'tis but a scratch: fact and fiction about the Middle Ages
'tis but a scratch: fact and fiction about the Middle Ages
Richard Abels
Talking about popular conceptions of the Middle Ages and their historical realities. Join Richard Abels to learn about Vikings, knights and chivalry, movies set in the Middle Ages, and much more about the medieval world.
Hanukkah and Christmas in the Middle Ages, and the Puritan War on Christmas
This is a revised--and a lot longer--version of our twenty-first episode ("Some thoughts about Hanukkah by a (secular) Jewish medieval historian").  That episode was  just what the title said, some thoughts about the role of Hanukkah in contemporary America and the Middle Ages. In it Ellen had a throwaway line about the Puritan war on Christmas. I thought that our listeners might be interested in why the Puritans objected to and tried to suppress Christmas, and, related to that, how Christmas, as well as Hanukkah was celebrated in the Middle Ages. I know that the result is a mishmash, but I hope it's an enjoyable and informative mishmash.Happy Holidays!This episode includes snippets from"Here we come a-wassailing" The St. Michael's Singers conducted by Paul Leddington Wright https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m29jEvTfVFUMa'oz Tsur sung by cantors from across Canada, Temple Sinai Toronto, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFY--az4z3wAdam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5Z-HpHH9gReading:Hanukkah:Cait Stevenson, “Celebrating Hannukah in the Middle Ages” by Cait Stevenson, posted on Medievalists.net https://www.medievalists.net/2018/12/celebrating-hanukkah-middle-ages/Susan Weingarten, “Medieval Hanukkah Traditions: Jewish Festive Foods in their European Contexts, Food and History 8 (2010)::41-62Dianne Ashton,  (2013). Hanukkah in America: A History. New York: New York University Press, 2013. Tsi Freeman, “Why Couldn’t Jews and Greeks Just Get Along?” https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/64639/jewish/Couldnt-the-Jews-and-Greeks-Get-Along.htm[The Wikipedia entry on Hanukkah is quite good] Medieval Christmas:Katie Ihnat, “The Middle Ages,” in The Oxford Handbook of Christmas, ed. T. Larson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).Sophie Jackson, The Medieval Christmas. The History Press: Stroud, 2013.Peter Konieczny, “Seven Medieval Christmas Traditions.” Medievalists.net. https://www.medievalists.net/2012/12/seven-medieval-christmas-traditions/Compton Reeves, Pleasures and Pastimes in Medieval England. New York: Oxford, 1998. Puritan war on Christmas:Stephen Nissenbaum, “Christmas in Early New England, 1620-1820: Puritanism, Popular Culture, and the Printed Word.” American Antiquary Society (1996): pp. 79-164 (https://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44539478.pdf)J.A.R. Pimlott, | “Christmas under the Puritans,” in  History Today Volume 10 Issue 12 December 1960“Why did Cromwell abolish Christmas?” The Cromwell Association https://www.olivercromwell.org/faqs4.htmThe Puritan Cultural RevolutionDavid Underdown, Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England 1603-1660.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987Christopher Durston. "Puritan Rule and the Failure of Cultural Revolution, 1645–1660." In: Durston, C., Eales, J. (eds) The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560–1700. Themes in Focus. Palgrave, London. 1996.Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Dec 1
46 min
The Medievalists' "F-Word": Feudalism
“Feudalism” was once accepted by academic and popular historians alike as a defining, if not the defining, feature of medieval society. For military historians, the High Middle Ages, the period from around 1050 to 1300, was once the Age of the Feudal Knight. This is no longer the case. If academic historians use it at all in their writings or classrooms, it is usually to dismiss it. For most medieval historians, feudalism has joined Viking horned helmets and “the right of the first night” in the ranks of myths about the Middle Ages. Richard, however, isn't most historians. In this episode, Richard and Ellen talk about the meanings of "feudalism" and why Richard is reluctant to throw it upon the cart of dead historical constructs.Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Nov 17
46 min
Alfred the Great, Part 3: A Chat with Professor Ryan Lavelle
In our third and final episode of the series, Richard talks with Professor Ryan Lavelle of the University of Winchester in the U.K. about Alfred the Great. Dr. Lavelle is a leading expert on Anglo-Saxon and Viking warfare. He is also the historical consultant for the BBC/Netflix television series "The Last Kingdom," based on the Saxon Chronicle novels of Bernard Cornwell. In this episode, Richard again poses the question whether Alfred deserves to be called "the Great." He and Dr. Lavelle then discuss the portrayal of King Alfred in "The Last Kingdom," and why he is portrayed that way.This episode includes short snippets from Season 1 of "The Last Kingdom."The intro and exit music is by the talented and generous Alexander Nakarada. Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Oct 13
43 min
Alfred the Great, Part 2: A Chat with Professor Barbara Yorke
This is the second of a three part series about King Alfred of Wessex (reigned 871-899), the only English king to be called "the Great." In this episode Ellen and I chat with Dr. Barbara Yorke, Professor Emeritus at the University of Winchester in the U.K.. Professor Yorke is arguably the world's leading expert on Anglo-Saxon Wessex. She and I share the distinction of being among the host of biographers of King Alfred.  The basic question I pose to her is whether Alfred deserves to be called "the Great." Her answer is a bit more nuanced and less adulatory than mine was in episode one, which is one of the reasons I thought it important that you hear her assessment of Alfred.Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Oct 5
44 min
King Alfred: was he really all that 'great'?
After a hiatus we are back with the long promised episode about King Alfred of Wessex (871-899), the only English king to be called "the great." In this episode, Richard gives an overview of Alfred's reign and accomplishments and explains why the Victorians thought he was great--and why Richard does as well.The musical introduction is  the opening of "Rule Britannia" from the masque "Alfred," performed by Jamie MacDougall, Jennifer Smith, Philharmonia Chorale, Nicholas McGegan & Philharmonia Baroque OrchestraFrom the album "The Last Night of the Proms: The Ultimate Collection"The exit music (as always) is by Alexander NakaradaListen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Sep 28
1 hr 7 min
In this episode I interview my special guest Dr. Nicholas Morton, author of The Mongol Storm (Basic Books, 2022), about the Mongols and their invasion of and impact upon the thirteenth-century Near East. Our discussion covers who and what the Mongols were; why they were so effective militarily; Mongol religion and religious 'toleration'; their reputation for horrific brutality; why the Mamluks of Egypt were able to defeat them in battle; and the economic and cultural impact of the so-called Pax Mongolica.Suggested reading:Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-       1350  (Oxford University Press, 1989) Favereau, Marie. The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (Belknap Press,      2021)Jackson, Peter. The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion       (Yale University Press, 2017)May, Timothy. The Mongols Empire (Edinburgh University Press, 2018)  Morton, Nicholas. The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval      Near East  (Basic Books, 2022)Morton, Nicholas. "Life Under the Mongols." BBC History Magazine. Vol. 24 (April      2023)Rossabi, Morris. The Mongols and Global History (Norton Documents Reader) (W.W.      Norton, 2010)This episode includes a sound clip from the theatrical trailer for the epically terrible 1956 movie "The Conqueror," starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan--yes the John Wayne as Genghis Khan!!!(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHt0Pb8rkXU)As always, we are grateful to the talented and generous composer Alexander Nakarada for the podcast's intro and exit music.Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
May 26
1 hr 11 min
Robin Hood in Movies and Television
This is the second half of a two-part series about the legendary medieval outlaw Robin Hood. In the first episode, my co-host Dr. Jennifer Paxton and I discussed the evidence for a historical basis for the legend. In this one, we look at how Robin Hood has been portrayed in film and television from the silent era to the present--and how each generation has gotten (in Jenny's words) "the Robin Hood that you need in your particular time."Because there are so many films and television shows featuring Robin Hood, Jenny and I had to be very selective.  From the fifty films and eight episodes we chose the best, the most influential--and the worst. We consider them as entertainments, but because we are historians, we also discuss how the film makers and show runners dealt with the Middle Ages.  I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed recording it.This episode includes sound clips from:"The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), including Erich Korngold's magnificent musical score for that movie"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962)"Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" (1991)"Oo-De-Lally," composed and sung by Roger Miller, from Walt Disney's Robin Hood (1973)The television show "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1955-9): exit theme by Carl Sigman, sung by Dick JamesThe podcast's intro music is composed by the talented and generous Alexander Nakarada (https://alexandernakarada.bandcamp.com/album/collection-celtic-medieval).If you are enjoying "'Tis But A Scratch: Fact & Fiction About the Middle Ages," please let friends, family, and students know about the podcast. Subscribing to the podcast doesn't cost anything and you will get a notification when a new episode is released. If you have the time and inclination, write a review. High ratings and good reviews will help new listeners find us.Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Apr 6
1 hr 35 min
Robin Hood: Origins
In this episode Richard and Dr. Jennifer Paxton of The Catholic University of America   search for a historical Robin Hood and explore the medieval and Tudor stories about the heroic outlaw and his band of merry men. This is the first of a two-part series.  The follow on episode will be on Robin Hood in movies and television.CreditsThe podcast's intro and exit music is composed by the talented and generous Alexander Nakarada (https://alexandernakarada.bandcamp.com/album/collection-celtic-medieval).The opening to the folksong "Lord Randall, My Son" is by Ewan MacColl from his album, "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Child Ballads)"  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0dRGi4rx0c)The modern English translation of "A Geste of Robin Hood" is by Robin Landis Frank (https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~ohlgren/gesttrans.html)Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Mar 23
55 min
"The Northman"
In this episode Richard and his special guest and co-host Dr. Christine Senecal of Shippensburg University discuss the 2022 Viking movie "The Northman."  Director and co-screenplay writer Robert Eggers' avowed goal in making this movie was to recreate the material and mental world of the Vikings. Please join Richard and Chrissie as they assess how well he succeeded in accomplishing this.[My apologies to the 110 listeners who have already downloaded this, but I added five more minutes toward the end to cover some historical points that I left out in our discussion of the movie "The Northman." A transcript of the missing material is posted in the transcript section. ]This episode includes sound clips from the movies "The Vikings" (1958) and "The Northman." The composer of "The Vikings" theme music is Mario Nascimbe. The composers of "The Northman" music are Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough.  Alexander Nakarada composed the podcast's intro and exit music.Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Feb 14
1 hr 4 min
In this episode, Richard and Ellen discuss who and what vikings were historically, and how they were depicted in the Middle Ages and modern times. The episode focuses upon the first century of the Viking Age, roughly from the late eighth to the early tenth century. (This episode marks the first anniversary of 'Tis But A Scratch: Fact and Fiction About the Middle Ages.  Ellen and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, our listeners. If you are enjoying the podcast, please let friends, family, and (if you are a teacher) students know about it. And if you are listening on one of the platforms that rates and reviews podcasts, like Apple, please take the time to rate us. It is a great way of spreading the word. I should also add my sincere apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein and to all French speakers for butchering the pronunciation of the names of French towns.)Listen on Podurama https://podurama.com
Jan 27
1 hr 3 min
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