Monthly Archives: January 2011

Book Review: A Short History of the Middle Ages

Rosenwein, Barbara H., A Short History of the Middle Ages. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press (2007). Pp. 219. ISBN: 9-781551-112909.

A week ago I went to a professional conference. I’ve mentioned before that I can never get heavy reading done in an airport or plane – I don’t have other books to refer to and even the act of keeping a notepad handy is difficult in that kind of cramped space. This book had been sitting on my shelf for a while. Clearly it’s an introductory work and I wanted to know if it is something which I might recommend to beginners.

That it is. Rosenwein has put together a well-written, copiously illustrated book vast in its scope, though not in depth. In it she covers Western Europe, the Eastern Empire and Islam from 300-1500 AD. The book is arranged chronologically into eight distinct periods.

  • Prelude: The Roman World Transformed (c.300-c.600)
  • The Emergence of Sibling Cultures (c.600-c.750)
  • Creating New identities (c.750-c.900)
  • Political Communities Reordered (c.900-c.1050)
  • The Expansion of Europe (c.1050-c.1150)
  • Institutionalizing Aspirations (c.1150-c.1250)
  • Discordant Harmonies (c.1150-c.1250)
  • Catastrophe and Creativity (c.1350-c.1500)
Within these periods Rosenwein touches on a wide variety of topics including political structures, power relationships, economic systems, trade and commerce, warfare, religion and various movements specific to periods such as crusading, heresy and inquisition, the Black Death, etc. What is most notable in this volume is just how broad of a brush she is able to use, yet retain some analysis which goes beyond the simple “what happened” to at least touch upon why.

This is truly an introductory book and should be one of the first things someone reads on the period. Do not expect an in depth treatment of any topic and there are some areas (for myself these were technology use and the role of women) which I expect individual readers will find insufficiently covered. However it does an excellent job of meeting its goal of being, “an easy pass through a dense thicket.” (11). The illustrations and maps are numerous and useful. Rosenwein footnotes though, as might be expected, these are not many and a suggested reading list is included at the end of each chapter.

I believe this is the type of introductory work which is highly useful. I found it interesting reading myself and believe it will help teach the casual reader something about the period while also serving as a starting point for those who are interested in beginning a more intensive study of Medieval History.

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Posted by on January 29, 2011 in Books


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One-Year Anniversary

This is it – one year ago tomorrow (I’m busy tomorrow which is why I’m not waiting to post this) I opened this blog with an altogether inadequate blurb on Joaquín Martínez Pizzarro’s The Story of Wamba: Julian of Toledo’s Historia Wambae regis, Washington, DC (2005).

I don’t want to reprise my New Year’s Day post. Not sure I’d have a lot to add right now. My review of the first three chapters of Peter Heather’s Empires and Barbarians has been one of my most popular posts over the past year. 1 In that post I mentioned that this was the first time I’d ever tried to review a book in sections. That approach was a mistake, one I’ll not make again. I think you can do that for a book which is a series of essays but I’ll not do it again for something like this. I am going to add a follow-up, hopefully within the next couple of weeks. This will be a very different sort of post, one which I am uncertain should even be considered a review. Rather than a detailed discussion of the content it will instead focus on what I believe to be some significant problems with the next section of the book as well as an explanation of why I didn’t follow through on this review in a more timely manner.

I have a request for anyone familiar with Blogger. I have at least one person whose opinion I respect who is unable to comment. I have turned off the Word verification and reset my Widgets which was recommended on one of the help pages. Does anyone have any other suggestions? Feel free to contact me by e-mail.

1 Peter Heather, Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe, London: Macmillan (2009). ISBN: 978-0-333-98975-3.

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Posted by on January 29, 2011 in Blogology


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Medieval Conferences

I’ve been gone most of the past week to a professional conference and haven’t had time even to log onto my computer, let alone post anything. There have been announcements from a couple of medieval conferences during the past couple of weeks. I thought I’d throw something in here in case you haven’t seen them elsewhere.

I didn’t realize the schedule for the International Conference on Medieval Studies was up until I read it on Michelle Ziegler’s blog, Heavenfield. As I may have mentioned a time or two, I love this conf. To be honest, I think about 80% of my medieval geekiness comes from it. I’m going to restrain myself, mainly because I expect I’ll expose everyone to this aspect of my personality once I register in a couple of weeks. For anyone who is interested, you can find out more than you probably want to know about this on my Kalamazoo page. The 2011 ICMS will be held May 12-15.

I haven’t had a chance to completely read through the program but I noticed that Jonathan Jarrett will be presenting again this year as will Michelle and I’m sure there are others which I’ll mention once I have the chance to really look it over.

About a week ago an e-mail that the schedule and program (er, programme? – probably the protocol would be to write everything in the English version, particularly since they sort of invented the language but I’m writing in the US) for The International Medieval Congress held in Leeds, July 11-14, was posted to the mediev-l mailing list.

I got a serious case of Conference envy when I read through this. In particular, the Late Antiquity Strand (we call those “tracks” at conferences here) looks terrific. Guy Halsall has organized four sessions, “Beyond the Invasion Narrative” that look to be extremely interesting. I really appreciate the way they organize things by thematic strands. It makes it much easier to find sessions of interest than the way I do it with Kalamazoo which is pretty much to read through the whole program (though the list of participants at the end is a useful tool). I’m going to make it to Leeds at least once before I die. Unfortunately, I doubt it happens before I retire so don’t expect to read anything about it on this blog for another 15-20 years or so.


Posted by on January 23, 2011 in Conferences


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Medieval Books for a Public Library

A librarian made a request on the mailing list mediev-l for suggestions for medieval books that would be good for a public library. I made the following post (without the html formatting) and thought I would include it here since he reads this blog. If you have any additions you’d like to make (or don’t care for something I’ve listed) please include them in the comments. If you’re interested in everything that’s been suggested, you can check the mailing list archives. Search for the thread titled, “A 10 foot Collection.” Go to the Mediev-L Web Page for instructions.

List message (with minor edits) follows:

I’ve used ISBN’s but can give full biblio refs for anything you might need. Quite a few of mine are Pb. Not sure if that works for a library.

General & Regional Overviews:
Barbara Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages: 9781551112909
Jacques LeGoff, Medieval Civilization: 0631155120
Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: 1577180925
David Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: 0226482316
Joseph O’Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain: 0801492645
Jean Verdon, Travel in the Middle Ages: 0268042233
Barbara Hanawalt, The Ties that Bound: 0195045645

Philip Contamine, War in the Middle Ages: 0631144692
Maurice Keen, Chivalry: 0300033605
Jim Bradbury, The Medieval Siege: 0851153577 – He also has a book, The Medieval Archer which I’ve not read but I’ve been told it’s good
Constance Brittain Bouchard, Strong of Body, Noble and Brave: Chivalry and Society in Medieval France: 0801485487
John France, Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades 1000-1300: 0801486076
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, A Short History: 0300047002
Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple: 0521558727
There are a bunch of primary sources on the Crusades to choose from – Ashgate has published several in Pb and Penguin has some including Joinville and Villehardouin. You should also get something from the Arab perspective.

Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy: 0760707197
Malcolm Lambert, The Cathars: 063120959x
Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages: 0521312027
Regine Pernoud, Joan of Arc – I have one subtitled “By Herself and Her Witnesses” but she has some newer Joan books out
Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars: 0521457270

Eusebius, History of the Church: 0140445358 – This is the Penguin edition, there may be others that are considered better
Augustine, City of God: 0521468434 – This is very long and may not be the best choice for a public library but it was tremendously influential during the entire medieval period
Thomas Aquinas, The Shorter Summa: 9781928832430
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, A Biography: 0520014111
Stuart Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church: 0802806295
Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels: 0679724532
Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: 0192829122
This is weighted to the early part of the period – you need more information on the later Church, Investiture, Reformation, etc.

Philip Ziegler, The Black Death: 9780750932028
Rosemary Horrox, The Black Death: 0719034981 – This is a collection of sources
I have some academic books on the Justinian Plague but nothing for a public library – it would be nice to include if you can find something.

Late Antiquity/Early Medieval
Bowersock, Brown and Graber, Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World: 0674511735
Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire, A New History of Rome and the Barbarians: 0195159543 – This book has some issues, mainly re Heather’s thesis of Hunnic pressure as an explanation for the 5th century invasions but it is also an excellent narrative of the years 350-500 in Western Europe and takes advantage of newer sources
Edward James, The Franks: 9780631148722 – There are newer books on this but IMO James would be best for a public library because of the use he makes of charts and figures
Michael Kulikowski, Rome’s Gothic Wars: 9780521608688
Thomas Burns, Rome and the Barbarians, 100 B.C. – 400 A.D.: 9780801873065
Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751: 0582493722
Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks: 0149442952
Chris Wickham, Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000: 0472080997
Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000: 9780670020980 – My only knock on this is the absence of footnotes

Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne: 0140442138
Rosamond McKitterick, Charlemagne: Formation of a European Identity: 9780521716451 – I haven’t read this yet (it’s on my shelf) but the reviews are excellent and I have 6 other of her books and they haven’t disappointed
Pierre Riche, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe: 0812213424

Eastern Empire
Warren Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society: 0804726302 – A large book but probably the best overview
Mark Whittow, The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025: 0520204972
Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453: 0521398320
Anna Comnena, The Alexiad: 0140442154
I’m assuming you want to concentrate on the West. Even so you should probably find something on the Arab conquest and the Fourth Crusade – Rome was sacked in 1204 by a Crusading Army

Sources & Source Collections
Emily Amt, Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook: 0415906288
Amt & Allen, eds., The Crusades: A Reader: 1551115379
Carolinne White, ed., Early Christian Lives: 0140435263 – This is a collection of Saints’ lives – hagiography – and would be a decent introduction to the Cult of the Saints

Medieval Literature:
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy: 9780140447804
Beowulf – You should check and find what’s the best edition of this. Mine is Chickering, ISBN: 0385062133
The Song of Roland: 0140445323
Dante, The Divine Comedy: 0679433139
Boccaccio, The Decameron: 014044629X
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales – My edition is old – pre-ISBN
William Langland, Piers the Plowman: 0140440879

I consider the following books very good and important but they may be too dense and “heavy” for a public library:
AHM Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602
Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages
Michael McCormick, Origins of the European Economy
Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals

This lacks various areas – economic history, the Renaissance, Reformation, Ottonian, Capetian France, Central & Eastern Europe, Anglo-Saxon, Britain, etc. I’ve stayed away from biographies though they can be very useful. I’m a big fan of the Yale English Monarchs Series and while the whole series would drain your budget and space, maybe the William the Conqueror biography would be worth picking up as a starter – I have the David Douglas one but I understand they have or will soon have a new one.

Hope this helps. I’m going to post this to the blog too and see if anyone there has any additional suggestions.


Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Medieval Holiday & Bibliography Tip

It seems like every year I have to take a couple of weeks and clear my brain of Medieval Stuff. 1 I’ve been going through that phase since roughly the first of the year. The book I’m reading – and it’s a pretty good book – is something I started just after Christmas. I’ve thought of posting but A) mostly it would be “fluff” posts and B) I haven’t really felt like it. I think I’m coming out of this soporific state. Unfortunately, work is about to get cranking again but I’m hoping for a post or two before this happens.

The following is a true amateur tip; every professional I know already does something like this, whether it’s using a tool such as Endnote or Zotero, or through a system he or she has developed. I’ve accumulated a fair amount of source material, English translations of course. While I’m reading, among the notes I jot down are sources I may want to have a look at. The problem is, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to recall if I already have a source or not.

This isn’t much of a problem with standalone volumes. I haven’t reached the point where I gather sources just to have them around for reference (see below for my exception, downloads). When I get them, I read them. So I know I have, for example, Paulinus of Nola’s poems, Augustine’s City of God and Gregory the Great’s Dialogues and Pastoral Care.

The problem is collections of sources. I’m a big fan of these. I think they’re a great intro to a period or subject and the ones I’ve read generally do a good job of pointing the reader (or at least me) in the direction of additional source material. There’s an excellent series, “Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures” edited by Paul Edward Dutton and published by The University of Toronto Press. I have several of these books as well as other collections. Although I’ve kept a record of what books I have on my shelves for a long time, this doesn’t tell me what sources they contain.

I also have downloaded quite a few sources. It’s very easy for me to forget I have, for example, Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies which I downloaded from The Internet Archive. I don’t read downloaded texts cover-to-cover on my computer but remembering that I have them to refer to would be nice.

So my tip is; if you believe you’ll reach the point where recalling sources will be important to you, start keeping a record of them now. I’ve just started building a spreadsheet for mine and I can tell it’s going to be a larger task than I originally thought. The first book I pulled off the shelf was The Black Death by Rosemary Horrox, Manchester University Press (1994) ISBN: 9-78019-034985. It contains excerpts from 125 different sources about the 1348-50 Plague Event. It would have been far easier if I’d recorded these as I went along rather than waiting 15 years, after I’d accumulated several hundred books. I have a start on it with my Hagiography collection but there’s a lot more to add to it. 2

This seems so basic and obvious that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done this long ago. But I haven’t and it’s becoming an issue.

1 OK – I have to tell this story. In college a Communication Arts Prof once told our class, “If you ever think of using the word “stuff” in a speech or paper, I want you to think of it as what accumulates around your belly-button when you haven’t taken a bath for several weeks.” Now I can’t recall ever neglecting my personal hygiene for quite that long of a period but the message was clear and has stayed with me for a long time – and I use “stuff” all the time (for informal communication, not professional publications). So if my use of it makes you cringe, it’s a deliberate affectation on my part, and I really can’t tell you why.

2 I had enough trouble fitting my Hagiography collection into a web page that I won’t be doing this for my source collection but once I finish it, I’ll be happy to e-mail the spreadsheet to anyone who asks.


Posted by on January 15, 2011 in Amateur Tips


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Historical Goodies

I’ve been good lately. My last book purchase was in mid-November so I went the entire month of December without adding to the to-read shelf. So in order to make up for nobody getting me what I wanted for Christmas (I know – whaaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa) I did the usual and bought something for myself. 1

Got a 25% off coupon from B&N and ordered a copy of Ann Marie Yasin’s Saints and Church Spaces in the Late Antique Mediterranean: Architecture, Cult, and Community, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2009). ISBN: 9780521767835.

I looked pretty hard at this book a few months ago and the Kim Bowes book I recently finished moved it to the front of my mind again. Bill Caraher gave it some pretty favorable comments on his blog a while back and I think it will really fit in with the whole “archaeological evidence for space and its uses” issue I want to familiarize myself with. Fairly expensive for me as books go but I hope it will be worth it.

This was Saturday and I was pretty happy with that Purchase. On Sunday I opened a holiday catalog I’d received several weeks earlier. I’m pretty good at ignoring holiday stuff but this was from Oxford University Press. They were selling The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium for under $160, roughly a third of the usual list price. It’s a new record high for a book purchase for me. Then again, it is three volumes. Now if Cambridge would just send a catalog out with similar prices for the PLRE volumes … (see note 1, below)

All this left me feeling poorer but in the holiday spirit. So yesterday, I was going through some online library collections (for work – I DO have a job I get paid for) and I saw a link on the University Library site titled, “e-scholar.” I had no idea what this is so I clicked on it and found it full of all kinds of electronic resources, including buckets of graduate theses and dissertations. As a test, I did a search using the name of a Medieval Studies grad. I’ve now downloaded Cullen Chandler’s Ph.D. dissertation. 2 For someone who once wrote a blog post on libraries, I’ve sure been slow to take my own advice and find out what’s available. In my spare time I intend to start working my way through graduate theses and dissertations from 2010 backwards and see what else is in there.

This also inspired me to follow another piece of my own advice. I just got an alumni account from one of the higher ed institutions I have a degree from. When I get time I need to go after the others. I’m not sure what an alumni account gives me access to but I intend to find out.

I was so psyched by this last discovery that I decided I had to post about it. The price of gas may be going up but guess what – I can get a LOT from the University Library without ever leaving my house.

1 Some day my friends will take me seriously when I tell them to pool all their money together and as a group buy me The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Or even one of the three volumes.

2 Chandler, Cullen 2003. Charlemagne’s Last March: The Political Culture of Carolingian Catalonia, 778-987. Ph.D. diss., Purdue University.


Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Books


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