This is an okay introduction to the history of the construction of the Christian canon, and a discussion of some of the theological ideas held by variThis is an okay introduction to the history of the construction of the Christian canon, and a discussion of some of the theological ideas held by various ancient Christian sects which didn't survive antiquity. I did learn some things which were new to me—about the Marcionites and Ebionites—but never really got into the book otherwise.
Ehrman's not a particularly good writer on a technical level (I don't think it's necessary to be that repetitive even in a work of popular history on a sensitive topic), and I itched to go through the introductory chapter with a red pen and strip out all of the rhetorical questions. Some of the presentation also seems more designed for hooking readers than scholarly accuracy—I'm uneasy about how/when he uses the word "forgery" in an ancient context, and (admittedly working from my knowledge of comparable medieval religiously-motivated texts) think the array of motivations he provides for these "forgers" is incomplete. I also know just enough to know that his discussion of Christianity's gradual assumption of dominance within the Roman Empire is either outdated or so simplistic as to be inaccurate. ...more
This is a brief, highly readable book: at once an argument for the relevance of the field of medieval history, and for why the whole concept of the MiThis is a brief, highly readable book: at once an argument for the relevance of the field of medieval history, and for why the whole concept of the Middle Ages needs to be abandoned. Bull manages to be thought-provoking without being polemical, and while I don't agree with everything he says, it was a good exercise for me to parse out why I didn't agree with him. So for instance, I think his rightful disdain for what he terms 'wormhole history'—saying that A caused B when that only works by collapsing the geographical/chronological/cultural, etc, differences between the two points—obscures somewhat the utility of comparative histories. I also thought his sneering at the point of modern apologies for long-ago events was somewhat misguided—why should John Paul II apologise for the sack of Constantinople in 1204, Bull asks, when the French government hasn't apologised for the French monarchy's conquest of Normandy from the English in the same year? That to me seems like a disingenuous disregard of context, and also a failure to consider how institutional power and privilege work and are reinforced over time. Bull speaks approvingly of the movement by medievalists away from the Great Man view of European history, but I'm not sure how thoroughly he's internalised it. That said—and maybe even in part because of those quibbles—I think this would be a great book to assign to an upper level undergrad or Master's class. It would be sure to provide great fodder for discussion....more
Fiefs and Vassals has the dubious distinction of being both an important read and a tedious one. Susan Reynolds' study is a systematic reassessment ofFiefs and Vassals has the dubious distinction of being both an important read and a tedious one. Susan Reynolds' study is a systematic reassessment of the concept of 'feudalism' in France, England, Italy and Germany, which argues that the entire concept of 'feudal' landholding and relationships are based on assumptions which don't hold up to serious examination. Too much of our understanding of medieval land tenure and social interactions has been based on reading later, high medieval meanings of terms (fief, vassal, benefice) back into earlier documents, and the very concept of 'feudalism' is not one which appears in a medieval text. The model is one which most historians would admit doesn't hold up—and yet the F word keeps showing up in textbooks and academic works.
Reynold's survey of the sources is vast and much of it beyond the areas with which I'm familiar, but the meticulous footnotes offer the reader easy access to follow up the original material. I think her central idea—that feudalism is an untenable concept—is a convincing one, as are several of the points she makes about historical methodology. Yet her prose style can be a bit leaden and opaque—Fiefs and Vassals is emphatically not a book for the non-specialist, and even as a medievalist who doesn't specialise in legal history I found it tough going at points.
I also think a good editing session would have made this book stronger (and shorter) by removing some of the repetition and a very British tendency to apologise a lot for this or that aspect of her argument/approach, etc. Some of her nominalist tendencies can also be taken to the extreme and while Reynolds does repeatedly point to the importance of context in determining meaning, it doesn't take much to see that it would also be possible to succumb to a paralysing skepticism if that nominalism was also applied to a study of contexts....more
A geniza(h) is a kind of storeroom found in a Jewish synagogue or cemetery, used to store old Hebrew religious texts, as it was forbidden to throw awaA geniza(h) is a kind of storeroom found in a Jewish synagogue or cemetery, used to store old Hebrew religious texts, as it was forbidden to throw away or destroy any document which contained the name of God. Over time, genizot also came to contain many writings of a secular nature in languages like Yiddish or Ladino, because even personal letters and legal contracts could begin with a divine invocation. The Cairo Geniza is one of the largest medieval genizot, with documents and document fragments numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
The title of this book is a little misleading—Sacred Trash is really more a collection of linked biographies about key scholars, such as Solomon Schechter and S.D. Goitein, who've worked on the Cairo Geniza since its "discovery" in the late 19th century. To that extent, it may be a little dense for someone who doesn't have much background in the area; certainly, while I've read some about this Geniza before, and about the Jewish community of Fustat, there were parts that went over my head. Hoffman and Cole do seem to assume a Jewish readership, or at least a readership which has done more focused reading in the area than I have. Still, I think if you do have an interest in the area, or even just in the role of serendipity, chance, and hard work in scholarly endeavours, Sacred Trash makes for a very interesting read....more
This slim book is a very interesting look at how a community of Western Apache people—centered around the village of Cibecue, Arizona—conceive of theiThis slim book is a very interesting look at how a community of Western Apache people—centered around the village of Cibecue, Arizona—conceive of their relationship with their past, the process of passing on their culture, and how they view the physical world around them. "Wisdom Sits in Places" is more than a catchy title; it is how the Apache themselves think of 'wisdom'. It's something which is gained from a long meditation on the symbolic dimensions of the physical landscape, and on the stories which are linked to particular locations through place names. Indeed, the Apache people see the land around them—their continual contact with it, how they have shaped it and named it, and how they continue to remember those moments of naming—as being a far better means of understanding themselves as a people than an abstract process of placing discrete events into a linear chronological narrative (in other words, the Euro-American historical tradition). Really fascinating reading. ...more
This is one of those books which is only for the specialists: a painstaking reconstruction of the historical chronicles produced by the French abbey oThis is one of those books which is only for the specialists: a painstaking reconstruction of the historical chronicles produced by the French abbey of Saint-Denis over a period of some four centuries and an identification of their likely authors. This means that Spiegel spends a lot of time discussing the various manuscripts of various chronicles in order to establish their "genealogy", so to speak. I did find that aspect of this book—which is the majority of it—quite heavy, dense going, but didn't really find any holes to pick with it. (Though I speak of course as someone who is not an expert palaeographer and who hasn't looked at the original manuscripts.)
The most interesting parts for me were the introduction and conclusion, in which Spiegel sketches out the history of Saint-Denis and its association with French royalty, and analyses the significance of its chronicles in helping to create a historical narrative which supported the burgeoning French state. Over time, she asserts, the abbey positioned itself as the premiere repository of royal and state memory, writing formal chronicles in Latin which were later translated into the vernacular and became the histories with which most literate French people were familiar during the medieval period. Overall, a useful, if not a thrilling, book....more
One of those books which I really wish I'd had access to as an upper level undergrad or a beginning Master's student, Understanding Medieval Primary SOne of those books which I really wish I'd had access to as an upper level undergrad or a beginning Master's student, Understanding Medieval Primary Sources provides a brief introduction to some of the main kinds of sources, how historians have used/can use them, and what their advantages and pitfalls are. Some of the essays recount the range of sources available to a scholar writing on a particular topic, like Philip Slavin's chapter on sources for English manorial and rural history; others, like Katherine French's on women's history, are broader and engage with issues of methodology and process. While inevitably in a book of this size, some important sources are omitted (we hear about sermons as primary sources, for instance, but nothing about hagiographies or liturgies), the endnotes and further reading lists are valuable and will no doubt be thoroughly mined by people who are beginning to read in the field of medieval studies....more
From Reliable Sources is the sort of dull-but-worthy book that final year history undergraduates or first year history graduate students should probabFrom Reliable Sources is the sort of dull-but-worthy book that final year history undergraduates or first year history graduate students should probably read at some point. It's a basic introduction to problems of historical methodology, the development of history as an academic field, important historians, and so on. I didn't find it very engaging—the prose is a little leaden, it's a tad dated (it was published in 2001), there's nothing here that was particularly new to me, and (while perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it was written by two medievalists) people who work in subaltern studies fields will probably be dissatisfied with it (awful lot of dead white guy history/historians). People who are more at the beginning of their studies might find it more useful, however, though I think it would be more useful for them if paired with discussion about it. Such a work, after all, is more abstract/theoretical than about how historians work on a practical level—the "process" they describe here for how historians work (gather sources, decide on the reliability of each source, construct narrative from there) is surely more the ideal than how I've ever observed someone work....more
This is an intriguing little book, part history and part historiography. In the first part of The Man Who Believed He Was King of France, Falconieri rThis is an intriguing little book, part history and part historiography. In the first part of The Man Who Believed He Was King of France, Falconieri recounts the tale of Giannino di Guccio, a fourteenth century Sienese merchant who was persuaded to believe he was the lost heir of Louis X of France, switched at birth with the illegitimate son of a travelling Italian. Persuaded of his birthright, di Guccio embarked on an ultimately ruinous journey in an attempt to persuade his royal "relations" of his true identity and reclaim his birthright. While this might all sound like something out of a rather improbable novel, it seems that di Guccio was a real person who did make some attempt at claiming the French throne for himself. In the latter half of the book, Falconieri teases apart the surviving fifteenth century sources, interrogates how historians can assess the veracity of documentation, and examines questions of appearance and representation in written sources. There's an awful lot to unpack in such a brief work, and I'm going to have to keep it in mind for future use in an (upper level?) class. ...more
This is less an introduction to the history of Africa than it is to the continent's historiography. Parker does give a brief overview of major historiThis is less an introduction to the history of Africa than it is to the continent's historiography. Parker does give a brief overview of major historical developments, but he mostly focuses on changing perceptions of Africa and its people. It's quite a concentrated, dense read, but I think a rewarding and an interesting one. ...more
Slightly piecemeal, but still interesting and highly readable introduction to the history of feminism, the writing of women's history, and some notablSlightly piecemeal, but still interesting and highly readable introduction to the history of feminism, the writing of women's history, and some notable female historical figures. In only 200 pages, it's hard for Thatcher Ulrich to really cover anything in depth, and I think for anyone who's done extensive reading in the field, it would be a little simplistic. I will, however, keep it in mind as something to recommend to people who are only starting to explore the field and want to understand how women's experiences shape, and are shaped by, their societies. ...more
Having finished this book, I've sat and pondered for a while how best to describe Norman Cantor. Bitter? Egotistical? Historiographically wrongheaded?Having finished this book, I've sat and pondered for a while how best to describe Norman Cantor. Bitter? Egotistical? Historiographically wrongheaded? A raging douchebag? All those terms alone seem somewhat inadequate—perhaps some combination of all of them, with maybe a couple more thrown in.
When I came across this book in a secondhand bookstore, I knew I'd heard of it vaguely before, and the premise sounded very interesting—an exploration of the lives of some key twentieth century historians of the medieval period, examining their contribution to medieval studies and the historiographical context in which they wrote. I wanted to learn more about the history of the field in which I worked, and hey, it was only $3. (If only I'd mentioned the name to a professor of mine before I shelled out those three bucks—she practically spat on hearing the title. I could have spent the money on something else.)
I will not say that there's nothing useful in this book—I learned some things I hadn't known before, and have a much better sense of the connections between some key figures in the field. However, this is such a nasty, mean-spirited piece of work—a scorched-earth assessment of his colleagues which loudly trumpets Cantor's own intellectual superiority but which displays only a real inferiority of mind. Cantor was a Princeton grad and a Rhodes Scholar, but seemed to fancy himself as an establishment outsider, out to get back at The Man with Inventing the Middle Ages. The resulting book is a hatchet job which relies on dubious evidence and spurious attempts at understanding scholars' writing through incoherent psychoanalysis. Cantor seemingly despises historians of women's, Jewish, Islamic or African-American history—they are partisan ideologues, he declares, incapable of doing good work. (For white heterosexual male scholars, of course, can never engage in identity politics.) Only one female historian appears among the 27 discussed here, and even then Eileen Power is confined to a few pages in the last chapter, headed 'Outriders.'
Cantor's contextualisation of medieval history for the general reader does not make this book worth reading (it's often incorrect or woefully outdated; he clung to a conservative historiography long after it had been demonstrated to be false), nor does his turgid, adjective-laden prose. (If I had a nickel for every time he talked about a historian from Paris as a 'French mandarin', I'd probably recoup the cost of this book.) Even the bibliography at the end of 125 core books for anyone with an interest in medieval studies is laden with picks that are outdated or bizarre—what on earth is Barbara Tuchman's work doing there? Not to mention that, despite Cantor's lofty reassurances that this list has been double-checked against Princeton's (well!) own card catalogue, the reader is directed towards the work of Henri 'Pierenne', while Dáibhí Ó Cróinín becomes Dalbhi O. Cronin.
By the end, I was quite glad to see that Cantor was dismissive—actually downright offensive—about the founder of my own particular doctoral lineage. Praise from Cantor, I fear, would have been quite the indictment against his scholarship. A nasty, sneering, condescending work. Avoid. ...more
Ce livre est le fruit d'une série d'entretiens entre l'historien Jacques le Goff et un journaliste, Nicolas Truong. Ainsi, c'est un peu décousu et genCe livre est le fruit d'une série d'entretiens entre l'historien Jacques le Goff et un journaliste, Nicolas Truong. Ainsi, c'est un peu décousu et generalisé—des documents sont rarement cités où analysés en profondeur; la structure est plus qu'une dialogue informelle qu'un livre académique. Mais le livre reste interessant, et on peut le prendre comme une brève introduction à l'histoire fascinante du corps....more
When I finished reading this book, I broke out a tub of Ben and Jerry's Half Baked—chocolate and vanilla frozen yoghurt with brownie and cookie doughWhen I finished reading this book, I broke out a tub of Ben and Jerry's Half Baked—chocolate and vanilla frozen yoghurt with brownie and cookie dough chunks seemed the only suitable reward after 300+ pages of Foucault's prose. Whether or not its his writing style or an effect of the translation, Discipline and Punish is a dense and at times frustratingly opaque book. That, coupled with Foucault's fondness for using minuscule, ahistorical details to justify large-scale abstractions, made this a very frustrating book to read. I admired his refusal to accept conventional truths, but his arguments were never wholly convincing to me, his tendency to reify 'power' as a independent entity with agency of its own irritating, and his lack of intersectionality jarring (does society really treat the bodies of men and women in the same way? Of cis- and transgendered, ablebodied and those with disabilities?). To sum up: an important philosophical work, but his historical method sucks. ...more