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Jean Gerson and the Transformation of Late Medieval Learning
Widely recognized by contemporaries as the most powerful theologian of his generation, Jean Gerson (1363-1429) dominated the stage of western Europe during a time of plague, fratricidal war, and religious schism. Yet modern scholarship has struggled to define Gerson's place in history, even as it searches for a compelling narrative to tell the story of his era.
Daniel Hobbins argues for a new understanding of Gerson as a man of letters actively managing the publication of his works in a period of rapid expansion in written culture. More broadly, Hobbins casts Gerson as a mirror of the complex cultural and intellectual shifts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In contrast to earlier theologians, Gerson took a more humanist approach to reading and to authorship. He distributed his works, both Latin and French, to a more diverse medieval public. And he succeeded in reaching a truly international audience of readers within his lifetime. Through such efforts, Gerson effectively embodies the aspirations of a generation of writers and intellectuals. Removed from the narrow confines of late scholastic theology and placed into a broad interdisciplinary context, his writings open a window onto the fascinating landscape of fifteenth-century Europe.
The picture of late medieval culture that emerges from this study is neither a specter of decaying scholasticism nor a triumphalist narrative of budding humanism and reform. Instead, Hobbins describes a period of creative and dynamic growth, when new attitudes toward writing and debate demanded and eventually produced new technologies of the written word.
Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages
In The Axe and the Oath, one of the world's leading medieval historians presents a compelling picture of daily life in the Middle Ages as it was experienced by ordinary people. Writing for general readers, Robert Fossier vividly describes how these vulnerable people confronted life, from birth to death, including childhood, marriage, work, sex, food, illness, religion, and the natural world. While most histories of the period focus on the ideas and actions of the few who wielded power and stress how different medieval people were from us, Fossier concentrates on the other nine-tenths of humanity in the period and concludes that "medieval man is us."
Drawing on a broad range of evidence, Fossier describes how medieval men and women encountered, coped with, and understood the basic material facts of their lives. We learn how people related to agriculture, animals, the weather, the forest, and the sea; how they used alcohol and drugs; and how they buried their dead. But The Axe and the Oath is about much more than simply the material demands of life. We also learn how ordinary people experienced the social, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of medieval life, from memory and imagination to writing and the Church. The result is a sweeping new vision of the Middle Ages that will entertain and enlighten readers.
Reorienting the Past in the Poetry of Early Modern England
In the late sixteenth century, English merchants and diplomats ventured into the eastern Mediterranean to trade directly with the Turks, the keepers of an important emerging empire in the Western Hemisphere, and these initial exchanges had a profound effect on English literature. While the theater investigated representations of religious and ethnic identity in its portrayals of Turks and Muslims, poetry, Miriam Jacobson argues, explored East-West exchanges primarily through language and the material text. Just as English markets were flooded with exotic goods, so was the English language awash in freshly imported words describing items such as sugar, jewels, plants, spices, paints, and dyes, as well as technological advancements such as the use of Arabic numerals in arithmetic and the concept of zero.
Even as these Eastern words and imports found their way into English poetry, poets wrestled with paying homage to classical authors and styles. As Barbarous Antiquity reveals, poems adapted from Latin or Greek sources and set in the ancient classical world were now reoriented to reflect a contemporary, mercantile Ottoman landscape. As Renaissance English writers including Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe, and Chapman weighed their reliance on classical poetic models against contemporary cultural exchanges, a new form of poetry developed, positioned at the crossroads of East and West, ancient and modern. Building each chapter around the intersection of an Eastern import and a classical model, Jacobson shows how Renaissance English poetry not only reconstructed the classical past but offered a critique of that very enterprise with a new set of words and metaphors imported from the East.
Race on the English Renaissance Stage
Like our own, early modern beliefs about race depended on metaphorical, selective, and contradictory understandings of how membership in groups is determined. Although race took distinctive forms in the past, the fallacies that underlie early modern racial experience generally are precisely-and surprisingly-the same as those in contemporary culture.
Exploring the similar underpinnings of early modern and contemporary ideas of difference, Barbarous Play examines English Renaissance understandings of race as depicted in drama. Reading plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster, and Middleton, Bovilsky offers case studies of how racial meanings are generated by narratives of boundary crossing-especially miscegenation, religious conversion, class transgression, and moral and physical degeneracy. In the process, she reveals deep parallels between the period’s conceptions of race and gender.
Barbarous Play contests the widely held view that race and racism depend on modern science for their existence and argues that understanding just what is false and figurative in past depictions of race, such as those found in Othello, The Merchant of Venice, The White Devil, and The Changeling, can clarify the illogic of present-day racism.
Lara Bovilsky is assistant professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.
A Call to Arms and Its Consequences
In December 1235, Pope Gregory IX altered the mission of a crusade he had begun to preach the year before. Instead of calling for Christian magnates to go on to fight the infidel in Jerusalem, he now urged them to combat the spread of Christian heresy in Latin Greece and to defend the Latin empire of Constantinople. The Barons' Crusade, as it was named by a fourteenth-century chronicler impressed by the great number of barons who participated, would last until 1241 and would represent in many ways the high point of papal efforts to make crusading a universal Christian undertaking. This book, the first full-length treatment of the Barons' Crusade, examines the call for holy war and its consequences in Hungary, France, England, Constantinople, and the Holy Land.
In the end, Michael Lower reveals, the pope's call for unified action resulted in a range of locally determined initiatives and accommodations. In some places in Europe, the crusade unleashed violence against Jews that the pope had not sought; in others, it unleashed no violence at all. In the Levant, it even ended in peaceful negotiation between Christian and Muslim forces. Virtually everywhere, but in different ways, it altered the relations between Christians and non-Christians. By emphasizing comparative local history, The Barons' Crusade: A Call to Arms and Its Consequences brings into question the idea that crusading embodies the religious unity of medieval society and demonstrates how thoroughly crusading had been affected by the new strategic and political demands of the papacy.
Transversal Performance and Cultural Dissidence in Early Modern England
In this book Bryan Reynolds argues that early modern England experienced a sociocultural phenomenon, unprecedented in English history, which has been largely overlooked by historians and critics. Beginning in the 1520s, a distinct "criminal culture" of beggars, vagabonds, confidence tricksters, prostitutes, and gypsies emerged and flourished. This community defined itself through its criminal conduct and dissident thought and was, in turn,officially defined by and against the dominant conceptions of English cultural normality. Examining plays, popular pamphlets, laws, poems, and scholarly work from the period, Reynolds demonstrates that this criminal culture, though diverse, was united by its own ideology, language, and aesthetic. Using his transversal theory, he shows how the enduring presence of this criminal culture markedly influenced the mainstream culture's aesthetic sensibilities, socioeconomic organization, and systems of belief. He maps the effects of the public theater's transformative force of transversality, such as through the criminality represented by Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Dekker, on both Elizabethan and Jacobean society and the scholarship devoted to it.
The Matter of the Medieval Child
Becoming Human argues that human identity was articulated and extended across a wide range of textual, visual, and artifactual assemblages from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. J. Allan Mitchell shows how the formation of the child expresses a manifold and mutable style of being. To be human is to learn to dwell among a welter of things.
A searching and provocative historical inquiry into human becoming, the book presents a set of idiosyncratic essays on embryology and infancy, play and games, and manners, meals, and other messes. While it makes significant contributions to medieval scholarship on the body, family, and material culture, Becoming Human theorizes anew what might be called a medieval ecological imaginary. Mitchell examines a broad array of phenomenal objects—including medical diagrams, toy knights, tableware, conduct texts, dream visions, and scientific instruments—and in the process reanimates distinctly medieval ontologies.
In addressing the emergence of the human in the later Middle Ages, Mitchell identifies areas where humanity remains at risk. In illuminating the past, he shines fresh light on our present.
Asocial Sexuality in Early Modern England
Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1245-1510
A distinct European perspective on Asia emerged in the late Middle Ages. Early reports of a homogeneous "India" of marvels and monsters gave way to accounts written by medieval travelers that indulged readers' curiosity about far-flung landscapes and cultures without exhibiting the attitudes evident in the later writings of aspiring imperialists. Mining the accounts of more than twenty Europeans who made—or claimed to have made—journeys to Mongolia, China, India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia between the mid-thirteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Kim Phillips reconstructs a medieval European vision of Asia that was by turns critical, neutral, and admiring.
In offering a cultural history of the encounter between medieval Latin Christians and the distant East, Before Orientalism reveals how Europeans' prevailing preoccupations with food and eating habits, gender roles, sexualities, civility, and the foreign body helped shape their perceptions of Asian peoples and societies. Phillips gives particular attention to the texts' known or likely audiences, the cultural settings within which they found a foothold, and the broader impact of their descriptions, while also considering the motivations of their writers. She reveals in rich detail responses from European travelers that ranged from pragmatism to wonder. Fear of military might, admiration for high standards of civic life and court culture, and even delight in foreign magnificence rarely assumed the kind of secular Eurocentric superiority that would later characterize Orientalism. Placing medieval writing on the East in the context of an emergent "Europe" whose explorers sought to learn more than to rule, Before Orientalism complicates our understanding of medieval attitudes toward the foreign.
Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries
Histories of medieval Europe have typically ignored southern Italy, looking south only in the Norman period. Yet Southern Italy in the ninth and tenth centuries was a complex and vibrant world that deserves to be better understood. In Before the Normans, Barbara M. Kreutz writes the first modern study in English of the land, political structures, and cultures of southern Italy in the two centuries before the Norman conquests. This was a pan-Meditteranean society, where the Roman past and Lombard-Germanic culture met Byzantine and Islamic civilization, creating a rich and unusual mix.