- Locating the Middle Ages: The Spaces and Places of Medieval Culture ed. by Julian Weiss and Sarah Salih
The analysis of “space and place,” investigating how human experience interacts with the four-dimensional world to generate meaning, has recently picked up speed within medieval studies and proved itself a concept that can be usefully applied in many fields. This collection of sixteen interdisciplinary essays, one of the King’s College London Medieval Studies series and the result of events held in London and Kalamazoo, functions more as a demonstration of the expansiveness of the concept of space in medieval studies than an attempt to contain it. As the editors note, the volume has a wide variety of shared themes (for example, “the mapping of empires, frontiers, and edges” or “the religious, social, and political meaning of architecture” (xvii)) that connect individual essays but do not restrict them. Although the majority of the essays focus on representation of certain types of spaces in literature, particularly in late medieval romances, several pieces (especially those by Klein, Clark, Monti, and Rector) introduce the analysis of historical, physical spaces into the collection as well. The contributions taken as a whole cover a large chronological and geographical range, ranging from the fourth century CE to the modern period and from Jerusalem to England, but most deal with Western Europe in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Since the volume is only 250 pages, each individual essay is quite concise (around 15 pp. each). As befits such a general subject, most of the contributions assume little prior knowledge on the part of their reader, are accessibly written, and would be suitable for a broad audience as well as specialists.
The editors have divided the book into five sections organized by geographical scale (with the exception of the final section). The first group (“World Spaces”) contains three broad essays that would each function quite well to introduce their respective themes and debates to students. Richard Talbert’s study of the Peutinger Map, a copy of a late Roman map created ca. 1500, evaluates its approach to geographical representation to suggest that it inspired the unique spatial conceptions of medieval maps. Paul Freedman provides an overview of the medieval perception of “exotic” space (in his analysis, primarily India) that concisely introduces the reader to the evolution of major themes of imaginative encounter from Isidore to Mandeville. Sharon Kinoshita’s essay serves as a historiographical review of the concept of the Mediterranean as an analytic category, eventually following Braudel to emphasize the surprising connectedness of the Mediterranean world-space. [End Page 299]
Two essays on engagement with regional spaces in romantic epic open the second group (“Empires and Frontiers”). Derrida’s work on monolingualism guides Luke Sunderland’s analysis of a fourteenth-century Franco-Italian epic, L’Entree d’Espagne, in which Roland’s culturally flexible conquest of Persia is contrasted favorably with Charlemagne’s violent, heavy-handed conquest of Spain. Julian Weiss reviews the presentation of the ambiguous space of Spain in medieval epic, especially in the Song of Roland, as both “the setting for, and the challenge to, various other constructions of individual and collective identity ...” (75). The final piece by Sarah Salih studies a single manuscript of the Lives of St. Edmund and St. Fremund (written by John Lydgate, BL Harley 2278), analyzing both text and images to convincingly argue that the landscape itself is a major character in Lydgate’s narrative. The natural and built space of East Anglia is presented as welcoming Edmund while rejecting the incursions of the Danes (whose transience is emphasized through their visual exclusion from any permanent architecture), ultimately closing off the land itself to foreign influence and mirroring the insularity of Lydgate’s own time.
The contributions to the third group (“Cities and Power, Sacred and Secular”) are the most cohesive of the volume, perhaps because the study of urban space naturally lends itself to clearly defined boundaries. Konstantin Klein provides an analysis of the early building programs pursued in Jerusalem during the...