The more I study history the more I’m aware of how much I don’t know. I feel quite overwhelmed by all the knowledge already out there that I either need to read or want to read. I don’t feel I’ll have enough years in my life to learn all that I want to, but maybe that’s because it’s hard for me to imagine my life without having young children to look after – it can be all-consuming sometimes. If you’re an historian or just happen to know more than me please excuse my errors and ignorance – just post a kind comment and point me in the right direction.
Now I know that any particular historian doesn’t know everything about their particular time and place in history that they specialise in but I’m still in awe of them. As long as they can guide me so I can conduct my own research I’m very grateful. The last couple of years at uni I’ve been learning about: Chinese history, global politics, cultural history of western/central Europe from c.1400 through to c.1800, the reformation of religions in the 16th century, the British Empire from 1688 to WWI and this year, though not a historical subject, I’ve been learning about the basics of macroeconomics which I’m trying to apply to my own historical research of the commercial revolution in the medieval period and through to the renaissance especially of north-central Italy, Netherlands/Belgium and England.
Next week I’ll be starting another semester at uni and one of my subjects looks at what happens to Europe in the centuries after the fall of Rome. I understand it looks at the rise and spread of Christianity and Islam, the European Barbarians, Byzantium and the Islamic Caliphate and how they all affect society and culture in Europe. I’m so excited about this. I feel and hope it will give me a much better understanding of the foundations of medieval Europe. This period is a huge knowledge gap for me, and I expect for many others too since not many people seem to study it.
I have many gaps to fill in my knowledge and I’m not necessarily wanting to have a thorough understanding of them all but at least a little knowledge so that I can have a clearer picture of the puzzle that I’m trying to construct.
Since doing my own research in the little spare time I have, many questions have formed in my mind and although I might not find the answers to them soon they at least they give me some starting points. Most of them have probably been answered by historians already but I hope one or two may be still unanswered or under-researched – I’m trying to find a little place for me in the future as an historian.
Here are some of my questions and research interests:
I’d love to gain an understanding of all significant aspects of urban life in north-central Italy in the 12th to 16th centuries. I tend to be a big-picture person and I want to try to understand a person’s experience of their culture, politics, economy and society in their time and how it all interconnected in that time and place. Most historians focus on one or two areas in a time and place and with most historians doing that, as far as I can see, it produces gaps in understanding and knowledge. Gaps in how these different aspects connect and affect each other, gaps in how change takes place over time – most historians will focus on say the medieval or the renaissance and not so much the change between eras and how it begins and develops over time. I assume that once I have some sort of broad understanding I will then be ready to tackle one of those areas more specifically – going ‘long and deep’ as one of my lecturers keeps encouraging me to do, apparently it produces better and more interesting work. I’d like to have some real context first before I embark on that type of research professionally. Maybe I’m being too ambitious and maybe I’m naive for thinking I could learn all of this but I’ve got to start somewhere!
I’m currently reading ‘The Economy of Renaissance Florence’ by Richard Goldthwaite – it’s been very kindly lent to me (thank you – you know who you are!) and it’s helping me enormously in gaining some understanding of the above and also has many good references for me to check out later. I love it when a book brings up more questions for me to pursue!
Warfare was the most expensive endeavour in the Italian states but I’ve read that economic historians have largely ignored it (thank you to William Caferro for enlightening me). I want to understand more about how warfare affected the geo-political economy in north-central Italy and the Low Countries in the medieval and early modern periods.
Why do north-central Italy and the Low Countries become urban and economic hubs in Europe – is it due to a lack of natural resources and over-population that drove them to become urban and in turn economic and trading hubs?
I want to know why the renaissance took so long to spread throughout Europe from its roots in north-central Italy when so many places in Europe were connected through trade, of which Italy was the hub. If goods were being traded back and forth all over Europe why wasn’t knowledge, education and new approaches to art? Or if they were why did it take so long to be accepted and embraced?
Why did some towns & villages become cities and others not? Why did Paris, Bruges, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Florence, Siena, Lyon etc, become cities?
What helps cities to thrive, prosper and grow? What causes them to decline? Can any of the answers to these questions be applied to our own times today?
How and why did universities begin? If necessity is the mother of invention, was it the commercial revolution and the rise of urban centres that produced a need for education in urban careers? Why did universities start in some cities and not in others?
When humanism was accepted and embraced in parts of Europe what was it that made it so, when it had been resisted for quite some time? What sparked the change?
No doubt once I’ve posted this I’ll remember more questions!
Please feel free to offer me advice or suggest a particular scholar’s work. I’ve started this journey relatively late in my life so I’ll take any leg up I can get! Thanks!