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New Books in Medieval Studies

Medieval Studies Books

Hundreds of books are published each year in the field of medieval studies – we just want to highlight six recent publications that you might be interested in:

On the Margins of a MinorityOn the Margins of a Minority: Leprosy, Madness, and Disability among the Jews of Medieval Europe

By Ephraim Shoham-Steiner

Wayne State University Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780814339312

In medieval Europe, the much larger Christian population regarded Jews as their inferiors, but how did both Christians and Jews feel about those who were marginalized within the Ashkenazi Jewish community? In On the Margins of a Minority: Leprosy, Madness, and Disability among the Jews of Medieval Europe, author Ephraim Shoham-Steiner explores the life and plight of three of these groups. Shoham-Steiner draws on a wide variety of late-tenth- to fifteenth-century material from both internal (Jewish) as well as external (non-Jewish) sources to reconstruct social attitudes toward these “others,” including lepers, madmen, and the physically impaired. Shoham-Steiner considers how the outsiders were treated by their respective communities, while also maintaining a delicate balance with the surrounding non-Jewish community.

On the Margins of a Minority is structured in three pairs of chapters addressing each of these three marginal groups. The first pair deals with the moral attitude toward leprosy and its sufferers; the second with the manifestations of madness and its causes as seen by medieval men and women, and the effect these signs had on the treatment of the insane; the third with impaired and disabled individuals, including those with limited mobility, manual dysfunction, deafness, and blindness. Shoham-Steiner also addresses questions of the religious meaning of impairment in light of religious conceptions of the ideal body. He concludes with a bibliography of sources and studies that informed the research, including useful midrashic, exegetical, homiletic, ethical, and guidance literature, and texts from responsa and halakhic rulings.

Anglo-Saxon toolsAnglo-Saxon Tools

By Dennis Riley

Angl0-Saxon Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781898281726

The tools used in Anglo-Saxon England where much like those found elsewhere in Europe at that time. They have been found in graves and buried tool-hoards. Others seem to be accidental losses or to have been discarded due to wear or damage. Most are surprisingly like those in use today.

Many excavated tools are chunks of rust which provide little visual information, so the pictures used here are of reconstructions that draw on archaeological evidence. Some are accurate reproductions of specific tools and others are ‘generic reproductions’ in which the general style of the tool is captured. The author looks at the design and construction of the tools and their social importance.

The reconstructions show the tools as they may have originally looked. Because of their likeness to the originals, the reconstructions can be put to practical use and insights gained into their efficiency, durability and ease of use. This elevates the artefacts from rusty museum exhibits into functional tools that allow the user to experience the problems and pleasures of Anglo-Saxons craftsmen.

Beguines of Medieval ParisThe Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority

By Tanya Stabler Miller

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014
ISBN 978-0-8122-4607-0

In the thirteenth century, Paris was the largest city in Western Europe, the royal capital of France, and the seat of one of Europe’s most important universities. In this vibrant and cosmopolitan city, the beguines, women who wished to devote their lives to Christian ideals without taking formal vows, enjoyed a level of patronage and esteem that was uncommon among like communities elsewhere. Some Parisian beguines owned shops and played a vital role in the city’s textile industry and economy. French royals and nobles financially supported the beguinages, and university clerics looked to the beguines for inspiration in their pedagogical endeavors. The Beguines of Medieval Paris examines these religious communities and their direct participation in the city’s commercial, intellectual, and religious life.

Drawing on an array of sources, including sermons, religious literature, tax rolls, and royal account books, Tanya Stabler Miller contextualizes the history of Parisian beguines within a spectrum of lay religious activity and theological controversy. She examines the impact of women on the construction of medieval clerical identity, the valuation of women’s voices and activities, and the surprising ways in which local networks and legal structures permitted women to continue to identify as beguines long after a church council prohibited the beguine status. Based on intensive archival research, The Beguines of Medieval Paris makes an original contribution to the history of female religiosity and labor, university politics and intellectual debates, royal piety, and the central place of Paris in the commerce and culture of medieval Europe.

Popular Muslim Reactions to the Franks in the LevantPopular Muslim Reactions to the Franks in the Levant, 1097-1291

By Alex Mallett

Ashgate, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4094-5612-4

The issue of Muslim reactions to the Franks has been an important part of studies of both the Crusades and Islamic History, but rarely the main focus. This book examines the reactions of the Muslims of the Levant to the arrival and presence of the Franks in the crusading period, 1097-1291, focussing on those outside the politico-military and religious elites. It provides a thematic overview of the various ways in which these ‘non-elites’ of Muslim society, both inside and outside of the Latin states, reacted to the Franks, arguing that it was they, as much as the more famous Muslim rulers, who were initiators of resistance to the Franks.

This study challenges existing views of the Muslim reaction to the crusaders as rather slow and demonstrates that jihad against the Franks started as soon as they arrived. It further demonstrates the difference between the concepts of jihad and of Counter-Crusade, and highlights two distinct phases in the jihad against the Franks: the ‘unofficial jihad’ – that which occurred before uniting of religious and political classes – and the ‘official jihad’ – which happened after and due to this unification, and which has formed the basis of modern discussions. Finally, the study also argues that the Muslim non-elites who encountered the Franks did not always resist them, but at various times either helped or were unresisting to them, thus focussing attention away from conflict and onto cooperation.

In considering Muslim reactions to the Franks in the context of wider discourses, this study also highlights aspects of the nature of Islamic society in Egypt and Syria in the medieval period, particularly the non-elite section of society, which is often ignored. The main conclusions also shed light on discourses of collaboration and resistance which are currently focussed almost exclusively on the modern period or the medieval west.

A Punishment for Each CriminalA Punishment for Each Criminal: Gender and Crime in Swedish Medieval Law

By Christine Ekholst

Brill, 2014
ISBN: 9789004271449

A Punishment for Each Criminal is the first in-depth analysis of how gender influenced Swedish medieval law. Christine Ekholst demonstrates how the law codes gradually and unevenly introduced women as possible perpetrators for all serious crimes. The laws reveal that legislators not only expected men and women to commit different types of crimes; they also punished men and women in different ways if they were convicted. The laws consistently stipulated different methods of executions for men and women; while men were hanged or broken on the wheel, women were buried alive, stoned, or burned at the stake. A Punishment for Each Criminal explores the background to the important legislative changes that took place when women were made personally responsible for their own crimes.

walking corpsesWalking Corpses: Leprosy in Byzantium and the Medieval West

By Timothy S. Miller and John W. Nesbitt

Cornell University Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8014-5135-5

Leprosy has afflicted humans for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the twelfth century, however, that the dreaded disease entered the collective psyche of Western society, thanks to a frightening epidemic that ravaged Catholic Europe. The Church responded by constructing charitable institutions called leprosariums to treat the rapidly expanding number of victims. As important as these events were, Timothy Miller and John Nesbitt remind us that the history of leprosy in the West is incomplete without also considering the Byzantine Empire, which confronted leprosy and its effects well before the Latin West. In Walking Corpses, they offer the first account of medieval leprosy that integrates the history of East and West.

In their informative and engaging account, Miller and Nesbitt challenge a number of misperceptions and myths about medieval attitudes toward leprosy (known today as Hansen’s disease). They argue that ethical writings from the Byzantine world and from Catholic Europe never branded leprosy as punishment for sin; rather, theologians and moralists saw the disease as a mark of God’s favor on those chosen for heaven. The stimulus to ban lepers from society and ultimately to persecute them came not from Christian influence but from Germanic customary law. Leprosariums were not prisons to punish lepers but were centers of care to offer them support; some even provided both male and female residents the opportunity to govern their own communities under a form of written constitution. Informed by recent bioarchaeological research that has vastly expanded knowledge of the disease and its treatment by medieval society, Walking Corpses also includes three key Greek texts regarding leprosy (one of which has never been translated into English before).

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