We are living through ‘strange times’, as people keep saying – ‘unprecedented times’. In many ways that is true. But one way in which our times are not without precedent is in that unsettling feeling of strangeness and novelty. For that, there are many precedents: people throughout history have thought their own times unusual and difficult to understand, and have felt they were living through times of change.

I have recently been working on the life of a medieval historian who lived through what he thought of as unprecedented times. He begins one of his works by saying: ‘We have seen many strange changes in England in our days, developments quite unknown in former times.’ Many of us have recently said something similar, but for him, those strange modern times were the years after the Norman Conquest. The Norman Conquest is one of the most familiar epochal events in British history; medievalists often speak of ‘pre-conquest’ and ‘post-conquest’ England. But to those living through it, this dividing line was not always so clear. For this historian, his times of change began not with the conquest but in the late tenth century, with the death of King Edgar; not one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon kings today, but epoch-defining in the eyes of some medieval historians.

Conscious of living through history, this historian says he wrote about his own days ‘lest the knowledge of them should be lost to future generations’. We do the same, though we can only guess how future historians might label or explain our own strange times. {read}