Late Middle Ages
The Middle Ages were not just a time of stagnation, barbarism and poverty--Monty Python and the Holy Grail has a certain air of accuracy about it--okay, maybe the Early Middle Ages were.  Indeed, some of the greatest monuments to Western civilization date from twelfth and thirteenth centuries:  the Gothic cathedrals, Dante's Divine Comedy, the institution of the university and the works of Thomas Aquinas.  The period of time from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries saw a flowering of medieval culture.  An agricultural revolution occurred that brought increased wealth into the countryside; cities prospered as trade expanded; a new middle class emerged.  Contact with the Islamic Near East brought to the West a number of classical Greek (and Roman) philosophical and scientific works that had been lost to Western scholarship up to that time.
Chaucer, who is often read in literature classes, is also an important historical source for a description of society during the Middle Ages.  It should not be surprising that historians and literary scholars read Chaucer with different purposes in view and thus reach different conclusions.

See the information by Paulette Damm on the Black Death.

Some recommended online lectures and website:

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