I meant, at this point probably months before I actually post this, to write something big about the ‘judgement of history’ and the medieval warm period, apropos of the 56-newspaper climate change alarm call and the recent University of East Anglia embarrassment. I have subsequently done this, and it will go on Cliopatria soon. But I couldn’t do it at time of writing because I was spitting with rage. Yes, I had been marking essays, which was the efficient cause, but many of them were good. When they were bad, however, there was one single factor that united almost all of them. I was warned, too, but it is not something I was in a position to control. It is that those essays relied on Ralph Davis’s A History of Medieval Europe: from Constantine to St Louis.
I’ve never read this book. When I was studying at the right level it had recently been reprinted, so I could have, but no-one ever mentioned it to me so I didn’t. But my lot reached for the first thing on the shelf and this is what they found, and they didn’t realise it’s forty-five years old and polemical, they cited it as if it’s right. And because they cited it, at least, I know it’s not. I was seriously tempted to make a sign for the tutorials that said, “1. Ralph Davis was wrong. 2. If you have scored a low mark and cited Davis in your essay, see 1.” I did not want to explain to every single case that, for example, Gregory VII was rescued from Rome not by the Lombards but by the Normans; that the Carolingian Empire was not beset by Vikings, Saracens and Magyars at exactly the same time, not least because by the time the Magyars were up and running the Empire was largely no longer Carolingian; or that the Merovingian kingdom may well have been damaged by partition, but since it struggled on for eighty years under single rulers before finally being shut down that can’t be an explanation by itself. But I had to. And I know who to blame: Ralph Davis, and Robert Moore for ‘updating’ the book for 2006.
I’m sorry if this sounds petty, but, because they would have had to read something else, my students would know more if this book did not exist.