People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions
People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions

People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions

Alli - September 30, 2021

People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions
Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men in Sherwood Forrest. Flickr

This Cheesy Query About if Robin Hood Were Real

Q: If Robin Hood were real and were to host a feast in Sherwood Forest what kind of cheese would he have had and bread also?

An Irish Food Historian’s Take: “We’re not awfully sure. To be fair, medieval Ireland was obsessed with cheese, so England was never going to live up to that. The best theory I’ve heard – and as with anything in food history, theory can be pretty vague – is that England had successive waves of invasion/resettlement which, in each case, wiped out some of the local knowledge. Cheese-making is very localised, due to bacterial cultures, storage conditions, and so on. The cheese made in one village, and the cheese made in the next could be quite different, and it takes a very long time to optimise for conditions, and for local taste. So, the theory goes, in Ireland, cheese-making was a more or less unbroken tradition for well over a thousand year, whereas the English traditions at any given time were only a couple of hundred years old. So the English cheese just wasn’t as good.

People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions
Errol Flynn in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. Pinterest.

“My knowledge of non-food history in France is not good enough to assess whether that could apply there, and my other areas of food knowledge are in the medieval Nordic and Arabic cultures, neither of which were hugely into cheese. Although I do have to note the baked ‘squeaky cheese’ (bread cheese) you get in Finland; it’s a different approach to cheesemaking, and is both excellent and historically popular there. If someone else knows about French, Germanic, Mediterranean and/or East European cheese history, I’d be happy to hear from them!”

People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions
Changeling Baby. Wikimedia.

What would happen if a person really thought their baby was a changeling in Medieval Europe?

Q: In Medieval Europe there existed a superstition that fairies would sometimes kidnap people, usually babies, and leave changelings in their place. What would happen if a person really thought their baby was a changeling?

A European Folklore Historian’s Take: “The fairies – the largely social supernatural beings of Northern Europe – were referred to with a variety of terms reflecting the many languages involved. For convenience, we will describe them generically as fairies. These powerful, dangerous supernatural beings were attracted to people, whom they frequently sought to abduct. Although everyone was vulnerable, the focus of attention was largely on male infants and young women of reproductive age. Stories about their abductions – attempted or accomplished – are ubiquitous. Women were particularly vulnerable after birth, clearly reflecting the possibility that these women could suddenly decline in health and die – or appear to die. For this reason, a newborn and a newly delivered woman were often confined to a sealed house until they could be admitted to church – a baptism for the infant and a ‘churching’ (a readmission to the congregation) for the woman…

People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions
A changeling is most often referring to a fairy who is swapped in to replace a human baby. Medium.

“According to the variants of the legends, people suspected an infant changeling when their baby failed to thrive or seemed changed in some way. In reality, such suspicion could be aroused by various conditions including genetics, disease, or malnutrition, many of which were not apparent until sometime after birth. In the legends, mothers attended the changeling in one of several ways – all designed to lure the fairy abductors to return the real infant. This took the form of tricking the changeling to speak with some astonishing act – brewing beer in an eggshell or some such thing. Other ways included beating the changeling, placing it on hot coals or exposing it at night outside. Legends invariably end with the return of the real infant – one of the few cases where legends (accounts told generally to be believed) turned out well.”

People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions
1492 would have been considered a dark year by many indigenous Americans. Wikipedia.

Why did the Americas use enslaved Africans?

Q: Why weren’t Native Americans the primary slave population in America? I understand that Native Americans were enslaved in certain cases, most notably by Christopher Columbus in Puerto Rico. However why is it that the primary enslaved population in the Americas were African?

A Historian’s Take: “Indigenous people were enslaved in large numbers and their depopulation did force Europeans to look elsewhere for labor. However, the power of Indigenous nations played a large and oft-forgotten role as well. Indigenous groups maintained tremendous power on the continent and Europeans were incapable of forcing their will on them for most of the early colonial period. As late as the Seven Years’ War, primarily Indigenous forces from the Ohio River Valley actually succeeded in rolling back the British “frontier” in Pennsylvania to within a hundred miles of Philadelphia. Ironically given the initial incorrect answer’s premise, during the same conflict thousands of Europeans were captured in the Middle Colonies and taken west as captives and sometimes performed forced, enslaved labor.

People Ask Historians Their Most Pressing History Questions
Cross section of a slave ship. CBS News

“In the South, the British initially relied on Indigenous allies to help enslave Native peoples, but this came to a head when the colony of South Carolina was nearly lost to an Indigenous coalition. In the aftermath of the conflict, the ‘Indian Slave Trade’ was seriously curtailed to avoid once again raising the fury of the colony’s Indigenous neighbors… Depopulation still played an important role, as disease and violence took their toll on Indigenous populations or those populations migrated to avoid interacting with Europeans. However, one of the most significant and overlooked reasons for why Europeans looked elsewhere for enslaved labor was because they were too weak to force large populations into slavery in North America. When they used Indigenous allies to overcome this weakness and gather an enslaved labor force, they were often entangled in disastrous conflicts that they barely survived.”


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our Sources:…/the-history-of-women-in-education_202