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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Armour 'heavy', discover scientists

In revolutionary new research discussed here, our old friends 'the scientists' have discovered that fifteenth-century plate armour was 'tiring' to wear, especially over long periods of time, something that had never occurred to anyone before. 

This project, funded one assumes by public money (remember, the public money that isn't going into the humanities any more but is 'ring-fenced' for 'useful' research in STEM* subjects, the public money that could presumably have been spent on something scientists are supposed to be useful for, like, say, finding a cure for cancer or indeed doing something that actually had a bearing on a scientific discipline instead of trading on their supposedly superior credentials to dick around in history), could have saved itself a lot of time and effort by reading any number of medieval sources (like Regino of Prum's account of the battle of Brissarthe, for armour that wasn't even plate or complete) or secondary studies by 'useless' historians.

In a masterpiece of politic understatement, Thom Richardson, keeper of armours at the Royal Armouries (Leeds) comments that  "It is interesting to use scientific method to answer these questions, and it confirms what we have always suspected - heavy armour would very much reduce your ability to run around.  But no-one wears stuff on the battlefield if it isn't useful."'  ... Begging the question of how one defines the words 'interesting' and 'useful'.

I'm wondering whether the Royal Historical Society couldn't do something interesting and useful by commissioning a survey into how much public money ear-marked for scientific research actually goes into cock-eyed pseudo-historical rubbish like this (I'm also thinking about 'historical genetics', obviously) and have it transferred from the science pot to the history research pot, where it can be used by actual historians doing something that matters.

Anyway, later on, the study revealed, through several expensive and lengthy trials, the surprising ursine tendency to defecate in woodland areas, and the pope's subscription to a generally tridentine theology.

* Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (or is it Medicine?  I can never remember.  Useful things that 'the country needs' anyway)

4 comments:

  1. You sir, are on a serious roll these days - nice!

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  2. I've always suspected that swords were quite pointy. Could I get some AHRC money for that?

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  3. I think, Matthew, that as a medieval historian you are ill-placed to investigate the problem, which would obviously be more suited to some sort of physicist.

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  4. Speaking as a scientist...well a vague possessor of a scientific degree anyway, I would tend to agree vaguley that the only thing that would cheapen this research is extending it to see if the chap in the armour is likely to trip over all the bear sh*t in the woods - when of course we know this is why men in armour didn't fight in woods.

    It is a shame that this effort has gone into "understanding" Agincourt (or however we are spelling it these days) when the more interesting questions are about the psychology of the French commanders who believed they could get away with sending their plate-armoured knights on a yomp across a bog against Englishmen* armed with heavy machine guns.

    On a more serious note, testing the bleedin' obvious in the sciences CAN be useful. For years it was received wisdom that injecting people with magnesium compounds was an effective treatment after a heart attack. This went on for years until someone actually tried to prove "what everyone knew" and it turned out that magnesium made boll**ks all difference to whether people got better or not. So now we don't use it.

    Anyway, can I put in a bid to research the religious leanings of this Pope bloke? I have a hypothesis that needs testing ;-)

    Steve

    * Yes, I know they weren't all English, but how come you're offended at this but find the heavy machine guns bit funny?

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