The Medieval English Economic History paper was the one I looked forward to least. Sure enough, when I glanced at the list of questions I realised that of the three I had to answer one would have to be on a subject I knew next to nothing about. First things first: I got up from my desk and walked out of the exam hall to the lobby, where I lit a cigarette – it was 1985, and that sort of thing was possible. As I smoked, I settled on a question about the wine trade during the Hundred Years’ War. I knew about the wars; what I knew about the wine trade was that I knew what I didn’t know. Quotations were helpful if you were in a fix: ‘The drinking habits of any society, reflecting as they do the interplay of social convention and economic forces, are an instructive field of study.’ Those are the words of one economic historian – I didn’t know them at the time.
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