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Books Features

New Medieval Books: From Peasants to Mudlarkers

Five new books to tell you about, taking you from Brigstock to Baghdad.

A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader and the World of the English Peasants Before the Plague

By Judith M. Bennett

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8122-1469-6

Excerpt: By looking at medieval peasants, then, we can see both their rural world and the broader medieval society of which they were a critical part. We stand on the muddy margins with peasants, and, looking upward and inward, we can better understand not only poor peasants but also prosperous churchmen, knights, and merchants, all of whom relied on peasant labor. Cecilia Penifader, who will be our guide to the medieval countryside, stood – as a woman and an unmarried one at that – on the edges of her own community. We know a lot more about Cecilia than most other peasants, but a lot less than we would like. Unlike persons featured in modern biographies, Cecilia has left no diaries we can read, no houses we can walk through, no friends or family to be interviewed. Yet the few dozen extant details of her life – each a remarkable and precious survival from a society long past – make her particular story a gateway into the world in which she lived.

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Souls under Siege: Stories of War, Plague, and Confession in Fourteenth-Century Provence

By Nicole Archambeau

Cornell University Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781501753664

Excerpt: In Provence, people spoke of a holy woman who healed sadness, grief, and anxiety during the late fourteenth century, when the Black Death killed a quarter of the population and the Hundred Years War threatened the rest. Her name was Countess Delphine de Puimichel. After she died in 1360, her family and community tried to get her canonized. The papacy held a legal inquest to decide if she should be a saint. This book is not about Countess Delphine, but is instead about the witnesses in her inquest, who told stories of plague, war, and confession in a swiftly changing world.

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Thames Mudlarking: Searching for London’s Lost Treasure

By Jason Sandy and Nick Stevens

Shire Publications
ISBN: 978 1 78442 432 9

Excerpt: Over the past 2,000 years of human activity along the River Thames, countless objects have been intentionally discarded or accidentally dropped in its waters. For millennia, the Thames has been an extraordinary repository of these lost objects, protected and preserved in the dense, anaerobic (oxygen-free) mud.

Because of its close proximity to the sea, the water level of the River Thames in London fluctuates by 7-10 metres with the incoming and outgoing tides, twice a day. As the murky waters of the river slowly recede, the exposed riverbed in London becomes the longest archaeological site in Britain.

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The First and Second Italian Wars, 1494 – 1504

By Julian Romane

Pen and Sword, 2020
ISBN: 978 1 52675 051 8

Excerpt: There are many fine books on the Italian Wars. This account is different from others because I draw together a series of nearly simultaneous operations along with their logistical foundations and means of payment. The keys to success in these wars were tactical innovations which meant new weapons, the concepts for their use and the money to pay for them. Charles VIII marched through Italy because he brought a new type of artillery train, mobile and powerful. Of particular significance are the campaigns of Cesare Borgia in the Romagna. Falling between the French in the north and the Spanish in the south, military historians have given little consideration to Cesare’s campaigns. This is unfortunate because here is the origin of many innovations both tactical and financial.

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Baghdad at the Centre of a World, 8th – 13th Century: An Introductory Textbook

Edited by Emily Selove

Theran Press, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-944296-15-5

Excerpt: Let us follow the footsteps of a foreign merchant who came from far away, for instance, from eastern Iran, bringing goods on the Silk Road from China to Baghdad in the year 800. After having crossed the high Zagros mountain range, over merchant entered a wide stony plain that brought him to the famous Tigris River. At the place where the Tigris runs closest to its fellow river, the Euphrates, a metropolis appeared in front of him that – at that time – was one of the largest cities in the world. This metropolis was (and still is) called Baghdad.

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