- Crisis in the Later Middle Ages: Beyond the Postan–Duby Paradigm ed. by John Drendel
This edited volume, which examines the theories of M. M. Postan and Georges Duby in the light of new twenty-first century research, brings together English and French perspectives. Although the monograph was published fourteen years after a conference where these ideas were first discussed, the quality of the contributions means this volume offers much to the historian of the fourteenth century. The edited book is divided into thirteen chapters dealing with the histography of late medieval agriculture, and urban and rural life, as well as offering individual case studies. This approach is one of the book's strengths, as the editor's introduction draws together both theoretical and practical examples of how scholars have engaged with two important models.
The first six chapters examine how the Postan–Duby paradigm has been employed by late medieval researchers since the 1970s, when the paradigm was developed. Postan and Duby promoted the Malthusian model that argues that an increase in population in the thirteenth century put pressure on land resources. Reclaimed land could not adequately support this population increase. Crop failures from 1315 to 1322 led to famine and a subsequent decline in the standard of living, which was only rectified after the catastrophic plague of the 1340s decreased the population. In Chapter 2, Christopher Dyer, a long-term proponent of the role of small towns in the medieval economy, outlines the need to consider these towns in the context of the socio-economic crisis of the early fourteenth century. In the sixth chapter, John Munro includes factors that were overlooked by Postan, such as the role of monetary changes in the medieval economy, and he also stresses the importance of price and wage data. The other four chapters bring new perspectives into play, which include an examination of the peasant economy, enhanced by new archival sources since Postan and Duby drafted their ideas.
The second section contains seven chapters. Five of these chapters are written in French and mostly involve case studies of fourteenth-century communities in southern France. Most examine communities before and after the mid-fourteenthcentury plague. Philippe Bernardi explores the urban building industry in Provence, Francine Michaud inspects the wages of labourers in Marseille, and Monique Bourin examines the urban cloth trade in Languedoc. Two case studies are in English. Constance Berman studies the economic health of nunneries in Paris and Anne DeWindt charts peasant activity in a Huntingdonshire village. These case studies conclude that the origin of the 'crisis' was complex and was likely to be affected by local and regional factors. [End Page 254]