My research in medieval history in simple terms

I wrote this a while ago, using the Up-Goer Five Text editor, which was in turn inspired by an XKCD cartoon on explaining rocket science using the thousand most common words. It may say something about my research that one of the trickiest parts was not being able to use the words “Europe” or “sex”.

I study the past, what people did a long time ago: more than ten hundred years ago. I wrote a book about people fighting and marrying and using their power and money. Lots of people believed in God and some people thought they knew how God wanted other people to fight and marry and use power, and so they told them that. And I read the books and letters they wrote then and write about them now, so we understand more about how people used to think.

One of the things I’m interested in studying is ‘gender’. ‘Gender’ means what people think men should be like and what women should be like. What men should do and women shouldn’t or the other way round. These ideas change over time; people a long time ago had different ideas about men and women from those we have today. They thought men could control themselves better than women, but now many people think men are made to get angry more than women and that makes them better for some jobs. But if people a long time ago didn’t think that, maybe men and women aren’t made in such a different way after all?

Another thing I study is a kind of writing called ‘charters’. People wrote them when they bought or gave away land or people (you could buy people in those days). Books and letters tell us most about important people with money, but ‘charters’ tell us about other kinds of things as well. About people with less money, and the people who did the hard work, and about growing food, and about families and friends. They also show us what life was like in different places: the places where a few people had almost all the land and power and places where who owned land was more even. Because the past wasn’t just different from how we live now; in different places at the same time things were also different. People in the past weren’t all living in the same kind of world.

I have a paid job now studying the past. But I’d study it even if I didn’t get paid, because I really enjoy doing so.


2 thoughts on “My research in medieval history in simple terms

  1. At some point I’d love to know how many of those ten hundred words are Anglo-Saxon in origin, and how many aren’t. Maybe I’ll even want to know badly enough that I’ll do the work myself 🙂

    Meanwhile, I think I’ll have a bash at describing my novel, Hild, the same way. Could be interesting. Thanks for this.


  2. Glad you enjoyed it and good luck on the simple guide to your novel. I found it needed quite a lot of lateral thinking to write the piece above: I’m used to explaining my research (and particularly ideas such as gender) in non-technical language, but having such a restricted vocabulary was quite tricky.

    Underlying this specific piece of software is a slightly odd list, derived from a word frequency list based on contemporary fiction on the web. That might explain why although “sex” isn’t in the top 1000 words, “fuck” is! Wiktionary looks to have a lot of other automatically generated frequency lists from different corpora, if you want to explore more.


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