Middle Ages Technologies

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In these pages, which are part of a work in progress, students of the eighth grade at Four Rivers Charter Public School have catalogued many of the innovations of the era traditionally called the Middle Ages.

While the Middle Ages for many in the West suggest cultural stagnation, religious superstition, feudal squalor or perpetual armor-clad conflict, the years falling roughly between 500 CE and 1500 CE were in reality a time of great global technological innovation. Humanity went into the period with only a modest local ability to engage the forces at work around us, and came out with sophisticated world-bridging models for understanding and interacting with the natural world in which we live. Communication and transportation innovations allowed people in every part of the global community to exchange ideas with those in virtually every other place. Writing and printing meant that ideas could be shared even across time. Housing, food, material comfort, arts, medicine, philosophical outlooks, and social organization all reflected new technological capabilities.

The Middle Ages ended with the first full-scale globalization of cultural exchange. This was built up gradually by--among other things--the weakly trans-Asian Silk Road, the cultural connections within the vast Muslim community, the unification of Eurasia through the Mongol Empire, and finally the global connections forged by European colonizers. The resultant cross-breeding of regional Middle Ages innovations undoubtedly expanded worldwide opportunities, living standards and representation, but also gave people the capacity for massive destruction. Deliberate, technologically assisted acts of war, genocide, and repression have accompanied both deliberate and unintentional acts of environmental degradation. We are still today wrestling with the disequilibrium, even as we enjoy the material comforts, begun with the great explosion of Middle Ages technology.