: The Legend of Charlemagne, the Franks, and Jerusalem before the First Crusade.
u/jimmythemini · 21 pointsr/AskHistorians

Based on my reading of The Inheritance of Rome by Chris Wickham, the short answer is that in the early medieval period, there wasn't a particularly strong conception in the lands of the Western Empire between a 'Roman' and 'post-Roman' era. Obviously this was even less of the case in the Eastern Empire, but I assume OP is mainly asking about the West.

In part, this is because the Western Empire fizzled out quite slowly and in an amorphous fashion, and wasn't replaced by what we might call 'coherent' nation states. Mediterranean trade - the lifeblood of the Empire - also declined terminally but very slowly. There was no set date for the Fall of the Empire as we conceive now - the Sack of Rome in 410 would most likely have been received with the same sense of shock that 9/11 was felt throughout the Western world. But at no point was it conceived as marking the end of the Roman world as 'Rome' at this point was centered in the East, and within the Italian peninsula the city of Rome had long been in decline.

Above all, 'Europeans' would also have conceived of themselves as members of Christendom, from which we can draw a pretty straight line from Constantine. So its for this reason that Charlemagne conceived of his Empire as a continuation of Rome, and not some sort of revival.

u/labarge3 · 164 pointsr/AskHistorians

This is a tough question to answer with any degree of specificity because there was a plurality of experiences for peasants across Europe and the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. However, in general, the economic life of medieval peasants was perilous. Subsistence agriculture provides little job security. A bad harvest could spell devastation for you, your family, and your community. I suggest taking a look at the online English translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for evidence of famine/drought/general devastation in the British Isles. Here are a few examples from just the eleventh century - a time when the Commercial Revolution (which brought substantial increases in agricultural production and peasant populations) was beginning to take hold:

A.D. 1005… This year died Archbishop Elfric; and Bishop Elfeah succeeded him in the archbishopric. This year was the great famine in England so severe that no man ere remembered such.

A.D. 1070… There was a great famine this year.

A.D. 1082. This year the king seized Bishop Odo; and this year also was a great famine.

A.D. 1087. After the birth of our Lord and Saviour Christ, one thousand and eighty-seven winters; in the one and twentieth year after William began to govern and direct England, as God granted him, was a very heavy and pestilent season in this land. Such a sickness came on men, that full nigh every other man was in the worst disorder, that is, in the diarrhoea; and that so dreadfully, that many men died in the disorder. Afterwards came, through the badness of the weather as we before mentioned, so great a famine over all England, that many hundreds of men died a miserable death through hunger. Alas! how wretched and how rueful a time was there! When the poor wretches lay full nigh driven to death prematurely, and afterwards came sharp hunger, and dispatched them withall! Who will not be penetrated with grief at such a season? or who is so hardhearted as not to weep at such misfortune? Yet such things happen for folks' sins, that they will not love God and righteousness.

We do not have census data or detailed tax records to corroborate the extent of these famines, but we nonetheless have to assume that they were disruptive to peasants living off the English land. Entries like these from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are echoed across other Latin chronicles and in Arabic ones as well. I am most familiar with The Complete History of Ibn al-Athir, which mentions numerous famines across the Islamicate World. Take, for example, his account of a long-lasting famine in Ifriqiya (roughly modern Tunisia) in the 1140s:

It had a terrible effect on the population, who even resorted to cannibalism. Because of starvation the nomads sought out the towns and the townspeople closed the gates against them. Plague and great mortality followed. The country was emptied and from whole families not a single person survived. Many people travelled to Sicily in search of food and met with great hardship.

Since medieval sources tend to be written from the perspective of literate men based in cities or monasteries, the perspective of peasants is often only briefly mentioned. It is likewise difficult to make any concrete estimations about lifespan, infant mortality rate, and nutrition for most medieval peasant communities due to lack of sources (although the picture begins to come into focus during the Early Modern Period). When we read about a “great famine” in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or The Complete History of Ibn al-Athir, we therefore have to imagine that a bad harvest - caused potentially by drought, an early frost, heavy rains, or conflict - brought with it immense human suffering and the displacement of communities from their ancestral homes.

This is not to say that peasant life was only defined by suffering at the hands of subsistence agriculture and overly aggressive landed elites. We know that there were robust and complex communities in rural medieval villages, many of which survived the ordeals brought by mother nature. I recommend Judith Bennett’s biography of Cecilia Penifader as a microhistory of peasant life in the English town of Brigstock during the late-thirteenth through mid-fourteenth centuries.

For those interested in environmental data related to medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, I highly recommend the Old World Drought Atlas, which uses dendrochronological (tree-ring) data to chart annual rainfall across the region. This link shows annual rainfall in Europe in 1315, the first year of The Great Famine in Europe. As the link shows, there was abnormally heavy rainfall across Western Europe. This corroborates written sources, which detail how heavy rains destroyed harvests and had profoundly negative consequences for peasants.