- Center and Periphery: Studies on Power in the Medieval World in Honor of William Chester Jordan ed. by Katherine L. Jansen, G. Geltner, and Anne E. Lester
This impressive Festschrift to the eminent Princeton historian William Chester Jordan traces the contours of theory and methods of political history since [End Page 621] 1973, the year Jordan received his doctorate at Princeton and took up a position there in the Department of History. It is a fitting tribute to a scholar whose work has influenced a generation of graduate students whose careers encompass the political centers of western Europe as well as the very poorest people at the margins of society. Their essays take a wide range of topics, but despite their differences, they all betray the hallmarks of Jordan’s tutelage: deep engagement with an array of sources, “squeezing” those sources to get the most out of each word, and thinking theoretically to best interpret the text. This is what all graduate programs in history aspire to do, of course, but this volume testifies to what that sort of pedagogy looks like in the hands of someone whose own deep intellect and expansive worldview is evident in every word of scholarly tribute. No one in this collection needs an introduction. In addition to seventeen essays by former students, now distinguished professors in their own right, the volumes is bookended by tributes by Jordan’s colleagues: an eloquent foreword by John W. Baldwin and a witty, warm, and genuinely affectionate afterword by Teofilo Ruiz.
There is literally something in this volume for everyone, and both the authors and their essays are top-notch. The geographic focus is largely on in France, Spain, and Italy, but the range of interests of Jordan’s former students is extensive. Interested in French royal power? Insightful studies on Louis IX by Jonathan Elukin and Anne E. Lester, and on the Crusades by Erica Gilles and Christopher MacEvitt, are found herein. More interested in Jews and Muslims in Spain and France? New works here by David Nirenberg, Maya Soifer Irish, E. M. Rose, and Hussein Fancy that push the field beyond questions of hybridity and conflict will delight. More interested in peace, not war? There are essays that touch on the Franciscans, the Peace of God movement (Richard Landes), street performance in Italy (Katherine L. Jansen), and rescuing hostages in Spain (Jarbel Rodriguez). Adam J. Davis, Holly J. Grieco, and Michelle Garceau take a wide view of religious institutions in their discussions of hospitals, canonization, and miracles, whereas G. Geltner looks at the Black Death in Italy through court records. The book ends, fittingly, with two broadly theoretical and methodological essays. Emily Kadans prompts a reconsideration of current thinking on Christianity and law, and Mark Gregory Pegg considers the challenges historians face in the light of recent turns in postmodern theory. This is a book that many scholars will no doubt dip into here and there, reading a particular essay that touches on an immediate research or teaching question. But it is worth reading straight through to get a sense of what a research seminar with Jordan was like: wide-ranging in theoretical perspective and subject matter, and offering a lively and provocative open-ended discussion that considers the history of the European Middle Ages as an act of intellectual creativity.
It is safe to say that this collection of essays will have a very long library shelf life. It will be a book that we return to again and again to read essays that push us beyond what we think we know. The authors give us a nuanced analysis of both method and theory that goes beyond any idea of center or periphery. It is a fitting coda to a career that began with Order and Innovation in the Middle Ages (Princeton, [End Page 622] 1976), the Festschrift that Jordan, together with Teofilo Ruiz and Bruce McNab, presented to their...