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‘Antisemitism’ before ‘Race’?

Words matter. For historians of Jewish-Christian relations in the Western World, the decision to use the terms Antisemitism or Anti-Judaism is often made in the light of differing opinions about the nature of anti-Jewish sentiment in different historical periods. One question, however, has proved to be particularly problematic: is it possible to talk about ‘Antisemitism’ in the Middle Ages, before the appearance of scientific concepts of ‘race’?

In October 2012, I was invited to give a research seminar paper on anti-Jewish propaganda produced in the late medieval and early modern Iberian world at an Australian university. The title of the paper included the term ‘Antisemitic propaganda’ and the terms ‘Antisemitic’ and ‘Antisemitism’ were used a few times during the seminar. During the questions that followed it, several academics in the audience – historians of twentieth-century Europe – vigorously questioned the appropriateness of using the concept of ‘Antisemitism’ in a pre-modern context. I was forcefully reminded by my colleagues that Antisemitism was a racial hatred of Jews, linked to the rise of ‘scientific racism’ in the nineteenth century.  Therefore, whilst ‘modern’ hatred of Jews is racial, pre-modern hatred of Jews was distinguished and defined by its purely religious character. It was the height of absurdity, a terrible anachronism even, for a historian to use the concept of ‘Antisemitism’ in a medieval or early modern context. Such a reaction will not come as a surprise to historians who have worked on the subject of anti-Jewish sentiment and propaganda in medieval Christian Europe.

It has been repeatedly, and rightly, pointed out that the term itself was apparently coined by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr (1819–1904), who founded the League of antisemites (Antisemiten-Liga) in 1879, and it became popularized by Marr and others in the 1880s. Moreover, for many historians of antisemitism, the concept carries a clear racial component. Marr and other antisemites defined Jews collectively by their supposedly shared ethnicity and ‘racial identity’ as ‘Semites’ rather than their adherence to the religion of Judaism in order to distinguish them from ‘Aryans’. The concept built on the theories of nineteenth-century anthropologists who conflated linguistics and ethnicity to produce ‘Semitic races’ (thus racializing both Jews and Muslims as ‘Semites’). In the eyes of many modern antisemites, even conversion to Christianity does not turn a Jew into a Christian. As such, it may not seem possible to separate Antisemitism from the rise of ‘scientific racism’ and the racial theories that emerged in the nineteenth century. Given this historical context, the use of the terms antisemites and Antisemitism in a medieval context might well appear highly contentious: at best an imprecise use of language or, at worst, a grave anachronism. Historical anachronism – the utilization or application by historians of concepts or key terms that did not exist in the period that they are studying – has long been held to constitute one of the most serious errors that a historian can commit.

Yet the concentration on race as the defining feature of modern Antisemitism oversimplifies its multifaceted nature. To argue that ‘Antisemitism’ began in 1879 when Wilhelm Marr first used the term or with the racial theories of the nineteenth century overlooks the fact that the origins of many of the key modern Antisemitic tropes can be traced back to medieval ideas about Jews. These are (1) the fixation on a secret Jewish conspiracy to take political and economic control of the world by subverting Christian society, (2) the belief that modern Jews follow a form of Judaism that has been perverted by the Talmud and which incites them to undermine Christian society and attack Gentiles in general and Christians in particular, and (3) the equation of Judaism and Jewish ethnicity.

Whilst the medieval papacy was more-or-less consistent in espousing the Augustinian position of a grudging toleration of the Jews as a ‘witness people’, it is important to note that its position was not always followed by many Christians, including many men of the Church. By the end of the medieval period, circa CE 1500, the notion that the Jews were intrinsically inclined to evil and the conflation of Judaism and Jewish ethnicity had become current across Europe.  Numerous Christian writers essentialized Judaism to the point that it transformed into the functional equivalent of the modern concept of race.

Just as modern historians of ‘race’ are increasingly noting that ethnic prejudice preceded modern theories of race by centuries, is it similarly important to note that the existence of a proto-racialized prejudice against Jews pre-dated the nineteenth century. If historians are increasingly willing to talk about the existence of ‘racisms’ (plural), is it perhaps not also possible to discuss the existence of different ‘Antisemitisms’ (plural)? To use the terms ‘Antisemitic’, ‘Antisemite’ or ‘Antisemitism’ in a medieval context may be jarring to some modern historians but its use offers a tool that historians can use to describe the formation of key concepts. Used wisely and contextually, ‘Medieval Antisemitism’ (as opposed to just ‘Antisemitism’) can be a useful concept with which historians can designate a form of anti-Jewish hatred that was not simply religious in character and that prefigured ‘Modern Antisemitism’ even though it did not possess the pseudo-scientific racial vocabulary and emphasis on the nation-state of ‘Modern Antisemitism’.

by Francois Soyer

Nicholas Morrow Williams on The Fu Genre of Imperial China

When people hear “Chinese poetry,” they often think of a brief, imagistic poem about nature, like Wang Wei’s famous “Deer Fence”: “In the empty mountains, no one to be seen . . .” And there’s no doubt that this type of poetry has been particularly influential and well-received in modern times. When we look further, though, it turns out that Chinese literature in its long history has contained many quite different types of poetry as well, from romantic dramas to philosophical expositions. My edited volume The Fu Genre of Imperial China: Studies in the Rhapsodic Imagination highlights one of the most important of these genres.

The fu 賦 or “rhapsody” is a type of poem that tends to be relatively long and intricate. Even its name is hard to translate or find any equivalent for in English, which is why our volume for the most part simply romanizes the term directly as “fu.” In spite of the challenges in approaching, though, the fu is indispensable to understanding the cultural history of imperial China, though. In the early dynasties, it was one of the main genres composed at court for the entertainment of princes and emperors; in the later dynasties, it was often required as part of the civil service examinations, and the ability to compose a fu was a sine qua non for the literati.

Moreover, some of the literary works from China’s premodern culture that have won enduring popularity lasting even up to today also happen to be fu. The image on the cover, for instance, is a Southern Song painting depicting the subject of Su Shi’s (1037–1101) great “Rhapsody on the Red Cliff” 赤壁賦. This is a poem that uses the spontaneous occasion of an outing with friends:

The moon rose up over the hills in the  East,

And between Dipper and Ox it lingered  high;

A white dew covered the Yangtze’s  face,

And a watery sheen had filled the  sky.

to reflect on the famous battle of the Red Cliff, when Cao Cao (155–220) was defeated in his attempt to unify the Three Kingdoms. Finally Su ponders the fundamental question of what survives in spite of the inexorable passage of time

Thus examining them from the viewpoint of what changes,

All of Heaven and Earth cannot endure even a moment  long;

But examining them from the viewpoint of what does not change,

Both these things and myself are never altogether  gone.

In the introduction to the book, I use this poem to introduce the four key themes that structure the remaining chapters, all of which are fundamental to any discussion of the fu.

The first is “recitation and display.” The fu originates as a court performance piece that uses verbal dexterity and ornate language to impress its audience. In our book, Su Jui-lung shows that this etymological sense of “recitation” is essential for understanding the fu genre, while Shih Hsiang-lin brings to life the use of fu poetry as a means of social exchange in the Jian’an period (196–220).

The second is “lyricism and form.” Though the fu is distinct from shorter, lyrical poems in the Chinese tradition, there is also much interaction between them, an issue which Cheng Zhangcan surveys in his authoritative study of “the assimilation and dissimilation” of the two genres. Meanwhile, Casey Schoenberger offers a ground-breaking essay on the rhapsodies of late-Ming writer Xu Wei, showing how they exemplify the tensions between “catalogue and critique, lyricism and logic” that are typical of their period.

Third is “philosophy and dialogue.” This section of the book examines some of the aspects that make the fu such a strong counterexample to any preconception of Chinese poetry as being limited to concrete images from nature. To the contrary, these two chapters look at fu poetry that is dedicated to more abstract topics, and depicts them using dialogues among multiple speakers. My own essay looks at the Daoist and Buddhist content of the “metaphysical” (i.e. xuanyan 玄言) fu of the Six Dynasties period, while Robert Neather presents the philosophical reflections of mid-Tang writer Li Guan.

Finally, no study of the fu would be complete without some attention to its political messages. Though this comes up in the previous chapters, it is the last two essays that focus on this critical issue. Since its origins in the Han dynasty, one recurring topic of debate has been whether the fu genre is essentially frivolous entertainment, or whether its elaborate  content conceals political messages intended to offer indirect advice to the ruler. Y. Edmund Lien convincingly analyzes a Han fu by Zhang Heng (78–139), and by close analysis of its astronomical references, shows that the celestial journey in the poem conceals a hidden message for the emperor. Finally, Cheng Yu-yu’s magisterial study of 17th-century fu discourse shows how the fu tradition became the fulcrum of a multi-sided debate about complicity and resistance during the Manchu conquest.

The fu tradition is a huge corpus accumulated over two millennia, and this volume makes no attempt to be comprehensive; instead, we have tried to offer new angles and approaches that show how fu poetry has been intricately related to so many other dimensions of Chinese cultural history. We look forward to seeing how others respond to and build on our own forays into this subject.

by Nicholas Morrow Williams

Learning to Cook with Tomatoes

10 December 2019

What is this book about?

The Modern Steward offers the first ever translation of a book first published in Naples in two volumes in 1692-94.  The book is a sort of how-to guide, instructing the leader of a prominent household’s staff on how best to entertain his master’s guests, with a primary focus on cooking and meals.  It includes many recipes and menus for banquets and other fancy occasions, but it also discusses the healthiness of various foods, proper practices for shopping, cooking, and managing the household staff, etiquette and protocol, and many other matters.

Who was the steward?

The steward was the man responsible for the management of all household provisions, meals, and entertainments.  He supervised an array of cooks, kitchen assistants, wine managers, stock managers, carvers, and servers.

Who was Antonio Latini?

Latini rose through the ranks: born poor and illiterate in central Italy, he made his way through many employments in the service of the high and mighty of his era, and flourished in Rome where he served in the households of prelates and aristocrats.  In 1682 he moved to Naples, then the capital of a separate kingdom ruled by the King of Spain through a viceroy, where he worked for men at the very top of the kingdom’s administration.  He acquired an education – which he proudly displays throughout his book – status, and wealth; by the time of his death in 1696, he had been knighted by the pope, and in his second volume he included a splendid bewigged portrait of himself wearing the cross of knighthood and holding a copy of his own book:

What is significant about this book?

The most famous detail about The Modern Steward is that it includes the first ever printed recipes to use tomatoes – this about two hundred years after Columbus reached America.  Europeans knew tomatoes, and many probably also ate them, but they were long regarded as ornamental more than nutritive plants, and they took a while to make their way onto elite tables.

The book was also the last book in a long Italian tradition of great cookbooks that began in the Late Middle Ages.  Italian style dominated elite European dining, cooking, and entertaining for about three centuries.  Latini’s book was the last one to appear just as the French style of cooking and dining (supposedly more natural and rationalistic, and less ornate and extravagant) was beginning to emerge.  Latini’s approach to cooking and banquets was still fundamentally Baroque in its flamboyant decorations and practices, as one can see in this print from his book showing a table set with banquet ornaments:

At the same time, in his book Latini embraced many trends that were then emerging, such as humane practices for raising and feeding animals, the use of local and natural ingredients, and concern for the healthiness of various foods.

How did you become interested in this book?

I came to this project accidentally.  A colleague who was writing a book about the history of tomatoes told me that the first recipe to include tomatoes had appeared in The Modern Steward, which surprised me, as I knew that tomatoes were known across Italy long before the 1690s.  As a native Neapolitan, I thought I should look into this.  I am a historian of pre-modern Naples and southern Italy, not of food or gastronomy, so initially I had a steep learning curve in studying the history of food and cooking generally in Renaissance and Baroque Europe.  In the meantime, I had another project for which I translated several pre-modern Italian texts into English, and I discovered that I actually quite enjoyed translating.  In the end, with the encouragement of publishers and colleagues, I decided not only to research The Modern Steward, but also to translate it.

What was Naples like in Latini’s time?

With about 300,000 inhabitants, Naples in the late seventeenth century was by far the largest city in Italy, and, with London and Paris, one of the three largest cities in Christian Europe; it was also the largest city in the Spanish monarchy’s global empire, which then spanned from South and Central America to the Philippines.  Its site was famously beautiful, but also constrained by nearby hills, so that the density of its population was very high, with all the resultant problems of crime, dirt, and chaos.  It was also a major center of European art and music, attracting visitors and tourists, who were also eager to see the nearby volcano Vesuvius (the only active volcano in continental Europe).  This image of its hectic market square in mid-century offers us a glimpse of the city’s pulsating life, as well as a view of a place where Latini would have done at least some of his shopping for provisions:

For a general introduction to the city, its kingdom, and their history, see this book.  For a set of scholarly articles about various aspects of Naples in Latini’s time, see this book.

For whom is this book for?

I hope readers will find here something of interest about Naples and Italian life and culture generally.  I also very much hope the book will appeal to any reader (scholars, cooks, and everyone in between) interested in food, cooking, entertaining, and their history.

Can we use Latini’s recipes today?

Adventurous cooks should certainly try!  Some of the recipes are quite simple, in fact, and resemble modern preparations, while many more might seem quite exotic and unusual to us – combining, for instance, sweet and savory ingredients, which was a common practice in Latini’s time.  Latini aimed his book at skilled professionals, so he takes shortcuts, and in his era the practice of providing measurements or clearly outlined lists of ingredients had not yet begun, so many of his recipes might prove a bit daunting – even aside from the rarity of some of his choicest ingredients!

by  Tommaso Astarita

Craft Beer Culture and Modern Medievalism

“You’re writing a book about beer? Ha! Can I help you with the research?”

This kind of response was a common one during my two years of researching, writing, and editing my book, Craft Beer Culture and Modern Medievalism: Brewing Dissent. I confess, the topic did make a good excuse for trying new beers and new breweries as I educated myself more comprehensively about the craft beer community, its values, and its pleasures. I’m not one to decline a good brew, and I enjoy making my own (in tiny one-gallon batches) on my stove. For some, however, the good-natured laughter at my book’s subject may indicate an understandable skepticism – unconscious or not – about the legitimacy of craft beer culture as an area of academic inquiry by an English professor. Because I am not writing about beer from the position of a cicerone (like a sommelier, but for beer), a brewmaster, or a business owner. Instead, I’m writing as an academic – as a medievalist, more specifically. So what am I doing writing about modern beer? Short answer: the cultural sway of medievalism. Long answer: let me tell you.

In my academic career thus far, I have published and presented on fourteenth- to sixteenth-century Middle English literature, book production, and paleography. These two hundred years of literary history were a time of rapid cultural change, at the end of which writers attempted to separate the “now” in which they lived from the “then” of the Middle Ages. It was common for early sixteenth-century editors and printers, for example, to describe the medieval texts they were publishing as “ancient”, even though they were written just a century or so before. “Ancient” precedence in these texts provided a rhetorical foundation that lent legitimacy to such movements as the Protestant reformation.

This resistance to separating one’s own time from the medieval period, while still appropriating the Middle Ages to one’s own ideological ends, never stopped. The adaptation, recreation, re-imagining, and appropriation of the concept of “the medieval” in post-medieval eras is called, in academic circles, medievalism. Medievalism surrounds us: we see it in films, architecture, comics, story tropes, clothing, clichés, and – yes – food and drink.

One’s choice of drink is a powerful marker of class and personal identity; consider the quick, unconscious (or not) judgments we might make of someone after hearing a drink order. Whiskey neat? A glass of milk? Coors Light? Decaf Earl Grey? Coffee with 5 tablespoons of sugar? An imperial stout produced by a local brewery? White wine with ice? Drinking, whether or not the beverage is alcoholic, is often a social activity and therefore entails a kind of social performance. It can be a defining feature of your public persona. Beer in particular embodies an unusually wide range of social and class identities. So when a significant subset of the beer industry uses medieval models to define or attribute value to its product, we can assume that the idea of the medieval carries cultural and economic power in this context.

Medievalism is a compelling marketing strategy in the craft beer industry, particularly in North America, whose culture of patriotism balances a nostalgia for a European past with a pride in its “New World” independence. The colonial tone here is not accidental; indeed, the colonial underpinnings of medievalism in general are inescapable, as one of my book’s chapters explores in more detail. Medievalism is multivalent in the craft beer industry, emerging in breweries and beers named after monks or other medieval figures, as well as in less obvious forms, such as the narratives spun about craft beer founders. The knight errant of medieval romance did not disappear with the last hand-copied parchment manuscript; he re-emerges in modern storytelling and in the valorization of entrepreneurship. The neolocalism of many craft breweries – their focus on local origins and attachment to place – becomes in “medievalized” breweries a sort of neotemporalism, in which European becomes local and medieval becomes origin (although brewing actually originated in North Africa and the Middle East). Medievalism in craft breweries says less about historical fact, and more about what we, as modern North American drinkers, value.

My book is therefore not a history of beer, nor is it an economic analysis of beer or a method for making it. It is, rather, an exploration of how beer is represented and talked about, both in the Middle Ages and in the post-1980 the craft brewing “revolution” in North America. In my profession, I analyze texts; in this case, beer culture is my text. Through evaluations of branding choices, comparisons with macro beer companies (such as Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, producer of Budweiser, Miller, and hundreds of other brands), and interviews with craft brewers, I evaluate the cultural work that the craft beer industry does when it deploys medievalism. How is monkish branding different from Viking branding? How does the structure of tasting rooms reinforce historical reimaginings? Why are there so few women in medievalized beer branding?

These were all interesting inquiries, but that last question moved me into areas that were less comfortable and pleasant. The craft beer industry in North America, despite its welcoming nature, remains very white and very male. How does medievalism help to sustain this lack of diversity, and can we change this? My penultimate chapter attempts to tackle this challenging question by examining the alarming appropriation of medievalism by various white supremacy movements, and the implications that this has for a very white, masculine industry that often identifies the Middle Ages as its origin point. Indeed, anyone who adapts, uses or teaches the Middle Ages must acknowledge how this field has been weaponized and dehistoricized in order to exclude and harm marginalized people. We need to openly talk about this in order to resist it. This difficult chapter in my book is but one brief and inadequate intervention; I hope there will be many more.

After its analyses of monks, Vikings, nuns, alewives, and white supremacy, the book invites the reader to slow down in a final chapter about intoxication and why beer matters. I thought it worth considering why and how inebriating drinks have always, for millennia, been meaningful to us, both metaphorically and physiologically. The power of craft beer is not just in its unique taste and local attachments; it can loosen the tongue, expand the mind, and lower inhibitions. It can be revelatory. It can also, however, lead to wildness, stupidity, and violence. Medieval writers grappled with the contradictory effects of alcohol just as we do. But beer in its manifold forms can be a magical drink, one that electrifies the senses and solidifies bonds of friendship. In some ways, medievalism in the craft industry acknowledges beer’s longevity. Beer has more depth, taste, and spirit (pun intended) than we give it credit for, and it deserves serious attention.

Having said that – yes, I still enjoy doing the research.

By Noëlle Phillips

Intersectionality in Digital Humanities

Often referred to as “the big tent,” digital humanities have been perceived as open and welcoming. As it happens, the openness, more often than not, required an introduction. Some individuals and some research were indeed welcomed, while others were left just outside the margins. Everything seemed rosy: but as some of us knew it was not. For this reason, it made sense to ask questions about whether the purported collegiality and openness of the digital humanities were indeed such. This collection seeks to provoke discussion and defy the status quo while sparking a conversation about where the digital humanities is going and where it should be going. It presents cases of intersectional research while showing its direct impact in practices and communities. Our intention is to bring to the table matters that go beyond tokenism and to present intersectional diversity and inclusion as essential for the wellbeing of the digital humanities in particular and of academia in general.

As practitioners questioned the purported homogeneity of digital humanities, intersectionality took a central place in the discourse. This collection contains eleven essential articles, including Moya Bailey’s foundational text “All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave.” Each of the essays challenges the status quo and demonstrates that assumptions of impartiality are indeed just assumptions, whether they refer to individual scholars, research groups, or technologies developed for the wider public.

This collection also reprints Roopika Risam’s much cited article, “Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and Digital Humanities,” a piece that reveals intersectional research even when it has not been called by that name. She emphasizes the complementary and integrative aspects of cultural criticism and digital humanities.

The three essays focused on archival studies (Fasshauer, Levi, and Harsley) demonstrate that intersectional interventions bring forward aspects of the collections which have been overlooked in conventional research, giving a voice to traditionally silenced parties. Levi emphasizes the potential for digital archives to make visible intersectional religious and racial identities. This idea of calling attention to intersectional marginalized identities permeates the whole book and is present in every article in the collection.

Vázquez, Bordalejo, and Kim take the opportunity to denounce contemporary injustices within digital humanities. Kim’s article, “Digital Humanities, Intersectionality, and the Ethics of Harm,” is particularly significant in that it shows the degree of potential weaponization of intersectionality by far-right groups and how this will almost certainly disproportionately affect marginalized identities.

O’Donnell’s article, “All Along the Watchtower: Intersectional Diversity as a Core Intellectual Value in the Digital Humanities,” recounts the brief history of digital humanities to show that successful research does not come from perfected methodologies, but from innovative imperfection, and this is what has shaped digital humanities as we have them today.

We hope that this book will continue an important conversation while bringing forward new perspectives and topics.

Intersectionality in Digital Humanities poses questions, offers solutions, and challenges pre-conceived notions of technological impartiality.

by Barbara Bordalejo and Roopika Risam

Table of Contents:

  • “Introduction” by Barbara Bordalejo and Roopika Risam
  • “All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave” by Moya Z. Bailey.
  • “Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and Digital Humanities” by Roopika Risam
  • “You Build the Roads, We Are the Intersections” by Adam Vázquez.
  • “Digital Humanities, Intersectionality, and the Ethics of Harm” by Dorothy Kim.
  • “Walking Alone Online: Intersectional Violence on the Internet” by Barbara Bordalejo.
  • “Ready Player Two: Inclusion and Positivity as a Means of Furthering Equality in Digital Humanities and Computer Science” by Kyle Dase.
  • “Gender, Feminism, Textual Scholarship, and Digital Humanities” by Peter Robinson.
  • “Faulty, Clumsy, Negligible? Revaluating Early Modern Princesses’ Letters as a Source for Cultural History and Corpus Linguistics” by Vera Fasshauer.
  • “Intersectionality in Digital Archives: The Case Study of the Barbados Synagogue Restoration Project Collection” by Amalia S. Levi.
  • “Accessioning Digital Content and the Unwitting Move toward Intersectionality in the Archive” by Kimberley Harsley.
  • “All along the Watchtower: Intersectional Diversity as a Core Intellectual Value in Digital Humanities” by Daniel Paul O’Donnell

Here comes The Mongols

The recent death of my mentor and friend, David Morgan (1945-2019), scholar of the Mongol Empire and the author of The Mongols (1986, 2007) compels me to reflect on the reasons why I wrote my book, also titled The Mongols. Professor Morgan’s The Mongols was the first academic book I read concerning the Mongols. Like many, my initial interest in the Mongols came as a result of popular histories, such as Harold Lamb’s biographies of Chinggis Khan and James Chambers’ The Devil’s Horsemen—exciting narratives, but with little scholarly apparatus. While these were enjoyable to read, The Mongols truly introduced me to the complexities of the Mongol Empire, revealing that it was not simply a wave of marauders pillaging their way across Asia. Indeed, it introduced me to what became my career as well as doing the same for a number of other scholars and students to the serious study of the Mongol Empire.

First published in 1986, it was both erudite and accessible to those who knew very little about the Mongols. David also included a touch of humor—just enough to elicit a chuckle and a smile from the reader. Undoubtedly, he influenced my own work and writing style. While his book would undergo 30 printings and see six or more translations, and the second edition in 2007, he often said he awaited a book to replace his as the standard.  Despite his deep erudition, he remained a genial and humble man. His declaration was not out of humility, but the uncomfortable realization that a book written decades ago should never remain the “standard”.  His second edition added a chapter discussing the historiography since its first appearance in 1986, which also corrected some outdated views. In terms of historiography, the historian Morgan’s The Mongols will always be important and foundational to the study of the Mongol Empire.  Yet, as a book to introduce readers to the Mongols, it can be outdated.

When ARC Humanities first approached me to write The Mongols for its Past Imperfect series, I had some reservations as I was writing another book (The Mongol Empire) for another press that would eventually finish at 150,000 words.  I had very little interest in writing a book that might be construed as an abridged version of that much longer book.  Also, I had some reservations about a book titled The Mongols for obvious reasons. Yet, the idea of writing a book of approximately 35,000 words did have appeal. Therefore, I discussed my reservations with Erin Daley, then the commissioning editor of the series. I asked if that instead of writing a more traditional narrative, I could frame the workaround two questions that I deemed rather important not only for the study of the Mongol Empire but also for the study of any empire.  Why did the Mongol Empire succeed?  And then, why did it end?   These two core questions also fit the needs of any teacher who might teach on the Mongols, whether a full course or perhaps a week or two in a world history course.   As for the title?  In this age of keyword searches, it’s difficult to think of a better title, especially one that suited an introductory purpose.

While I always want students to understand the Mongol impact on world history, I wanted to avoid getting involved in that question as I wrote a book on that a few years before (The Mongol Conquests in World History, 2012). Although no one can fully escape this topic when working on the Mongols, I had no desire to revisit that topic in detail. I do have a chapter on it in the book, but it is brief and I hope it entices the reader to pursue the books in the suggested reading section.

I wrote The Mongols with two audiences in mind. The first was first and second-year students in a world history class that might only encounter the Mongols for a fleeting week or two and perhaps for the first time. The second audience would be that well-known public figure, General Reader.  Two lofty but not always achievable goals. Aided by the brevity of the books in the series (100 pages or so), it proved to be an achievable aim. With this size, the General Reader would not be intimidated while the book was also a length that an instructor could assign to a class for that module and reasonably expect the students to digest the information. Furthermore, the pricing of the book would not give the instructor any qualms about assigning it as too expensive for the student budget—an increasing concern in higher education.

While my focus was on these two aforementioned questions, I still needed to provide enough of an overview that it would be sufficient for classroom use.  Furthermore, it needed to be satisfactory enough for General Reader that would not leave too many looming questions.

I believe the book achieved these goals. I must confess that working with ARC-Humanities was a pleasant experience every step of the way.  It is a singular joy when they allow the author the latitude to begin the book with “It was a dark and stormy night…”.  I am grateful for this courtesy as I can now remove it from my bucket list.

With luck, I hope this book will become the introduction to the world of the Mongols for many students.  We, as scholars, should never forget what brought us into the field of history and attracted our curiosity.  While academic monographs are nice and necessary, no one became a historian because of them. I make no claims that my own The Mongols surpasses David’s.  I do hope, however, that its intended audience will find it useful and that it will interest them sufficiently to then read other books on the Mongol Empire.

by Timothy May (University of North Georgia)

Sergiu Musteata on Nomads and Natives beyond the Danube and the Black Sea

The early Middle Ages are of special importance for European history, as this period marks the genesis of many peoples, of state formation, and of the affirmation of feudal relations. Nomads and Natives beyond the Danube and the Black Sea: 700–900 CE spans almost two centuries, from the end of the seventh until the late ninth century. During this time took place a series of political, military, economic, social, and religious transformations.

The research is geographically bounded by natural landmarks, such as the Tisza, Danube, and Dniester Rivers to the west, east and south, to the southeast by the Black Sea coast, and to the north by the Northern Bukovina region. For the first time, the archaeological findings from the Carpathian-Danubian space, including the territories between the Tisza and the Dniester, which are now the component parts of the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia and Hungary, have been thoroughly analyzed.

The book re-examines the history of the Carpathian-Danubian region during the eighth and ninth centuries. Thus, the central task is providing an overview of the historical realities to the north of the Lower Danube over two centuries. Writing this book began from the desire to develop a synthetic study through which we will reconstruct, the history of the Carpathian-Danubian region during the eighth and ninth centuries based on narrative, archaeological, and numismatic sources. The diversity of issues presented by such a study requires analysing the following topics in succession: the historiography of the problem, the particularities of the human habitat, the reconstitution of economic occupations, the establishment of the features of spiritual life, the evolution of social relations, the chronological and ethnic affiliation of discoveries, the reconstitution of the political history of the region, and so on. The achievement of this goal, the objectives, and the proposed plan rely on an examination of the composition of the repository of sites and archaeological findings from the Carpathian-Danubian regions during the eighth and ninth centuries. Thus, I will try to point out some issues related to the eighth and ninth centuries, seeking to contribute thereby to the fixing of an image that would allow for an updated scientific interpretation of the early Middle Ages in the regions to the north of the Lower Danube.

In the absence of written sources that directly relate to the eighth and the ninth centuries, the main source base used is the results of archaeological investigations, which for decades have accumulated information about the lifestyle of the population in the Carpathian-Danubian space in the given period.

The study presents a reconstruction of the socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, and ultimately political history of the aforementioned area in the eighth and ninth centuries based on the analysis of the narrative and archaeological sources known so far. In this book, for the first time, the archaeological remains from the Carpathian-Danubian regions (Banat, Crișana, Maramureș, Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia, including Bukovina and Bessarabia) are presented as organic unities, which, despite representing inherent parts of a well-defined geographical area over several decades, have previously been dealt with separately, without generalizations performed at the macro-region level. Thus, the work fills a substantial gap in the historiography and puts in a new light the historical and the archaeological issues relating to the eighth and ninth centuries.

by Sergiu Musteaţă

Recording of Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana

23 October 2019

In connection with the publication of Milton’s Scriptural Theology. Confronting De Doctrina Christiana, I have been recording Milton’s opening address to readers (the “epistle”). It is heard in its Latin, so that as with Paradise Lost we can hear an approximation to Milton’s own voicing, as he dictated to a scribe and heard it read back.

The particular “connection” with my book is that its first chapter analyses the opening address to readers, for its style and tone of voice, which rise to vehemence and impassioned appeal for a hearing. You might not guess this from reading silently, still less from reading English translations! We hear patterning of alliterated plosive /p/, many stinging adjectives of critique of all other theologians, and there is much else about the original words of DDC which my study as a whole tries to bring to life.

Questions arise, however. The readers, myself and Robin Hanky, an Otago Classics colleague, have vociferated cautiously, perhaps too much so. For instance, we have not striven to emphasize incidence of the growling letter /r/, though the letter has plenty of it, and Milton is said to have pronounced it “very hard” like other persons of a satirical disposition.

Or again, given that Milton recommended the Italian pronunciation of Latin, would he have dictated viva voce (Oxford edn line 114) as “vee-vah voe-tche”? In our own reading we have said “wee-wah woe-ke,” simply because we learnt Latin in the “reformed” or reconstruction-of-Roman pronunciation. We stayed with the sounds we knew, for our own understanding, and so for momentum and general conviction. If this sound provokes our hearers, why not do it again differently and better, after more debate?

So! What does the Milton community think about these matters? Those of you who have some Latin are the fit audience though few. But whether or not you have Latin, “thought is free,” and the idea of putting Milton’s Latin on-line deserves comment. Is this a first, or am I behind the action?

By John Hale

See all the blogposts concerning Milton’s Scriptural Theology. Confronting De Doctrina Christiana:

Q&A on Milton’s Scriptural Theology

A Cover You Won’t Soon Forget

Confronting John Milton: How and Why?

Recording of Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana

Collecting Light: Q&A with Bill Endres

28 September 2019

How do you digitize the complex materiality of a medieval manuscript? With features such as layered pigments, what happens to a manuscript’s intricate play of light? What excesses are possible, that is, how can digital technologies extend our knowing beyond human senses? Bill Endres explores these questions in his new book, Digitizing Medieval Manuscripts: The St Chad Gospels, Materiality, Recoveries, and Representation in 2D & 3D. The book is a culmination of years of digital imaging in which Endres applied a range of advanced imaging techniques and devises new approaches to explore and present the eighth-century St Chad Gospels.

In your new book, Digitizing Medieval Manuscripts, you mention unriddling light. What do you mean by this? How does light become riddled and can it be unriddled?

he scribal art of script is an art of generating contrast with reflected light. The contrast makes script written on parchment visible. Parchment reflects frequencies of light that generate a cream color. Inks, such as iron gall, absorb most light and appear dark brown or black. This difference generates visibility. Through aging, wear, and natural threats, such as water damage, ink disappears from the page. Contrast is lost. However, inks form a molecular bond with parchment. Remnants generally exist, but they don’t absorb enough light to generate the needed contrast for the eye to discern the script. Thus, the light is riddled.

The obscure clues of the riddled light, however, have a chance to be unriddle through photography. It can capture frequencies of light beyond the range that the human eye sees, such as ultraviolet and infrared. These frequencies can sometimes reveal clues to read damaged text. The digital also adds further opportunities. Because digital imaging records numerical values for reflected light, mathematics can be used to aid in unriddling light.

 Advanced imaging techniques seem well beyond the mathematical and technical expertise of medieval scholars, let alone the general public. Are these techniques becoming accessible and available for wider use?

appily, yes! One of my goals for this book is to make digital techniques accessible and available to any medievalists or enthusiast. In each chapter, I include a methods section to provide specifics for anyone to get started. Also, I use and discuss the free graphics analysis software ImageJ. It was developed by the U.S. National Institute of Health for analysis of medical images. Since manuscripts are made from parchment (animal skins), analytical approaches for medical images regularly align with manuscripts. ImageJ has a robust community of uses that develops new, easy to install plugins for newly developed imaging techniques. ImageJ provides multiple options for unriddling light.

Some advanced imaging techniques, such as reflectance transformation imaging, have very affordable technical needs. Multispectral imaging, which captures images for different frequencies of light, requires a more expensive camera. However, many digital projects make available multispectral and/or high-resolution color images of manuscripts. If these images are available, any scholar or enthusiast can use ImageJ and attempt to recover damaged content.

For many years, photographers have captured manuscripts and other cultural heritage. Can we rid our libraries and archives of these photographs, freeing up valuable space? New advanced imaging techniques suggest that photographs now capture more nuanced and complete visual information. 

bsolutely not. We tend to think of technology as always progressing, generating new and better results. In the case of the St Chad Gospels, the 1911 photographs are stunningly sharp. But in many ways, sharpness isn’t the issue. Manuscripts, no matter how good the care, are aging. Earlier photographs reveal a younger version. These photographs need digitized to preserve how a manuscript once looked.

However, perhaps more importantly, these earlier photographs provide irreplaceable information to assess aging. Once photographs are digitized, their content is malleable. The content can be stretched into alignment with other photographs, a process called registration, easily done with ImageJ. Registered images can be overlaid and the transparency of the top one adjusted to assess changes. Also, registered images can be subtracted to discover minute changes. For this, photographic efforts, such as those produced by Photostat machines, the precursor to the photocopier and popular in the 1930s, are highly important. Photostat copies are many times the earliest reproduction of a complete manuscript. Photostat copies can include information that is now lost to aging or helps assess aging, such as lost chips of pigment or deterioration of the edge of a page. In some ways, any photographic effort increases in value as time progresses, capturing how a manuscript once reflected light.

You have a chapter on virtual reality (VR). It seems futuristic and designed for gaming and escapism. How might it be important for study and knowing manuscripts?

are and rigor should always be key in any approach to a new technology. However, it is impossible to know what opportunities a new technology offers until we experiment with it. In my experiments with VR, I have found it a wonderful environment for transcription. Not limited by the space of the screen, I always know where I am in the text in relationship to the whole page. Also, I can juxtapose pages generated by different light frequencies and post-processing techniques for recoveries. I can enlarge pages to the size of buildings and move back and forth among them easily, never losing my place. I can speak each letter for recording and later use voice recognition software to generate the transcription. This approach vastly improves my speed and accuracy.

Also, we have to remember that manuscripts were the iMax movie of their day. They startled medieval viewers with their colors and intricacies. It is worthwhile quoting the reaction of Gerald of Wales, a twelfth-century traveler writing about his experience of an eighth- or ninth-century Irish gospel book:

But if you take the trouble to look very closely, and penetrate with your eyes to the secrets of the artistry, you will notice such intricacies, so delicate and subtle, so close together and well knitted, so involved and bound together, and so fresh still in their colouring that you will not hesitate to declare that all these things must have been the result of the work, not of men, but of angels.

Gerald captures the sense of awe and wonder of a medieval viewer seeing a manuscript, as we experience with iMax movies. VR allows a page of a manuscript to be a commensurate size, translating scale for today’s expectations. Also, it affords a magnified view of details and intricates. But perhaps most importantly, it enables someone to share the same space with a manuscript. I am intrigued by how sharing space is key to forging relationships.

Do you have a favorite advanced imaging technique? If so, what makes the technique so appealing and valuable?

ach technique generates its own marvels and advantages. If I had to choose one, it would be reflectance transformation imaging (RTI). I’ve always loved the play of light when encountering an illuminated manuscript. RTI allows me to bring this play of light to people who are not as fortunate as I am and cannot encounter the physical manuscript. Also, RTI has a low bar of entry, done with a regular digital camera and flash. To be able to show someone the results, allow them to see intricate surface details, such as dry-point writing or the rise of layered pigment, provides an intimate view of the manuscript.

Finally, you propose another name for the Middle Ages, The Age of Visual Wonder. Why? Weren’t medieval times simply a waiting period until the Enlightenment, a period full of barbaric activity, earning it the earlier name of the Dark Ages?

or a long time, people viewed the Middle Ages as intellectually bankrupt, when classical achievements were lost and/or corrupted and intellectual and artistic activity was at a low point. But nothing could be further from the truth. With the invention of the printing press, over the past five hundred years, people have relied so exclusively on the book and text for intellectual activity, it is easy to miss the mental activity and inventiveness of medieval imagery, encouraging a mental chewing, ruminating on the dialogue between text and image. But on a pure aesthetic level, the black and white space of a page of print is sterile. In a manuscript, even the eloquent flow of ink on parchment and the subtle variations of a human hand speak of artistry. But when you add the colors and intricacies of decorated initials, their inventiveness and engagement with the text, you have a visual wonder that rises above any prior or preceding approach to preserving and transmitting knowledge.

Gordon Taylor LRPS © Hereford Cathedral, 2016.

By Bill Endres

* Decorated initials from the St Chad Gospels, MS Lich 1, Lichfield Cathedral, England (CC BY-NC-SA UK).

A Slow-Food Approach to Touring Rome & Understanding its Culture and History

A Q&A with Peter Hatlie, Author and Editor of People and Places of the Rome Past: the Educated Traveller’s Guide

26 September 2019

Any experienced traveler knows the anticipation and thrill of exploring a new city.  And the greater the city—take Rome, for example, one of the world’s premier tourist attractions anywhere—the greater the chance for an amazing, even life-changing experience.  But how to get the most out your visit to Rome?  This book has an answer to that question that is different from that of hundreds of other travel books and thousands of travel agencies.  Our recommendation is: Take it slow; go below the surface of things; and use this book as an invitation to study and reflect upon the great city of Rome while experiencing its unparalleled cultural and historical riches first-hand.  If you are familiar with the deep satisfaction that a slow-food restaurant can bring in comparison to whatever eat-and-run experience you’ve encountered lately, apply the same logic to your next trip to Rome.  There is a difference, and that difference matters. Read on to learn more.

Q: What does this travel book about Rome do that others don’t?  Arguably it represents a new genre of travel literature, combining practical advice about tourism with rich descriptions of important sites, monuments, and works of art.  In addition, it explores the creative forces behind Rome’s rich cultural heritage.  Each of the book’s eighteen chapters is dedicated to a significant historical figure whose life in Rome has left a lasting footprint, be it a monument, a great work of art, or a tangible memory of great ideas and remarkable things accomplished.  Men and women are included in the list of biographical subjects, as are important people from all walks of life—artists, writers, politicians, churchmen and pilgrims. In a sense, the book is a cross between a tourist guide, an encyclopedia and a scholarly endeavor.

Q: What was the inspiration for the book?  Two things actually.  First, it is the outcome of a really successful team-taught course at my university’s study-abroad Rome campus. The course was taught on-site—that is, in churches and museums, on archaeological sites, and along the city’s alleys and streets—every week for over a decade. The course was so well-received over so many years that, well, it was a no brainer to consider turning into a college-level travel book.  Second, in my own travels to the some of the worlds greatest cities—Athens and Istanbul, Amsterdam and London, Stockholm and Copenhagen—I looked in vain for just this sort of guide book. I wish someone would write this same kind of book for those cities, too.  But for now, at least I am confident that such a book exists for Rome.

Q:  We know that the book about the history and cultural heritage of Rome.  But what is its scope and what expertise underpins its research and narrative?  Think of the book as a series college-level lectures, taking the reader to all major tourist sites along with a lot of less-known ones, and covering the history of the city from its origins in the eighth century BCE through the nineteenth centuries.  Each of the eighteen chapters is written by a college professor who has lived and worked in Rome and has special expertise.  The list of contributors includes four theologians, five professors of comparative literature, two classics professors, two historians, two art historians, and two philosophers.  So the book is ultimately about Rome from an interdisciplinary perspective covering all major sites and many lesser-known treasures, and dipping in and out of almost all major historical epoch’s of Rome’s three thousand years of lived history.

Q: Who is the target audience for the book?  The title of the book pretty much gives this question away.  Our target audience is people who like to read and explore the world to the fullest, and who like to engage in serious ideas and get under the surface of things.  They could be college professors, doctors, lawyers and other professionals longing for the kind of depth one encounters in college humanities classes.  College students themselves might profit from this kind of book in a class setting.  More generally, if the book is brought to Rome and used as a tourist guide, I can imagine someone sitting down to read it in the quiet of a church pew located in one of Rome’s great basilicas or sitting on a park bench outside of one of the city’s great museums or archaeological.  Also, it would be a perfect book to read last thing at night or first thing in the morning—say at the breakfast table—before heading out to explore Rome itself.

Q: Do you think the book will have appeal within the crowded market of tourist books about Rome?   Everyone whom I’ve talked with about the book’s concept has reacted positively so far, and the book itself is also well-written, accessible, and really attractive to the eye—full of beautiful photos, among other things.  Early sales figures are also promising, so I’m hopeful that it will be a book that appeals to its target audience and maybe beyond.  Once again, people who want to take enough time to get away from the crowds and probe the depths of Roman culture and history should like this book?

Q:  What’s next?  Another book on Rome? I’m currently finishing a strictly academic publication about an ancient city on the outskirts of Rome which, though once prominent, is now completely lost to time.  The city is called Bovillae, and it was a prominent suburb of Rome from the first century BCE through the second century CE.  Once I finish that project, I intend to explore whether the concept of People and Places is scalable to other cities.  Athens, Istanbul, Amsterdam and Paris, alone, would offer great material for a book like this one.

by Peter Hatlie