What historical era was way different from what most people think?

Jan 2016
1,042
Victoria, Canada
#33
Maybe some people have a twisted perspective about the Middle Ages, but to say that the Church didn't actually impede intellectual progress is false. I've discovered that through my project to make a "smartest man in the world" chronology(don't mind the absurdness of this project :oops:). Just take a look at this Timeline of scientific discoveries - Wikipedia

There's a black hole between the 3rd and 9th century AD. And even after that, most intellectual progress was done in the Islamic/Indian/Chinese worlds. It was only until the renaissance when Europeans turned back to the teachings of Ancient philosophy that they had a major resurgence in scientific thought. It's absurd to defend Christians by saying they were the most learned European organisation in the Middle ages. They were dominating Europe, so everything(both bad and good) was done by them. But most of the intellectual progress was done in spite of Christianity(except art).
That wikipedia article is staggeringly incomplete for anything premodern, first of all, leaving out pretty much everything but some disparate references to whatever inventions the author could find on other Wikipedia pages (probably ancient Greek and Islamic science, mostly); the entry for the entire 3rd century is also literally just, and I quote, "Galen: made big contributions to medicine." This article is a prime example of why you never use Wikipedia as a historical source outside of fact-checking things you already have some familiarity with. There were a huge number of technological and philosophical advancements in the Roman world between the 300 and 700 ce, including but not limited to the development of pendentives, the invention of frame-first shipbuilding, the refinement of Neoplatonic philosophy by Proklos, John Philoponos's evidence-based refutation of Aristotelian Dynamics, the invention of flying buttresses, the invention of flamethrowers, the development of of hospitals, and a huge number of diverse medical innovations, particularly in pulses, urology, and surgery. Most of these were made by Christians, and those that weren't (namely by Proklos and possibly any of the anonymous architects) were made in a Christian environment. These start to slow down during the 7th century (with some notable exceptions, such as the extremely important mid-7th century medical work of Paul of Aegina), but this is because of the catastrophic demographic and economic collapse brought on by the plague, Gothic and Lombard wars, and earlier Germanic invsions in the west, not to mention the massive contraction of the Christian world itself -- all of Egypt, Africa, and the Levant coming under Islamic dominion, with most of Iberia soon to follow, and Pagans dominating the Balkans and, for a time, Britain -- not the adoption of Christianity three centuries previous.

Things start to really pick back up in the 11th century, especially in Catholic Europe, and explode into a full-blown Renaissance in the 12th, seeing huge strides made in architecture, metallurgy, agricultural practice, methods and ideologies of logic and reason, and water-, tide-, and wind-mill technology, as well as the meteoric rise of schools and Scholasticism. These trends of progress culminate in the 13th century, which sees, in addition to many further innovations in the above categories, the emergence of Universities, the invention of eyeglasses, the invention of mechanical clocks (utilizing proper escapement mechanisms), and the foundational advances and syntheses in philosophy (in a huge variety of fields) made by Robert Grossetest, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and the other philosophers mentioned by Roger. Quite notably, this explosion in innovation and philosophical development coincides with a tremendous increase in the power and influence of the Church in western Europe, likewise starting in the 11th and culminating in the 13th century, and many of its most important institutions and thinkers came directly from Church structures. On top of this, the Church as an institution was, in fact, far, far less influential in the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries, the period of the lowest amounts of technological and philosophical innovation, being a decentralized, often-toothless structure frequently pushed around by secular figures. This doesn't necessarily mean that the Church should be viewed as an engine of progress, although that case can and has been made, but it was, in any case, hardly obstructive to intellectual and technological developments when economic, social, and scholarly conditions produced them.
 
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Likes: Rodger
Jun 2014
5,366
US
#34
You named a handful of philosophers to prove that the middle ages actually had great philosophical progress? And incidentally all of them are from the 2nd millennium and bordering on the renaissance, when the intellectual resurgence was precisely because of the rediscovery of Antiquity. For centuries, European philosophy mostly consisted of mental gymnastic to lend the idea of God credence.
No, I cited a number of philosopher/scientists from the period you specifically said was void of learning because of the Church. The men I mentioned were involved in empirical methods and Aristotelian logic.
 
#36
Whether it's the Wild West, Ancient Greece, or prehistoric times, what historical era is popularly misunderstood?

I vote for the Antebellum South. Popular movies always show immaculate mansions, freshly painted and with manicured lawns, for the white folks. Only black slaves had bad living conditions according to the popular view.



In reality the South of that era was a broken down, dirty, poor, technologically backward third world country. Whites who didn’t own slaves, who were the great majority of whites, lived in appalling poverty. Even those Southerners who owned small numbers of slaves didn’t live as well as Northern workers who had any marketable skills.



Only owners of large tracts of land and large numbers of slaves had any real wealth, and none of those achieved anywhere near the wealth of successful Northern entrepreneurs.
 
Aug 2015
2,594
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#37
I vote for the Antebellum South. Popular movies always show immaculate mansions, freshly painted and with manicured lawns, for the white folks. Only black slaves had bad living conditions according to the popular view.



In reality the South of that era was a broken down, dirty, poor, technologically backward third world country. Whites who didn’t own slaves, who were the great majority of whites, lived in appalling poverty. Even those Southerners who owned small numbers of slaves didn’t live as well as Northern workers who had any marketable skills.



Only owners of large tracts of land and large numbers of slaves had any real wealth, and none of those achieved anywhere near the wealth of successful Northern entrepreneurs.
This is a slight exaggeration. Repeat, a SLIGHT exaggeration.

For a few thousand wealthy plantation families, the "moonlight and magnolias" myth was a reality. Of course that lifestyle was achieved by stealing the labor and lives of hundreds or thousands of other people per plantation family, other people who owned nothing, not even themselves. If the total wealth of a plantation family was spread evenly out among the family and their slaves the average wealth level in the group would be rather low.

And there were other rich people in the South, bankers and cotton dealers, etc. No doubt they added thousands more households to the wealthy.

And there was a successful and prosperous middle class in the South that probably totaled several percent of the white population. At a rough guess I would estimate that no more than 75 to 95 percent of the white people in the South were "poor white trash". And of course there were a few free blacks in the South who were mostly poor, and then the millions of slaves who were mostly totally property less, not even owning themselves. Most of the millions of slaves in the South had a wealth of zero.

And since much, maybe most, of the wealth in the South in the census consisted of the value of slaves, which was the average price of a slave multiplied by the number of slaves, it was an artificial and inflated wealth figure. The estimated value of a planer's slaves was useful for him to secure a loan, but it didn't represent real wealth in the form of land, goods, crops, etc., that could benefit either the slaves or the rest of the population of the South. For example, you couldn't eat slaves - well you could, but nobody would except if they were starving during a famine, and being eaten would not be good for the person eaten. And you couldn't eat most of the cash crops that slaves produced for export, and when slaves did produce food they tended to be as unproductive as they could get away with while avoiding being whipped, since they didn't like being forced to work for nothing. Thus the production of goods for use in the South itself by Slaves tended to be less than what free labor would have produced, and teh slaves in teh South could be calculated as a net negative wealth.

So blaming any present day lower average wealth level in the South on the destruction of the Civil War, caused by the folly of the ruling class, is a gross exaggeration. The South was already much poorer than the rest of the USA in 1860, due to centuries of misrule by the planter class.
 
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Jun 2013
427
Connecticut
#38
I'm beginning to find out the real situation between the early settlers and natives in the New England-NY area in the 1600s. It's a far cry from turkey, Pilgrims, feasts, etc. The settlers did things one way; the natives differently. An away they went butchering each other. The "Indian Wars" of the 1600s set the trend of how the white settlers were going to deal with the natives right up almost until the 20th c.
Never paid much attention to it until now.
 
#39
This is a slight exaggeration. Repeat, a SLIGHT exaggeration.

For a few thousand wealthy plantation families, the "moonlight and magnolias" myth was a reality. Of course that lifestyle was achieved by stealing the labor and lives of hundreds or thousands of other people per plantation family, other people who owned nothing, not even themselves. If the total wealth of a plantation family was spread evenly out among the family and their slaves the average wealth level in the group would be rather low.

And there were other rich people in the South, bankers and cotton dealers, etc. No doubt they added thousands more households to the wealthy.

And there was a successful and prosperous middle class in the South that probably totaled several percent of the white population. At a rough guess I would estimate that no more than 75 to 95 percent of the white people in the South were "poor white trash". And of course there were a few free blacks in the South who were mostly poor, and then the millions of slaves who were mostly totally property less, not even owning themselves. Most of the millions of slaves in the South had a wealth of zero.

And since much, maybe most, of the wealth in the South in the census consisted of the value of slaves, which was the average price of a slave multiplied by the number of slaves, it was an artificial and inflated wealth figure. The estimated value of a planer's slaves was useful for him to secure a loan, but it didn't represent real wealth in the form of land, goods, crops, etc., that could benefit either the slaves or the rest of the population of the South. For example, you couldn't eat slaves - well you could, but nobody would except if they were starving during a famine, and being eaten would not be good for the person eaten. And you couldn't eat most of the cash crops that slaves produced for export, and when slaves did produce food they tended to be as unproductive as they could get away with while avoiding being whipped, since they didn't like being forced to work for nothing. Thus the production of goods for use in the South itself by Slaves tended to be less than what free labor would have produced, and teh slaves in teh South could be calculated as a net negative wealth.

So blaming any present day lower average wealth level in the South on the destruction of the Civil War, caused by the folly of the ruling class, is a gross exaggeration. The South was already much poorer than the rest of the USA in 1860, due to centuries of misrule by the planter class.
I’ll admit I used somewhat inflammatory language in my first post, but I really wasn’t exaggerating the facts all that much.

The wealthy bankers and cotton brokers of that era lived in the North, not in the South. Resentment of the “exploitation” that Southern plantation owners imagined they suffered at the hands Northerners animated most of the Southern Commercial Conventions, which were annual meetings of Southern government and business leaders aimed at correcting the well-recognized disparity in prosperity between North and South. A common refrain at these conventions was that Yankee bankers forced plantation owners into insolvency by lending them money against future crop revenues. (The planters tended to spend the borrowed money on conspicuous consumption.)

Southern politicians sometimes even went so far as to call out their own constituents for being so much less productive than Northern taxpayers!

There really wasn’t much of a middle class in the Antebellum South. Most of the skilled craftsmen were slaves, not free whites. There was a perverse idea among Southern whites that daily hard work was degrading, and that only the only lifestyle a white man should aspire to was the pampered indolence of the richest plantation owners. Working hard and consistently was disparaged as “working like a n****r.”

And, since slaves were kept illiterate by design, most of the highest-skilled workers in that society didn’t really get a chance to amass much knowledge.

Even the biggest and wealthiest plantations didn’t look like the Tara estate in Gone With The Wind. Frederick Law Olmsted wrote about this in his book The Cotton Kingdom, which was based on his extensive travels through the South in the late 1850’s. Olmsted observed that because the white planters saw any kind of manual work as degrading, no plantation owner would pull weeds in his own lawn, or fix a broken gate hinge. Slaves quite naturally didn’t feel the pride of ownership that an ordinary middle class American homeowner feels today, so they didn’t volunteer to spiff up their masters’ homes and grounds. Walls and porches were generally dirty and in disrepair, and doors and gates often half-broken, even on the richest estates.

The dysfunctional state of the Antebellum South is described in detail, with abundant footnotes citing multiple sources, in the fifth chapter of the book A Self-Made Nation: https://www.amazon.com/Self-Made-Na...f-made+nation&qid=1552882339&s=gateway&sr=8-1

(Full disclosure: I wrote the book.)