When delving into history, it’s very easy to forget sometimes that people are at the center of it. People live, love, think, react, and fight, and this is how history unfolds. The current popular trend in history is to forget this idea that one person can make a difference in how that happens and to look instead at the cultural and social trends, implying that events would have happened anyway even if a given person were not present. I submit this is a flawed way to look at it, built under the same premise that everyone gets a gold star. Somebody sets trends. Somebody comes up with new ideas or sees old ideas in a new way. Somebody acts on these thoughts. Somebody reacts to them. And the cycle goes on.
I burn through a lot of historical overviews, and the downside is that people are name-dropped, but it’s sometimes difficult to know what it is they actually contributed in the grand scheme unless you seek out a more narrowly-focused text on a given person or event, or you happen to be reading a biography. Overviews about people who changed the world are, therefore, of immense value for me. This lecture series is precisely what an armchair historian like myself loves to consume. Think of it in similar vein of Plutarch’s Lives, but for the Middle Ages. You get a collection of mini-biographies with a direct emphasis of who these people were, what they contributed, and why that mattered. For newcomers to the Middle Ages who still might see this era as “the Dark Ages,” this sort of collection will help to break open and dispel that common misperception. Prof. Armstrong keeps the series thoughtful and engaging, drawing connections between these personalities where applicable to prevent them from existing in a proverbial vacuum of disconnected facts. The side effect of this series for me is that I now have a monster list of new items on my reading list. This is a good problem to have.