Michael Pye's book has the sub-title: "How the North Sea made us who we are" and indeed it does make several interesting connections to show the significance of the North Sea in forming modern western society in the post Roman and medieval eras. Star placement is given to the Frisians, living on the margins of north-western Europe and dependent on the North Sea for transport and economic survival. Pye claims they made a major contribution by forcing society to look differently at the concept of money: at how they used money, instead of as barter or as a straight equivalent in precious metals, which required both buyer and seller to accept the abstract idea of value. Attention is also paid to the Hansa and how they developed the modern concept of economic community over nation or kingdom.
Pye also explores areas such the beguine communities of women in the low countries which reveal surprisingly modern ideas of female independence and control over their own destiny as well as the emergence of sumptuary and labour laws after the Black Death which he argues begin to stratify society more formally than before. However, interesting as these are, it is at times difficult to see the connection with the North Sea other than what is being cherry-picked for inclusion has originated in north-west Europe. This is perhaps clearest in the final chapter where much time is spent examining the Flanders-Burgundy connection of the late middle ages. Intriguing as it is to see how a Flemish culture flourished behind a Potemkin facade that disguised weakness for display, it is not clear how this fits the sub-title of the book. Ultimately the reader is left with the feeling that this is a well researched set of historical connections that is looking for a common thread to house them.
Casahistoria is being made more user friendly for mobile users. A new homepage has been designed to open up automatically on mobile devices instead of the desktop version. This should make it much easier to find the page you want when you are using a small screen.
For the moment, links from the mobile homepage lead to the main desktop site, but this site itself has been tweaked a little to make it more user friendly for phones and tablets when first opened.
Columbus braved superstition and ignorance by sailing across the Atlantic when his contemporaries thought he would fall off the edge. So runs the legend, but Jeffrey Russell reveals how the Middle Ages were maligned by the creative fiction of subsequent generations.