The only time anyone ever gives anybody else grief over this is when they talk about the Dark Ages. And if this is really your true objection, let’s just agree to call it the Western European Dark Ages, as long as we can also agree it existed and was bad. I agree there are some concepts of the Dark Ages that mistakenly include some of the time after the recovery, and that Petrarch’s original version commits this error.
But I think that there’s also a five hundred year period – more than long enough to count as a real historical age – that absolutely fits the bill. The term “Dark Ages” was invented by Petrarch – who wasn’t even a real historian – based only on his personal opinion.
Very few of the historical terms we use were invented by professional historians, and they are all necessarily based on that person’s opinion that it correctly describes the thing being described.
People are now talking about how you’re a gullible rube if you still believe in a so-called “Dark Age”, and how all the real intellectuals know that this was a time of flourishing civilization every bit as good as the Romans or the Renaissance. The period from about 500 to about 1000 in Christian Western Europe was marked by profound economic and intellectual decline and stagnation relative to the periods that came before and after it. And not even all of Europe – not in the Eastern Roman Empire, not in al-Andalus… Have you debunked the so-called Great Plains narrative and proven that its believers are credulous morons?This is incompatible with the “no such thing as the Dark Ages” claim except by a bunch of tortured logic, isolated demands for rigor, and historical ignorance. I wonder if these people interrupt anyone who talks about the Warring States period with “actually, there were only warring states in China. Or have you just missed that there’s a natural and well-delineated area suitable to be called “Great Plains” that doesn’t include your supposed counterexamples?In around 1343, in the conclusion of his epic Africa, he wrote: “My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. Look, a lot of history sucked, and moral judgments are hard.But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. Jared Diamond thinks hunter-gatherers were freer and happier than anyone since.And compared to the periods before or after, Dark Ages Europe was unimpressive.
I’m probably an overly literal person, but whenever I think about dark ages, I think of the modern (and anachronistic for the period in question) association between light, population density, and economic activity: The Dark Ages in Europe were a time when things would have been more towards the North Korean end of that picture.[Warning: non-historian arguing about history, which is always dangerous and sometimes awful.I will say in my defense that I’m drawing off the work of plenty of good historians like Bryan Ward-Perkins and Angus Maddison whom I interpret as agreeing with me.Likewise There Were No European Dark Ages, The Myth Of The Dark Ages, The Myth Of The “Dark Ages”, Medieval Europe: The Myth Of The Dark Ages, Busting The “Dark Ages” Myth, and of course smug Tumblr posts. Many people’s idea of medieval times is exaggerated. Suppose someone tells you that the middle of America contains the Great Plains, a very flat region.Not every scientist was burned at the stake, not everyone thought the world was flat and surrounded by space dragons, and the High Middle Ages were notable for impressive levels of material progress which in some cases outpaced the Classical World and which set the stage for the upcoming Renaissance (the continuity thesis). But I worry that as usual, this corrective to an overblown narrative of darkness has itself been overblown. But you know that actually there are lots of tall mountains, like the Rockies.Part of the evidence for the “absence of sources” claim is that the first use of the exact term “Dark Age” may come from by the 16th-century writer Caesar Baronius, who had a more specific time in mind, 888 – 1046. In order to avoid this kind of speculation, I think of history as being along at least two axes: goodness and impressiveness.