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The Autumn of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga
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Aug 22, 07

bookshelves: historyofthemiddleages
Read in August, 2005

In his histroiograhical tour of middle ages scholarship, Norman F. Cantor puts Huiznga in his "outriders" section at the back of the book. While he candidly acknowledges the populairty of the "waning of the middle ages" among undergraduates, he takes issue with Huizinga's scholarship.

I think Cantor does Huzinga a disservice, for I found "Autumn" to be eye opening both for its adept analysis and its innovative method. Huzingia is a fore runner of later developments in social history, both in France and the United States. He anticipates the field of "Cultural Studies" in his blend of source materials and thematic chapter arrangement.

It's hard not to think of Foucault as one meanders through three hundred pages of tossed off analysis if how people thought about allegories five hundred years ago in northern france. As Cantor says, Huzingia wrote this book with sources available in any "second tier library". Pretty much any criticism one might have of Foucault's scholarship one might apply here.

It is the speculative nature of Huzingia's scholarship that is both the greatest strength and weakness of "Autumn".

This book is heavy treading. The quotations are printed in their original language, with a footnote at the bottom. The translators have added end notes to explain the more obscure cultural references, but they are END notes, so of little use during the reading. This is not really a "read on the go" type of book. I found I had to focus on reading 20-30 pages a night for a couple of weeks.
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