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The Medieval World

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The Medieval World
Edited by Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson. (London & New York, Routledge: 2003. Pg. xix, 745. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-415-30234-X

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - June 11, 2003

The Medieval World, edited by Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson offers readers an intriguing glimpse into life, and politics, in the medieval world. The text consists of a series of powerful essays that adhere to the highest standards of scholarship and academic originality. The essays are divided into four thematic categories: This book does not offer readers a chronological overview of medieval history, nor can it be used as a stand-alone text in a general medieval history survey course. What it does offer is an in-depth analysis on many key aspects of medieval life. The essays range from a treatise on Medieval Law by Susan Reynolds to one on The Crusades and the Persecution of the Jews.

Over 35 medieval scholars contributed to this anthology, and it is fascinating to read from a historical, as well as geopolitical, perspective. Unlike many books on medieval history, the essays in this work are not confined merely to western Europe. Rather, this text takes a broader viewpoint, looking not only at Medieval Europe, but also Europe's interaction with other regions and the impact that these interactions had for all parties involved. A sampling of these far reaching essays that are found in this collection include Christians, Barbarians and Monsters: the European Discovery of the world Beyond Islam, by Peter Jackson and Timbuktu and Europe: Trade, Cities, and Islam in 'Medieval' West Africa, by Timothy Insoll.

The Christian Church played a major role in the religious and political life in the Middle Ages, so it is not surprising that essays concerning the Christian Church and religion are prolific in this text. In addition, medieval history is by its very nature male-centric. This is a result of the fact that men held the reigns of power in the medieval world, and early medieval historians were primarily male. Regrettably this resulted in women being given the 'short shift' when it came to being included in the historic record. Nonetheless, new scholarship has uncovered intriguing facts about the live of women in the medieval period. Pauline Stafford's compelling essay, Powerful Women in the Early Middle Ages: Queens and Abbesses, which is included in this text, helps to expand our knowledge of upper class women from this period, and the true extent of the power that they commanded.

This text is ideal for all students of medieval history. If used as part of a general survey course, I'd recommend that it be used in conjunction with a general survey textbook that offers a chronological overview of medieval history. I'd recommend The Civilization of the Middle Ages, by Norman F. Cantor or the Making of the Middle Ages by Richard W. Southern as a good starting point. For advanced courses, and medievalist, this text highlights the new advances being made in medieval scholarships and it serves as a ready reference on current research being conducted in the field. For those wishing to pursue the subjects discussed in further detail, each essay includes a set of end and reference notes that can be used as a stepping stone for independent research.

The essays in this text cover just about everything from politics to sexuality in the Middle Ages. By combining the works of so many leading medievalists, the editors of this book have unequivocally raised the standard of medieval scholarship. In short, The Medieval World is a 'must read' for anyone interested in Medieval history. It is also likely to become a standard text in medieval history courses. The text is enhanced by the inclusion of relevant illustrations. In addition, the essays are dynamic and they are written in a lively style that even the general reader will find easily accessible.

Related Reviews:

England in the Later Middle Ages, by Maurice H. Keen.
A general survey textbook on English history from 1290 - 1485.

Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, by Lilia Zaouali.
A Concise History with 174 Recipes. The first half of this volume is devoted to exploring the history and practice of Islamic cooking, and the second half of the book is given over to a wealth of original medieval and contemporary recipes.

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