- Space in the Medieval West: Places, Territories, and Imagined Geographies ed. by Meredith Cohen and Fanny Madeline
The product of the conference of the International Medieval Society of Paris on the theme of space in June 2009, this volume presents a range of approaches to this promising theme. After an Introduction of exemplary clarity, which outlines the approach of the discipline of medievalist history to space, the volume is arranged into three parts. The first part focuses on medieval architectural and urban spaces: chapters by Stefaan van Liefferinge, Robert Bork, and Emanuele Lugli are particularly engaging in their readings of Western European sacred spaces and the suggestions they make about the way in which the medieval designers, builders and users of these spaces would have been encouraged to understand them as means of contemplating the divine. The chapters in the second part investigate ways in which the European Middle Ages classified and divided territory. In a wide-ranging article Thomas Wetzstein discusses the networks that were conceived and constructed as these territories were traversed: the scholars, pilgrims, and emissaries who travelled across and through medieval Europe were able to comprehend it in particularly productive ways. The chapters in the third part of the volume explore representations of space in cartography. Of these, most notable is Nathalie Bouloux’s fine piece on the demarcation, in medieval maps from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, of the territory that shifts from Gallia to Francia — neither of which, of course, is equivalent to modern-day France. These contributions offer a fascinating insight into the pictorial representation of the medieval world, in which direction and distance are envisaged in very different ways from the way in which they are in the modern world. Despite these differences, it is unfortunately evident that the handsome colour image of the Map of the Beatus of Saint-Sever reproduced on the cover of this book is upside down (it is also reproduced, the correct way up but in black and white, on p. 161, as part of Sandra Sáenz-López Pérez’s meticulous account of this codex). The book’s last chapter is the only one to focus on literary texts: Catherine Nicolas’s chapter on fictional and Eucharistic space in the Arthurian prose romance Perlesvaus. The paucity of articles on the treatment of space in literary texts feels like a missed opportunity. [End Page 380] The Introduction cites Sarah Kay’s The Place of Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) — as, in a slightly mismatched way, does Ada-Maria Kuskowski in her chapter on medieval French coutumiers — but otherwise the landscapes, journeys, and allegorical spaces of much medieval literature are elided from the volume. In a bid to present work from European contributors to anglophone scholars, half the chapters in this book have been translated from French into English, but not in a particularly consistent manner: it would, for instance, have been useful to supply the original French of some of the quotations, especially those in Old or Middle French. Despite these few quibbles, however, this volume offers some instructive insights into the treatment and understanding of space in the European Middle Ages.