From Preface to “Medieval Technology and Social Change”, Lynn White Jr.

Voltaire to the contrary, history is a bag of tricks which the dead have played upon historians. The most remarkable of these illusions is the belief that the surviving written records provide us with a reasonably accurate facsimile of past human activity. ‘Prehistory’ is defined as the period for which such records are not available. But until very recently the vast majority of mankind was living in a subhistory which was a continuation of prehistory. Nor was this condition characteristic simply of the lower strata of society. In medieval Europe until the end of the eleventh century we learn of the feudal aristocracy largely from clerical sources which naturally reflect ecclesiastical attitudes: the knights do not speak for themselves. Only later do merchants, manufacturers and technicians begin to share their thoughts with us. The peasant was the last to find his voice.

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