The very idea of a thousand years of cultural darkness before the Renaissance is ludicrous (just think of the Sutton Hoo hoard and the Lindisfarne Gospels). As for the “birth of nations” approach, it does indeed lead to a view of history which is only interested in the past as far as it explains how things came to be as they are today. Wickham’s own view is that all grand narratives are in themselves suspect. Rather he wishes us to understand that communities must be understood in their own terms. This is his theme: a “grand narrative” which is no more and no less than the sum of its parts.
And that’s worth considering alongside a previously noted point.
History is not the story of strangers, aliens from another realm; it is the story of us had we been born a little earlier. History is memory; we have to remember what it is like to be a Roman, or a Jacobite or a Chartist or even – if we dare, and we should dare – a Nazi. History is not abstraction, it is the enemy of abstraction.