Ok definitely one of the more annoying things about my field of interest (other than people deriding history as a discipline) is that everybody thinks they know the Middle Ages. I would argue that out of the major divided ‘periods’ of the last two thousand yeads, at least in the west, it is one of the most misrepresented- even though it lasted a approximately a millenium in many places and thus would NATURALLY be very internally diverse.
But everyone thinks they know the Middle Ages, that they’ve got this whole (vast) period pegged and don’t need any more info to pass judgement upon it. And yet, a lot of the time, people’s views of the Middle Ages are informed partially by the romanticised Victorian stereotype, or by scoffing, patronising Enlightenment (and sometimes Renaissance) stereotypes. Or worse, in some (very few thankfully) cases fantasy shows and video games.
None of this is to say that the ‘layman’ (to use a patronising term, sorry couldn’t think if anything else) has nothing to contribute to the study of history, nor that the stereotypes of other periods aren’t worth taking into account sometimes as interesting historiographical phenomena, nor that cultural produce and media isn’t vastly entertaining and important in its own way.
But maybe it would be nice now and again to treat the Middle Ages with a bit more caution. To remember not only the sheer scale and diversity of the period (even in Europe alone, though so many people forget to look beyond Europe for this period) and thus the problems inherent in making sweeping statements, but also that 21st century cultural stereotypes regarding the Middle Ages are often informed as much by other periods and our own time as by the legacy of the mediaeval period itself. And of course, the age-old, do your reading before you start trying to argue with people who have (and like personally I still know jack-shit despite reading about it every day for years so like I’m not excepting myself here).
(And I swear to god if I hear one more person defending racist or sexist aspects of fantasy literature with ‘but that’s just how it WAS back then’ I will explode but that’s an argument dor another day and not really my field. Also if Nazis could get their grubby hands off mediaeval (and also Norse) studies, that would be great.)