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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.
The Russian Radical
Author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1905–1982) is one of the most widely read philosophers of the twentieth century. Yet, despite the sale of over thirty million copies of her works, there have been few serious scholarly examinations of her thought. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical provides a comprehensive analysis of the intellectual roots and philosophy of this controversial thinker. It has been nearly twenty years since the original publication of Chris Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Those years have witnessed an explosive increase in Rand sightings across the social landscape: in books on philosophy, politics, and culture; in film and literature; and in contemporary American politics, from the rise of the Tea Party to recent presidential campaigns. During this time Sciabarra continued to work toward the reclamation of the dialectical method in the service of a radical libertarian politics, culminating in his book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (Penn State, 2000). In this new edition of Ayn Rand, Chris Sciabarra adds two chapters that present in-depth analysis of the most complete transcripts to date documenting Rand’s education at Petrograd State University. A new preface places the book in the context of Sciabarra’s own research and the recent expansion of interest in Rand’s philosophy. Finally, this edition includes a postscript that answers a recent critic of Sciabarra’s historical work on Rand. Shoshana Milgram, Rand’s biographer, has tried to cast doubt on Rand’s own recollections of having studied with the famous Russian philosopher N. O. Lossky. Sciabarra shows that Milgram’s analysis fails to cast doubt on Rand’s recollections—or on Sciabarra’s historical thesis.
People and Prosperity in Southern Spain from Caesar to Septimius Severus
Baetica, the present-day region of Andalusia in southern Spain, was the wealthiest province of the Roman Empire. Its society was dynamic and marked by upward social and economic mobility, as the imperial peace allowed the emergence of a substantial middle social and economic stratum. Indeed, so mutually beneficial was the imposition of Roman rule on the local population of Baetica that it demands a new understanding of the relationship between Imperial Rome and its provinces. Baetica Felix builds a new model of Roman-provincial relations through a socio-economic history of the province from Julius Caesar to the end of the second century A.D. Describing and analyzing the impact of Roman rule on a core province, Evan Haley addresses two broad questions: what effect did Roman rule have on patterns of settlement and production in Baetica, and how did it contribute to wealth generation and social mobility? His findings conclusively demonstrate that meeting the multiple demands of the Roman state created a substantial freeborn and ex-slave "middle stratum" of the population that outnumbered both the super-rich elite and the destitute poor.
The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire
The Migration Age is still envisioned as an onrush of expansionary "Germans" pouring unwanted into the Roman Empire and subjecting it to pressures so great that its western parts collapsed under the weight. Further developing the themes set forth in his classic Barbarians and Romans, Walter Goffart dismantles this grand narrative, shaking the barbarians of late antiquity out of this "Germanic" setting and reimagining the role of foreigners in the Later Roman Empire.
The Empire was not swamped by a migratory Germanic flood for the simple reason that there was no single ancient Germanic civilization to be transplanted onto ex-Roman soil. Since the sixteenth century, the belief that purposeful Germans existed in parallel with the Romans has been a fixed point in European history. Goffart uncovers the origins of this historical untruth and argues that any projection of a modern Germany out of an ancient one is illusory. Rather, the multiplicity of northern peoples once living on the edges of the Empire participated with the Romans in the larger stirrings of late antiquity. Most relevant among these was the long militarization that gripped late Roman society concurrently with its Christianization.
If the fragmented foreign peoples with which the Empire dealt gave Rome an advantage in maintaining its ascendancy, the readiness to admit military talents of any social origin to positions of leadership opened the door of imperial service to immigrants from beyond its frontiers. Many barbarians were settled in the provinces without dislodging the Roman residents or destabilizing landownership; some were even incorporated into the ruling families of the Empire. The outcome of this process, Goffart argues, was a society headed by elites of soldiers and Christian clergy—one we have come to call medieval.
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.
How Aerial Vision Shaped the Midwest
To Midwesterners tucked into small towns or farms early in the twentieth century, the landscape of the American heartland reached the horizon—and then imagination had to provide what lay beyond. But when aviation took off and scenes of the Midwest were no longer earthbound, the Midwestern landscape was transformed and with it, Jason Weems suggests in this book, the very idea of the Midwest itself.
Barnstorming the Prairies offers a panoramic vista of the transformative nature and power of the aerial vision that remade the Midwest in the wake of the airplane. This new perspective from above enabled Americans to conceptualize the region as something other than isolated and unchanging, and to see it instead as a dynamic space where people worked to harmonize the core traditions of America’s agrarian character with the more abstract forms of twentieth-century modernity. In the maps and aerial survey photography of the Midwest, as well as the painting, cinema, animation, and suburban landscapes that arose through flight, Weems also finds a different and provocative view of modernity in the making. In representations of the Midwest, from Grant Wood’s iconic images to the Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright to the design of greenbelt suburbs, Weems reveals aerial vision’s fundamental contribution to regional identity—to Midwesternness as we understand it.
Reading comparatively across these images, Weems explores how the cognitive and perceptual practices of aerial vision helped to resymbolize the Midwestern landscape amid the technological change and social uncertainty of the early twentieth century.
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.
Roots of the Fantastic in the Age of Curiosities
David Castillo takes us on a tour of some horrific materials that have rarely been considered together. He sheds a fantastical new light on the baroque. ---Anthony J. Cascardi, University of California Berkeley "Baroque Horrors is a textual archeologist's dream, scavenged from obscure chronicles, manuals, minor histories, and lesser-known works of major artists. Castillo finds tales of mutilation, mutation, monstrosity, murder, and mayhem, and delivers them to us with an inimitable flair for the sensational that nonetheless rejects sensationalism because it remains so grounded in historical fact." ---William Egginton, Johns Hopkins University "Baroque Horrors is a major contribution to baroque ideology, as well as an exploration of the grotesque, the horrible, the fantastic. Castillo organizes his monograph around the motif of curiosity, refuting the belief that Spain is a country incapable of organized scientific inquiry." ---David Foster, Arizona State University Baroque Horrors turns the current cultural and political conversation from the familiar narrative patterns and self-justifying allegories of abjection to a dialogue on the history of our modern fears and their monstrous offspring. When life and death are severed from nature and history, "reality" and "authenticity" may be experienced as spectator sports and staged attractions, as in the "real lives" captured by reality TV and the "authentic cadavers" displayed around the world in the Body Worlds exhibitions. Rather than thinking of virtual reality and staged authenticity as recent developments of the postmodern age, Castillo looks back to the Spanish baroque period in search for the roots of the commodification of nature and the horror vacui that accompanies it. Aimed at specialists, students, and readers of early modern literature and culture in the Spanish and Anglophone traditions as well as anyone interested in horror fantasy, Baroque Horrors offers new ways to rethink broad questions of intellectual and political history and relate them to the modern age. David Castillo is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Jacket art: Frederick Ruysch's anatomical diorama. Engraving reproduction "drawn from life" by Cornelius Huyberts. Image from the Zymoglyphic Museum.