Surprising facts about the Middle Ages?

  1. On women:

Andrew Highlander Benn, is right that “Women were not universally treated as second class citizens.” In fact, all women were more equal to their men in the Middle Ages than they have been until very recent times.

Women ran the business side of the craft shop. A man could not become a master until he had a wife to keep track of orders, train servants and apprentices, order supplies, collect money etc. In short a master’s wife was management and the master was production. We know this partially because when the master died his widow assumed the vote in the guild and voted, whereas, if the woman died, and there was no daughter, aunt, woman cousin to take over her duties the master became a journeyman again. He lost his master status.

Historian Elise Boulding has said women have not regained the equality they lost in the Renaissance.

2. On the wealth of the West:

We owe capitalism to the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.

After the fall of Rome, in the West, secular power was left to a mixed hodgepodge of nobles. They were the military which therefore was equally mixed. The only organized continent wide power was the Church.

The Church was a monopoly, and had the right of direct taxation – the tithe. And like other priesthoods, it was the controller of learning and literacy.

For the first time in history group that controlled information had a vested interest in the wealth of the lower classes. If a cooper, or weaver did well the church was entitled to 10% of his wealth.

Therefore, it was to the Church’s benefit that the commons make as much money as possible. The monasteries became like Agricultural Extension centers, teaching the three field rotation system and the use of horse shoes, and hard horse collars creating an agricultural revolution in Europe.

The Church encouraged the use of technology since better technology meant more efficient work, more efficient work meant more wealth, and more wealth meant more good works – meaning more money for the Church in the form of tithes.

So that by the time the press was introduced to Europe common folk saw technology used to increase wealth as a virtue. And the Church didn’t see it as a threat for the commons to be educated until the Reformation.

Before the Reformation Spain (soon to become the bastion of the inquisition) had active presses in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish and Arabic. The Church actively supported presses and found it useful for publishing its directives.

With the Inquisition, the Church began to control what was printed and many Spanish printers “voted with their feet” moving to the Spanish Netherlands (Holland of today) where the press wasn’t controlled. Soon there was a glut of printers so they had to print whatever would sell – children’s books, broadsides, business books, books on double entry bookkeeping, and pornography. Holland became as print intensive as we are television, or perhaps now, phone intensive. And Holland became the cradle of pre-capitalist business.

As England became Protestant printers moved there to take advantage of new markets and as more and more common folk became literate and numerate they changed the way they did production, inventing capitalism.

For more see: Chapter VII – The Late Middle Ages Full Text

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Frederick Law Olmstead and the Creation of Central Park – The Atlantic

When I was a child it was easy to arrange my crayons in order, like the rainbow, yellow next to orange, next to red, next to purple, next to blue etc. but very difficult to arrange colors so that no color had a color next to it that contained that color.

[Reminds me of your discovering how difficult it is to make a rock arrangement seem “random”.] An unmistakable irony creeps vinelike through Olmsted’s landscape theory: It takes a lot of artifice to create convincing “natural” scenery. Everything in Central Park is man-made; the same is true of most of Olmsted’s designs. They are not imitations of nature so much as idealizations, like the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School. Each Olmsted creation was the product of painstaking sleight of hand, requiring enormous amounts of labor and expense. In his notes on Central Park, Olmsted called for thinning forests, creating artificially winding and uneven paths, and clearing away “indifferent plants,” ugly rocks, and inconvenient hillocks and depressions—all in order to “induce the formation … of natural landscape scenery.” He complained to his superintendents when his parks appeared “too gardenlike” and constantly demanded that they “be made more natural.”

(August 11, 2016 at 03:42PM)

When did moral thinking begin in humankind?

Long before Homo sapiens hominins were making wind breaks and maintaining members of their groups who were incapacitated. To me this suggests that for more than 1.5 million years before the present our genetic line has had some kind of moral thinking.

It has also been observed that chimpanzees have a taboo on mother and son sexual contact. This was observed when one son broke the taboo and was shunned by his mother and his group.

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2016 Portfolio

I’ve been teaching watercolor but didn’t have any watercolor paintings in my portfolio though I’ve been working with watercolor since early in the year. I’ve also re-discovered computer art after going to a show with a friend. Another artist in the show had some wonderful computer art so I had to try my own.

Link to my 2016 portfolio

Is the average size of the human head increasing?

I don’t know of any such study. But, I can think of two reasons for the increase in C-sections that aren’t related to increasing head size.

  1. Women with small pelvises died as a consequence of the first birth so never gave birth again. With the advent of safe C-sections they now can go on to have more children.
  2. Since C-sections have become safer doctors are more willing to do a C-section when a labor goes long.

Speaking of evolution though, Neanderthals had larger heads than moderns do. It is also probable that their pregnancies lasted up to 10 months so the infant was better able to survive the cold. So head size is probably not an indicator of much.

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When did humanity first discover the connection between sex and childbirth?

This is a myth. People have always known the link between sex and children.

The myth came about because the first explorers and anthropologists generally men. They spoke with other men. When a 35 year old man asks where do babies come from the informant doesn’t talk about sex, he assumes the anthropologist knows about sex, he tells them the stork stories.

Women might not talk to a man about sex at all.

The earliest women anthropologists also talked to men. It would be improper for a male informant to talk about sex to a foreign woman.

When women began to become anthropologists and talked to women that it was discovered that indigenous women know about sex and childbirth just as they know that the cessation of their periods signaled pregnancy.

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Is there a connection between childbirth mortality and the relatively lower status of women?

High infant mortality certainly wasn’t a new phenomenon in the Renaissance. However, as historian Elise Boulding writes, “women have yet to recover their status lost in the Renaissance” It might be argued that they are gaining on it.

During the Middle Ages women of all classes were more equal to their men than they were during and after the Renaissance.

Women of the crafts-producing class managed the shop while their husbands made product. Women participated in every craft from barrel making, thatching, weaving to brewing beer. For a man to become a master in his craft he had to marry. (A trace of this remains in that the first professional degree is called a bachelor’s – the university being a medieval institution)

A craftsman often married a woman who was a daughter of a member of his guild. Until he married he couldn’t set up his own shop because he wasn’t trained in purchasing, marketing, keeping track of product and cash flow, or supervising production, training and supervising apprentices, serving girls and journeymen. (things we now associate with management)

We know that marriage was important because if a craftsman died his widow could vote in the guild, and run the shop by hiring journeymen and apprentices. But if the craftsman’s wife died and and he didn’t have a daughter, aunt, mother or other female ready to take over her duties he reverted to journeyman status.

Upper class women ran the manors and estates when their husbands were off fighting for the king or on a crusade. Women supervised every aspect of the manor economy, waged war, and defended the estate.

Before the invention of the printing press, literacy was largely a matter of class. Upper class women and the daughters of scholars, doctors, lawyers and other educated professionals were taught to read. There were women professors in the University of Milan. There was a medical school ran by and for Jewish women doctors.

After the invention of the printing press, education was more a matter of gender. Craftspeople who could only afford to educate one child would preferentially educate their son(s) since the shop descended through the male line. Women were expected to ‘marry out’ so it was too expensive to educate them.

In addition, once sons learned to read, and more importantly, do arithmetic, it was easier for them to take over the management of a shop.  They could give a person a certain amount of raw material and see that they got the proper amount of finished product – the putting out system – harbinger of capitalism.

Manufacturing and business moved out of the common room, to a room of its own, to a floor of its own, to a building of its own. It was the beginning of capitalism.

This left women identified with the home, the interior, the family. They were no longer seen as equal partners. They were illiterate as were children and spent their time with children and so were seen as childlike. From this came the worship of women as mothers and virgins – they were isolated in their homes and on their pedestals.

So, women’s low status is from an interesting blend of primogeniture (eldest son inheriting) and literacy for common folk. Now, the question is – is it better to be the equal partner of a craftsman in a small craft shop or be unequal, married to a man who is in the process of inventing capitalism, and have money to spend and children to spoil? (Of course this doesn’t take into account all the folk that became permanently poor)

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When were the ‘good old days’?

These are the good old days. It is less likely that you will die of violence; it is more likely that you will die in bed; it is more likely that you will live to be old; you have a better chance of raising your children to adulthood than ever before in history.
On the other hand you are working longer hours, are more anxious about the future, and have a less varied diet, and are more alienated from others and from your god,  than a hunter/gatherer of 11K years ago.

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Is it true that in pre-historic hunter-gatherer tribes, men went hunting while women stayed at home?

No, it is not true!

The popular image of early of hunter/gatherers is that they are violent people who are ruled by the proverbial dominant male ‘big game’ hunter, but this is not the case.

First, hunting is not an exclusively male activity it is a communal activity for many groups. And women in hunter/gatherer societies, from the Philippines to the Arctic, from Australia to Africa, hunt.

For many groups hunting is a community affair. The Mbuti Pygmies of Zaire net hunt and the pace is so leisurely that old people, children, and nursing mothers take part. Between casts of the nets everyone gets together to share tobacco or fruit that has been gathered, exchange stories, gossip and flirt. And for the most part the meat people eat are things like small antelope that are relatively easy for a woman or child to kill.

Batek women in Indonesia go fishing with their children as a way of entertaining them. I the hill country of India the Nayaka, take leisurely walks with their families along the way they will gather or hunt up small animals, notice what has changed since they passed this way before. Their walks are as much about gathering information about their environment as they are about food.

Second, we would assume that the person who kills the meat owns the meat and therefore receives status for the kill. But among many people it is the owner of the weapon – arrows (!Kung, Pygmies) or blow gun darts (Batek) that own the meat. Arrows and darts are traded amongst people and are often owned by people that stay in camp – old people, nursing mothers, people who are for one reason or another like to stay in camp. It is the owner of the meat is entitled to share out the meat.

Third, we assume that meat is the most valued food. But hunter/gatherers have a more varied diet than even rich western people. The only lack one thing that we have in abundance – sugar. And, like us, they love sugar the most valued food is honey. A child, or a woman, or an old person is as likely to find a bees nest as a man.

For more and for references see: Chapter I – The Original Information Culture – Hunter/Gatherers (full text)
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