The Middle Ages, a time when you were more likely to die on the toilet than take a bath. And now you’re going there with an educational mission. It’s up to you now. Let’s show the Middle Ages how it’s done. Would you be tried as a witch? Could you cure all diseases? Or would you accidentally create a new pandemic?
It’s easy to write off the Middle Ages as a backward time for hygiene and technology. While you might think church and science were at odds with each other, nothing could be further from the truth.
Some religious leaders thought scientific advancements celebrated humanity’s divine creator. From mathematics to nature studies, these fields provided scholars with information the churches thought was a better understanding of God’s handiwork.
If we didn’t have the advancements made in this time, we wouldn’t have the basis for some technology today. So if you time-traveled back into the European Middle Ages with your cell phone, the technology within it might be embraced by this developing society. But how would your recharge it?
Historians refer to the years between 500 and 1500 CE as the Middle Ages. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, new social norms evolved as Christianity spread. But if you traveled back to this time to Europe, your presence and technology could fast forward the era into a different form of Enlightenment. So don’t worry, those torches aren’t for you. I think.
And if you want to make this world a better place, you could start in the bathroom. In this time, the upper class built toilets called garderobes. These devices dropped everything out the side of the castles and into a moat below. Oh, geez. Watch your step. While China was making advancements in toilet paper, European society was waist-deep in, well, waste.
This unhealthy environment created bacteria that spread diseases like cholera, which could kill you within hours. Introducing toilet paper and a sewer system made of bricks would prevent many early deaths. But what about other diseases?
Better hygiene technology wouldn’t cure everything. Smallpox was a deadly disease that killed nearly 33% of those infected. And we didn’t invent a vaccine for it until 1796. Bringing that vaccine back to the Middle Ages may not work as well you expect though, because you would run out of it, and you wouldn’t have a way to make more.
But Dr. Edward Jenner, inventor of the smallpox vaccine, found that milkmaids infected by cowpox became immune to this disease. So if you brought back cowpox and used it to infect people, you could create an early immunity to one of the world’s deadliest viruses. While a cowpox pandemic could take many lives, it would kill much fewer people than smallpox. And maybe you should wear a mask for the first few weeks, so you don’t spread any viruses from the future.
And now that you’ve healed Europe of a life-threatening disease, it’s time to connect it. While the discovery of electricity dates back to the ancient Greeks, this concept is still just an abstract thought in the Middle Ages. But you could show Europeans how to use materials they have and create the world’s first electrical grid.
You could teach people to take copper, smelt it down and meticulously pound it by hand into wire. Then, using magnets, you could create an electrical charge and direct it wherever you need it. You would still have to teach people how to build light bulbs, solar panels and engines. But you’d give them the basis of a new age of connectivity.
The printing press could become electrified hundreds of years earlier, and images and text could be transmitted worldwide. Knowledge wouldn’t be restricted only to those who could afford it. But even with an electrical grid, could you use your cell phone?
During the Middle Ages, people used a popular device called an astrolabe that could tell the time, give your location and even predict your horoscope. Introducing handheld mobile devices would make this hanging status symbol obsolete. But would this advancement turn into another boredom killer? What would you bring back to the Middle Ages?
With the electrical systems in place, you can finally recharge your phone, not to mention your time machine.The changes you made would speed up humanity’s development. And the future you grew up in may not even happen. So what if you took this time machine and went 1 billion years into the future?